Photo Credit: Rebekah Hedges
Society has lived for putting every aspect of reality into a defined box; from gender to genres and everything in between. Thankfully, as the world has continued to evolve, the seams of these boxes have become worn as we’re not so quick to sit tight in a confined space anymore. That’s why artists like Danielle Grubb is so representative of the here and now with the myriad of styles coming together to make one grand sound. They represent the genre bending ways of today. We talked about that with them, as well as about their latest release, ‘D,’ and more in this back and forth.
Kendra: I was always a pretty well-behaved, smart kid but I don’t think I could have mastered or even started playing piano at the age of four as you did. What prompted your interest in music on that level?
Danielle Grubb: My childhood was also a little difficult, and so I expressed my emotions through music as a coping skill. It also got me out of the house in my adolescence – home wasn’t a place I wanted to be for a certain chunk of time. But I think that using it as a coping skill made me realize that music, emotion, and sensation are all connected. I realized the expression patterns pretty quickly from my father who plays trumpet and with my mom who sang from time to time but mostly is an avid listener. They both collected records and tapes, and there was a lot of dancing in my house on the weekend to music. I knew that I wanted to use instruments and my voice to cause that kind of sensation. Something that makes you move.
Kendra: As someone who left home and set out for New York City at 18, what are some of the struggles you feel you faced that people don’t talk about often when arriving in a big city at a young age?
Danielle Grubb: One thing that is hard to navigate is being away from your family. My Aunt and Uncle also lived in New York, so I was lucky in that regard. They were never that far away. But even then, you get lonely. And loneliness is a little harder to navigate in youth.
Another would be easy access to vices. New York is a place where everything you want is a block away. The good and not so. It’s easy to get swept up into things that aren’t good for you or aren’t helping you achieve your goals.
Kendra: Today, your style is like if one ran through one of the last record stores standing and just started grabbing from every section…but it works. Have you always found yourself appreciating various styles?
Danielle Grubb: Haha, yes! I’ve always loved all styles of music. My parents played classical piano for me a lot, but also would spin reggae and Motown and funk — 80’s and 90’s pop as well. When I write it’s some kind of composite of what I’ve been listening to. Hi-Hat rhythms from this record, kick and snare patterns from this record, guitars, and bass from another –etc… It’s very much so a musical soup.
Kendra: Seeing that you enjoy cooking if you had to compare the eclectic sounds found on ‘D’ to one of your favorite dishes, which would it be and why?
Danielle Grubb: Wow, this is an amazing question…”Deep Space, Dark Matter” would probably be like a curried goat roti. It’s one of my more Caribbean-influenced songs and it reminds me of a time I took two of my friends to this spot in Plano called Taste of The Islands. We all ate curried goat roti and sat at a table very close to an empty dance floor. When I listen back to it I feel warm and full as if I just ate roti with my friends.
Kendra: When I look at you, I see an artist that truly represents the now. Your sound isn’t one thing or another, and you’re a nonbinary, transmasculine artist who isn’t shy about talking about their mental health. Because back in the day we had male or female artists with the occasional lesbian or gay artist tossed in the mix who were stuck in a singular genre, and mental health…we didn’t talk about that. I mean, Mariah Carey had a full-blown meltdown on MTV and we brushed it off as nothing. What do you attribute the increasing representation to, as well as the awareness to mental health?
Danielle Grubb: It wasn’t until I started going to therapy that I began to fully accept my identity as I’d suppressed it since I’d realized. And when I turned 27, my issues with my identity popped up like a landmine. I had to confront them, just as I’d spent the past year and a half working on my bipolar. So honestly, it’s just what my life is currently. The representation increased because I’m solid in the fundamentals of myself, and I wasn’t before. The same goes for my mental health. I needed to let people know what is going on with me as both my identity and my mental state are parts of my music.
Kendra: So this year has been a wild one for everyone, but how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward?
Danielle Grubb: Honestly, it’s made me realize that I really need to slow down. My drive is here a hundred percent but I’ve had to repurpose some of my energies away from music. When I’m in create mode, I forget to take care of myself. So right now, I’m making space for myself and working to reallocate my time to create new rituals. So that in the future, I’ll balance the two.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Danielle Grubb: I’m actually very much in a limbo state right now, so trying to make routines. I just got a new job, and I’m trying to get a kitten … I have two songs that I’d like to put out next, and a project called Cleo. But if all those things fall through, I’ll still be dancing to “Scared to Death” by Kaytranada.