Drenched in psychedelic sensibilities, space-age rhythms and funky prog-jazz fusions, Dani Darling vividly constructs an insightful time machine that revisits past reflections and welcomes future possibilities.
The Ann Arbor chanteuse-guitarist instantly transports listeners to a boundless cosmic frontier filled with vintage-neo soundscapes and never-ending stories on The Future EP, which dropped June 25.
“The kind of energy we need is that kind of New Year’s Eve vibe, like having a fresh start, feeling adventurous and wanting to see what’s out there. When it comes to these current times, I think it’s about being hopeful for the future and the energy that people have when they’re anticipating it and feeling positive about it,” said Danielle Davis, aka Dani Darling.
“That’s why New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday; that whole energy is unmatched when everyone is hoping for something greater and looking forward to letting go of what’s in the past.”
Darling initially envisioned The Future during a winter solstice 2020 recording session at Ypsilanti’s Grove Studios. At the time, she recorded the album’s astral, improvisational jam, “The Age,” and embraced the hypnotic, psychedelic sound that emerged.
“After we all finished playing it, we stopped and looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa that was exactly it.’ Then we were like, ‘Let’s do it again,’ and the New Year’s Eve session was the one heard around the whole project. It was a seven-hour lock-in, and most of it came out of that,” said Davis about her third release and follow-up to 2020’s mystical Mage EP.
“I was also thinking about the next phase of Dani Darling coming from a very lo-fi, toned-down sound where I’m pretty limited with my resources to suddenly having this ability to bring my friends and people I really respect in musically. That really changed the game.”
Finding The Future
Darling beautifully ups her musical game throughout The Future across six dazzling, adventuresome tracks that enter undiscovered soulful terrain in another dimension. It seamlessly weaves influential elements of Pink Floyd (The Dark Side of the Moon), Jimi Hendrix (Are You Experienced), Erykah Badu, Portishead and The Cardigans into an open-ended, experimental journey.
One of those exploratory destinations includes “The Down,” as soft, steady drums, sparkling chimes, echoey wah-wah electric guitars, breezy bass, serene strings and buoyant flute inject an everlasting dose of inspiration and optimism for the unknown path ahead.
Darling reflects, “Is it safe to say that we’ll be alright?/I don’t know the way, but we have tonight/Finding out who we are/We’re covered in truth/Spreading our wings/Take flight/There’s nothing to lose.”
“We started working on the song, and it just took on a whole other life. I started to think of all new lyrics, and I rewrote the melody because it was the first time being in a creative space with musicians and friends,” Davis said.
“I felt like that’s what shifted things for me as far as the pandemic in general. It was about getting back into the studio and feeling like myself again around my people. It’s just a love song to my tribe.”
Darling also released an introspective new video for “The Down,” which features her wearing a white strappy gown while visiting a stylish studio apartment, strolling through woodsy trails and walking alongside desolate beaches with friends. Directed by Kyla McGrath and Tim Blackman, the video’s concept pays homage to “The Wizard of Oz” in reverse.
“All the color gets sucked out of the world with the pandemic, and it’s so uncertain and sad. Then you have to look within to find the color and your people. You have to find the love in your life and really rely on that. I think a lot of people realized family was more important than ever,” she said.
Darling carries that personal gratitude forward on “The Future” as crashing cymbals, bouncy bongos, tranquil synths, pounding drums, spirited bass, mellow flute, stirring sax and airy trumpet intertwine with a pulsating disco beat. The title track is a powerful reminder for listeners to appreciate their past selves as they evolve into stronger, wiser beings.
She reveals, “I walked through infinite doors/But made it back/When we started playing/It was far out/And I felt the vibes through the floor/Yeah, I felt that/You know what I’m saying/It was far out.”
“I wanted it to feel like a dream or a trip and be something that allows you to explore where your mind wants to go, but then you make it back. You can dream for so long, but like my mom used to say, ‘The only thing that comes to a sleeper is a dream,’” Davis said.
“I think even when you’re at a good show the music is taking you places. It’s all about imagination – I remember seeing Red Hot Chili Peppers at Bonnaroo, and I felt like I went through a million doors.”
Darling also entered a new sonic doorway on “The Future” (and throughout the entire EP) to add breathtaking flute by James Russell. It was another retro soundscape to fulfill a psychedelic-inspired vision for her latest project.
“My big sister had this old record when we were kids by flutist Hubert Laws. We used to listen to it on vinyl, and it was just so magical. It reminded me so much of ‘Reading Rainbow’ and things from the ‘70s. It brought that whole vibe together for me, and I always wanted to have a lot of flute when we first started the band,” Davis said.
Darling encounters The Future’s final psychedelic portal on “The Age” as intergalactic, whimsical synths, contemplative electric guitars, propulsive bass, raw flute, thumping drums and rich piano celebrate a historic celestial moment. In response, she reveals, “Oh, it’s Aquarius!” on the mesmerizing space-rock improvisational jam.
“I love The 5th Dimension song, ‘Aquarius,’ and I’m very music theater influenced. That’s what came to me when we recorded it on the winter solstice. All the astrologers were abuzz and saying, ‘There’s a great conjunction, and Jupiter and Saturn are together, and it’s The Age of Aquarius,’” Davis said.
“I thought of that song, but I also loved listening to Are You Experienced in the summer on vinyl. ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ is one of my favorites from it. I wanted something to sound very ‘60s rock. I channeled Hendrix, and Joel (Harris) happened to forget his pedals that day. That’s the first time I can hear myself playing guitar in a song, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I sound really good.’”
Amplifying The Future
As part of Darling’s creative vision, The Future assembled a star-studded roster of collaborators, including Joel Harris (guitar, harmonies), Taylor Greenshields (drums, percussion), James Russell (flute), Mark Samano (guitars, vocals), Tim Blackman (bass), Josef Deas (bass), Second J (bass), Dylan Risinger (bass), Ben Green (trumpet), Connor Hoyt (sax), Eli Heinen (trombone), Ryan Greene (keys), Ana Gomulka (harmonies), De’Sean Jones (string arrangements) and Six Mile Strings.
Together, they recorded The Future tracks at Grove Studios and Fundamental Sound Co as part of Darling’s role with Washtenaw County’s Amplify Fellowship. Sponsored by Grove Studios and Leon Speakers, the eight-month fellowship provides Black artists with 40 hours of studio time and engineering and production support for a new project.
Darling was named one of three fellows along with Ann Arbor vocalist-instrumentalist London Beck and Ypsilanti vocalist Kenyatta Rashon. Each fellow receives funding and assistance for artist development, performance and marketing and selects nonprofit to support during the program.
“We’re bonded for life now, and it’s been amazing getting to know them and seeing their processes and their artistry. Rod (Wallace) and Maia (Evans) also have provided the protective, nurturing energy that any artist would love,” said Davis, who was the third fellow to release a new project in June.
“I’ve never had a manager, and I think having them step into those roles for us was invaluable. I’ve never been able to focus so much on the creative process. We’ve been discussing how to move forward, what to do for the next group and how to level up.”
As Darling wraps up her Amplify fellowship, she’ll perform live this summer to promote The Future. This Thursday she will be at The Parliament Room at Otus Supply in Ferndale along with a July 18 solo show at the Ann Arbor Art Fair and an Aug. 7 slot at Greenshields’ Fun Fest in Ypsilanti.
“It’s been really life-changing for me to be able to have this project that I’ll have forever. I’m just really grateful,” she said.