A month into the summer, 2020 is shaping up to be an outstanding year for albums, a worthy follow up to a stellar 2019 that capped off a memorable decade of music. Granted, with a global pandemic and social unrest stirring all around the world, new releases this year arrive under a largely different set of circumstances.
Musicians putting out new records this summer are sailing uncharted waters. Right in the middle of those sweeping tides are Nashville mainstays The Danberrys, the husband-and-wife duo comprised of Ben DeBerry and Dorothy Daniel. The band’s third album, Shine, will be released in the U.S. this Friday, but the path to get to this point has been anything but clear and easy.
Initially slated to drop in spring, COVID-19 altered the course of the band’s original release schedule. “At some point in May, we had to pick a day,” says Daniel. “We couldn’t wait forever. It was going to be crazy no matter when we released it and now is the time to roll with the punches.” They followed through with the album release in Europe and settled on a July date for America. After a long and unforeseeable journey, Shine arrives as a symbol of the new horizons The Danberrys have been pursuing for years, both musically and personally.
Clocking in at 12 tracks and just under 50 minutes, Shine is simultaneously an acoustic tour de force and a gritty roots-rock record. With production and musical contributions from Brian Brinkerhoff, Marco Giovino, Darrell Scott and others, the album hangs its hat on personal storytelling laid over gripping, blues-tinged hard folk. Unlike their previous albums, which were mostly recorded with musicians from their inner circle, the making of Shine occurred entirely with brand new faces and with new methods. It was a process which Daniel describes as “raw and real.” From the soaring boogie “The Mountain” to the atmospheric Americana of “Francis” to the menacing shuffle “The Road,” the album crosses over country, folk, blues and rock with comfort and style.
The release of a new record is always cause for celebration, especially when considering the world’s chaotic state. This album in particular is a special milestone for The Danberrys, as Daniel and her husband are no strangers to adversity. Well before coronavirus ever existed, Dorothy’s musical ambitions were put on halt as she battled PTSD from childhood trauma and later, a gruesome nerve diagnosis that left her with great pain and the inability to use her arms and hands.
Eventually, Daniel turned away from conventional forms of therapy and towards alternative medicine, which turned out to be the help she needed and a revolutionary experience. With an unrelenting spirit and Ben’s loving support, Daniel persevered and achieved a newfound level of physical and emotional balance. “The last four years for me have been constant, unrelenting therapy, healing retreats, neurological brain training, meditation and spiritual journeying,” she says. “I’ve found my strength and my confidence, something I never had before.”
Along with album number three, most recently, Daniel and DeBerry have embraced a new adventure and challenge: parenthood. At this point in their career and lives, they’ve never been more equipped to handle what lies in front of them. Shine is another marker on their continued path to inner peace and creative freedom.
Editor Roberto Johnson caught up with Dorothy Daniel to talk about the making of The Danberrys’ new record, creative life during the pandemic, pursuing alternative medicine and more. Check out their full conversation below.
Your album release was pushed back due to COVID. This year has been pretty tough on musicians. How are you doing considering the circumstances?
Dorothy: It’s so insane how everything is working right now. I had a part-time accounting job I got laid off from at the beginning of COVID and I’ve been kind of waiting for them to give me the green light to come back. My husband has a part-time job and has been doing a little bit of work with that. It’s just been crazy trying to juggle, not really having steady daycare for our little girl and then Ben popping in and out while trying to do all the record release stuff. So, just doing all these things and hanging out with the baby when I can.
How has your day-to-day life changed since the virus hit? Have you picked up any new creative habits or maybe settled into other ones you didn’t use to have the time for?
Dorothy: One of the biggest challenges for us is that we have a one-year old. If we didn’t have our daughter, I would probably be writing every day. At the very beginning, we were like, ‘Let’s just start writing,’ so we already have some tunes put down for our next album. But then stuff started picking up a little more and we didn’t have our daycare. Creatively, it’s been a struggle also because we’re doing the album release and all the behind the scenes that goes into that. It’s not making music, but that’s been fun for me too.
I’d love to ask you about making the record. How would you describe the recording of this album compared to your guys’ previous projects?
Dorothy: This one was totally different. This album was a pretty big departure from our older sound. We’ve always been more of a string band, almost bluegrass in a lot of ways. Previously we just picked the studio and then us and all of our friends went in and recorded the stuff together. We knew everybody really well and the people had been playing the songs with us on the road for a long time. This time, we had never met anybody that recorded or produced this album until the day we started recording. It ended up being freaking amazing. But there’s a lot of nervousness that goes in beforehand. We knew we wanted to do something bigger, more rock and more electric. Brian Brinkerhoff, who ended up co-producing of the album, just called out of the blue. We signed on to do a stripped-down duo recording with him, even though that wasn’t what we were heading towards. We started writing the songs and got back with Brian and were like, ‘These songs are big, they need a lot of layers, background vocals, all that stuff.’ He put together a band of his top Boston guys and we set a date. We knew they were going to be good, but we had no idea it was going to sound as good as it did. The first song we recorded was “Never Gone” and I couldn’t even sing it ’cause I was crying in the vocal booth, ’cause it sounded so good.
It sounds like the recording process was very collaborative. What do you miss most about the Nashville community right now?
Dorothy: Right when the virus happened, we were just starting to come out of our new baby isolation. We were just starting to get our lives back a little bit. It’s been like two years since I was really out on the scene and getting to see all my friends and go and do as many shows as I wanted. That’s definitely one of the hardest parts: not being able to go out and watch people play. The live streaming has been all right but it’s not the same. Your phone just doesn’t sound as good.
One thing I love about the record is how well Ben’s guitar playing compliments your voice. What is it about his style and ability that adds so much to the musical fabric of each song?
Dorothy: He’s an amazing guitar player, especially rhythmically. He’s not just a singer-songwriter guitar player. He’s very aggressive. He loves funk music, so he’s super in pocket. His playing has its own voice. We’ve been together since we were 17, so at this point it’s like we meld into each other in a way. It wouldn’t sound anything like it does if it were just me singing with my guitar.
A lot of the themes you guys explore in your writing revolve around concepts like overcoming adversity and finding redemption. You’ve personally dealt with different mental health traumas at various points in your life. How would you say that’s informed your songwriting?
Dorothy: Well, it’s everything. Both of us write from our personal experiences. Every once in a while, we’ll write through the eyes of a friend, but we almost solely write from personal emotions. It’s just what we do. It’s healing to write and to be able to sing and put voice and music to emotions you’re trying to process. Even though I was the one actually experiencing the trauma, Ben was in the pit with me. He was like my ally. He had to learn and grow and go through his own personal challenges and realizations.
Not long ago, you received a diagnosis regarding nerve pain in your arms and hands. How did that impact your relationship with your music?
Dorothy: I was 24, so it’s been a while, but they call it Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Usually they can treat people with with physical therapy, but I was one of the 20% that wasn’t responding to it. At the end of it, the Vanderbilt Orthopedic Clinic was like, ‘Basically, we can’t help you. You’re just gonna have to get on pain meds and manage.’ That kind of sent me on the journey of self-awareness. I started looking into alternative medicine, reading books about the power of your mind, the power of intention. It really started to connect me more to my spiritual self and heal a lot of the core emotional issues that were causing the physical tension.
What are some alternative practices you implement in your life now?
Dorothy: You can meditate all day, every day. But if your brain was hardwired to be in fight-or-flight 24-7, meditation is not going to get you very far. One of the best things I ever did was I went down to Miami to this place that does brainwave optimization, where they listen to your brainwaves and play them back to you like a guitar tone or a piano. They play your brainwaves back to you and your brain hears itself. It’s like, ‘Oh, no. That’s not how I should sound.’ And it adjusts itself. I would feel the plates in my skull loosening up and shifting. It’s the most insane thing I’ve ever experienced. I have a home unit that I use just to keep helping my brain form new pathways. I have rituals I do in the morning and at night to release everything I absorb during the day and reconnect to God or the great spirit or whatever you want to call it. I am in constant communication with that part of myself. I’ve just cultivated this daily walking-meditation type mentality out of necessity. I’ve learned too, you have to pay attention to what you eat and put in your body. A lot of what goes on in your mental and emotional world is directly related to what’s going on with your physical body and vice versa. If you’re eating like crap, you’re gonna feel like crap.
Knowing what you know now, looking back on those experiences, is there something you would change about how you dealt with these obstacles? Are there things you wish you would have known sooner or do you think time was an essential part of overcoming the challenges you faced?
Dorothy: I’m not sure I could have made any different decisions. You kind of just are where you are. I do feel like I was always doing my best. I never gave up, you know what I mean? I wish I could go back and tell myself to just let go a little bit more. I was very determined. I had that ‘I’m going to fix myself’ kind of mentality. It doesn’t really work when you’re healing from childhood trauma. If I could, I would go back and be more gentle with myself and allow myself to take days off to just lay on the couch and be sad. Those are actually very productive. It took me a long time to figure that out, but I don’t think I could have done it any differently.
There are a lot of inspiring songs on the new album, “The River Is Wide” and “The Mountain” being two that come to mind. Do you have a favorite that sticks out above the rest?
Dorothy: It changes. “The River Is Wide” has remained one of my favorites. I still cry when I listen to it. I love “The Mountain” for Darrell Scott. Listening to him sing on my song, it just makes me so happy. I love “Never Gone” too. That’s about the experience of one of my best friends. I sent her the rough draft of it and she wrote me back three or four days later saying, ‘I didn’t know how to respond. It just made me cry so much. I really felt like he was speaking through you to me 30 years ago.’ It meant a lot for me to be able to kind of give her that gift, to feel like she was connected with her dad. That whole story gives it a special place in my heart.
You and your husband have a long history both musically and personally. What does this album represent to you in terms of its place in your lives?
Dorothy: It’s just like another another baby. I was talking to my friend about the album and the release day and I called it the due date. I feel that way about all of our albums. When I go back and listen to them, I remember what I was going through at the time that I wrote it and all of the emotions. This album came to life during a time that was so emotionally charged for us. It’s like a marker, you know? It’s a reminder of what we’ve been through and how much we’ve overcome.
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Photo credit: Boudica Photography and Michelle Stone. Purchase and stream The Danberrys’ new record ‘Shine’ out everywhere this Friday and listen to “The River Is Wide” ahead of the album’s release below.