Photo Credit: Rose Gold Visual Co.
Almost everyone has a decade from the past they look at with hearts in their eyes. For me, it’s the ‘70s. So whenever I hear music that even hints at the era that brought us bellbottoms and burnt orange, I live. This is why Daphne Parker Powell was a delight when I pressed play. Everything about her October 14th release, ‘The Starter Wife,’ transported me to a time I wish I’d experienced myself. For me it was the aesthetics, for her, the ‘70s are about so much more. We got into that, drink specials, and more in this new back-and-forth exchange.
Kendra: You’ve been releasing music for some time now. With half a dozen albums under your belt once ‘Starter Wife’ drops this October, did you have any initial fears or concerns about being an artist when you started that you’ve since faced and gotten over that now seem like they were sort of silly to worry about looking back at them?
Daphne Parker Powell: I don’t think I ever saw being an artist as an option. It’s more of a compulsion, really. My heart and body would keep doing it even if my mind said no. Creative work has never felt threatening, I’ve always been pretty brave (foolhardy?) about sharing even work in progress. I love to experiment, try on all kinds of different creative “outfits” and see what happens with odd creative bedfellows like cabaret and electropop on Moxie, or retro pop and disco on Frost.
I don’t think I will ever stop testing boundaries that way in writing and producing. Performance has been more challenging, I tend to second-guess myself and I can get very anxious in some social situations. I used to throw up every time I would get off stage. That’s calmed down quite a bit, through meditation and really spending time with the “why” of performance. It’s all about connection, and if I can find even one friendly face in the audience, I’m able to center and take us on that journey.
Kendra: Speaking of looking back, in so many ways “The Starter Wife” felt very ‘70s. It’s my favorite era after the ‘90s so I was pleased by what came forth after pressing play! With this song and record focusing on the idea of divorce and whatnot, were you inspired to lean into the ‘70s given that was the era that many women started to file for separation?
Daphne Parker Powell: A lot of the writing around this album came from my love of Joni Mitchell, her independence and power, and unwillingness to budge under the pressure of such a strongly male-dominated creative culture and industry. The ‘70s were a really potent time for women’s rights as well as a more cynical time following the wild abandon of the ‘60s. I didn’t live through it myself, but it seems like maybe like a little bit of a hangover and a resolve to get back to the work of society.
Equal Credit was passed in 1974, where an unmarried woman could finally get a mortgage on her own. Bodily autonomy finally got a foothold but still finds itself precarious in much of the country. It was also the moment singer-songwriters came to really rule the airwaves, acoustic guitars were everywhere, storytelling was hip, and popular music was accessible to people with less technical knowledge and more of a desire to participate in art themselves. All of that stuff adds up to more equity for women and for everyone, really, more choice to live life on your own terms and as fully as you want.
Kendra: When I see a song like “Little Prince” and think of you noting your “radical trust” when you were younger, I can’t help but think of the idealized romanticism placed upon us as kids. Do you think the likes of fairy tales and Disney lead us towards being blind when it comes to aspects of love?
Daphne Parker Powell: Disney definitely didn’t do a lot of favors for my generation’s understanding of how relationships, particularly romantic ones between cis-het couples, are supposed to be. But if I had to blame anything for my hot mess of relationship expectations, I might have to lay it on Boyz II Men and all the great R&B singers of the ‘90s that told me how much men adored and respected women.
We get information about this stuff from so many sources, and while I was mostly pre-internet learning about love and sex and relationships, it’s always been such a gumbo. “Little Prince” might be my favorite song on the album in terms of it coming closer to the bone than any of the others, even ‘The Starter Wife’ itself.
My trust came organically in the beginning, that desire to be known and loved for who I am. A wild animal being tamed over time, unlearning wildness, embracing comfort and care. You can’t just throw a tamed animal back into the wild and expect it to survive, but it happens all the time. And that’s where the radical part comes in. Fighting for your life alone in the unknown outside, and still finding it in yourself to trust love again.
Kendra: Another song on the record is “Ghosting,” which in our lives has come to be a pretty normal, yet disturbing, aspect of dating. Do you think that’s the coward’s way out of a situation?
Daphne Parker Powell: I think everybody is working with different tools, attitudes, fears, abilities, anxieties, and I try to understand and forgive when things like that cause me pain. One of the biggest surprises for me during the divorce was the way friends came into and out of the picture. People I felt I could trust disappearing, people who I only knew peripherally swooping in to become real heroes. I’ve never felt that anyone owes anyone their time and energy, that should be consistently respected, deserved, and mutually joyful. Dating in your 40s, post-divorce, comes with a smirking jaded frustration for sure, but in my experience, I’ve been glad of the honesty when someone shows me they don’t want to be around. It saves us all a lot of unnecessary drama.
Kendra: In “The Starter Wife” you sing, “…pour another glass of what gets you by.” With that, I’d love to know what beverage you feel would best pair with the album as a whole, and why?
Daphne Parker Powell: Well, in that case, it was an inelegant sufficiency of beer- like get-you-arrested kind of inelegant. Where’s the joy in that? I think this album requires something substantially introspective, something you want to sip and savor, complex and delicate; Spicy Fifty.
Kendra: It’s time for a side note: With it being spooky season, I’d love for you to share your favorite movie to watch around Halloween – could be scary, funny, or a little of both!
Daphne Parker Powell: I love psychological thrillers, stuff that stays with you and finds its way into your dreams. And I LOVE religious iconography and mythology. One of my favorites, being in Louisiana these days is ‘Skeleton Key,’ might even watch that tonight…
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘The Starter Wife’ out on October 14th, do you have plans in the works for 2023 as far as touring is concerned?
Daphne Parker Powell: I want to finally experience Mardi Gras season this year, but once that wraps, we are headed to Europe for a bit in April and May and I’m going to try to get out to the West Coast next summer and hopefully out to Australia next Fall to finally meet my collaborator Kieran’s crew out there.