By Danielle Krantz
What did the start of your career look like for you?
I was singing constantly from a young age. I was always singing, I always had a big loud voice and I love to express myself. I’m the youngest of four so I was always making up songs and was Annie when I was nine. I did 80 performances as Annie and that, really early on, solidified my love for sharing and performing and using my voice to fill up a space. From there, I started writing songs, taught myself how to play the guitar in high school, and then started playing open mics and getting slots opening for other artists, moved to LA, and got a record deal. I was always putting myself in situations where I could sing for people.
When you first got discovered and moved to LA, did you have that ‘I made it’ moment?
I grew up in the midwest, in kind of a small city, called Rock Island, Illinois. My only real context for the music business was kind of a diluted one. I was a little bit delusional because in movies, you go to LA and you get the big record contract and really that’s not how it works for a lot of people. I think I was so naive, that I did just that. I went to LA, I was playing lots of shows, I was discovered, I was signed to a production deal, and then I was signed to a record deal, but then that record deal fell through. But I found a manager and then I was signed to another deal. It took many years before anything really happened. I didn’t really get too discouraged when things didn’t work out and just kept going, so there was definitely a feeling of like ‘wow, I got this deal.’ But there was also this feeling of ‘oh, I got this deal but it’s falling through and now I’m getting this other deal and it’s taking forever.’ [Laughing] So, I don’t know if I’ve ever had that one moment where I’m like ‘I made it!’ It’s just an ever-evolving process.
I love that! What was opening for Lenny Kravitz on his “Love Revolution” tour like?
That was a big early moment. I had signed a deal with Maverick Records and the guy that signed me was friends with Lenny Kravitz. He knew there was this tour happening and that they were looking for an opener so he was able to pitch me. So getting that call a few weeks before the tour like ‘hey, you’re going on tour with Lenny Kravitz…’ that was huge. In hindsight, one of the biggest opportunities I’ve had. It felt amazing. It was gigantic and it was super cool. One thing I did learn through that, my first time ever touring, was that I guess I thought it was going to be like the movies, but really it’s just a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of traveling, going from city to city. You don’t see much of any of the cities, you don’t really hang out much with the band because they’re soundchecking, and then you’re soundchecking, and then it’s showtime. So it was such a huge honor and an early lesson.
Jumping off of that, what advice would you give to young artists looking to dive into the music industry?
It’s just changed so much. There’s so much different technology and so many more ways now to be discovered, like TikTok and Instagram. Artists aren’t really going to make the same amount of money off of selling CDs as they would have, so even being able to fund a tour is tricky in and of itself. I don’t know how to quite give advice because it’s changed so much since I started out. That being said, I think one thing that was really huge for me was not only was I constantly writing, playing, singing, practicing, warming up my voice: like really training to do this thing that I loved, but I also was very social, especially when I was younger. I was seeing live music, I was meeting people, I was opening up for other bands, and forming my own community. I think community is so important in any walk of life. Surrounding yourself with people that make you feel like you can be the best version of yourself. I was playing music with this big group of my peers early on and we had our community and our night of music. Just surround yourself with people that you love and trust. I think community is a way for people to take notice of not only you, but you representing something with a group of people. That may be more likely to draw people’s interest.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I’ve never been really good at making things up, really just my life, as simple as that sounds. I’ve had some breakups over the years that have definitely fueled a lot of songs. I would hate to think that your life has to fall apart to make art but there have been challenges and struggles. I look at the world right now and there just seems to be so much pain and confusion. I think just processing my emotions and my reaction to the world and my relationships is really where most of my ideas for songs come from. I kind of just sit around, like anyone else, and sort of think about things. [Laughing] For me, it always starts to turn into a little melody or a little line. I’ll write down a title or a lyric. So, just my life!
What did the creative process look like with your newest album, ‘Carving Canyons?’ Specifically, because it was written in the pandemic.
Yeah, I think a lot of artists I had asked about this too; the first six months of the pandemic I wasn’t really writing a lot because I felt like there were just so many big, shocking things happening with COVID and politics and a lot of heaviness in the world. So, I wasn’t really writing very much at first because it was like, ‘where do I begin?’ It was too much to process in not only my own pain, but other people’s pain. I had gone through this pretty awful breakup in May of 2020. And so by November of 2020, after the election, I went to Nashville and was like ‘I have all of these things I’ve been living with for the last six months and these thoughts and feelings.’ A lot of the pain that I had when it all started in May, I had worked through a lot of that and was on my way to making sense of things. Luckily, for me as a songwriter, I have music as a sort of therapy. I started writing songs for ‘Carving Canyons.’ So from like November 2020, for about a year, I would just write three or four songs and then I’d go record them. Then I’d go home for a month or two and then I’d write some more songs and record them. What I think made for an interesting album, is the album has this whole arc of grief: from when I started and was really angry and sad, to almost a year later, where I had pretty much accepted the events that unfolded. I learned some things and gained some emotional intelligence and so I could really see the whole picture of all of the emotions when you’re going through grief.
I definitely think you can hear that specifically in “Sad.” I feel like there’s so much heartache and also kind of owning yourself in that song.
Oh totally! And I think why I say this on stage when I play that song. I don’t think you should be in a state of rage and vengeance. But I also think it is a stop on the journey and that you need to own it. I think anger, especially in women, it’s like ‘no one likes an angry woman.’ Well I’m allowed to feel my ‘fricken feelings, you know? [Laughing] And I think with “Sad” it’s like eventually I don’t want that person to be miserable, I want them to go off and have a happy and fulfilling life. Some things just don’t go right, people make mistakes. But when I was in that place of like, ‘you hurt me and I feel like you’re not sorry enough,’ that’s a very human thing to feel. I think with my music, I try not to shy away from being truthful. I had many months where I was tortured by this feeling of this person who just dumped me on the side of the road to be with somebody else and it made me angry. And I didn’t want them to be happy, I wanted them to suffer. [Laughing] But then I got over it! You get it. It’s a valid emotion, it’s not mature, but it’s real and it passes. And when it passes it feels really good because it doesn’t have power over you anymore.
Yes! And you also co-wrote that song with Madi Diaz. What was that process like? Do you enjoy co-writing?
Yeah and I mean Madi is fantastic. Her album, “History of a Feeling” is just a masterpiece. Madi and I had a lot of mutual friends, we met here and there, but I never really knew her. Her manager, Christian, is an old friend of mine. We met over Zoom and ended up writing that song in like an hour. I felt like with this record in general, I wrote with a lot of women. It was amazing how quickly I felt like we were able to write these really powerful songs because it’s my story, but of course the people I’m writing with are going to bring their own life experience to the table. It’s nice to have someone to bounce things off of and be reminded like, ‘oh yeah! Everyone goes through this at some point. I’m not the only one who’s felt this way. It’s very universal.’ She’s [Madi’s] just lovely and amazing and it was a real honor to get to write with her. I was amazed at how quickly we were able to get that complicated feeling into a song.
I love that. Especially since you wrote with so many other women, I think your new album is so empowering.
Yay! Well thank you, that means a lot. It really feels good for me to have music to make sense of my life and to heal; but then to release it into the world and hopefully have it become healing for other people. Again, so many of the things we go through that feel so terrible and lonely, the reality is everybody has been through some version of this at some stage in their life. That kind of makes it somehow more bearable. You will come out the other side of this.
Right! So, “Carving Canyons” has a little bit more of a folky sound than some of your other stuff. Is that sound the direction you feel you’re moving into?
I wouldn’t necessarily say so. The thing is, I started out as a singer-songwriter. I played acoustic guitar and sang and was kind of a folk artist. But then once I started making albums and working with producers, musicians, and labels, the sound was kind of thickened and produced. I love it all. I’m proud of everything I’ve done. But I think these songs, there was just something about them, that they didn’t feel needed quite as many layers. There were just a lot of layers to the emotion and to my vocals, that the “folkiness” was sort of a reaction to the content of the songs. It’s hard to say. I think, moving forward, I will continue to fail to fall into a genre, as much as sometimes I would like to know what I “am.” [Laughing] It was just a reaction to the songs being a little more delicate, that the music felt more stripped back. But I would just as easily love to make a big pop album again, or a country album. I don’t really have any sense of what’s next but I’m open to lots of things.
I love that flexibility and that unknown!
So you mentioned that you loved everything you’ve done. Do you have a favorite album you’ve released?
I don’t. Of course, “Catching a Tiger,” my official debut album, will always feel very special because it’s the album that gave me a career, and allowed me to travel, and make new friends, and listeners, and gain an audience. I mean I’d say I probably end up playing most songs off of “Catching a Tiger,” just because that was the foundation from which I grew. My song “Everywhere I Go” is always really satisfying to sing; it never gets old. I think “Castles,” for example, because that album is a little bit different; there were people who didn’t give it a chance almost and then have gone back and lived with it and come to love it. That’s the tricky thing, as an artist, trying to figure out how to stay curious and open to new things, but also making sure that the people who are coming along with you don’t check out. I try to create for me and then it’s good if people are into it, but I can’t go into creating wondering ‘what are people going to like?’ It’s interesting to see what people respond to, but I also know that I can’t be guided by that.
Speaking of that, you’ve covered so many different amazing songs, and your voice has drawn many comparisons to Stevie Nicks. Do you like this comparison?
It’s funny because I’ve always loved classic rock, so growing up I’ve always liked Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks is amazing. It’s a total honor and a compliment to be compared to Stevie Nicks. There’s a part of me that hopes no one thinks I’m trying to sound like Stevie Nicks, or that she is annoyed, if she’s ever heard of me! [Laughing] It’s definitely a huge compliment but it’s never been intentional. It’s funny because I’ve covered two Fleetwood Mac songs, mostly because they were for things that were requested. Like I did “Go Your Own Way” for this tea commercial and suddenly it was being used in all these other things. It’s been an interesting thing that kept pulling me back without intentionally trying to align myself with this Fleetwood Mac comparison. But they’re such an amazing band. I’ll take it, I love it! But like you said, I’ve covered Danzig, Judas Priest, One Direction, and Bob Dylan, and Lady Gaga. I really love tackling songs in different genres because it’s kind of how you can tell a song’s really good: you take everything away and it’s still really solid.
I love your version of “Bad Romance.” I think it’s amazing!
Thank you! That was so funny too because that was the early days and I was over in London. We were keeping a crazy schedule and it was all new to me and it was like, ‘we need some songs to cover!’ So I was like, ‘I like that new Lady Gaga song!’ And we didn’t even have time to learn it, we were just like ‘play it! Go! We’re filming you!’ There was something about barely knowing how to play it that made it even better because there was more of an urgency to it.
Right! Who are some of your favorite artists and what are you listening to now?
High school, for me, was such a great time to be an aspiring artist because Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, Liz Fare, Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos, there were all these amazing women who were singing but also writing songs and playing instruments. Their personas were very approachable, it wasn’t too costumed, I could see myself in this music and these people. I think my inspiration from when I was young really came from that realm. To be honest, it’s kind of an obnoxious answer, I really don’t listen to that much music anymore. If a friend of mine has a release, I’ll listen to it, love it, and share it. And I love Miley Cyrus, I think she’s great, in terms of contemporary popular things. But I watch a lot of television! I used to listen to music and now I just watch so much dang TV, it’s crazy. I even listen to TV when I drive. [Laughing] It’s very strange!
[Laughing] I honestly do the exact same thing.
That’s so funny! Yeah, people make fun of me. I’ve seen “The Office,” “Friends,” “Gilmore Girls,” and all of these shows so many times that I can just put them on in the car and listen. It’s just very comforting because nothing bad ever happens on those shows.
Right! Exactly. You’ve lived many places. Moving back to a farm, what’s that been like?
It’s been really great. I grew up in the midwest with the seasons and stuff and I left at 18. I lived in California for a long time and that was amazing too. California is beautiful! But about seven years ago, I just decided I needed to move closer to home and I missed the midwest and the seasons. The pace of life is easier, it’s not as intense or rushed. The farm has been great. For a long time, I wasn’t there all the time. I was touring and then I would just come back and was renting out the land. So I garden, but I don’t necessarily have to tend to the 45 acres. Being there more during COVID, I started to put all of my tillable acres into prairie and planting a lot of trees, and trying to get rid of invasives that are in the woodlands; just really nerding out with conservancy stuff. If I’ve been out on the road for a few weeks or a few months and I come home, it’s such a peaceful place to land. I sit on my porch a lot with my dog. It took a while during COVID, when I was just there all the time. At first, it made me a little crazy. Then once I got used to it, I just really loved being home and cooking. I garden so I can make myself fresh food and go for walks and there’s a pond on my property. I’ve been trying to figure out how to take care of that and get the algae out of it. I also started a popcorn company! I like having a project and I really like living back in Iowa, out in the country.
What is the popcorn company called?
It’s a mouthful. It’s Ott’s Pops Indie Pop. So every flavor is a type of music. It’s like pop-genre themed popcorn! We have dream-pop, folk-pop, remix-pop, and cheesy-pop and we’re working on brit-pop and country-pop. We have a little shop in Decorah, Iowa and we sell our popcorn. We sell it online too but we make it all and I’ve been on tour so we’re sold out right now. I have to get home so I can make more popcorn! [Laughing]
[Laughing] I absolutely love that! What’s it been like going back on tour, “post” pandemic?
It’s been so good! One thing is, especially this last run, I feel like not as many people are coming out and I don’t know how to quite take that, like if it’s personal or if it’s just a sign of the times- like people aren’t used to being out. And a lot of my shows were super late- like I had a show at 10:30 PM, I was like ‘I don’t stay up that late anymore!’ But one thing I noticed is all the people in the venues- like the venue managers, the security, and the bartenders, and tech and sound people, and the lighting people- the energy in the venue is so warm and welcoming in a way that seemed really refreshing. You can see how happy everyone is to be back at it. And the people in the crowd just have big smiles on their faces in a way that feels refreshing too. We’re back- whatever that means- things are still really strange in the world. It felt amazing!
Anything else you want to add about the album, or tour, or the farm?
If people are listening to this and are curious to check out my new album ‘Carving Canyons’ and if you see that I’m coming to your neck of the woods, come and see us live! We put on a really great show and my band’s amazing. Hopefully the music speaks for itself and people should check it out and come see us.
Thank you so much! Can’t wait to see you perform!