A few weeks ago I sat down and had the best smoothie in an East London cafe while chatting away about music making, women in the music industry and much more with singer-songwriter, Donna Missal. She played in London for the first time as a support act at MOTH Club and now she’s looking forward to coming back her soon!
What inspired you to start a career in music?
I feel like music is in my lineage, my grandmother who I never got to meet, my dad’s mom was a songwriter in the forties and my dad made music all throughout his childhood, he moved to New York when he was eighteen from Chicago to play music and he was doing some session work as a drummer from there he started a recording studio and he ran that for many years in Manhattan as a producer and he played in bands he met my mom there. My parents had my older sister and I and moved us to the suburbs of New Jersey. My dad kept a lot of his recording equipment from the studio, he kept it in the basement at our home and I’ve been recording since I was four on this equipment that he kept in our home. So I feel like it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, I’ve been doing it ever since.
What’s your song writing process like?
I’m really collaborative, I love to write my own lyrics and many other songs on my album were things that I wrote lyrically on my own but through the record making process I learned about the value of collaborations. This record in particular ‘This Time’, it’s my very first album; it took me about two years to write and a year and a half to record, it’s about the exploration of time and it changes song to song, writing sessions are a fickle process and it changes depending on who’s in the room. It’s a really incredible process, it’s a very trusting process, you learn to get very intimate with people really quickly, in a really interesting creative way and I’ve always found that totally weird but really cool that people are capable of doing that with one another. It just depends; I love writing things from scratch, getting into a studio with a bunch of people that I respect and that I like their work, just making things and seeing what happens. This record was a result of a ton of really great writing sessions with really really great and really talented collaborators.
Just to go more in depth about your album ‘This Time’, what’s the story behind it?
It’s about a human experience, which I think is what music is about to me and what makes music so important to me as a fan and as a listener is that you’re tapping into the human experience, my personal experience as a woman in the music industry and within our culture. It’s been sort of steeped in this obsession over time, which is why I named the record after the track ‘This Time’, the record is really meant to embody the concept of taking the time to figure yourself out and there are a lot of picks and value through out that process, so the songs really are meant to explore that the theme being take your time to get there, respect your process. It took me a long time to figure those things out; I think women are in a huge rush because of societal pressure to reach your destination as quickly as possible in the music industry especially. There’s such an emphasis on youth and capitalising on youth, I’m a 28-year-old woman and I’ve felt years and years of pressure from feeling as years passed me I wasn’t considering what I was learning and more so just focused on feeling like my career was slipping away from me and no one would fuck with me as an older artist. There’s so much pressure on women to be young and appear young. We see it in other industries as well, this importance placed on youth but for women more so and absolutely the music industry is a huge purveyor of that. So this record making process for me was really about learning how to shed that and it took a really really long time but I really wanted to make something that might empower other people around me to accept that where they are right now is enough and your destination can take a lifetime to get there and that is totally ok. It can take you as long as you need it to take you to get where you wanna go. I think it’s really important that we are reminding each other of that, especially from another prospective of someone within the music industry, so that’s what the record is about.
So I heard you directed your own music video for your new single ‘Jupiter’, how did that come about?
Yeah I made a music video for my single Jupiter, it was my first time directing. I’ve more recently than ever really started coming into myself as a businesswoman and a creative director, really understanding that I am capable and for women to be able to say that about themselves is really important as part of the dialog about equality. Men are so often put in positions of power over women, the music industry again is a really big engine for that way of thinking and I really just wanted to say, everyone has to start somewhere and this is something I’m interested in. I really wanna have agency over my creative direction and the best way to do that is to conceptualise it yourself and fucking do it yourself. I felt really empowered by that prospect and thought “fuck it I’m gonna do it!”. So I just insisted, “I wanna do this, I’m going to do this!” I used some templates that I’d seen of treatments before and I made myself a treatment and I got a director photography, we went out to my hometown of New Jersey where we shot for three days.
What type of music did you grow up listening to?
My really early years as a kid, my dad was always playing really classic pop and soul. For me I was most struck by powerful women, female singers like Etta James and Aretha Franklin. I feel like my dad wanted us to really have a good bases of understanding of what great music was, so lots of Beatles and Oasis records. But I gravitated towards female singers and I think I really wanted to emulate that from a really young age. When I was a teenager, pop was sort of exploding at that time. I really loved pop R&B girl groups, so I was listening to 3LW, TLC, Destiny’s Child and just really wanted to sing like them, so I learned every riff on every record, got totally obsessed and that’s when I started feeling like I really wanted to be a singer. I obsessed over melodies and the different hooks and the ways the voice turning in on itself and different techniques from R&B pop music.
What do you prefer doing, would you rather play live or recording in the studio?
They do different things for you as an artist. I love the work aspect of being in the studio, working through something, solving problems and figuring out the context of a song from the inside out and understanding why the production would be a certain way. I love to be in the studio, getting the songs from the studio to the stage and getting to experience what happens when you share your music, you have that moment with an audience where you’re so connected and they’re singing the songs back to you, that you’ve worked so hard on. There’s something about that, that you can’t get that experience anywhere else you only get it from performing live where you’re so connected with a group of people that you don’t know but you know them through your own music and that’s a really transformative experience. I wouldn’t say one is preferential and I think they’re both totally crucial to my process, I don’t think I would be happy if it were just one or the other but the stage is a very very special place.
At Noctis we support and have tremendous love for the LGBTQIA community, how important do you think it is for people to express their sexuality and to be proud of who they are?
Currently in the social climate we are living in right now, I think it’s absolutely crucial that it’s part of the conversation because we are not yet at a point where it is totally normal and accepted, just as much as heteronormative relationships because of that I think it’s a crucial turning point and the conversation needs to be happening but my hope is that it becomes so normalised that we are no longer talking about it. It’s extremely important to be outspoken about the topic, if you have any kind of platform- which we all do to make sure to use it to express the inclusion of all people, especially those in such disenfranchised groups and such marginalised groups like the LGBTQIA community. I’m hoping that eventually what will happen is the shift in culture will be so immense that there will be no difference between heteronormative or LGBTQIA. And I hope this question no longer arises for anyone.
You posted a short video not too long ago, talking about how a few young musicians are more successful in the industry and for all the wrong reasons and how so many music platforms and people are supporting them- you seemed triggered, would you say that those musicians you discussed about nowadays are all steering backwards? Also how would you advise people to make this out dated ideology the thing of the past?
I was totally triggered you are right, I think what I was feeling was specifically towards a community of young male rappers who were behaving in their personal lives that was totally damaging. We’re making such incredible strides as a society and as a culture towards the right direction of equality, acceptance of all people but as well as respect especially towards women. I think it’s such a tired narrative to talk about in your personal life to abuse women and to not have there be any recourse for that from the public or from the industry and rather there’s a celebration of these artists that are truly just demolishing the work of people who are striving for this to no longer be a part of the narrative of music. Basically what I’m talking about is any music or any musicians who are abusing their power spreading messages of negativity, drug use. It’s a slippery subject, I think mostly because a lot of people who are making music that is glorifying drug use, crime and violence, they are coming from an economical background- they’re coming from poverty with a lack of education and resources and it’s reading this kind of music and message. I think more so I’m upset by the industry’s standard not changing and the industry giving platform and resources with millions and millions of dollar deals basically to artists who are using this message within their music. I would love to see the industry change in a way to say we are no longer going to support this and give you the largest platform of any artist with any message. What I’m hoping for is an internal change so than that rather than acknowledging and supporting that message, they can be like “I’m sorry you can’t talk about women that way and doing drugs isn’t fucking cool, and encouraging children to do that isn’t fucking cool either.” It’s the responsibility of the industry itself.