Danielle Duval is one of the most commanding solo artists I’ve had the pleasure to speak with and that determined, authoritative character comes across in every facet of her music. After a high-spirited session in our TORO Garage, I sat down with the Toronto-based artist at a local coffee shop. We spoke about what it takes to lead a live band, singing in a choir and everything that went into her recently released debut album Of the Valley.

Danielle Duval will perform at this year's NXNE, June 15 @ The Rivoli (12 a.m.).

Tell me about your band.

It’s a collective of really good, talented friends. I’ve been playing with a few of them for years. I fight hard to have a group with a family vibe. Everyone comes over for dinner. I’ve tried every possible combination, but I always play music to be with my friends.

We’ve done over 150 Garage Sessions, and there’s an interesting divide between the solo artists who welcome input from their band and those that shun it. The former usually give better performance and I’d definitely peg you as that.

There’s no other forum in life like [playing music]. The music always gets better the more minds you involve in it. I’m only one mind. Put another with it and it gets better. I’m fully trusting of my band, and we don’t always agree but for the most part we do. And I think that shows when we play live.

How planned out was the recording of Of the Valley?

While making the record we didn’t plan anything out, we’d just get together at 10 a.m. every morning and ask ourselves “OK, what are we going to do today?” We’d usually pick a song to try out, could get it by the third time we’d played it together, like ever. It’s amazing how good things can go when you just let it happen.

Have you always been a solo artist? If so, why?

Yeah. I guess it’s just how and why I write songs. I’ve always been a very independent person, so I write songs in that intimate, personal way. Just the way it worked out, really. I want to be able to morph and try different things. It’s a lone solider mentality.

Is there ego involved?

It’s not about ego, just wanting to be the person that drives everything forward.

Do you take a lot of inspiration from Canadian music of your generation?

Absolutely. Especially in the last five years, a whole lot of what I listen to has been Canadian. Like I was listening to the Golden Dogs nonstop, and a year later we were recording together. And Zeus, I’m so in line with what they do.

What did you think of their lastest record, Busting Visions?

Balls-out, no holds barred. They’ll be around for a long time.

Have you kept busy on music since you finished Of the Valley?

Always. I have a set-up at home and I’m always working on stuff. I’m still putting all my energy into promoting this album, but I’ve always got the next thing banked.

Can you bank a song in your head, within reason, before you start recording?

I can, but it’s not always the case. I had “Impostor” in about half an hour. But others, I have to work much harder on. Before I press record I always hear it a certain way, like a painter knowing what colour they’re going to use. For the album I tried not to [progress] too far with my demos, to keep the energy alive with producers. Kept it simple, blueprints or what have you, to leave space for their input. Your can 4-track the crap out of everything, and if you do you might as well put that [recording] on the album.

Growing up you sang in a choir, correct?

Yes. I loved it. The harmonies were so killer, and I love good harmony. In the sixth grade we’d record in humungous churches, singing songs older than time itself. I was a strong soprano and our conductor brought me into the front row once for a recording, but realized after about five seconds that I was way too loud. I went right back to the back row.

Do those recordings still exist?

I’m sure they do!

You should find and sample them.

I know! I should track them down. What a great idea.

Does that experience still influence the way you sing?

It was only a part of my childhood [musical] experience. My father would play classic rock, so I’ve always been around all kinds of music. It all goes into you. I’ll buy a new record and not listen to anything else for weeks, because I’m a firm believer that any collection of music has more information that you can process [in a short time].

Have you ever found yourself too influenced by another artist or song, to the point where you might be inadvertently copying?

I think that anyone would be lying if they claimed that never happened. You take in information, and you put it back out. But I don’t agree with Mick Jagger ... or maybe it was Dylan ... who said there are no songs left to be written. I’ve never been tripped up by that, because I abstain from listening to music while I’m writing. Maybe for that reason? I like to have no other incoming information.

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