A singer / songwriter with the looks of a young Cher, the pizzazz of Lady Gaga and a sound all her own, pop princess Danielle Cardona is slowly but surely bringing live original music back into the queer bar scene… and taking several other talented musicians along for the ride. [Cover photo: Matthew Capriotti]
Thotyssey: Hello, Danielle! How is quarantine agreeing with you so far?
Danielle Cardona: Hello! I’m getting by, doing my best to stay calm and positive.
That’s all you can do! I guess some artists can use this time to write and record and be creative or whatever. But also, the reality of what’s happening is super stressful, and maybe too distracting.
It’s a combination of both, yes. I keep telling myself I’m going to to use the extra time in to write, concept ideas and plan ahead… but the situation IS overall very distracting. I’m (trying) to take news media / social media with a grain of salt, and remain rational.
Yes that is definitely the challenge for all of us at this time. Under “normal” circumstances, what sort of things generally inspire you to write new music?
My “normal” is a mix of high highs and low lows, lol (I think a lot of artists probably feel this way). But, from those extremes often come new ideas. Because I often treat lyric writing kind of like storytelling, I’d say the lyrics are usually a reaction to something going on in my life or around me: could be anything from a romantic situation to something going on in the world.
The music, on the other hand, is more instinctual. Lately, I’ve been looking to the past and also to my own roots for musical inspiration: 90s R&B, disco, 80s power ballads (because I can’t live without a dramatic guitar solo). Also many Latin artists: Selena, Shakira, Ana Gabriel to name a few… and more new ones, Karol G and J. Balvin. I find, too, that the producer always plays a large role either in offering additional inspo or pushing me out of my own comfort zone to make something happen.
So, where are you from originally… and how long has music been a part of your life?
I grew up in Brooklyn and Woodstock, New York (we moved to Woodstock when I was 9, and I came back to NYC as soon as I possibly could when I was 18). Music / the arts have been a huge part of my life since I was a child: singing, band/orchestra, (flute) dance, musical theater, etc. Ironically, I didn’t go after a music career initially. For college, I went to FIT with big plans to be a big fashion exec, but about a semester into college I knew something enormous was missing. It really ate away at me. I did manage to finish school, but I started my first band shortly after, and haven’t stopped since.
It must have been real scary in the beginning, when you were first starting to perform your original music live.
Lol, I had no idea what I was doing! I started my first band around the time Lady Gaga was first big, and we were kind of trying to do that–like a laptop, guitarist and percussion situation. I remember that figuring out the sound was always an issue. Most venues (even now) don’t cater so well to pop acts; they’re more rock band focused. But back then they really didn’t [cater to a pop sound].
It’s true… a top notch pop music performance requires a larger stage area and better tech than a rock band.
In many ways, it actually does! Also, I found that a lot of bookers didn’t always know where to place the “pop” acts in a bill. I got into creating my own events for this reason. The sound situation was, and still proves, difficult, but finding other pop sounding / presenting artists and putting them all in a shared space wasn’t.
How do you think your sound has evolved over the years?
I think it has grown up a bit, because I grew up. As I’ve continued with creating music, I’ve learned more about songwriting and music at the same time that I’ve learned about life. The things that used to bother me when I was 22 don’t affect me the same way today. I feel overall more confident than I did when I first started (I hope everyone does), and I’m more willing to step outside my comfort zone. I think / hope that’s made an impact on the writing, the sound, and the shows.
Tell us a bit about what you’ve recorded and put out there, and in general how much you like the recording process versus live performance.
Since going solo, I have two EPs out, and a few singles / remixes. My first EP Dust to Dust, released in 2015, is a more uptempo dance/pop sound, with a touch of throwback. The more recent Young Love, released this past December, is more of an R&B sound.
What I love about the recording process is the evolution of a song or project–how with each stage of the process, new ideas form and sometimes you can end up with something completely different from how you started. My songs are a mix of electronic and live production, and I love that while I’m creating the songs, I’m planning out how I might execute them live.
Onstage, I just feel alive. I don’t know how else to explain the joy of being onstage. My ideal situation is a full band, singers, dancers, lights, looks, etc., but I’m set up where I can do my shows with either a full band or tracks or some combination of both, depending on the sort of booking it is. I don’t think I necessarily love one more than the other (recording process versus giving shows, because both are necessary), but there’s really nothing like the feeling of giving a show to a packed room.
I like your video for “The Winner Stands Alone” from 2018–very slick and polished and high fashion, plus Yay Mannequins!
Thank you! The video idea concept came very directly from the songs theme. The song was inspired by the book title The Winner Stands Alone by Paolo Cohelo. It’s message is basically a play on the words: the idea that “the winner stands alone” because there’s only one “winner,” and because “winning” in the material sense can often wind up very lonely and isolating. The video is an over the top portrayal of that idea–the only living person in world of frozen beautiful people–or, well, mannequins. It was directed by Felix Flores (Felix And The Future), shot at the Rootstein Mannequin showroom, edited by Peter Barker, and a few of the looks came from The Blonds.
How did you wind up performing in NYC’s queer spaces–and collaborating with other musical artists in the scene, like Felix?
Years ago, when I had my first band, we created this weekly party / show at The Woods called VVYNL. What started out as an effort to find other like-sounding artists and give a show every week, turned into a unique and inclusive platform of artists of all backgrounds… many of whom come from NYC’s queer scene. During that time, I met Michael Park–“Disco Mike“–who invited my band to perform at his party at Sugarland, and knowing that I also booked a weekly event, introduced me to several more artists: Will Sheridan, Felix & The Future, Jordan Hall, Jen Urban & The Box, Dynasty Electrik, etc., many of whom became my close friends.
Jen, in particular, is an amazing friend. We’ve always looked out for each other–often when one of us would get asked onto a show’s bill, we’d find a way to get the other on as well. That turned into us creating more of our own shows, and eventually our monthly show Torch, at Macri Park. As Jen has transformed into R0zegld and gotten more into producing, we’ve also begun collaborating on music.
Like the recently released “Song For The Ladies”remix! Tell us about how that came about.
I’m so happy this came to fruition! The song is originally off my first EP. It’s meant to empower women to more actively embrace the practice of self-confidence and self-love, and to work together instead of against each other. I remember performing the song at one of Jen’s parties at TnT, and her saying “I’m GOING to do a remix of that song.” Neither of us pursued the idea immediately; both of us had a lot going on, but it was something we always talked about.
This year, we finally did it for Women’s History Month. Since the remix wound up coming out right as all of NYC nightlife shut down, I’m actually taking the earnings from the remix and the original and putting it into a fund to give back to our Torch family. I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from home (for now, anyway), but nearly all of the artists, bartenders and DJs are not working… and so it’s one way that I intend to help. I was a bartender and freelancer for almost ten years, so it’s impossible not to put myself in their shoes right now.
That’s wonderful! Hopefully everyone will give this great song a download or a stream, for a good cause! So, do you see singers and musicians becoming a major presence in the bars and clubs again, as they once were not long ago? Right now, drag shows still dominate that scene.
I would love to see multiple types of performers participating in the same space (I do see more of this happening, gradually). I’ve always done things that way though, because One, it’s helpful cross-promotion for all involved; and Two, because my own personal taste leans more toward over the top maximalism. So, I’m always the most excited to curate or take part in an event with multiple elements, drag playing a very important part.
So now of course is not the best time for plugs since there is so much uncertainty, but what might be ahead for you when this is all over?
Depends on how long this goes. For now, I’m actively promoting the “Song For The Ladies” remix, as well as my recent EP Young Love.
And I’m using my Instagram platform to also try and call attention to all of the wonderful NYC artists, with “Artists Tribute” posts, in hopes that anyone following my content checks them out and downloads a song or two. Looking ahead, I’m brainstorming a show / fundraiser for when the venues reopen as another effort to help those I love who are currently out of work because of the shutdown. All of us will be itching to get on stage again, and I think it’s something positive to look forward to.
Okay, so once again comes my closing question for all our Quarantinas: what are you currently binge watching?
Lol, love this topic! Just finished Good Girls, and now I’m already almost done with Tiger King–WHAT a novela! About to also start Casa de Papel. But Tiger King, OMG… so many plot twists!
I hear that! Thank you, Danielle!