Daniella Mason will be your new favorite indie songstress, especially after you watch this special acoustic performance of her single ‘Technicolour’. Below, we chat about co-writing for Nick Jonas and opening for Demi Lovato, her work in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, and why you couldn’t pay her any amount of money to leave her beloved Nashville!
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You’ve self-released singles over the years, and now you’re with a major label. What’s that been like?
It was a crazy transition. I was independent for ten years, then in 2014 I started my own label and that’s when I released “Shade of You”. When it came out, it did better than any of us expected, and we were on the iTunes front page and got great press. A lot of the labels started coming around, but what’s cool about Warner is that they didn’t know about any of that. It was this serendipitous thing, someone who worked at Warner asked a friend if he liked anyone in Nashville, and he said me, and he heard my songs on Soundcloud. He didn’t even know I had been touring and releasing records!
I signed with them a few months later. Tonight [at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY] will actually be the first time anyone from the label sees me play.
So you live in Nashville, as opposed to LA or New York – why is that? Before you answer, I’ll remind you that New York is the best coast.
I’ve lived here for ten years. When I first got there, I was doing the more singer-songwriter-piano thing. I was accompanying myself, playing piano. A few years ago, I started doing more electronic pop.
I immediately thought of Halsey and Banks when I heard of you.
That makes me happy! They’re great.
What’s been really fun is that there’s a growing pop community in Nashville. It’s a different brand of pop than New York or LA has – we have our own thing going. I love being there. I feel inspired by the talent and great storytellers there. One thing that strings my songs together is that I like to tell good stories, and I got that from being in Nashville for ten years.
What do you think Nashville has that other cities don’t?
Don’t be mad at me! You love New York. I love LA and New York, too, but Nashville is very laid back. Everybody is very nice. It’s a southern city and it has this southern hospitality. People really help you. If they can do anything for you, they will, and vice versa.
You’ve said that you really want to play the Ryman Auditorium. Why is that?
I have a lot of memories there. When I first got to Nashville, the first show I saw there was Damien Rice. He’s a huge influence of mine and has done so much for my artistic journey. He sang this song at the end where he drank a whole bottle of wine and it snowed on him. I bawled my eyes out!
Acoustic at the Ryman is one of my favorite Band of Horses records.
I’m so glad you said that. The acoustics are really amazing, so the acts that come through can do an acoustic session without mics. You can hear it through the entire theater. It’s an iconic and beautiful place. If I played there I would cry the whole time.
Have your world travels informed your music at all?
When I was eight, my parents decided to become missionaries, so I split my childhood between the jungle and this mountainous region in Mexico where everyone lives in huts with dirt floors. It was amazing. I was exposed to so many things and I got to travel so much. When I was in the States, we would live and travel in this conversion van mobile home thing. I spent a lot of my time by myself and that’s when I started writing lyrics and little songs in my journal, because I had a lot of time so myself. I was able to be creative.
Did you share it with your parents?
I was really private at first. The first time I showed them something I’d written, I was thirteen. They were like, ‘Where did this come from’? When I was fifteen, I started recording and playing shows, but I was going to school so I didn’t do anything extensive until I moved to Nashville at eighteen.
You’ve said that after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a switch was flipped for you.
I went and did some disaster relief after the earthquake. We paid and raise money to care-flight children to an orphanage in the north. Most of them had lost limbs in the earthquake. We got there and I felt inadequate – these kids had lost everything. I was like, what am I doing here? I don’t know what I can do. Then the director of the orphanage asked me to sing for the kids and I saw everything change in their faces. I realized that I couldn’t make their limbs grow back or give them a million dollars, but I can sing with them.
That’s so awesome.
It made be realize how transcendent music is and that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.
Now you’re in a band with your husband, Chris Young.
We’ve been married for almost six years. He plays and writes with me – we’re very much a mom-and-pop business. We got set up and met at a bowling alley but he played on a project I was working on, and we got to know each other. It grew from there and ended up working out really well! We’re lucky.
It must be nice to have a sounding board.
It’s cool! We’re honest with each other. If he plays a funny note, I look at him, and if he doesn’t like something I’ll write, he’ll say, ‘it’s not my favorite’. We’re not mean. We’re honest and we’re not too sensitive.
I know he’ll be honest, which is why I like having him in writing rooms. Sometimes in a writing session, everyone wants to get along and be nice, so it’s cool to know someone who will say, ‘I don’t like that, we can do better.’ It keeps me on my game.
You’ve also written with Nick Jonas.
I’ve known Nick for a while. [Laughs] So casual. I’ve watched him grow up. We started writing together a couple years ago and it’s awesome – he’s so talented. It’s a lot of fun to write with him because we’re friends and we write about the things he’s going through, so I end up with the emotional songs on the album. Which I’m fine with. I have a lot of emotions!
Is that how the Demi Lovato connection happened?
Nick played my song “All I Want” for her and my phone started vibrating one day. This was back when I still had Twitter alerts on, because I wasn’t getting any alerts! It started vibrating and it wouldn’t stop. I thought something was wrong with my phone. Demi had tweeted it, and she was so kind to do that.
She had me come out and play a little bit on her tour. She really threw me a bone. I was really thankful.
What’s the weirdest venue you’ve ever played in?
Hmm. I wish Chris was over here. He’s over there. [Ed. note: Chris is busy eating a sandwich on the other side of the studio.]
You can phone a friend.
I can phone a Chris! Oh, we were on tour in 2011 and we played in Kansas. They wouldn’t let us play in the actual venue because I wasn’t anybody, really, and they set us up in the lobby of the venue. Nobody was playing in the regular venue. Only three people came and they paid three dollars a piece. I made nine dollars that night.
If you could splurge on something, what would it be?
Salt and vinegar chips. And a couch from West Elm that I have my eye on.
You can get Daniella’s excellent EP Technicolour here on iTunes.