Where are you from?
I was born in the UK, and moved to rural Canada just before my 14th birthday. I have lived in Northern B.C, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and moved to the west coast shortly after my high school graduation. I have been in Vancouver for about six years. I love it here!
How long have you been in the music industry?
I’ve been in the music industry professionally for about five years, but I’ve been involved in arts and entertainment my whole life.
How did you get involved in music?
It was totally by chance really; as a kid I wanted to be an actress/dancer and my parents really encouraged me to get involved in musicals and church choir. A middle school teacher of mine in the UK (David James) recognized my ability and took me to his recording studio to lay down a couple of covers. I was immediately addicted! Since then, I’ve been pursuing music as a career.
How do you describe your sound?
I would describe my sound as funk-soaked R&B/Soul. I am inspired by female artists like Chaka Khan, Lauryn Hill, Diana Ross, and India Arie; so you can hear a lot of those influences in my music. That being said, I like to dabble and experiment with music of all genres, so if you dig through my previous releases you’ll find a little bit of everything for everyone: Electro, House, Dubstep, Acoustic Soul, R&B, Hip-Hop…I just love music.
Can you recall your first live performance? What was that like?
My first real live performance was in the sevenh grade. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Salmon, approached me to perform in our school assembly. We were both massive Queen fans and he wanted me to cover “Friends Will Be Friends.” I jumped at the opportunity and was hooked after seeing the look on my classmates’ faces after the performance. I should end this story by stating that immediately after singing that monumental song I did a cover of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. Not my proudest moment, but hey, I was a kid!
What can people expect when you are performing?
People can expect a high-energy night filled with bumping originals and classic covers. My shows are always a dance party, and by the second set my shoes have come off so that I can get down with ease! I like to get people moving, grooving and excited about music while they’re at my shows. I also love to chat with the crowd and make them laugh, I’m not funny ha-ha, I’m funny weird, and so things tend to get a little nutt. Also, if you’re beautiful or handsome and in my line of sight, prepare to get hit on!
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
If I’m performing with my band, we like to take a few moments to bring the energy down before we go on stage. We hold hands, thank our higher power for bringing us together to create music, and share our love with the crowd. I also like to take a moment by myself to remember what my purpose is: to Share Love, Light and Positive Energy with other human beings. As artists, that is our calling and responsibility. My other ritual is ordering a Double Makers Mark neat from Curtis if I’m at Guilt.
Can you name one of your best moments performing at Guilt & Co?
It would definitely have to be sharing the stage with R&B legend. Dutch Robinson. For those of you who are not familiar, this man is an incredible singer who recently relocated to the West Coast to work on his new album. He has performed around the globe and was in one of the most recognized bands in R&B history, The Ohio Players. Having him share with the crowd how much he loves and respects me as an artist really drove home how blessed I am to have been given the ability to sing. This industry can magnify doubt, and having someone as brilliant and talented as him celebrate my voice just made me so proud. He is untouchable. Singing with him is a delight!
What are your thoughts on Vancouver’s Soul and R&B music scene?
Vancouver’s Soul and R&B scene is going through a major uprising right now, and I am proud beyond belief to be a part of it. There are so many acts that are blossoming into greatness at this moment and I have had the pleasure to witness most of them do their thing. Guilt & Co is really leading the charge in bringing these artists to the masses, and Thursday nights have provided a permanent home for R&B and Soul in Vancouver. Just come down and you’ll see acts like Dutch Robinson, Dawn Pemberton, David Morin, Soatoa, Adventours, Krystle Dos Santos and more blowing the roof off!
What have been and continue to be the best aspects of your career as a musician?
The very best aspects of my career as a musician will always be having the opportunity to share my heart with people. I’m not the greatest communicator in everyday life, but when I step on a stage I let every single drop of emotion out and leave it on that stage. It’s selfish really, but truly the best part of being a musician is that it’s therapeutic for me. Every hurt is released in this beautiful cathartic way once I hit the stage and hold that microphone.
What’s the best part about performing in Gastown?
The best part of performing in Gastown is the fact that I work in this neighbourhood. I love the fact that I can look out into a crowd and see so many familiar faces, that’s a blessing and a great feeling. We share a common love for this community and we support each other as much as possible. Also, Gastown is by far the coolest neighbourhood in Vancouver!
What do you do when you are not performing?
I am blessed to work for two of Gastown’s most beautiful spots: Chill Winston and Guilt & Co. I’ve been there for one and a half years and I absolutely adore the owners, staff, and amazing musicians that frequent both. They have become my family during my time there.
When I am not performing I am thinking about performing. I have a multitude of musical projects that I am currently working on including a Duo with my bass player, a Trio called Lower Case, a full band project ( launching in November), my Hip-Hop project based in LA called The Red Gold & Green Machine, as well as lots of solo projects and adventures.
What are some of your favourite Gastown spots?
Obviously Chill Winston and Guilt, but I am a tad biased! I also love The Pourhouse and Clough Club for cocktails, The Flying Pig for great food and lovely people, and Community Vintage for shopping.
How do you describe yourself as a person apart from being a musician?
I describe myself as a wayward wanderer. I have travelled a lot and I guess I’ve always been searching for my home both personally and musically. I finally feel that in the last two to three years I have found that in Vancouver. It’s a brilliant city filled with amazing culture and music, and it’s here that I was given the opportunity to really come into my own as an artist. I still have a long way to go, but I can see that the roots have sprouted and it’s because of this city.
In your opinion, what are the top three songs of all time?
And The Melody Still Lingers On by Chaka Khan, Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen , and High Speed Dirt by Megadeth.
If you could collaborate with any musician in the world, who would it be?
This is a tough one! I think if I could make my dream project, I would collaborate with Sa-Ra Creative Partners on it. Those guys are on to some otherworldly next level stuff, and they have worked with all the artists that I love. If I had to pick one person from Vancouver, I’d definitely pick Shaun Verreault. He is such a mean guitarist and beautiful human being. Making a record with him would be golden.
What do you love the most about being in the music scene?
I love that it’s one big happy dysfunctional family. Don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously clique-y factions in Vancouver, but in the R&B/Soul crowd I think we’re evolving past that and it feels great. When I first started recording a lot in Vancouver, I was working predominantly with Hip-Hop artists, and that was awesome, but I definitely felt the division between genres. What we all need to realize is that we are one. We’re so intertwined, players jump from band to band subbing for gigs, taking spots, creating new projects, banding together to put on shows. It’s awesome if you can put the pride aside and move forward for the greater good.
What is one piece of advice you would give to those aspiring to become a musician?
Feed yourself first; make music after. There’s nothing worse than hustling for gigs so you can eat food. It’s depressing and it takes the love out of the craft. Once you have established that you can take care of the basics, start branching out and getting more involved in the music scene. That way, you don’t need favours, you won’t play gigs that crush your soul, and you’ll always have integrity.
Check out Tonye’s sultry pipes live at the “From The Ground Up” soul music series, happening every Thursday night at Guilt & Company. On these special nights, Guilt & Company is accepting donations to raise funds for not-for-profit charities in the Downtown Eastside such as Saint James Music Academy, Portland Hotel Societies music for youth program, and A Loving spoonful.