“Music is my heart and my voice. I use it to connect, to process difficult emotions, and to heal myself and others. It's my anchor, and it taught me who I am at a very young age. It pulled me out of the darkest space I've ever seen. And it has been there, guiding me, my entire life. I write songs that repeat in a meditation, but grow and build from beginning to end--my goal is to lose myself in each one of them. I lose myself in the music in order to find myself in the world.“ - Dani Tanzella
It’s always a breath of fresh air to hear original music that doesn’t involve the same synth sounds as the top 40 charts; music with vocals full of emotion & stories, versus the usual pitch correction & one-liner hooks. It’s even more impressive when you learn that the artist behind the music is a one-woman band, and one with a hell of a story.
Portland artist Dani Tanzella is making a comeback in the local scene with the release of her debut single, “Heart Fall,” off of her upcoming EP “Time Space Love” (9/21). In this exclusive feature, she talks about the “chamber pop” genre, how she healed herself with music, and about what is next for her music career...
Tell us about the injury & journey to healing that led to the creation of your new sound that is featured on your new single “Heart Fall”.
(A little backstory--I am from AZ, and I was working as a musician and private teacher there until they cut music from the schools and I lost all my students. I went back to nursing school to support myself and my music career...this allowed me to move to PDX, where I planned to work for maybe 2 years, then go back to teaching and playing full time. I was a classical saxophonist--).
8 months after I arrived in Portland, I was seriously injured at work while moving a patient during an emergency (a pregnant mom--I work labor and delivery). I tore several muscles in my back and shoulder, several ribs popped out of place, and I have 2-3 bulging discs in my upper back. I had severe impairment and was unable to open and close my right hand, tie my shoes, wash my own hair--I lived all alone and had no family or close friends here yet. I was in excruciating pain, was devastated, as I could no longer play my instruments (saxophone and piano) at all, and was fighting the hospital for worker's comp which they denied me. I lost my case, went bankrupt from inability to work...I lost my car, and was close to losing my apartment. I fell into a deep depression which was exacerbated by medications that were given to me for my nerve pain and depression.
In a moment of desperation, I attempted suicide around Christmas of 2008. I woke up the next morning, and was terrified--wanting to live. I flew back home and stayed with a friend for a while before dusting myself off and heading back to Portland. I promised to work through my injuries and remake myself into a different kind of musician, since my days playing classical music were over.
I dragged my broken body all over town going to various types of appointments for my back (and mind): acupuncture, rolfing, massage, PT, chiropractors...I practiced picking things up with my right hand. Opening and closing drawers, cupboards, tightening bottle caps, etc. I tied my pinky and thumb together with string to form a grip. I worked tirelessly on my recovery. I still do. Eventually I started gaining back feeling and strength. I now have pretty decent motor skills in my hand although it's mostly numb, and excellent strength in my arm and shoulder. My back will never be the same, and will likely always cause me some level of pain--but it's manageable.
As soon as I started feeling a little better, I found a loop pedal that I had used to create some soundscapes and started working with it. I saw a few local musicians using the loop machine to create amazing sounds/layers/songs and knew this is what I needed to do. Eventually I could create lush, orchestrated parts for my songs--and ultimately that's how I heard them in my head! I generally write parts for rhythm section, string quartet, harps, bells/vibes, music box, and backing vocals. I imagine this as my tiny orchestra that lives in my keyboard--and I'm the conductor--placing the parts in loop channels, and cueing them up when there part is needed.
What was the inspiration behind "Heart Fall?”
"Heart Fall" is a song I wrote for nurses, for mothers, and for people who find themselves lost in the pace of life. It's a reminder to check in with yourself, acknowledge yourself, and take time for yourself. When we take a moment and breathe deeply into our tense and overworked bodies, our hearts relax--fall open--and love a little more freely.
Can you tell us more about the “chamber pop” genre you mention in your bio?
Chamber pop is the closest genre I could find that fit my music. I feel a genre is important for describing music (so as not to sound like a pretentious ass by saying my music fits in no genre!) Chamber pop is defined as "music with an emphasis on melody, texture, use of strings/horns/piano/harmonies, and other elements drawn from orchestral music and lounge pop of the 60's". This felt like a good fit. A nice blend of classical musician and singer- songwriter.
Do you feel chamber pop could be or is on the rise in the age of Spotify?
I don’t know if it’s on the rise, but it certainly seems to be a niche. I think there has been a sub culture of this kind of music for a long time--oftentimes showing up in movie soundtracks (Sufjan Stevens, Devotchka). And I think there is definitely a group of listeners who enjoy the challenge and depth of chamber music within accessible and meaningful pop songs.
That being said, what are your career goals as a musician?
I want to make my living completely through music; teaching, performing, and writing. I would like to continue to teach, and maybe have a few more steady students. I want to perform a lot more, in venues that fit my style--like wineries/upscale bars/etc. Venues that have daytime or early evening slots, and a friendly crowd already built in since my audience tends to be age 30+ (Edgefield tasting room, hood river/newberg). Along with some tours on the west coast. As far as writing goes, I want to write for film--or at least get my songs into films).
You’re a huge supporter of the #WomenCrush Music community in Portland and have been very active supporting other artists. Can you tell us about your own little community you’ve developed through teaching?
I have been teaching since I was 16 years old (with a 5-7 year break when I was injured). Currently, I have a private music lesson studio in my North Portland home... My students are ages 3-70, some with special needs--and I teach general music, piano, voice, flute, saxophone, and theory, I also work with students on self-confidence and songwriting. I absolutely adore teaching privately, and love getting to know each student and their own learning style. Music is a gift that we all have available to us, and it brings such joy. Music can help a person process deep emotions, or escape stress for a moment--it can help someone cope, grow, create, and connect. Passing that gift on to as many people as possible is one of my life purposes.
Dani will be releasing her EP Time Space Love on 9/21, with a release show on 9/23 from 3PM-6PM at Kruger's Wine Bar on Sauvie's Island. FREE. ALL AGES. Support & follow her by connecting with her on social media @danitanzellamusic.
Written by: Ashley Kervabon-Stoyanov & Hannah DiMo