But this isn’t the first award Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine received for their talents. Since the two united at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in 2002, they’ve been busy releasing albums, touring the world and blogging about it.
On the brink of touring Ontario in support of their fifth album, Girls from the North Country, Amanda sat down to answer questions about home, inspiration and comic books.
Amanda Walther: Of course! It’s such an amazing feeling to be honoured by your peers.
SA: What was going through your head from the time you were nominated to the time you won?
AW: We’ve been nominated a number of times for Canadian folk music awards but there’s such an incredible talent in Canada that you would never expect to win, ever — it’s anyone’s game.
This year we were even surprised to be nominated because we were in our own universe of touring that we hadn’t been thinking of it. So we were so excited to be nominated.
And then to win, oh my goodness. Sheila and I were so thrilled we were jumping up and down.
SA: Now that you’ve signed on to Compass Records (a U.S. label), do you think that will change anything?
AW: They’re a small label but a perfect fit and I think they’re going to do very great things for us. They have the connections to get our album to people we would never be able to get it to on our own. We’re excited for all the possibilities.
SA: You’ve travelled the world, including to London and California, so where would you consider “home” now?
AW: It’s funny you ask because Sheila and I were having a conversation about how we kind of feel like citizens of the world. But my heart is definitely in Toronto because my family lives here. The more we travel, the more we appreciate what a fabulous city this is.
SA: Do you bring a Toronto “vibe” with you when you travel to these places?
AW: We’ve noticed, more so in the States than in Canada, that we’re bringing a piece of our country with us when we travel. We notice the difference when we meet new people from that city and experience the vibe of the town that we’re in. It’s then we realize we’re really from Toronto and what this city has done to shape us.
SA: I noticed that you are drawing up comic books to sell at your shows, which you have illustrated yourself. Why the comic book?
AW: Since I was a little girl, I had been passionate about visual arts. I was on my way to becoming an artist before Dala was born.
I was always drawing these little comics to celebrate at the end of a tour and give them as gifts [to the crew] to tell our story. Then I thought, “Well, maybe our fans would like their own Dala comic”.
It’s just little stick men comics but it’s authentic and uniquely us. I know our fans particularly enjoy the fact that they know us and this is another way they can get to know us.”
SA: Do you think being from a small town has pushed you to branch out and leave the city?
AW: I’ve never felt pushed to get out of the city. Even though I grew up in a small section of the city, there’s so many unique areas to explore.
I think our main motivation is more the love of what we do together and I know that sounds really cheesy. We just really love making music together. Sheila and I are best friends and our music is a result of our friendship: it’s what happens when we get together. It’s our bliss and we just want to follow it.
SA: Are there certain influences from the city that you’ve used in your songs?
AW: The song Marilyn Monroe, there’s a line saying, “You’re standing by the subway and imaging you’re bigger than what you are” — that’s a feeling of being an ordinary girl in an ordinary city but [also] feeling like you have something extraordinary within you. I think everybody has moments where they feel like they can do anything and that’s what this song is all about.
SA: If you could say one thing to any kid with big aspirations, especially to children living in Scarborough, what would it be?
AW: Some of the best Canadian artists and musicians have come from Scarborough and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
I think out of a troubled neighbourhood, art is easily created because people are looking for joy. Scarborough has a bad reputation but anyone who lives there knows that it’s an amazing place with so many different forms of inspiration. Sheila and I go back for inspiration.
For anyone living in Scarborough with big dreams, just follow them.
SA: How will be spending your holiday?
AW: We have an Ontario tour booked until Dec. 19 so the next few weeks will be crazy. So our time off will be spent with our families at home. (Both families have moved out of Scarborough: Sheila’s family lives in North York and Amanda’s family is all over Toronto.)
Check out Dala when they stop in Toronto on Dec. 17 and 18 at Hugh’s Room. Shows start at 8 p.m., tickets are $25 in advance or $27.50 at the door.