Danielle Durack spent the better part of two years—2018 and 2019—writing a beautiful, brutally honest breakup album called No Place, then recorded it in her mother’s basement, channeling one of her biggest influences, Julien Baker, along the way.
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“Some of the writing started while we were still together, and I honestly think that some of the songs contributed to the fallout,” the Phoenix indie pop songstress recently told American Songwriter over the phone. “I get it—from a partner’s perspective, it’s not something you want to hear.”
That’s an understatement. Take the following verse from the stunning album closer “Eggshells,” for example: “I am tired of charming / always getting what you want / the crumbs of your heart they don’t sustain me,” Durack sings in the track, which builds into a soaring, self-assured I-deserve-better-than-this relationship reckoning. “It’s just enough to keep me waiting / and I can’t fight the feeling / we’re a bomb that’s always ticking / a single nudge could fucking end it / I’m so sick of being cautious.”
The magic of this song—and this album—is that by the end of it, Durack’s heartbreak gives way to a sense of freedom, or at least empowerment. It’s as if Durack comes out of the relationship—and this album—stronger than she went into it. Her heartbreak isn’t gone, it’s harnessed.
We caught up with Durack last month about her experience writing and recording No Place, which follows her 2019 EP Bashful and her 2018 debut Bonnie Rose. She also spoke about working with producer Samuel Rosson, curating the perfect breakup playlists, and drawing inspiration from boygenius and Britney Spears. Check out the full interview and listen to Durack’s latest singles below.
American Songwriter: I read that you used to be shy about performing in front of audiences. Do you still struggle with that?
Danielle Durack: It’s definitely gotten better, but there will still be a show here and there—and there’s no real rhyme or reason to it—where I’ll just have a spike of adrenaline that is debilitating enough to make my voice shaky, maybe my hands. I imagine that once I start playing shows again I’ll have to relearn that since I haven’t played many shows this year. I’m sure they’ll be a curve, but hopefully it won’t be as long of a journey.
AS: What changed for you?
DD: I think just surviving it enough times and realizing it’s not gonna kill me. Like, the worst thing that could happen, could happen, and I’d still wake up tomorrow, so it’s fine.
AS: That seems like a good outlook to have. You’ve said before that “writing is therapeutic for me and never fails to be quite the journey of self discovery. I get to shed another layer and get a little closer to my essence.” When and where did you write the songs on No Place?
DD: They were written over the course of 2018 and 2019, usually just in my home, in Phoenix. I was living in LA for a very brief stint—I wrote a couple of the songs out there. They were very much just me going through this process of me losing the person closest to me over two years or so.
AS: How long after that breakup did the writing occur?
DD: Some of the writing started while we were still together, and I honestly think that some of the songs contributed to the fallout. I get it—from a partner’s perspective, it’s not something you want to hear.
AS: There’s this sense of bringing oneself to look really honestly at a relationship, and how it’s not working. That’s so hard to do.
DD: It is, yeah. Especially when you’re still very much in love with someone and you so badly want to make it work, and it’s just not working.
AS: Was writing these songs your main outlet for reflecting on this relationship?
DD: I definitely would journal when I couldn’t sleep. I just needed to purge some mental chatter in order to have some peace to get some rest.
AS: Did you know you were working on an album?
DD: I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to shape up, and I definitely didn’t know that it was going to be so quintessentially a breakup record, but I finished all the songs and put them together and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what it is.’
AS: I know you worked with Samuel Rosson, with whom you also worked on your Bashful EP. How did you two get connected initially? And how has your creative relationship evolved since then?
DD: My best friend in high school is originally from Northern Washington. After high school, she moved back and I helped her move and stayed up there for a couple weeks, and he was part of her middle school friend group. We were all hanging out and I was meeting her hometown people, and he was in that group. I heard he was going to school for audio engineering, so I kinda filed that back in my brain and wanted to do the first record with him but financially and practically it wasn’t really an option. I decided to pull the trigger with Bashful, and he’s one of my best friends now. Spending 12, 14-hour days in a windowless room with someone, you’ll find out if you’re friends or not.
AS: Where is he based?
DD: He’s in Seattle, so we recorded all of the instrumentals up there for No Place, and then I flew him down here and we recorded all of the vocals in my mom’s basement.
AS: Had you recorded in your mom’s basement in the past?
DD: No, this was a first. It wasn’t exactly an easy sell—there’s like four people that live there, and they all had to be dead silent for a week. By the end I was like, ‘Thank you so much, I am so sorry!’
AS: What were some of your musical lodestars for No Place, either in terms of songwriting or sound?
DD: I love all of the boygenius girls—Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus. They have recently really inspired me sonically and lyrically. Lucy Dacus’s ‘Night Shift‘ and Mitski’s ‘Your Best American Girl‘—those two songs really influenced ‘Broken Wings,‘ and how that went, sonically.
Songwriting-wise, I feel like [No Place] is a conglomeration of everything I’ve ever listened to. Sara Bareiles was a huge influence in high school, and I feel like that’s always going to be part of my make-up. Ingrid Michaelson, John Mayer—those artists were big for me in my formative years, so I feel like they’re in there permanently. Then, shamefully, I grew up on all of this pop garbage like Britney Spears and Hilary Duff.
AS: Oh no, why shamefully?
DD: I mean, I appreciate that you feel that way.
AS: I feel great adoration.
DD: Again, shamefully, I feel like Britney Spears was the artist that made me realize I wanted to do music. I was like, ‘I wanna be that!’ I was like five years old. But more recently it’s more of the moody singer-songwriter girls.
AS: I would venture to say that the fare on No Place is a lot closer to boygenius than Britney Spears. Speaking of ‘Broken Wings,’ how did it feel to see it land on Bob Boilen’s favorite songs of 2020 list?
DD: That was unreal—it’s still unreal.
AS: How did you learn of that?
DD: My manager actually sent out an email that day. He was just like, ‘You’re on this thing,’ and I was like,’Wahhhh! That’s amazing!’ Then I went to work. I think I told the people at work—I work at a pizzeria out here. I see NPR Music as this very universal thing, but for some people it’s like, ‘What is that?’ Talking to your parents or whatever, they’re just like, ‘Is it cool? Is that a good thing?’ Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s a big deal.
AS: Lyrically, “Broken Wings” has so many raw moments. Do you remember what it felt like to compose it? Do you have any favorite lines?
DD: I think the verses came before the choruses. I remember thinking it was really funny and having this playful energy around it. Like, ‘You’re a special kind of tragic / and so naturally I’m attracted‘—that self-critical, I-guess-this-is-who-I-am [attitude]. And there’s the line about the Cold Stone—‘Don’t know what it is about those broken wings / But I cold stone gotta have it.‘ I make these jokes about hurting emotionally, then the choruses come in and I’m like, ‘But I’m actually in a lot of pain!’
The last thing I wrote was the outro. ‘I’m a special kind of damaged / and always craving what I can’t have.’ I feel like that was my opportunity to really address those issues in a more real way. And I feel like there’s this weird pressure with outros where there’s a statement that needs to be made or it sounds like you’re wandering forever. I felt like that was the conclusion I came to by the end of that song—I was like, ‘The ball’s in my court. I could stop doing this, but I choose not to.’
AS: I’ve been thinking about the line, ‘The hardest love’s the one that I want.‘ Was that self-deprecating or sincere?
DD: It’s very sincere.
AS: Do you think love is supposed to be easy and effortless or should it require work? This isn’t a music question, this is just a life question.
DD: I don’t know. I think when it is super effortless and there isn’t that kind of push and pull, I lose interest, very quickly. Which I think is a me-issue. But maybe there’s something to be said for being so enamored by someone that… I don’t know. If it’s easy, it doesn’t feel real. I still don’t have it figured out. I’m very single. [laughing]
AS: When you were going through this breakup, obviously you were writing these songs, but were you turning to other music either for comfort or to help process everything?
DD: Absolutely. I had two playlists—one was like gas-on-the-fire music, and then the other one was like, ‘Alright, pick yourself up, let’s go.’
AS: What are some examples of songs in both categories?
DD: The happier playlist had a lot of MUNA’s  record [Saves The World] on it. They have this song ‘Good News,‘ I think it was number-one on my Spotify Wrapped. I played that song so many times. And then they have the song ‘Your Number One Fan,‘ and ‘Taken‘—very good post-breakup music. Then there was this artist I found recently—I played a show with them out here—they’re relatively up-and-coming, and they’re called ings. She’s got this whole album [2019’s lullaby rock] that’s basically a love letter to thyself. It was just so perfect. I was going through all these things and it was like she wrote the soundtrack to everything I was going through—it was very cool.
The gas-on-the-fire stuff… there was a song ‘Big Black Car‘ by Gregory Alan Isakov and that song still makes me cry. I’d listen to Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Pinegrove. Just rip-your-heart-out type stuff.
AS: You seem to balance these two modes. I also know you’re a big fan of Phoenix’s music scene. Do you have any favorite local acts that we should know about?
DD: Yeah, one of my best friends is Sydney Sprague. We’ve been on a couple tours together. Her new album [maybe i will see you at the end of the world] that she’s about to put out—I’ve had the privilege of hearing it—is amazing. There’s a [group] out here called Palo Brea that’s like neo-soul, they’re just amazing. Each one of them is just an absolute authority in their own instrument and they can do anything. I’m convinced.
AS: What are some things you’re looking forward to right now? How might you celebrate your record release?
DD: I’m very excited for the record to be out. I’m looking forward to hopefully playing shows again next year, and who knows, maybe we’ll throw a tour on that wishlist. In terms of celebrating the record, I’ll probably have a bottle of wine with my roommates. I’m still not really getting out of the house too much except to go to work, so maybe I’ll celebrate with my coworkers since they’re in my little germ circle. I am also gonna do a livestream release show. I haven’t set it up yet, but I’m sure it will be set up by the time this comes out.
Photos by Eunice Beck