[John Vanderslice] also helped a lot in taking me further with effects, instrumentation, and creative vocal harmonies.
To be honest, I was kind of nervous before we went in – we had a lot less planned out arrangement- and instrumentation-wise for this record. But I think that spirit of spontaneity and not over-planning, along with having such an incredible creative team, made it even more successful and fun in the end.
TBB: Have you always preferred recording your music on tape, without any digital editing?
DN: Both my records have been recorded on tape and I have been really blown away by the process. The act of cutting ribbons of tape by hand, not having a computer screen in the control room, having to be incredibly prepared with your material, and watching the ballet of live mixing feels beautifully hands-on and organic.
TBB: You worked with producer John Vanderslice, engineer Ian Pellicci, drummer Jason Slota, and Magik*Magik Orchestra arranger/conductor Minna Choi on both of your albums. Were there any changes in personnel while recording Unravel?
DN: We brought in the amazing Justine Leichtling (The Sam Chase) for some violin and the secret weapon that is Sylvain Carton (Japonize Elephants) who can pretty much play any instrument on the planet. We would throw him in front of a mic and say “make up a sax part! Okay great, add some clarinet! Now some guitar!” My long-time bassist Jesse Cafiero (Split Screens) got to join me for this record too. My dear friend Shawn Alpay, who often plays cello for me live, was a fantastic assistant engineer as well.
TBB: They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and a year to write your second. Did your inspiration for Unravel come naturally?
DN: Thankfully it did! I think I was really eager to experiment more with sounds, song structures, and storytelling this time around – I had songs on my first record that I wrote when I was 17! I felt like I was a 23-year-old reading my 17-year-old self’s diary entry up on a stage in front of an audience!
I was also playing with so many different bands in the Bay Area that I think I absorbed some of the inspiration and styles I was surrounded by.
TBB: How have your own personal experiences helped shape the tone of your music?
DN: For the first 3 years I lived here, I worked at Larkin Street Youth Services, an amazing agency serving homeless youth in the Bay Area. While only a song or two made it to the record that directly spoke to what I was seeing there, the nature of that work forces you to be present and honest with your emotions at all times. If you can’t be open and vulnerable yourself, the young people we worked with would find it hard to open up to you about their stories. At the same time, if you couldn’t hold boundaries and be strong for others, you couldn’t do your job effectively. I think that general environment, that dance of facing or stifling your emotions and vulnerabilities, spread to many aspects of my life and seeped into the theme of the album.
TBB: You are performing at The Satellite in Los Angeles on February 9. Any other upcoming shows planned?
DN: Absolutely! I’ll be touring the Pacific Northwest in March/April and my next San Francisco show thus far is March 26th at Milk Bar.
TBB: Will you have a backing band supporting your live performances?
DN: Yes, I always do! We’ll do anything from a trio to an 8-piece band with horns and strings! I love the life it gives to the songs.