The sun finally peeked out after the snowstorm that blanketed Northeast Wisconsin during the previous twenty-four hours. The roads were clear enough to deceive drivers that a storm had not taken place, but the white carpet on the sides reminded everyone winter was alive and kicking.
As I drove up to the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay, Wis to meet with Danielle French, her CD Drive was running through my head. Produced in 2011 out in Reno, Drive is a collection of songs inspired by French's own travels throughout her career. This award-winning singer/songwriter who hails from Calgary is also an award-winning filmmaker who has had some of her film shorts broadcast on Bravo!
In addition, she has worked with an impressive list of musicians, co-written music for theatre productions and had the honor of showcasing her artwork as well as photography in galleries. Danielle and I first met in 2012 at Dark Songs, a songwriting intensive workshop held at the Holiday Music Motel in October.
Today's interview comes after her stint at Sundance 2013 and takes place during another songwriting intensive workshop called Love on Holiday. Our conversation centered on music, photography, film and collaboration.
J: One of the things I found interesting to learn about you is your film making experience and that you just returned from Sundance 2013. What was that experience like? What did you do there?
D:I was invited there to do some showcases with a company called Access Film Music and their mandate is to hook up musicians for potential placements of songs. ASCAP and BMI are the performing right organizations of the country. They do music showcases at Sundance with quite famous artists or up and coming artists they're trying to promote. They want to make those connections and the owner of Access Film Music modeled his company after them. It's not booked by Sundance, but he takes over a venue in Park City during Sundance to take advantage of everyone being in town and helps promote music to the film makers.
I did a series of showcases through the ten days during the festival and I also got booked by Salt Lake City Visitor's Bureau. They have this event called Festival Cafe were they try to bring mostly local acts, but a couple touring acts. I did a showcase with them as well. The visitor's bureau doesn't give you tickets into films, but it gives you a pass, so, I was able to see other musicians. It was a networking opportunity.
While I was mostly there as a musician, with my film making perspective, I was able to get into a few films. You have to pay for tickets and then you have to wait in line for almost three hours, but there was one film that was tied into music by David Grohl called Sound City that was really good. It talks about this console everyone recorded on at Sound City. All the hit albums that were processed through the board. It also emphasized how recording is such an intricate part of creating music. Eventually, digital took over and the studio closed. David Grohl from Nirvana purchased the board and reunited all these artists who recorded on it back in the day. The film let me depart the festival on a really good note. It left me with this fantasy of wanting to record there.
J: My second question is an offshoot from there. You have also provided music for soundtracks?
D: Some yes. I'm trying to get more film and TV placements. I'm looking at how music makes money and it's through publishing. Either it's a hit song or film and TV placements, which can be good sources of revenue. I went down to the film and TV music supervisor's conference in LA a couple years ago. I met people who place music into shows like True Blood, The OC, Grey's Anatomy, House...major TV Shows.
Right now, I'm doing research, because you can't just give them your CD and say, "You know, if you like something..."
You have to research every show they work on, know what kind of music is the general vibe and then if you want to approach them with a song that is right for the show, they're happy to listen and find new stuff. But, they won't listen to your whole CD to see if it fits. You really have to tailor it and pitch it.
I had a song placed in Falcon Beach, which is in Canada, and there is a show that is listening to my music for consideration.
J: I am avid soundtrack person. I have my soundtrack stations on Pandora and I've listened to the ones I own over and over again.
D: They're calling music supervisors the new A & R. They are introducing independent artists into mainstream. Alexandra Patsavas is the music supervisor for shows like The OC and Grey's Anatomy. Everybody in the indie scene knows her name and wants to get a CD to her. She breaks artists now, like Death Cab for Cutie, she helped by putting their music into film and TV Shows. That's how they got their lift.
J: Do you think that music fans wanting independent music is where things are moving?
D: Yeah, I've been doing this for over twenty years now. I've seen things move from being recorded on tape to CD and now digital, which means more music is being produced. With digital, people can do it in the houses, which is great, but then it also over saturates the market. And, not everything is good. It could be a good song, but not necessarily well-produced.
With that, I think the record labels are trying to make everything perfect, but then it loses all its soul. I think people, probably more intuitively, miss the soul music had and they're starting to seek independent music.
J:You and I met at Dark Songs this past October and we're interviewing during another songwriting festival called Love on Holiday. What is the vibe and the draw of these festivals?
D: Well, this particular one isn't a festival as much, it's a songwriting intensive, whereas Steel Bridge draws more people. It's about the creative process and honestly, it's been super magical. I went to three of these last year and now I'm staying for a few months to help with the next one.
I want to help give back. I want to help keep this thing going. How can I contribute in some other way. They consider the contribution of all the songwriters, but I wanted to know how I could help more.
J: One of the things I said to melaniejane was I really liked the collaborative effort and working together. And, just what I know of music: sometimes collaboration doesn't happen; sometimes it's all about the ego. That's one of the things I really love about these festivals and songwriting intensives...the collaboration.
D: I really do attribute that to pAt's vision. pAt is a beautiful, open-hearted person who wants the best for everybody. I think he only invites people he knows are in that heart vibe. Honestly, this is like my family, that's how close we are. These people are my family. Because we're collaborating, we're in this really intense environment together and baring our souls daily. We're all making love to each other writing songs and giving birth to babies. It really is intense and an energy of co-creation.
But, you do need some sort of ego to get up on stage and do what we do. You would think having a whole motel full of people would cause conflict, but it's not like that. All of us want the best for everybody and I really think that comes from pAt's vision. I'm not sure if it's from the people pAt brings in or just being in this environment strips that away, but you learn very quickly it's all about the whole.
The process adds to it as well. We stand in a circle and spin bottles to get our songwriting teams. Everything is left up to cosmic forces. I think that's why the magic happens. The collaborations bring out these beautiful, beautiful songs.
J: My first experience was at Steel Bridge. I didn't get to see everybody there, but I attended Dark Songs both nights and there is an energy at the festivals and intensives.
D: That's just it, we get to bring these things out into the world. We did the most amazing thing yesterday and it was Ruby James' idea to do some outreach. We went out into the community to an age home and then at a school with the kids. It kind of gets us out of ourselves and this fantasy world of songwriting. It can get a bit myopic in here at times and getting out in the community is good. We were out there supporting each others performance. I think that's what music is all about. And, that is the thing I love about the process the most.
I've give an example. On one song we did a spin, I got James Hall and Kory Murphy. I proposed an idea and it didn't really stick, which is fine. So, that's important, too. You can't cling to your idea. You have to just let it flow. James threw one in and we all liked it. We started developing it. It wasn't this lightning bolt muse. It took us a really long time and hammered it out. We finished the song and performed it for pAt. He loved it. We then brought it into the studio.Originally, James was going to do the lead vocal, but we heard Kory's vocal on the song and realized that Kory should actually do it.
I tell you that story to explain that's the process of it; letting go of things. We had to let go of my idea and then let go of James singing it. Once we heard Kory sing the song, we realized it couldn't be any other way and that's what makes the process so magical.
It's almost like a metaphor for life. When you let go and let it be, it evolves on its own.
J: And, when you're interacting with other musicians, each of those musicians is bringing their own experiences in there. It's almost like a sponge situation where you are learning from other people. When you talked about doing a punk song, which you said wasn't really your thing, you take all that you gleaned from that experience and it changes how you play.
D: Absolutely. An example is last year was my first year here and I'm only learning accordion, but Nick, who plays in this band called Toivo, knew I had an accordion. They wrote a song and wanted me to play on it. It was a tricky song that jumped around a lot. I had to practice and practice.
When I felt I was ready we went into the studio to record. But, once in the studio, they informed me that half the song needed to be sung by a woman. I didn't know the words and I was freaking out. But, I stepped up to the challenge and within three takes I was playing accordion and singing at the same time. The vocal I did in that song is one of my favorite vocals.
In this environment, you try things you haven't tried before. You get to push your boundaries.
J: You're also staying on at the Holiday for an extended period of time. Can you tell me what projects you're working on?
D: I'm mostly here to help out with Steel Bridge. To organize the next festival, because with all the bands it has that festival element and it requires a lot of organization.
I'm also going to do some recording here. I realized some of the songs I've written in the past year at the Holiday have helped me put on some different personas. Vee and I wrote a country song this week. I'm not a country artist, but even at Dark Songs, I co-wrote a punk song. Now those songs aren't songs I will perform live by myself, but they let me try on different hats.
There are also a few songs that have emerged and after playing them, people are really drawn to in. I realized I wanted to do an album, but after thinking about it, it's not really a Danielle French album. It's about all these people <pointing to the people in the lobby> and they need to be a part of recording.
J: Within creativity, you're also a photographer. How did you get started and where do you want to see it go?
D: I really consider myself an amateur photographer. But, what I have found out about myself is that I have an eye for composition. I'm also an opportunistic photographer. When I travel, I get to see all these variety of landscapes and beautiful places. You just happen upon these beautiful things. I picked up a camera to document my journey.
People have enjoyed my photos and as a result I started selling art cards. I sell them at a natural foods store in Calgary. I've had friends buy my cards not knowing they were mine until they turned the card around and saw my name. Then I'd receive a phone call talking about the cards.
It's another creative outlet. I'd certainly like to get better, because I appreciate the technique that goes into it.
J: Tell me something people may not know about you? I ask this question of musicians, because sometimes audience members see artists on stage and forget that they are people , too.
D: That's a hard one. I'm an open book usually. I think after having all these incredible connections here, I can feel lonely when I travel. I travel by myself and I don't have that person to take the wheel for a while or someone to cry on a shoulder with. As much as I love it and I'm living my dream, it can be lonely. I feel blessed to be able to do this, but at the same time, when I'm out on the road, there isn't that person to share positives things with either like...oh, look at that beautiful sunset...
During our interview musicians were wandering about in the motel lobby and diner. Some were taking a break from songwriting and others heading off to song write. The songwriting intensive brought artists from all over including Danielle French, who is not only talented, but has a strong desire to create, to give back and to share her life journey with those around her.
For more information on Danielle French and to purchase her music or photography visit her website at www.daniellefrench.com. Upcoming places you can see Danielle in the Northeast Wisconsin area are Mojo Rosas in Egg Harbor for open mic night and Steel Bridge Songfest in June. Be on the lookout for this artist as her music will most likely land on one of the latest film or TV soundtracks in the near future.
© 2013 Jenna Cornell, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author or Clarity Digital Group LLC d/b/a Examiner.com. Virtual Music Cafe, Heroes in Music, Coffeehouse Confessions and Stepping into the Twilight Zone are property of Jenna Cornell.