Interview: Daisy the Great

Like many of you, I discovered Daisy the Great last year after hearing their incredibly catchy song “Record Player”. The track was instantly stuck in my head, and I found myself working on memorizing the hypnotic chorus even when not listening to the song. The duo comprised of Kelley Nicole Dugan & Mina Walker have been around since 2016, and released their first EP in 2018. While their earlier work was far more bare and stripped back in a folk style, the one thing that hasn’t changed about them is their incredible harmonizing and idiosyncratic lyrics.

Now working with a full band, the group’s sound is more fleshed out, allowing them to take their songs in new directions. With their sophomore album All You Need is Time dropping Friday, the group was kind enough to speak with me about the process of recording their new album, some meaning behind the lyrics, their dream collaborations and more.

**

The Indy Review: First, I want to say how much I enjoyed hearing the new album. The songs on it show such a great amount of growth both musically and lyrically. What were the most memorable highlights and challenges of recording it?

Daisy the Great: Thank you so much! We had a few main recording days at Studio G in Brooklyn that we look back on very sweetly! One of our favorite memories from the recording days is when we were trying to record a scratch vocal for “Smile Pretty Girl” while Nardo was recording guitar, and for some reason Mina and I were absolutely losing it and couldn’t stop laughing. The song is not funny…but we just couldn’t get through it. Poor sweet Nardo was fighting the laughter so hard but he eventually broke. We’re pretty sure the guitar take that we ended up using is one where Nardo just barely made it through without laughing too. Another true highlight is recording the “claps” on “Time Machine”. We all stood in a circle and started clapping but eventually we realized the sound was better if we all smacked our own butts instead….so that’s what’s in the song. On a very heartfelt note, that time was just really special to us in general because we were recording this album with our best friends and feeling really lucky and grateful to be able to make music. One of the challenges of making the record was definitely recording it during the pandemic. We had obviously not been performing and really didn’t know what was going to happen next. In the middle of recording Min was also dealing with a lot of personal stuff that was making it hard to focus, but we were able to take time when we needed to and allow that space for grief and rest when it was needed. We are a band of best friends, ok?!! :’)

IR: It sounds like you really took advantage of having a full band for this album – the songs certainly rock a bit harder and ones like “Time Machine” have a Beatles-esque orchestral pop sound. How has it been learning to play and record with a full band as opposed to just the two of you? 

DtG: We’ve recorded most of our music with a full band actually, but we set out to record this album with a bigger sound that really matched the feeling and size of our most rocky live shows. We have the best band members too, they are so kind and so talented and it is always a huge honor to collaborate with them on the recordings. This was definitely the most monstrous undertaking to date, though, and we learned a lot about building up and stripping back the instrumentation during the process. 

IR: When writing the new tracks, do you still initially hear the tracks as acoustic songs, based on how you started as a duo, or are you envisioning them in their fleshed out final forms as they appear on the album?

DtG: We’ll often write with just a guitar or piano and vocal, but typically as soon as the song begins to take shape, we start to imagine the eventual sound and basic arrangement of the song. We get carried away even before a song is done by the prospect of performing it live or creating a music video for the song, so I’d say we’re pretty quick to envision the final form. That said, we do feel strongly about the need for a song to hold up even if it’s just melody and lyrics with a single instrument. 

IR: Having the freedom of a full band, did you ever have to pull yourselves back from adding extra instrumentation and layers to the recordings, or was it easy to tell when a track was serviced better by a stripped-back approach?

DtG: The strongest arrangement of the song wasn’t always immediately obvious, so generally if we were between ideas we’d do our best to put some time and effort into building the best version of each arrangement. Then, after listening to each version for a few days, it typically became pretty obvious what the more impactful recording was and luckily we’ve always agreed on that so far. Sometimes that intimacy and vulnerability takes up more space than a more saturated version could. 

IR: As I mentioned above, the lyrics showed a strong maturity, especially in songs like “Easy”, where you describe coming to grips with dealing with a heartbreak. How much did you draw from your own lives the last couple years when writing the narratives of the songs?

DtG: “Easy” was such an interesting song to write because we then sat with it for a few years before recording it for the album. We wrote the song based on a relationship that really did feel easy to let go of at the time. By the time we came back to the song to record it, we had gone through a couple of intense heartbreaks that really did not feel easy at all – and singing the song from a new vantage point led the meaning of the song to morph a bit. We started to interpret it as being about the moments of relief you feel after a breakup within the more heart wrenching, complicated waves of emotions. In our worst moments, it feels like it’s completely ironic. So, this song really feels like it can show up for you how you need it to, and be a hug in a tough moment. In general, all of the songs are inspired by our own lives, and it’s really interesting to write songs with each other because there’s a little bit of both of us in all of the music. We usually will start writing about a feeling, and then draw from both of our own experiences around that idea. 

IR: You’ve named the album All You Need Is Time, which seems to be an appropriate mantra for bands waiting to have a big break. How does the title tie into the album’s overarching themes?

DtG: The title All You Need Is Time comes from a lyric in the song “Smile Pretty Girl”, which is the last song on the record and which reflects the feelings of hoping for change but not knowing when it will come. Similarly to a big break actually, a lot of the time you don’t know the change is happening when it’s happening, and part of the sentiment of the record is about accepting the in-between moments and the questions and trusting that perspective & wisdom come with time. 

IR: One thing I noticed on the album is that there feels like there’s an undercurrent of existential dread and anxiety in the songs. On “Time Machine”, you talk about how the world is falling apart; in “Cry”, there’s “I gotta keep talking, so I don’t disappear” and on the closer “Smile Pretty Girl”, you express fear about still feeling sadness up until death. Have these been fears that you’ve carried with you and processed since you began songwriting, or have they stemmed from more recent events like the pandemic?

DtG: We actually wrote all of the songs on the record before the pandemic. The last song we wrote for the record was “Aluminum” with our friend Gabe Goodman in February of 2020. When we started to record the record in 2021 we were really surprised at how many of the lyrics felt like they could’ve been written during the pandemic because we were feeling so many of those feelings so vividly, albeit, in a new light. I’d say that those fears are fears that maybe come and go and grow and change over time. A lot of the record is quite existential and filled with questions that I’m not expecting to ever get a clear answer for, to be honest. But the journey of exploring and accepting those questions is the more poignant and moving part of the experience of living I think. 

Mina and Kelley

IR: Another lyric that struck me was on “Tell Me Have You Been Dancing”, when you sing “Your body’s contagious. I wish it were mine”. My mind ran through so many potential meanings to it – what does it mean to you?

DtG: I love that lyric. I think it can mean a few different things. To me it captures that feeling of being so addicted to someone who has that spark that attracts everyone and wanting to be around it so much but also envying it and wanting it to be yours. It can also be about the ~unhealthy~ wish to be able to take on someone’s pain for them so that they can be okay enough to be happy with you. 

IR: Since having “Record Player” go viral and hitting the pop charts, what new experiences and lessons have you taken from this entrance in the music mainstream? 

DtG: We were so lucky during this time to be able to have our music reach a much wider audience. We were able to perform on some really incredible stages, and tour with really amazing bands. We got to hear our songs on the radio, we performed on ABC’s New Year’s Eve show and Kelly Clarkson’s show. We would never have been able to predict all of this happening. All of the touring definitely taught us a lot about performing on a big stage and really being brave enough to take up that space and have fun. On the other hand, we also learned a lot about creating that intimacy with the audience, even when the room feels giant. 

IR: How involved have you been with the roll-out of the coming album? Do you enjoy the marketing and promotion side of the business, figuring out singles, album artwork, and planning ways to get fans excited, or do you prefer to just write and play the music and have your team handle those aspects of the release?

DtG: We like to be very very involved in all aspects of the creative and planning of the project. There’s also a lot of stuff that we can’t handle on this scale, and we are really grateful to our team for being there for us too. For instance, we planned our own DIY tour in 2019 that was amazing and honestly very epic, but it is so so nice to have our lovely agent and management and label helping us organize and schedule everything now. That said, we definitely try to have a big hand in whatever we possibly can. We are deeply invested in the roll out of the album; Mina does all of the single art, we try to direct or co-direct and edit as many of the music videos as we can, and generally really enjoy driving the metaphorical car of the band – though, Mina does not have a driver’s license. 

IR: You found great success working with AJR on the single “Record Player”. Are there any other dream collaborations you would like to make happen? 

DtG: Ohhh yes there are so many artists we would love to work with. A handful are: Fiona Apple, Paramore, Mitski, Remi Wolf, Moses Sumney, Sleigh Bells, Blondie, Beach Bunny, Avril Lavigne, Japanese Breakfast, Lady Gaga…the list is long !! but we’ll cap it there for now.

IR: The album is coming out on October 28th (just before Mina’s birthday). Any plans for how you’re going to celebrate the dual occasions? 

DtG: We will probably have some kind of party to listen to the album with our best friends and celebrate Mina’s birthday and then go out for a drink after 🙂 

IR: You’re touring the rest of the year. What are your plans for 2023?

DtG: We are planning a big album tour in 2023!! Stay tuned!! Can’t wait to play the new album for everyone 🙂 

IR: Finally, If you could make one lasting impact or change to popular music as it is now, what would it be?

DtG: There is something about the way that music is circulating now that I’m still trying to figure out. Often with social media playing a large part of music getting heard, it’s only a small part of a song that makes the rounds and reaches the bigger audience, rather than being able to hear the full song. I think that can be a blessing and a curse, and I hope that people listen to full songs and full albums and seek out the opportunity to listen to the music as the artist intended it to be heard. Eat the whole cake. 

IR: Thank you, and wishing you both great success with the new album and coming tour!

**

All You Need is Time is out everywhere Friday, October 28th on S Curve Records. Listen to some of the pre-released tracks here!

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