This past Friday on November 9th, I got to see Donna Missal perform at the Neptune Theatre. As I had seen her perform once previously before, I knew how incredible her stage presence and vocals were live. I can say without a doubt she did not disappoint; her voice was just as incredible as I remembered. She is the type of performer who you physically see gives it their all on the stage. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview her and here is what she said.
HANNAH KARL: Which artist are you currently influenced by in the music industry and why?
DONNA MISSAL: I am absolutely fascinated by Frank Ocean and his body of work. He put out Blonde right as I was starting to make my first record. I think it was in the first few weeks of making my album that it came out and I became obsessed immediately. I started researching the process so that I could in a way mimic the process. Like how did they make this perfect album? So, I found out that he took years to make it and they weren’t bouncing any of the sessions or leaving with any demos. Everyone that was working on the album, from producers to any of the collaborators, the instrumentalists, no one, not even Frank Ocean, himself, was allowed to take demos with them when they left the studios. It made it like this non-obsessive, demo-focused process, where they were able to come in with fresh ears every day and make sure they were making right choices on the song based on gut-instinct and the feeling in the moment. This really helped me make my record and helped it turn out the way that it did, because we decided to do the same exact thing. For about a year and a few months, no one was allowed to leave the studio with demos or what we were working on.
HK: I saw you perform with Macklemore last year at Key Arena, what was it like performing for an audience that size?
DM: I forgot exactly how many people that arena holds, but it was obviously the biggest crowd I’ve ever sang for. It is so much easier than playing for small crowds and I had no idea it would be that way, but it almost felt fake or something—like you step onto the stage and you feel like you’re watching tv because there are thousands and thousands of people, so you can’t really single anyone out individually. It just looks like this mass of light and sound, and it just looks fake. It’s such a surreal experience to sing and perform, it feels like you’re not even doing it. It was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had on stage. It was amazing and so freeing because the stage was so huge, using this hand-held microphone, I couldn’t see anybody, I felt like I was in a dream, it was wild.
HK: Has that inspired you to want to achieve that for yourself?
DM: Oh definitely! I think I just want to reach as many people as possible with my music and wherever the music takes me I’ll be happy. My aspirations are just to impact people positively, but obviously the more the better!
HK: I know you’ve done a collaboration with Macklemore previously, who are three other people you most want to collaborate with?
DM: Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad, and Rosalía. I just think they are absolutely killing it, like at the top of their craft. I guess maybe as far as up and comers, Rosalía, but she is so arrived, but more so definitely worldwide than the states, but she is just so inspiring to me.
HK: My favorite song of your debut album is “Girl,” can you tell me a little about the story and message behind that song?
DM: I started writing the song a really long time ago. It was the summer I had graduated high school, when I began writing that chorus. It was my way of working through a situation where I had come head on with this really competitive group of young women who I really wanted to be friends with. I grew up homeschooled, so when I started to try to find ways to socialize with other kids my age and make friends, I found it really difficult. I think a lot of the way, not just young women, but kids make friends is by growing up and going to school with them and being in the same classes. You are sort of put into a scenario where your friends are, in a way, decided for you and it’s all based on your age and general interests. Therefore, it’s hard to make friends when you don’t go to school. I found it really difficult, but when I was 18 I started doing a lot of community theatre and I had met this girl through doing community theatre and she had invited me to this party. I had seen these girls at this party and I was really wanting to be friends with them, they were the “cool girls” at the party, these three girls. I remember having a run in with them where they were just being super nice to me, to the point where I knew something was up. They handed me a drink and I don’t remember the rest of the night from that point. I think you hear about the dangers of contact between men and women all the time and you don’t necessarily get to hear about how not only difficult emotionally and mentally it can be for young women to get along with one another, but it can actually be a dangerous or damaging scenario when you are just trying to connect with other females, so I just wanted to talk about it. I started to write the song to work out my feelings about that because it was really damaging and really hurtful, when I really just wanted to be friends with these young women because I thought they were so cool. When I was making the record, I would practice guitar and warm up my voice every day at my Airbnb at the time in Los Angeles. I was just playing with my little guitar and decided to put it on my Instagram, just a chorus, and when I went into the studio the producer was like “What is that and why aren’t we currently working on that for the album?”, so we started recording it that day. It ended up being the first song of the record. It was really important to me to include, because as I was making the record, the idea is that I wanted this album to really reflect what I had personally experienced and discovered, as a young woman. Over the years of self-discovery and discovering myself through music, I thought it was really important to make that part of the narrative. That is something I am really trying to shed light on, the idea that women are better off bolstering one another and teaching one another about self-acceptance and self-love through loving each other and understanding that we all are coming from the same place. I think I have been seeing that more and more, this reflection of women standing up for one another, accepting one another, and empowering one another; I just wanted to like add to that.
HK: The first word that comes to mind when I think of you is “confident,” so that being said, what do you want your image to be or be perceived as?
DM: I just always wanted to allow for people to see that I was very human and that I have imperfections. I’m not trying to promote the idea that celebrities or people we look up to are without flaw, because I think it is really damaging to the self-image of the people who are being exposed to that. People, myself included, have grown up having this idea of the ideal woman and no one I know in the real world actually reflects that. I thought it was really important when I was ready to put myself out there not only with my music but my image, that I was reflecting the idea that we’re just people and people are full of flaw, but rather than try to change that or hide it, I think it’s really important to me that I’m talking about and exposing those flaws as the things that make me vital, important, and special. I have learned to love myself for the things that make me imperfect and I want to help as many people as possible to come to that conclusion about themselves. If I can do that by highlighting the things that are imperfect about me through my music and through my image, then that is all I am trying to do.
HK: What has been the most surreal moment in your career thus far?
DM: I think it was when Leon Bridges put one of my songs in his Instagram story. I am such a huge fan and have been for so long, I was just like “Holy S***.” So I messaged him and said “thank you so much”, and somehow we’ve become friends through that interaction, and it’s not just a “wow this is how the internet works,” it can be this connective tissue between two people who may never have had the opportunity to meet and it’s also just to respect and idolize someone so much, to now forming a friendship is totally wild.
HK: If you could explore singing/writing in any other genre of music what would it be?
DM: I’ve always wanted to write a musical and I think I plan to do that one day. I come from a background of doing theatre and that is how I got into performing and singing, so I would definitely write a musical. I have actually written so many songs that are just like a touch too theatrical to sing in front of people, that I could probably string into a musical.
HK: What’s the music writing process like for you and how do you overcome writer’s block?
DM: I don’t think writer’s block is necessarily a thing. I think creativity comes from this well inside you and sometimes you just have to dig a little bit deeper to find it. Sometimes it is completely overflowing and the times it is overflowing is when you want to take water from the well and turn it into something. The times it is not, you still need water. I’m a creative, so I need to be creative all the time. If it’s a little bit harder for me to find that inspiration, I just have to dig deeper. I believe in trying to mind your own creativity no matter where on the scale it is. I would say my writing process is totally determined by where I am at, what my mood is, am I collaborating, etc. Most typically though, I start out writing it in my head then sing it into my phone.
HK: Currently in the music industry, we are seeing more worldly genre’s like Reggaeton and K-Pop become more popular in the states, what are your thoughts on that?
DM: I think it’s amazing. The more we can reflect the global culture the better our country will be, and that’s not just for music it’s all across the board. It’s why this country exists, to be this global light, —it might be idealistic given our certain circumstances, but I just really believe our country will be that, and so to see it being influenced an inundated by these other cultures, especially musically. Because music is such an influential part of culture, music has the ability to shift the culture around it as well. Hip-hop has become the top 40 in radio. Radio is still the biggest market for the way people consume music and you see how that has totally shifted the way we dress, the way we interact with one another, and the way we view one another. It has been a really important, healthy shift in our culture. Seeing these other things get popularized, is only a good, positive, exciting thing.
HK: So lastly, I heard you are going to be headlining your own tour next year, are you excited?
DM: Of course, it’s the dream to be selling your own tickets. It is a really crucial thing to do as an artist, to get out there and make connections opening for people and meeting fans you wouldn’t get to otherwise. You have to cut your teeth the good, old-fashioned, hard way. I really believe in that and it’s been really amazing to have that opportunity, but you’re always reaching for doing your own thing. You are able to plan it from top to bottom. I really want to create a interactive, immersive experience with my tour. I will obviously be playing more songs from the record and I really want people to enter into something, have an experience, and leave feeling like their world has been altered a little bit because of the experience they just had.
HANNAH KARL | KXSU Music Reporter