Donn T walks us through 5 songs off her new album Flight of the Donn T
Getting the opportunity to converse with singer/songwriter Donn T about her second full length album Flight of the Donn T proved to be an astonishing, unpredictable excursion. Foregoing the traditional style interview, I selected 5 songs off of her new album, while she provided the momentum and the magic behind each.
I wrote the song with Mike McHenry (who has worked alongside will.i.am and Rihanna). We wrote this song in Philadelphia. It was a summer day in August. In the little room I was in, it was 90 degrees. I remember the room being, I won’t call it a studio because we decided to have this grassroots experience where there’s nothing in the room besides a few pieces of recording equipment, headphones for me and it was very bright. I had a few minutes with the back of an envelope and a pen and wrote out the lyrics and heard the melody. I was singing about love and at the time wasn’t in a relationship. I wrote it forward into experience and I do that a lot. What’s incredible is that it was actually the song that I played for my first dance for my wedding (to the album’s executive producer/Donn’s husband, guitarist Jake Morelli who has worked with Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Ne-Yo, The Roots, Jennifer Hudson, Grace Potter, Esperanza Spalding and Hunter Hayes).
I was in a bank and there was a teller and I was observing an interaction he was having with one of the customers and it struck me as not very sincere. She was treating him respectfully and I remember thinking I would love to charge this moment with some kind of song. There was something in that interaction and I remember thinking he doesn’t really see her. I think when we make a connection as human beings we’re able to identify and have empathy and that was lacking. The beginning of the song started in the bank, waiting in the customer service line and the ending was written and recorded at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn, New York. Jake also co-wrote that song.
“To The Moon, Alice!”
What happened to me with my new album of course is that not only am I a newlywed but also a bonus mom to beautiful, adorable Soren. It happened at the time when I could see a beautiful and loving relationship developing and it wasn’t about her dad but about she and I. With a conversation that we had, a song started going through my own head, “Hey Jude.” After this conversation we were having, I just remember my heart was so filled with love and it was just about to burst. It was exploding and I wanted to write a song that was for her and something she could have when she grew up. She watched me record it. It’s my “Hey Jude.”
Actually I’ll be performing and on panel June 13th at the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles. They reached out to me after seeing an episode of TLC’s ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ which highlighted my blended family.
Ava DuVernay (director of the Academy Award nominated film Selma) found this song online and said she loved it. It was a very interesting process for me because she actually placed all the music in her film I Will Follow already when she found my song. She felt compelled by what she heard. She wanted it to be in a very significant place in I Will Follow.
I co-created it with a DJ from Philly, Danophonic and Steve McKee who has written and produced for Bilal and Jill Scott. At the time Steve was the drummer on that. So Dan and I created “Waiting” several years back. We were so under pressure that we had a time crunch and we had to do things quickly. As I am headed to them their pipes burst and on the East Coast and in the winter that’s not such a good thing. Not only do we have electronic equipment and let’s add there is a foot of water you actually had to stand in in order to sing and at no point did it seem like, ‘I shouldn’t do this.’ What was wonderful was that the outlets were above the water. They put the cords up and everything. The way we accomplished it was that we had milk crates. I had blankets wrapped around me to keep me warm, and over my head I had created a hood. I crawled from the steps to the crates and if you could envision someone who was scaling, I looked like a Sherpa. You could see my eyes and I made a little opening for my mouth. We always said it was essentially a demo and we wanted to figure out the opportunity to redo it at some point but what happened was it started to get placement. It probably is my most placed song.
That one originated with my brother, Questlove (of The Roots) and Ray Angry (who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Mark Ronson and Mick Jagger). It wasn’t necessarily for my album. I received a call to write for this song from my brother who has 15-20 jobs going at any point of the week and it’s not a rarity to get a call that might happen at 2am in the morning that goes “Hey, what are you doing?” When I’ve worked on projects in the past with my brother he definitely respects my perspective musically, so the comment to go ahead and take it where I thought it should go on every level, is the kind of respect at the heart of who we both are as family and as artists. Irv Washington (who has worked with J. Cole and Eric Roberson) plays keys on the song. The song was for the film Top Five. I’m being authentic so I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It was originally intended for that but I decided to keep it. (She laughs).
Flight of the Donn T, is out now.