Danielle French—Canadian Singer/Songwriter
In an email, Danielle French told me about how she was first drawn to music, her creative inspirations and processes, and the ways in which she charges her creative batteries.
Music was all around Danielle as a child. Her parents sometimes found her asleep in front of the stereo with headphones on even when she was three years old. Her dad played guitar and had an extensive record collection. She adds, “He would do the odd gig, so we had a PA in the basement as I was growing up and I learned how to route the stereo through the PA in order to sing along with my favourite albums.”
Throughout high school, she played percussion and worked as a cashier until she made enough to buy her own drum kit which she practiced extensively after school. She started down the academic route by studying percussion at the University of Calgary, but realized it wasn’t the right direction for her.
At the age of 19, she moved to Vancouver where she played drums in several bands, took lessons from some well-known west coast drummers and generally immersed herself in the music scene. She wound up working as a receptionist at a recording studio as a result of this immersion.
Danielle began to have melodies and lyrics form in her mind at this juncture, but she didn’t play guitar or piano well so she struggled with expressing them. Eventually, she says, “I got up the courage to sing some of my song ideas to a guitar player in the band I was in and he helped me flesh out my first songs. I entered those first songs into a national songwriting contest, never in a million years expecting to win, but I actually won the contest!”
She bought her first guitar in order to be more self-sufficient when it came to songwriting and performance. After bartering time for two years at the recording studio, she managed to put enough songs together to release her first full-length album entitled me, myself & i. Danielle says, “I was able to bring in some amazing musicians to help me in the studio. I was beside myself that many of them said ‘yes’ including members of Sarah McLachlan and Barney Bentall’s bands. Matthew Good and members of Blue Rodeo and Spirit of the West also played on the album.” After releasing that album, she relocated to Calgary and hit the road in her mint-green Dodge Maxivan to start her life as a nomadic singer/songwriter.
One of Danielle’s strongest influences over the last five years has been working with a group of songwriters at the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay, WI1. She says, “On Pat's invite, dozens of songwriters of varying genres are housed at the Motel for a week at a time to co-write, record and perform together. Songwriters are paired through a random “spin-the-bottle” process, and this is where the magic happens!”
She continues, “Up to that point, I had pretty much been an insular singer/songwriter doing my own thing, so this experience has completely opened me up to a greater understanding of the songwriting process. Pat Macdonald and my co-writers at the motel have been the largest influence on me as a songwriter.”
Currently Danielle has taken a very free approach to her creative process. She explains, “I've learned that I am very adaptable and that there are so many valid approaches you can take in writing a song. I've learned that I'm able to write in a multitude of styles and moods and topics and this has been quite freeing. I no longer disregard a song idea because it's not something that I would record myself. I just allow the songs to be born if the idea blossoms and have fun in the process!”
The biggest challenge that she identifies for herself as an independent musician is making a living from her music. Danielle points out, “I didn't want to give up music completely as it's such an integral part of my life. I truly feel I have something to offer, so I made a conscious decision to get into the film business. It allows me time off between productions to focus on my own music projects. In two years, I've gone from living in a small room at my brother’s place, struggling to pay rent to owning my own condo. The first thing that I set up in my new condo was my music room!”
Danielle has mixed feelings about the burgeoning of independent music in Canada. She says, “There is no shortage of people expressing themselves through music and with the accessibility of tools available for independent artists to self-record and self-release their music, the landscape is inundated with music.”
She adds, “On one hand, this is a good thing- I think everyone should play music on some level and music gives people a valuable outlet for self-expression. On the other hand, not all music that is released independently meets industry standards of professionalism in either the songwriting and/or the production values. This has caused the market to become greatly oversaturated and undervalued.”
One aspect of the music industry in Canada for which Danielle is grateful is government support for the arts at all levels. She says, “I have traveled a lot in the US and there is not this level of support for artists. Artists in Canada have access to grants and programs to help them develop, produce and promote their art and I'm so grateful for the support I've received on many of my projects.”
In the immediate future, she already has a whole album of new material ready to be recorded. Danielle says, “It includes many songs from my co-writing collaborations at the Holiday Music Motel that I would like to release in the next few years. On my Dark Love Songs CD I got to record one song at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios and it is my dream to return there to record a full-length CD. “
Writing, recording and performing with her co-writers at the Holiday Music Motel has been a way for Danielle to recharge her creative batteries. She elaborates, “It's been over a year since I went to my last one though due to work, so fingers crossed I can make the next one, Dark Songs, that takes place around Halloween in October 2017.”
© 2017 Karl Magi