NewTracks New Artist: The Dals

NewTracks New Artist: The Dals

Now LA-based, Asti and Luca Newman, alongside bestest boi Luna The Tuna, a dalmatian, are The Dals, a name stemming from, well, a family history of and love for (sometimes singing) dalmatian dogs. Originally from Ōtautahi, the siblings have been active for many years, and their new single Split Enz features on NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation this May.

What are your names, where are you from and what instruments do you each play?

The Dals consists of Asti-Loren Newman, Luca Newman, and Luna The Tuna; she is our spotty third band member. We are a brother and sister band from Christchurch. We have both been attending college in Los Angeles since 2019, learning the nuances of the music industry and working on our craft. Our music is primarily produced by Luca who plays piano, guitar, bass, and vocals. While Asti is more involved in The Dal’s business side, she also sings, writes, and assists with production direction. Luna The Tuna is a very good girl who ‘vibe checks’ the band even though she doesn’t play an instrument.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Since we were separated during our high school years, we didn’t grow up making music together. Luca’s passion for music developed during his final year of high school – working hard at his high school’s music studio and spending hours and hours teaching himself guitar, writing and production. On the other hand, Asti has always had a passion for music. After the Christchurch earthquakes devastated our family, she left NZ (aged 14), and earned a full scholarship to a prestigious London theatre school.

Since moving to LA four years ago both of us have completed BA degrees in Music Business and Music Composition with an emphasis on songwriting. We both graduated top of our classes with 3.9 GPAs and deans/presidents honours. The education we have received over the years and gaining a wide range of musical knowledge is something we are very grateful for; it has provided us with many tools that we would not have had otherwise.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

Play It Strange 2018 placed Luca for two songs (Go With You and a song co-written with a friend called Breakaway). Asti’s performing experience began when she was the youngest member of the Sweet Adelines Barbershop chorus in Christchurch and travelled to Carnegie Hall in New York. Asti performed with Bic Runga as part of her 20th anniversary tour of ‘Drive’, was a cyborg in the film Ghost In The Shell which was shot in Wellington, and used to be a solo act, going under the name Asti-Loren. She had released a few singles when she was 17 and was funded then by NZ On Air.

What’s the background story of how The Dals came to be? 

Having lived apart during our teenage years, we reconnected at the beginning of 2019 in LA. In the course of that year we wrote mostly individual songs, until one day at Arlington Gardens in Pasadena we co-wrote an acoustic song inspired by Red Hot Chilli Peppers, called Under the Cali Sun… who knows, maybe one day we’ll release it! The most common response we received from classmates and teachers at our college was, “Wow, your vocals work so well together, you two need to sing and write together more.”

Studying some other duo bands we learned siblings tend to have vocal tones that blend together in something called ‘blood harmonies’, which sounded pretty cool to us, so we went with it! Our second song together was an EDM track Luca produced, which was our first time singing on a track together. It was well received by people at our college once again. As we drove home that afternoon, we brainstormed ideas and became more excited about the idea of forming a band. We had the idea for The Dals as our first thought for a band name, and it just clicked and has been that way ever since.

The Dals actually stands for Dalmatian, since our aforementioned third member Luna the Tuna is a dalmatian. We grew up surrounded by spots with our parents having five dalmatians. Dalmatians have always been our family icon, and we’ve always been the kids in the neighbourhood with hairdresser parents and Dalmatians hanging out the window. As a matter of fact, both of us learned to walk with the assistance of our childhood Dalmatian pets Olive and Zebra. Our name The Dals just came to us naturally, we can’t recall who said it first, but it stuck! Also, we recently realised that this is also an acronym, D(dog) A(Asti L(Luca), so maybe it was meant to be!

How does the dynamic work in creative terms?

Since then Luca has always been the producer/co-writer, and Asti has always been the lead vocalist/co-writer. Our music process has always been kept to ourselves as we’re not big fans of collaboration. In contrast, for our next single Split Enz, we decided to open up to collaboration and enlisted the help of the amazing Miro Mackie. We originally heard his work on Indy Yelich‘s song Threads, and his talents really resonated with us. A few Instagram DM’s later we were in the studio together in LA working on Split Enz, and the rest is history!

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

When The Dals first started, Asti already had an extensive background in songwriting, specialising in creating unique concepts/stories for songs and albums. Though Luca lacked experience as a songwriter, he is a quick learner, and through experience, and his college studies, Luca rapidly gained skills as an artist and writer.

Asti’s creative style and Luca’s by-the-books approach work very well together, as we get a nice blend of originality and commerciality. In the past few years, our writing has become more polished, which means we don’t jam too many words into a verse, or a chorus, etc. Simplicity is key, and we’re constantly striving to achieve and develop our sound further. The nature of being a musician is to constantly learn, adapt and change, so we might take a full U-turn in our writing style, you never know. A writer’s and artist’s life path is so exciting, filled with ups and downs, but overall, it feels like you are on an evolving journey.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

So far, our biggest highlight has been the growth of our social media accounts. Asti, the apparent queen of social media, grew her TikTok followers to over 333k in a year. She also grew her Instagram account to over 100k in half a year. Along with multiple viral reels and TikToks gaining between one million and 20m views!

Our first single Feel Bad was released in response to this. Our goal was to reach 10,000 streams, but we are approaching 90,000 streams as of this week! We have been blown away by this experience. Having the opportunity to co-produce Split Enz with Miro Mackie was also a massive highlight for us, working in his studio was an incredible experience for The Dals. (Thanks Miro!)

What makes Split Enz stand out for you as a single?

We are very excited about this release as it is the first time we are introducing Luca’s voice, as our first release, Feel Bad, featured only Asti. It was important to us that our second song included both of us singing together, and Split Enz allowed us to do that. In Split Enz, we introduce Luca as a singer and demonstrate that we like to sing in octaves using those blood harmonies.

The song itself is very sentimental to us. It pays homage to the legendary Kiwi band Split Enz and as a way to show love to our NZ homeland.

What is the story behind Split Enz?

Towards the end of our degrees, we were so focused on grades, exams, and studying that we barely had time or energy to create music. We just exploded with creative energy when we finished all our work and no longer had college to worry about. Split Enz was one of those cliché moments as a songwriter when the song just kind of…falls out of you.

Here’s a little background on why Split Enz came about and what it was inspired by:

College is supposed to be the peak of someone’s life, but for some it can also be the loneliest. You go to parties where you don’t belong, hang out with people you can’t relate to and sometimes you leave parties early to soul search from the comfort of your couch. We (The Dals) studied music abroad and we often felt lonely and homesick whenever we went to college parties in the US. To remedy that, we would ditch parties early and listen to Split Enz, as well as other Kiwi artists, at home playing video games instead. We wrote this song as a moody reflection of the isolation the college experience can bring, and also as an ode to the legendary Kiwi band who helped The Dals get through the worst of our homesickness.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

Luca: The stripped-back bridge with those bird sounds, or the line, “I hate it when you take my call on a different day.” I guess it just resonates with me because it’s so normalised these days to leave friends on read for days, not because you’re busy, just because you’re not a priority… those late replies from people you care about can be pretty isolating – at least in my experience.

Asti: Although I was going to say the same part as Luca, I would have to say I also love the part where Luca’s voice appears, in verse two, because it reminds me of a little Mario Kart almost bouncing along while Luca explains the story from the driver’s seat!

The song is also very touching to me since it relates to something I have experienced living away from home and my parents, battling mental health in a city like LA. I particularly love and can reflect on my growth since writing it with the lyrics, “Sinking under palm trees, they’re so heavy can’t breathe.”

Who did you record/produce the single with and where? 

The demo was written and essentially made in Luca’s bedroom, where we wrote the song together. He has a pretty modest set-up for producing music, however, his room can only accommodate a kids-sized single bed in order to fit all his equipment! He hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in years because of this…

After getting in touch with Miro we had the opportunity to work in his studio over the other side of LA to co-produce and mix the version you hear today. Luca had never worked with real synths or analog gear before so he was in heaven. We had Luna the Tuna in the studio, and her lick of approval is what we always strive for when making our music.

What would you like listeners to take away from the song?

We want people to listen to this song and understand that feelings of loneliness and homesickness are normal, especially among college students.

Us people in our early 20s (and beyond) often feel pressured to be social every day of the week, and we just want people to know it’s okay if you’re not feeling it and would rather leave the party early, do something that reminds you of home, and cuddle your dog whilst playing video games.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

I guess it comes down to a bit of witchcraft, sage, magic, sacrificial rituals, and downright honest self-critique and repetitive listening. We write a lot of songs, and have a lot of tracks, Luca is often the first to say, ‘Let’s release this ASAP’, but thankfully Asti is the expert in quality control.

Whenever we finish a song, we listen to it over and over again; at the gym, in the car, on hikes, and the songs we can listen to a crazy amount of times and still enjoy a week, or a month later is the one we go with. Also just trusting your gut feeling and not writing for a trend or without passion.

Anyone else on your team?

At the moment we do (mostly) everything ourselves! We’re keen to see how far we can get without a team as we have a passion for the business side of music too, especially Asti, who just graduated from college as top in her year group in Music Business. However, we do have some pretty ambitious projects coming up, so we are definitely keen to start building a larger base of support but we are not rushing. Living in LA, we have witnessed and experienced the two-faced behaviours the entertainment industry is known for, so we are very cautious about who we trust our art/careers with.

So currently it is just Luca, Asti and Luna The Tuna. Big love to our parents also for helping with styling, photography and overall always being there when we need advice or second opinions; both are our rocks.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

We are working on an album! This is a project that we’re very excited about, and it’s already well underway! We have the title, a few singles, and even a short film storyboarded. Under his producer name, 1505, Luca is also producing for some LA artists in a variety of genres and styles.

As for Asti, she hopes to get into more modelling, acting, and creative content projects around LA with her following. In the near future, Luna The Tuna hopes to launch her YouTube dog channel, where The Dals will provide music for a Dals’ Dog TV relaxation channel that you can set to play when you leave your dog at home.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

  • Benee: Glitter
  • Dual: Staring At The Wall
  • Lorde: California

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? 

We highly recommend applying for your song to be on NewTracks as this is how we received this awesome opportunity! In the past, Asti was successful and gained funding for her solo project and released Psychedelic Rose. Our advice would be to make sure your application really meets all the criteria requirements and has the backing to prove it.

When we started The Dals we looked to the NZOA funding criterion as goalposts for us to work for. The criterion has been an amazing way for us to set goals, and figure out plans for our band. The one we’re struggling with the most right now is gaining the 250,000 streams on a single. That’s our top priority, but unless we land on some big editorial playlist, or go viral on TikTok, it will be hard to achieve that… but we are confident we will get there soon!

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

And The Writer Is… (hosted by Ross Golan). It’s a goldmine of knowledge, not just about songwriting, but about the music industry, production, and industry knowledge in general. Also, we enjoy the Apple music podcasts with a variety of artists on their music platform. In addition to that, the various Billboard magazine newsletters, Hypebot, Variety, and the Luminate reports are excellent resources. We also enjoy watching TED talks whilst on the treadmill, which share a variety of knowledge helpful to artists and us in the music industry.

Any last words?

Asti, Luca and Luna the Tuna all want to say thank you for the opportunity to be featured on this article! And thank you to whoever is reading this! We hope you check out our new single Split Enz, and we hope you enjoy it!

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