Throughout the past year, America has been slowly introduced to singer-songwriter Dana Williams. Between the release of her debut EP, The Lonely One, in early 2014, to her stint on ABC’s reality competition, Rising Star, to her appearance in a moving Apple commercial, Williams has been quietly leaving a trail of her beautiful music for everyone to hear. With a new EP on the way, Williams is poised to become one of the next new artists to watch.
Your father was a talented guitarist who played with some of the most respected names in music, including Michael Jackson and Madonna. How did his influence shape your childhood and your love for music?
It inspired me to make music at an early age. I always knew I was going to be involved in creating music in some way. I didn’t know whether or not I was going to be a singer or a song writer or a guitar player, but, I knew music was my calling.
Growing up in a musical family made for an interesting upbringing because I was unfamiliar with 9 to 5s and was able to experience the highs and lows of being a musician. Which just comes with the territory of being an artist. It was nice because I was able to dip my toe in the business from time to time and decide whether or not it was something I really wanted out of life.
How would you describe your music to people who haven’t heard it?
Ethereal Soul Folk
The first time we were introduced to you was when you placed fourth on the ABC singing competition, Rising Star. What was this experience like for you and did any of the judges give you any career/life advice during or after the show?
Kesha taught me to keep at it and to never let rejection get in the way of success and that rejection should make me want it even more. The experience overall was wonderful though stressful. It showed me the amount of focus I needed to maintain in order to reach my goal as an artist.
Although you were on a national competition, your appearance in an Apple commercial has given you even more positive attention and new fans. What is it like being a part of one of the most touching commercials in recent years?
It was really exciting to be a part of. I didn’t realize that people could respond so strongly to a commercial! It was really awesome to be showcased to well. I was singing a George Gershwin song which is really something I love doing, so it was incredible to gain notoriety for doing something I love!
You also recently had one of your songs featured in the Academy Award-nominated film, Whiplash. How did that opportunity come about?
Well to be honest it was a bit of a fluke. Damien Chazelle asked a few favors of me one summer, so in return he offered to play drums in my band for a while. We met through an old friend, Maxwell Drummey who was producing my first EP at the time. It was a nice exchange and at that point I don’t think Whiplash had even been filmed yet. Needless to say, Damien was one of the best drummers I have had the pleasure of playing with. When the time came to put music in the movie, he called me up and said, ‘Hey Dana, I really like your music, do you mind if I put your song ‘Keep Me Waiting’ in my movie?’ and I said, ‘No not at all, go for it.’ And there you have it. I am so impressed by the success of the movie and what an amazing director and screenwriter my mysteriously quiet drummer turned out to be!
The songs on The Lonely One EP tackle the subject of love. Is this something that you actively seek to discuss in your music? How do you want your music to feel?
I don’t think I seek subject matter. I think subject matter usually seeks the artist. As an artist you write about what you know. So, I tend to just write about things that are going on in my life at the time and that are important to me. I know that my music can be pretty melancholic, which I enjoy, since I grew up listening to Billie Holiday and her melancholy feel can actually be pretty enjoyable to listen to. I hope my music feels calming, soothing and enjoyable.
Besides yourself, who do you write your music for? What do you want your fans to take away from it?
Because I tackle loss and love in my first EP I think most people can relate to the subject matter. I’d like my fans to take away from it, that everyone experiences loss and it’s important to realize that you’re not alone even when you feel like you are. My music is a place where people can go to feel comfort within the difficulties of life.
Which artists do you look up to?
Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carole King, Norah Jones and Nina Simone. All of these women didn’t let anything hold them back from following their dreams.
You have covered many songs with Leighton Meester in both your live shows and on YouTube. How did this collaboration begin?
I have known Leighton for a long time. We attended middle school together in New York City. She and my sister Davida kept in touch (they were in the same year at school) After I graduated from college I decided to pursue music full time. It wasn’t until then that we realized we have similar throwback sensibilities and decided it would be fun to sing some duets together. It’s been really so much fun performing with her at live shows and for YouTube!
What are your main inspirations when it comes to writing your music? What is your creative process like?
My main inspiration comes from daily life. Things that affect me when I read, people I meet and interact with. My process is pretty loose at the moment. I sit in my room and start with a riff on the guitar and then I build a melody over it. I have learned that forcing it usually strangles my creative process so if I get stuck I take a break or start working on a new idea. Eventually I stick with something I love and a neat song comes out of it.
What are your future plans for the rest of 2015? Any tours, new music, etc?
As of now I am currently working on my second EP! It’s almost done so I hope it will be out soon! I think it is a bit warmer that my debut EP. I’m really excited.
Any advice for other young creatives?
My advice for young women would be to follow your dreams and to love yourself.
See more from Lydia Magazine’s Summer 2015 issue below!