Interview with Donna Missal

Last November, Sarah and Courtney jumped on Zoom with Donna Missal. They talked about getting tattoos with Macklemore, having a chance to experiment and adapt in these wacky times, and eating vegan on tour.

When you’re on tour, what’s your go-to gas station order?

Donna: Oh my god. It’s difficult because I’m vegan. So, gas stations are not my favorite rest stop. Usually, I’m super down for a grocery run, and we try to pick gas stations that are in proximity to a grocery store. And I will run my ass to a grocery store. But if I had to, it would be definitely water. And I’d look for usually, bananas. I’d get myself a banana, under dire circumstances maybe a protein bar or something. Oreos are a secret vegan menu item. For gas stations, a nice thing if I need a little something extra.

Courtney: Oreos always hit, you can’t go wrong with them.

Donna: When I went vegan a few years ago, I found this Reddit thread of all these foods that are secretly vegan. The brands are not intending to make them so, but like, Nabisco makes a ton of secretly vegan stuff. They definitely are using additives and fillers instead of animal products as some sort of workaround, probably for cost reduction. But it really works for the benefit of people like me. Because we can eat Oreos.

Do you think that the world shutting down, and the overall shift to streaming instead of radio, has given artists a chance to experiment with more unconventional content?

Donna: Sure, definitely. From my own personal standpoint, I’ve definitely given things a shot that I wouldn’t have given much attention to before. And allowed myself to do things that, maybe prior to this big shift, that… I want things to be technically perfect all the time. And I want the ability to have people involved that can make things technically perfect for me. That’s always sort of been my methodology.

The process of making the art itself is messy. But the process of getting it into the hands of people has a lot of regiment and structure, and has a lot to do with ‘can you smooth over all these fine lines so that what we’re marketing and selling is this more perfect representation of the thing?’. And I’ve personally let go of a lot of that, because those options just aren’t at your disposal all the time anymore.

The way it’s sort of affected artistry as a whole, I think it’s been kind of amazing. That is such a letting go of that hold on making things perfectly marketable and as presentable as possible. That’s been kind of a cool outcome. I think with everything shifting online, it makes for an environment where the internet artist can really thrive, as opposed to the radio and touring world, where that kind of has to be your thing.

I imagine that a lot of artists who maybe struggle with social anxieties or anxieties performing in front of audiences, they’re being given a platform that is so much more in line with what they’re good at. And that only creates more space for more types of art. With anything that’s vastly and largely negative, there’s bound to be some offset of positivity, and that’s one of the offsets.

Courtney: I think definitely in this modern time, it’s kind of a good thing that the general user base of people that listen to music on any platform, they’re very forgiving. So, if there’s any new artists dropping songs on an Instagram livestream, if the sound quality or the background isn’t the best, nobody really cares. At this point, if you have that authenticity and that drive, and they like your song, people will listen, and it doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly polished and crystal clear.

Donna: Totally, there’s just more of a connection to something you’re watching that’s been put together with minimal means. Bedroom pop has been exploding in the music industry, for a few years now. Now it’s become so much more about documenting that process in a really real way, where you’re not trying to hide the fact that this stuff is being conceived in someone’s personal space. Rather, that’s sort of at the forefront of the thing, and at the way that it’s being consumed.

Like, ‘This is my personal space, and I’m letting you into it in literally every way possible.’ On your own personal computer, on your own webcam, on your own phone, mainlining directly to people’s devices from a space that is yours. There’s nothing more personal than that sharing, and it’s never really been like that. You just didn’t do that. Online concerts, concerts from home, all of us trying to communicate through our devices, we’ve seen it happen but never in this way. It’s very interesting, and it’s bound to create a lot of really interesting results. And we’re still seeing what those results are. We’re nowhere near having reached the peak of what this whole thing is gonna come to mean.

You said Lighter was created with live performance in mind. Obviously, that’s not happening right now— has this changed how you are approaching any current projects?

Donna: Oh, definitely. I think it gets really redundant and can feel really stupid at this point to continuously say ‘The world looks so different now, the world looks so different now, the world looks so different now.’ Because we’ve been saying that for over six months, where it’s like ‘oh, everything looks so different now.’ Because yeah, it does. So, what are we gonna do with that?

I think I had so many intentions for this record that are just impossible to see through. I had to fully relinquish control of that. Because there’s nothing you can do. I intended to make this record so I can tour it. That’s why it sounds the way it does. But it’s just not possible to tour. So, how can I reframe some intentions and see it in a new way. And just let it be what it is. But in terms of how that’s affecting creative processes moving forward, my creative process now is so vastly different than the creative process making this record.

For the first time, I’m recording myself from home, making stuff by myself. I’ve never made my own demos before, I’ve always just gone into a session with an instrument like, ‘I wrote this song, what do you think, do you want to make it a song?’. Now it’s like, I’m recording things into Logic for the first time ever. That’s a brand-new experience for me. It’s bound to open different doors creatively because you’re physically doing things that are brand-new.

So yeah, it’s definitely changed the creative process in a really, really serious way. I would love to see how our environment continues to change in a way that we’re all healthier and we can all be together again. I still believe in that so wholeheartedly, and I refuse to believe that this is now what it is. I think that we’re gonna find that the two are going to find commonality, common ground.

I think something cool about right now, too, is that we are being introduced to all these new ways of connection and creation, but when we can return to the connection and creation that we had before, while all of this new stuff still exists, we can have both. Then we have a truly inclusive environment, built for everyone, and I think that’s amazing. And if this had to happen for that to be the case, like I said, positives with negatives. Long answer to your very short question.

Have you picked up any hobbies during quarantine?

Donna: I’ve always loved to cook, and when we’re touring that’s impossible or really difficult. So, being at home, I’ve been able to cook a lot more. I really enjoy it, so that’s been fun. For the first time, my sisters and I, we rent a house out here in Pasadena and we grew a garden this summer. We all had time, and we were around. We’ve never done it before. So, growing something was pretty cool. Watching yourself plant a seed in the ground and take care of it, and then it’s something you can eat, like a full-blown zucchini, is kind of fascinating and amazing. That was cool.

I think I’ve always, since I started really pursuing this as a career, I always believed myself to be like ‘This is who you are, this encompasses everything about you, this thing that you do with music.’ I’ve believed this period of time has really allowed me to put some separation there and realize that’s just a sub-sect of who I am, not the whole thing at all. Hobbies do that, I think. Hobbies give you that portal to other facets of yourself that are really important. Otherwise, not really introducing many new things into my life, aside from recording my own music from home, but hobby-wise just being able to dive deeper into things that I have not been able to do over the last few years, because of touring. That’s actually been kind of nice.

Your style reminds us of Bryan Adams. Who are some of your musical influences or favorite artists?

Donna: I find that I’m influenced by everything. Everything I consume makes its way into my influences. I try to keep it really eclectic. For this record, I was sort of surrounding myself with very specific things because I wanted a very specific sounding record. So, I was only absorbing a few albums that really informed the decisions that were made on this record. I wanted it to fit a very specific framework. So, I was listening to like Cheryl Crow’s Greatest Hits record. Smashing Pumpkins [and] Alanis Morrissette is in rotation, Jagged Little Pill. And Fiona Apple.

That really started to dictate the live instrumentation. That’s such a through-line for all these records. I was listening them on proper CDs. I just bought a bunch of CDs, that was cool and really informed some things. In terms of things that I listen to, for just pleasure and enjoyment, as a music fan, I’ve been obsessed with Latin music and world music, and I’ve been listening to a ton of international artists.

I’m obsessed with Rosalia and Nathy Peluso. They make really pop-leaning R&B, electronically produced music. It’s so far outside of the things that I’ve been making recently, like the album I just put out. That really helps me to get out of my own creative process to listen to artists that are doing something totally different. I find it super inspiring.

Courtney: Rosalia is incredible, I just went on a binge of watching her live performances to see how she interprets her songs. She’s very, very good.

Donna: She’s a trained flamenco vocalist, there’s nothing like it. Her voice is gorgeous. The way she just enunciates the words, and the way she emotes is very, very cool. The effort she puts into her visuals and music videos is very, very cool and striking. I’ve found, too, that listening to vocalists in other languages really, really helps me to not disassociate, but to…it takes me out of my judgement zone.

Because I write music, I have a judgement zone for music, where I can’t help but like… my sisters are actors, and they say the same thing. Like when they’re watching movies and television shows, they have a really hard time turning that filter off. That like, ‘you’re a creator’ filter. It makes you judgmental, and look at things from a really technical standpoint, like ‘oh, I don’t like the lighting in that shot’ or ‘I don’t like that lyric,’ rather than just letting the thing exist and having an experience with it that doesn’t have that judgment filter on it.

When I listen to music in languages that I don’t understand, it really helps me separate that perspective and just turn that filter off. And just get to really enjoy things and be a fan of things. Which can get complicated sometimes, when you also make things.

Sarah: That makes perfect sense.

You have a lot of tattoos- do you have a favorite, and if so, why?

Donna: No, I never think about my tattoos ever. I forget I have them all the time. I’m never like ‘Oh yeah, my tattoos.’ It’s not on my consciousness at all. I have my dad’s name on my wrist, and I got it when I was touring in Australia. I was part of Macklemore’s show. Because I have tattoos, and he has tattoos, and we have similar style tattoos, he asked me if I wanted to go get tattoos one day. And I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure!’. And he bought me this tattoo, and it was very touching. And it’s my pops, so it was a nice moment. Otherwise, I’ll see one sometimes in a picture and be like ‘Oh! I have that!’. So, our last question is, do you have any upcoming plans?

Do you have any upcoming plans?

Donna: No. [Laughter]. All of our plans are so contingent on what’s happening with Covid and what’s happening with our lockdowns in my state, and with my players, and with safety being the most important aspect of every single thing that we’re doing. I feel like that was kind of rude. I totally have plans, but they’re all so ‘maybe,’ because of our environment, that I’m just keeping them close to chest. On a personal note, I plan to just get through this year and just like, exist and survive.

Courtney: That’s all anybody’s really doing right now. We’re all just trying to do things that entertain us and make us feel fulfilled, and that’s pretty much it.


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