The winner of November’s ReverbNation songwriting contest is a jazz-trained singer-songwriter from Connecticut who’s worked with some big names already
his month’s songwriting competition, held in association with musicians’ hub ReverbNation, received the highest number of entries to date – over 4,500. And yet after ploughing through all that music, picking a winner proved suprisingly easy, with all of the judging panel taken aback by winner Dani Elliott’s stunning vocal prowess and distinctive sound.
Originally from Connecticut, Dani has spent the last decade in New York, developing the modern jazz-funk sound that made her stand out to us. While there she has been no stranger to success, working as a backing singer for a host of well-known artists.
But Dani has never stopped concentrating on her solo career, funding all of her persuits personally. Now, we think it’s time for Dani to step out from the chorus and release her unique sound into the wider music community. We caught up with her during a six-week tour in Japan…
How did you get involved with songwriting?
“I never planned to become a songwriter. I started in jazz, writing my own arrangements for jazz standards; I thought I was going to be a jazz singer. I was studying at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. There I attended a songwriting craft class run by Kirk Nurock. I started writing somewhat later: I think I was around 21 when I wrote my first song. His class was definitely the catalyst for songwriting for me.”
What influences your writing?
“I think everyday situations that I find myself in – and everyday situations that I find other people in, in regards to the topical stuff – are where the songs are coming from lyrically. Musically there are a lot of different influences. I always tend to come back to a few people like Stevie Wonder, I love Jamie Lidell… Amel Larrieux, she’s another one I really love. Some of my core loves are really surfacing in this recent EP and I think it’s about trying to combine what I experience with what my ear is really drawn to. It’s about putting those things together and hopefully what comes out is unique to me – and hopefully unique to people who are hearing it for the first time.”
You’ve been a backing singer for lots of artists in the past… have you always been interested in performing solo?
“Yes, I’ve always had my own projects, I’ve always been writing my own music. I did my first EP right after I graduated at 21, since then I’ve released two more EPs and just kind of got into doing backing vocals because I like to sing harmonies. It’s a great day job to have while you’re trying to pursue your own stuff.”
Who have you performed with?
“Right now I’m out in Japan playing with an artist called Eikichi Yazawa, he’s great, he’s a rocker and a real legend here so we’ve been on an arena tour which has been really cool. The last person I was playing with was Sheryl Crow and before that Amos Lee and one-off gigs with different artists. Sometimes you get called for random things with different people.”
“I moved to Nashville for the music and the lifestyle”
What’s on the horizon for your solo work?
“I just released a self-titled EP last month, but the single I have out right now is called Make Me Love You. It’s just a collection of songs I’ve been wanting to release for a while now and I’ve finally had the opportunity to do it. I worked on the EP with my co-producer Jesse Singer from Brooklyn and we produced it together. I wrote most of the songs with exception of two that I collaborated with other producers on. I’m trying to write more with more people.
“I recently moved to Nashville from New York and I’ve been trying to do that more, it’s more of a co-writing city whereas New York, in my experience, is more of a solo artist kind of thing. You do your own thing, but Nashville is more of a team player which has been a nice change. I moved to Nashville for the music and the lifestyle. New York hasn’t really been a conducive place for artists for a while for me and a lot of people I know it’s been getting worse and worse, particularly financially, trying to sustain or pursue any kind of creative endeavour. It’s more feasible to go to other places to work on your art before coming back to New York to showcase it.
“I think that’s across the board for visual artists, musicians, even some theatre people. Unfortunately I think being able to live in New York as an artist right now isn’t the easiest thing.”
You seem very busy, are you currently with a label?
“No, everything I do, I do on my own… I’m not really with a label or anything. I’m with a tiny a label here in Japan called Sweet Soul Records but they’re really just for distribution here. Everything else I do myself. I produced my latest record and paid for it on my own without any crowdfunding or anything – just blood, sweat and tears!”
What are your plans for 2014?
“I’m really excited about growing creatively. I’m in a new place and that will really inspire my writing. What I’ve done already sounds really different from the stuff that’s out there now, so I’m looking forward to recording that and see how it comes together.”
Interview: Kieron Allen
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, then the good news is, our monthly songwriting competition is still ongoing! To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation and submit your track via the competition page. Each month, we’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one. The December competition opens for entries tomorrow (3 December).