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December 2020 / January 2021

Getting to know... Donna Missal

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Published: 1:00 pm, November 13, 2020
Getting to know... Donna Missal

The striking opener from her second album 'Lighter', Donna Missal's 'How Does It Feel' showcases everything great about the country-smashed-with-90s-pop artist, who's both experienced the sensation of 'going viral' with early hit 'Keep Lying', and a buzzy Lewis Capaldi support slot in recent years. Its handful of lines are drenched in emotion; a feeling of both heartbreak and the bordering-on-euphoric draw to freedom and escape. It's for this track the New Jersey singer-songwriter has today released a video. Created with social-distancing in mind (of course), you can check it out below - and get to know Donna a little better, too.

Hi Donna, how's it going? What are you up to today?

I'm having a coffee, sitting in the sun outside feeling some relief today.

How have you been finding 2020? Weird one, innit.

Weird one. A rug pulled out from everyone resulting in all kinds of results, both good and bad. The answer to this kind of question shifts depending on whatever lense I'm seeing it through like identity, class, career, etc. started to realise that the question itself tends to lead to a bigger one, like, who the fuck am I?

What first drew you to music, did you have a musical upbringing?

Yeah, I did, very. My dad was a musician and met my mom that way, and I started singing as a really young kid very naturally, which my parents were very nurturing of. Like, started recording me singing when I was 4 in my dad's basement studio - really just a collection of old equipment, not as lux as it might sound but very fortunate to have access to that. And such a sense of normalcy around creative expression through music.

What was your first break into 'the biz'? Was there a specific point where you thought, this could really happen?

I released my first song when Spotify was brand new, kind of crazy to think about now. So weird to look back on how different things were even just a few years ago, but the concept of a "viral" song was literally brand new. I guess the song went viral by the standards at the time and I started my career as an artist amidst that, so the whole thing felt pretty tangible and yet totally confusing, lol. I just haven't really looked back and still have that "maybe this could happen" feeling today so...

It sounds like you've had an awful lot going on over the past few years; what've been the highlights of your time as a musician so far?

Definitely touring, finding community around my music. Playing arenas for the first time opening for Lewis Capaldi was very cool. Getting to talk to Shania Twain on a video call fucked me up. She's been an idol of mine since I was a kid, so that was a highlight def. a lot of the quiet moments have been very impactful and memorable for me, like making my album. It was a very intimate and close-to-chest experience. Sometimes when I think about my most memorable moments, my mind goes right to the quiet times, the things that no one sees but me.

In what ways is 'Lighter' a step on from 'This Time', do you think?

I had changed a lot as a person since writing my first record when I started 'Lighter', so I think it was bound to be very different. I wanted to make something that felt like it could live forever, which wasn't on my mind at all while writing the songs on 'This Time'. I was living through an experience while I was writing 'Lighter' where I felt at my absolute lowest and used music to write myself through to the other side of that. Feels like 'This Time' was expression and inspiration from years of wanting and learning and becoming, and 'Lighter' is an encapsulation of a moment in time in my life, so very different from conception to completion.

Do songs find you, or do you have to find them?

Totally depends, but I've noticed that with the songs on 'Lighter', I was writing while in-between tours so I was singing a lot and very consistently, so like I guess the instrument of my voice was very warm, and I found the writing process to be dictated by what my voice wanted to do. In that way, the songs kind of found me. Whenever I'm in a phase of being uninspired, it's usually a result of not practising my instrument regularly, so I'm trying to do more of that from home right now.

How did you find creating the video for 'How Does It Feel'? Did social-distancing come into play?
Yeah, the whole video was a result of distance. I found the director, Rodrigo Inada because of time spent online watching how artists were making projects resulting from the pandemic. Got in contact with him on DMs, just reached out and asked if he'd ever want to make something. He was living in London at the time, and we couldn't travel, so whatever we did would have to be through all that distance. It was one of the first times during all of this that I considered the advantage of not being able to make something in person, because I could consider collaborators that were outside of my direct community. Rodrigo conceptualised this idea of using the distance and the relationship to screen and through the screen as the story of a video, and he chose 'How Does It Feel' to tell that story. We shot footage in LA to send over to him in London, but the rest was all him. It's my favourite thing I've ever been a part of, and I'm really honoured to have my favourite song on my album be seen in this way. Without the distance, it would have never happened.

How hands-on are you when it comes to your videos, artwork and the like?

Usually, I am extremely involved, haha, like full-on. I've directed almost all of my videos to date. With this video for 'How Does It Feel' though, it was important to me to let go and see it through someone else's eyes. I'm doing a lot of letting go lately. A new personal practice of mine.

What else are you working on at the moment? Have you had much time to think about album number three?

I'm recording from home for the first time which has been a big learning experience and definitely opening up new doors of creativity that I haven't even tried to access yet so I'm excited by that. I will always be writing music. I'm in a very exploratory phase right now, and soon I'll step back and try to discern what it looks like, but for now, I'm going to just stay tucked inside the process and see what happens.

To what extent do you feel the pressure to always be doing something new? Does that impact you much?

Yes and no. I feel the pressure, and I also know and acknowledge it's not real, or rather baseless. I feel stressed out sometimes about relevancy, consistency, feeding this ever-hungry industry, "content" bullshit. But feeling that doesn't have to result in like, "this is truth" - it's just feelings. I know at the end of the day that what's important is being honest, working hard, letting the moments come instead of trying to create them.

Do you have much in the diary for 2021 yet?

Like, plans? Always. We'll see what happens.

Donna Missal's album 'Lighter' is out now.

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