Dani Ella is finally ready to get ‘Personal’
“Personal,” the new single from Dani Ella, initially comes on like a breakup track, the soul singer appearing to urge herself forward in the aftermath of some shattering experience. “I’m not gon’ give up,” she repeats, buoyed by twinkling piano and the muted clap of electronic drums. As the song reaches a crescendo, though, Ella alters the refrain slightly. “Not gon’ give up,” she sings, and then adds, “my heart’s in the music.”
“At the time, it felt like the people around me were doubting me,” said Ella, who released her last album under the name Ella Starr in 2014. “And because it had been such a long time between my music releases, I felt like people were trying to count me out. So, [‘Personal’] is almost more like journaling than a song to me, and in it I try to encourage myself and remind myself that I can still do this.”
Ella traced her extended absence from music in part to her disaffection with the industry's business-side and her experiences with former label Touched Sound Record, which she bluntly described as “not that great.” As a result, the singer took a step back from writing and recording following her 2014 release, gradually becoming accustomed to living a life absent music.
And then the pandemic hit.
“And with COVID, I had so much free time,” said Ella, who started to take a few hesitant first steps back to writing amid stay-at-home regulations. “I took such a long break that I didn’t even know if I could do it anymore, or if I could even write or sing anything. Now, I’m halfway through an album and I’ve got a lot of great music relationships around me. It feels like it was necessary to have that time by myself, because now everything is coming back together.”
The singer said she’s approaching this second act with a different mindset, worrying less about singles and what might get radio play and instead unearthing songs that dig down to the core of who she is as a person. The stripped-bare “Personal,” which releases as a single on Friday, March 31, speaks to this journey, Ella letting go of a tension that had nearly curdled her love for singing.
“I was so excited that I had written something so true to what I was going through,” said Ella, who is currently working toward her next full-length, Reset, which she hopes to release this summer. “I wasn’t worried about, ‘Oh, I need to write a hit,’ or trying to write something for the public. Back then, it was very much like, ‘How is this going to go over? Is this radio friendly?’ And with ‘Personal,’ I was just excited to be doing it, and to be saying something for myself. So, while I was recording it, yeah, I had a little bit of an attitude. It just felt good to get it off my chest.”
Ella traced her love for music back through her bloodlines. She said her grandmother was a great singer, and her mother also possessed a remarkable voice, though she didn’t deploy it as often, owing to her more introverted nature. Still, her mother helped shape her love for music by playing it incessantly, introducing Ella to everything from jazz and classical music to opera. Ella's mother also insisted that her daughter join the church choir, which informed the youngster's deep love for harmony.
“Having those three sections, and how great the music could sound in that choir, I really loved that even more than singing on my own,” Ella said.
While Ella formed her first vocal trio, Heavenly, in fifth grade, it wasn’t until her teenage years that she started to consider recording her own music – an idea that truly jelled when she met the producer Rashad Thomas at age 16.
“And I was under his wing pretty much through college,” said Ella, who still employs techniques she learned from Thomas related to everything from the art of recording – where to place your ad-libs, where to place your background vocals, etc. – to how to position yourself in relation to the mic.
“And then even how to sing in a mic, where you're not yelling," Ella said. "When you’re recording, you want people to sing along, too. You don’t want to do too much and be screaming all over the place. Save that for the live show.”