Deni Hines is a consummate performer. Decked out in an eclectic array of pastel coloured clothing, eyes hidden behind oversized sunglasses, she sits contently and sips her beverage. Then, it’s as if she’s given her performance cue. “Sweetie,” she trills, arms extended for a warm, welcoming hug. “Come into my office and grab a seat,” she continues playfully as she sits back down, her electric tone matching her eye-catching ensemble and sharp accessories. When she smiles, there’s the glint of a diamond that has been fused to her tooth.
As the 37-year-old shifts into gear for her first show of the day, it becomes difficult to imagine this veteran of the Australian music scene and daughter of show-stopping Marcia Hines as anything other than a natural-born performer. But Deni insists this is not the case, describing herself as “a quiet little mouse” in her youth, who never had any aspirations of entering the music industry.
“You’ve got to remember, as a child of my mother, I’d seen some of the good stuff and I’d seen some of the bad stuff that Mum had gone through as well,” she reflects, her speech racy and slightly theatrical. “I thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I want do this.’”
“I wanted to be a coroner. I did work experience
in a morgue. Autopsies and brains in buckets, it was great! That’s what I
wanted to do, and I literally fell into singing. Literally fell into it, and I like
it … and I didn’t have to study for six years!”
While she was determined to follow a different path to her mother,
Deni still began performing at an early age when she was discovered
singing in the kitchen by 1980’s funk group Wa Wa Nee. The then teen
was immediately commissioned to perform with them on tour the next
week, which Deni decided not to tell her mother about.
“I didn’t even tell Mum I was singing. I was going to school and then
driving down in the car to Melbourne with Wa Wa Nee on the weekend,
and going back to school on Monday. Then one day Mum got this phone
call saying ‘Oh, saw Deni in Melbourne, she’s quite a good singer!’ And
Mum was like, ‘Really? I didn’t even know she could sing!’”
This began a series of backing roles for Deni, including supporting
Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Barnes. Then, in 1991, she recorded several
songs with the Rockmelons, with Ain’t No Sunshine and That Word (L.O.V.E.)
becoming top five hits. In 1995 she began her solo career, enjoying more
chart success with her album Imagination and single It’s Alright, which was
recognised with an ARIA award, met with mixed emotions by Deni.
“When I got my ARIA years ago, somebody was dumb enough to say
to me, ‘If it wasn’t for your mother you couldn’t have got your ARIA.’ I
thought to myself, ‘Stuff you, that’s me on that single!’ That would have
only worked if I didn’t have talent. But I’m still here 17 years later.”
Overcome by what she labels the “Hines syndrome”, Deni responded
by moving to England for three years in 1997. She says it was a positive
move, as she was treated as any other singer. “That was cool, because
I knew I was on an even playing field … It was great to go over there and
to be totally self-sufficient and really grow up.”
Deni is now in “round two” of her career. Most recently she’s worked
with James Morrison to produce a jazz album, and says she would like to
do further collaborations with him, perhaps concentrating on soul music.
Among her many aims is winning a Grammy, and with it US recognition.
But she also admits to being “scared” of the country and how difficult it is
to break the market, particularly with the industry in its current mode.
“Labels aren’t spending the money and taking the risks they used to,”
she says. “They’re very cautious about what they’re doing. Good business
sense, but it’s a high turnover. I don’t know if these days they are prepared
to pump money into [new artists] unless there’s a TV show to spin them
off on. Because that seems to really work. That’s a guaranteed hit.”
Asked to assess her career to date, Deni is proud of her achievements,
but admits it’s in her nature to want more. “I don’t ever enter anything to
fail, and I don’t think I’ve fully succeeded yet. I think I’m doing alright,
but if I could actually have a flash to my last breath on this planet, and see
what I’ve done … I haven’t even begun yet.”
As the interview begins to wrap up, the conversation shifts to tattoos, diets
and politicians. Deni discusses these with enthusiasm, but the intensity
level drops somewhat. There comes a point when she finally removes her
mirrored sunglasses, looks around and talks about growing up in this area,
attending concerts in what is now known as Fox Studios and rollerskating
in Centennial Park. She is never more real than in that moment.
Suddenly, she sees someone crossing the road and hurrying towards her.
She says it’s a writer from a vegetarian magazine. Sliding the glasses back
on, she gives a graceful goodbye. Act two is about to begin.