“It’s amazing that we are granted the opportunity now to present our ideas,” Donna Missal is passionately telling me. In our 20 minute phone call, Missal is feeling a range of emotions - enthused, to talk about her debut album of this year ‘This Time’, honoured, when discussing working with one of her songwriting heroes Sharon Van Etten, and as previously mentioned, passionate.
Her passion exudes itself into her album, an eleven-track look into her mind - an album which has led to touring with King Princess, as well as just announcing a headline tour for 2019.
...the things that are unique and individual to that person or to myself, makes my love and understanding of myself and the people around you so much deeper and so much more real.
COUP DE MAIN: I love how about your song ‘Girl’ you’ve said you want it to “encourage all women to push the agenda of accepting ourselves and one another – encouraging and uplifting each other as the vital alternative to shifting the culture around us.” Do you find it important for your music to promote ideas that can help shift culture, and spark discussion around things like this?
DONNA MISSAL: I am so glad that you mentioned that. Yeah, absolutely, I think it is super important for anyone with any kind of social platform. It’s amazing that we are granted the opportunity now to present our ideas - everyone has a platform, not just artists or people in media or people on the television, we all have a platform now and it’s important to talk about the things that you care about, and care about things that matter. I think there is a responsibility for anyone that has any kind of platform in any way to speak up for the things they believe are right and against the things that they think should change. We are seeing so much of that and it is really important for me to be a part of it - I'm really passionate about it.
CDM: Why did you decide to end up using the demo vocal takes for the final version of ‘Driving’? It’s one of my favourites on the album, it has such a rawness to it.
DONNA: Thank you! Sometimes you just know when you have something that feels good. Luckily I have a lot of really great, supportive collaborators around me that are super into the process of production, and sometimes that means allowing the first idea to be the one that you go with, and that is something that I really believe in and apply to my songwriting all the time. We just knew that the vocals felt right, and it is really fun to record when you are kind of just learning what the lyric and melody is - you’re in the writing room, you are coming up with it and recording it. There is something that comes from those vocal takes that you are not going to get from any other vocal take, whereas once you know the song better, or perhaps you’ve sung it live, you’ve changed certain things about the lyric and the melody and the structure - you can never recapture that very first moment that that idea came out of your mouth. I often tend to just love the way that those feel and sound, so there is a good chunk of the record that has vocals that are from the original demo session.
CDM: I was talking to Paramore's drummer Zac Farro recently who said he often uses his drumming demos, because when you try to remake them it just doesn't have the same energy.
DONNA: It's something that you can feel, it has some sort of special anticipatory quality that I think even if the listener doesn't know that that is what they are hearing, that is totally what they are hearing. It’s fun to leave those in there too and have that memory attached to the recording, it’s kind of special too.
CDM: What was it about ‘Test My Patience’ that made it such a labour intensive song to record?
DONNA: I think some songs just take a while to get right. It is just sort of an innate feeling that you have when you are working on something that you have written, a guideline as to when something is done being tracked, but it’s something that you hope to just feel and it just took a while for that one to get there. I always knew from the beginning of the record-making process that I would include that song on the album, so it was one of those songs that I was so sure about, that many days starting a little bit of it or maybe laying down a foundation or pulling something off of the demo or the working tape, and dealing with that little by little, it happened throughout the entire record-making process. I think that is why it took so long, because I had a sureness that I wanted it to be included on the record, and we worked on that one a little bit everyday. It was one of my favourites to make for that reason because it really felt like something to turn to, something consistent that felt good to make regardless of what else we were working on in the studio that day.
CDM: Did you have a sense of relief when you finally finished it?
DONNA: Oh yeah! Anytime you decide that something is finished, the relief is amazing. It is something that I think everyone who makes music is always searching for, and waiting for that moment, and everything you do is kind of to get you to that moment. It is definitely rewarding, it feels really good.
CDM: I love the line in ‘Metal Man’ when you sing, “Don’t say you're sorry when I know / No you're not.” It’s a strange thing that exists in society, where I feel like people just say sorry by default without thinking a lot of the time, and without maybe even feeling sorry. Is that what you were thinking about writing that line?
DONNA: Totally. I think that song is meant to reflect this relationship that we have with the whole digital personality that we all come equipped with now, especially in the way that we get to know one another romantically. We all have this attachment now to our phones and I think they act as additional steps to the complexity of getting to know somebody, and unfortunately a side effect of that has been a lot of disingenuine engagement with people - even people that you care about or say they care about you, and it can be super hurtful, so the message of that song is kind of meant for talking about that. A lot of people say things that they don't mean, or have a disattachment to the things that they say, especially in the whole commenting/DM way, that form of communication. I feel like it allows for this separation and you could almost disassociate yourself and your responsibility of the things that you do and say.
CDM: I feel like people are conditioned to say things rather than say what they actually feel sometimes.
DONNA: Oh, totally. I think that is kind of a new development in the way that we interact with one another, not to say that it hasn't always been there, but I feel like it is getting so much more complex. We have so many more things to worry about, so many more things that define our personalities, and the way we treat and interact with each other. I thought that was just interesting to talk about.
CDM: Honestly, I get goosebumps every time I hear you sing, “My love is real,” in ‘Thrills’. What was running through your mind writing that song?
DONNA: Oh my god, I love that so much! That makes me so happy. It is one of my favourite songs to sing live, it was kind of like a love letter to yourself. I feel like a lot of music, even just messages that are about if you're down for yourself… I feel that is really prevalent in the music that is most popular today, it’s either like, 'I'm the shit, because I'm perfect,’ or, 'I am so imperfect that I’m bad for you,' or whatever. I just feel like it is so unrealistic because it seems like, at least my personal experience with the way that I feel about myself and the way that I feel about others, the things that are unique and individual to that person or to myself, makes my love and understanding of myself and the people around you so much deeper and so much more real. I just thought it would be fun to talk about that, and to offer people a bit of an anthem of self-love - and having that love for the things that make us imperfect and the things that make us totally real. They are what I think we should value the most.
CDM: How does your songwriting process work?
DONNA: It is different depending on days - where I'm at, who I'm with. I have written so many songs just like starting a little seed of an idea by myself, even sometimes just singing a voice memo into my phone when I'm walking around, or in the shower or by myself in my apartment or a hotel. A lot of the songs from this record in particular were the result of collaboration, which is one of my favourite ways to write, to get in a room with people that I respect and love what they do and just have some fun making something. This record was such a collaborative process and so much of this album was due to the relationships that I formed with the people that I was writing and making it with. I feel like this is pretty common among artists, but writing is this process that is a little bit different every time and there is no kind of one way to go about it. I don't really know any artist that is like, 'This is the only way that I write music', I feel like personally I am always, always writing music, even if it’s just to myself.
CDM: You have to have some breaks now and then.
DONNA: I think that the breaks come when you are just not feeling it. Personally, I'm not one to feel my most creative every single day, but I think what is cool about being an artist too is getting to apply your creativity to lots of different things and it’s important to expend some of your creative energy every single day - it’s not always writing a song, sometimes it’s designing a poster. I think most creative people will attest to that, you always want to be doing something. It is such an outlet, it is such a powerful outlet, I have used it in a necessary, vital, therapeutic way, and I think that is really common among artists as well.
CDM: It’s rad that you worked with Sharon Van Etten on ‘Jupiter’, and she has her own version of the song coming out on her own album called ‘Jupiter 4’!
DONNA: Yes! I am so, so excited about that. I remember the first time that I heard her version - we share a publishing company, so my publisher Dave, he put in a meeting years ago to see if the two of us would hit it off and maybe want to write together. I was always a fan, and I look up to her in so many ways, she is so incredible. She had this song originally that she had started and she sent me a little demo of it and was like, ‘I had you in mind, what do you think?’ I fell in love with it so immediately and knew it needed to go on my album, so the two of us made a little demo of it. She got to visit the studio while we were making it and she was a vital part of this record-making process and was involved in so many songs. I was so inspired by even just her presence in my life and to get to write with her was so special to me. Did you hear it at Austin City Limits? It’s this incredible version, it’s so different and such a departure which I think is an amazing practice - a good song is going to stand on its own and is going to live a million lives and I think this song very much represents that. I’m just so happy that she is putting out another album at all and to know that this song is going to be on it, I feel so honoured, I don't even have words.
CDM: I watched the live video of her performing it. I like how they are based on the same thing but have a very different feel to them.
DONNA: I love when that happens and when songs get to live like that in these completely different spaces. Sharon is so amazing, I could talk about her for the rest of this interview. <laughs>
CDM: ‘Keep Lying’ is such a powerful song, especially when you sing, “I’ll swallow your poison / Till it runs through my veins / Fills my heart with deception / Twist my perception." Do you think sometimes in relationships, it’s easier to live in a state of bliss or ignorance?
DONNA: Of course! I think that is so universally agreed upon. You believe what you want to believe and I think it is such a human condition. The sentiment of the song was meant to be like reclaiming some control over something that you just feel so out of your control in. Deception is really, really powerful, and the realisation of deception is one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, which I always found so interesting because you would think that we would have such an understanding and just grasp onto the concept of something that we all do, but when it happens to you, it hurts so fucking bad, like nothing else hurts like that. I think that lyric is almost like a tongue and cheek kind of lyric like to me at least, it’s not intended to be the story of someone accepting their fate but rather letting the person know that, ‘I know now and I am in control.’
CDM: And lastly, if D.O.N.N.A. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
DONNA: <laughs> Oh my god. Dangerous, in a way that, ‘I’m here to fuck shit up.’ Obsessive, in a good way, in my art and my work. Nice person, and also a little naughty. Absolute, like I know what I am and what I'm not, and what I believe in and what I stand for. I am finally in a space now where I don't budge on those things and anytime I have the opportunity to speak on those things, I do.
Donna Missal’s album ‘This Time’ is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘Keep Lying’ music video below…