Danielle Ate the Sandwich Interview: Part 1
I’m honored to present you all an interview with Danielle Ate the Sandwich! Danielle is a singer-songwriter with a very strong Internet fan base. She plays ukulele and guitar, and she gave me so many great answers that I’m putting her interview into two parts. This half of the interview features her talking about her influences and approach to songwriting. Check out her YouTube channel here!
Tessa: When did you first start playing an instrument? How did you end up picking up the ukulele and guitar?
Danielle: I was always involved in choir and band when I was younger. I started on the piano and played violin and clarinet, but I started teaching myself acoustic guitar in high school and then started playing the ukulele in college.
Tessa: Have you always sang on your own, or have you worked with ensembles like a choir or band? How did you learn to sing?
Danielle: I sang in church choir and school choir, so that’s where I learned the basics. Other than having a musical family (there must be something good in my genes) I really just listened to music and sang along. I really think that hearing other people sing and trying to sing along with them was one of the best lessons for me. As I sang more on my own (like solo singing) I developed my voice to be my voice, and I stopped trying to sound like Sarah McLachlan, or whoever I was listening to at the time. It took me a while to find my voice, but I think I’m getting there!
Tessa: When did you write your first song? Care to tell us what it was about?
Danielle: I was writing songs in elementary school. I had a little notebook full of scribbles and songs written to keyboard beats. The first one I can remember as what I thought of as “my own” was a song called, “Mr. Lender’s Bagels Guy” and I believe I just copied the tune from the song, “Friend Like Me” from Disney’s Aladdin. I remember singing it to my sister on a hill on my grandparents’ farm. (It probably wasn’t a very good song.)
Tessa: What musicians inspired you while you were learning your craft?
Danielle: A lot of different people influenced me at different times. My taste in music is always kind of shifting around and I can’t really say there is a band that’s been with me through it all. I listened to SO MUCH Incubus in high school, which is also when I also got in to Paula Cole and Sarah McLachlan. I checked out a Simon and Garfunkel album from the library in high school. I have a feeling that was significant. Then, in college I heard Regina Spektor, Death Cab for Cutie and Joanna Newsom. And later on I got in to 60s folk singers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce and Paul Simon (without Garfunkel). I think little bits of anything I hear can be considered an influence. Sometimes I hear a Katy Perry song and I’m like, “WHOA! That was a really smart way to write.” I do not discriminate. I think it’s foolish to assume that anybody or anything won’t eventually lead you to be better at what you do. (That’s how I justify watching so much Keeping Up with the Kardashians.)
Tessa: In a lot of your videos, you look like you’re really performing for an audience. How do you manage to be enthusiastic when you’re just playing in front of a webcam?
Danielle: Whoa! I’m glad to hear that! I guess I just try to perform as if there were a crowd there to watch, hoping that later people will be watching. It’s not hard for me to get in to my songs, but it is kind of hard to stop focusing on how I look and what I’m doing if I can see myself on the camera. I shut my eyes a lot and try to just focus on singing. I believe in being passionate about what you do. I think if I look scared, people will pick up on that. If I’m bored, people might be bored too. Performing is comfortable to me. I try to do it well so people can get in to what I’m doing and not be distracted by how I’m doing it.
Tessa: I really love your song “Two Bedroom Apartment,” the lyrics especially. (“I’ve known plenty of early birds who never got their worm.”) How do you come up with your lyrics?
Danielle: Thank you! I write in different ways. Sometimes I start songs and know what I want to be singing about, so in a way I’m filling in the blanks after I come up with a chord progression and melody. A lot of times I think of a line or two before I come up with any music. Sometimes I’m lucky and good lines just come in my head. Then I try to remember them and make them into something. I have a lot of notebooks full of words and Word documents full of words and my head is always full of words. I also got one of those handheld tape recorders to keep in my car, so when I’m driving I can record my ideas. There is some luck in how I write my songs, but a lot of it is persistence and what I think is just a viewpoint. I write a lot like how I think.
Tessa: Not a lot of people write songs about transgender people. Was it hard to write “Born in the Wrong Body?” What made you decide to post it on YouTube for the world to see?
Danielle: It wasn’t hard to write the song, but it was hard to share it with others. My friend came out to me as being transgendered and asked that I kept it a secret until she told more people and felt more comfortable. So I wrote the song as a way to talk about the secret with myself, but still keep it secret from the world. I played it for her before I shared it with anybody else, and when I got her approval I started playing it at shows. I don’t remember if I ever worried about what people would think of ME for singing a song about transgendered people. I think I grew into the importance of what I was singing about too quickly to really worry about offending or turning off anybody. I think that was the first song I wrote where I realized I could sing about things that mattered to people and were really important in the scheme of the universe. It was one of the first times I realized I had some power to do good.
Tessa: Do you write your lyrics or the guitar/ukulele part of your songs first? Why?
Danielle: A little bit of both. I used to write the chords on the instrument first because I couldn’t ever figure out what chords I should use if I did write the melody first. Now I’ve started writing a lot of melodies in the car, without the means to use my hands to play along, so I start a lot of songs as vocal melodies and lines and then add the instrumentation later. There’s no rhyme or reason to how I do it. I just do what comes to me and what works the best. I don’t really have any sort of method. I just write it all down and have recently started recording everything, too, even if it’s not really my best idea.
Click here to see the rest of Danielle’s interview, where she talks about her new album and the benefits and drawbacks of being an independent musician.