Speak into the Mic: DALI

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Although having been raised in Phoenix, Arizona, DALI has a sound that cannot be easily placed. With a wide range of sonic influences and a personal vision for her music, that rivals even top-tier artists' commitment to the art, she is able to craft emotional hits with amazing accuracy. With this natural need to create driving her, DALI released her debut tape, Apathy: My Last Goodbye, clearly expressing her range through vulnerability and undeniable power.


This interview has been edited for clarity.

How did music become part of your life?

I've been involved in music for as long as I can remember. My dad is a classically trained blues musician in the Philippines and my mom sang and played guitar at the church I was raised in here in Phoenix, so I've been singing ever since I could talk; I had a lot of sing-a-long books when I was a kid and we had the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack on tape so I sang along to that a lot as well. I learned how to play piano when I was 5, auditioned into a very prestigious choir when I was 7, learned drums when I was 7-9 and taught myself how to play guitar when I was 11. I always knew that I wanted to be a performing artist ever since I was a child, so I guess you could say I always took it seriously, but I started really focusin when I was 12 and started writing and practicing non-stop. 

What led to the style you have developed?

Growing up, I wasn't allowed to listen to anything other than mostly christian music, and then country, gospel, blues, motown and a little musical theater. My favorite genres out of all of those were the motown, blues, and gospel and I think you can hear some of that in the melodies I create now, even though it took me a while to even realize that a lot of my melodies come from those influences, as well as the musical theater ones. I spent most of my adolescence after we left the church just discovering as much music as I possibly could since I was finally allowed to listen to it. I've always really enjoyed hip hop, but I never completely understood it or resonated with it, because I was never exposed to the kind of hip hop that I resonate with until I was 18. All I had been exposed to were people like Tech N9ne, Tyga and the Top 40 shit you hear on the radio all the time, so I'm honestly not surprised it took me so long to truly get it because I just wasn't hearing what I needed to hear.

The first rappers that really resonated with me were Noname and Kendrick Lamar, but the people who made me completely fall in love with it were my friends Jessahn (Jalopy Bungus), JD (Shrub Head), and Dys. I would just listen to their music all the time and see how passionate they were about it and it almost opened a door up inside of me and I found out that R&B and Hip Hop were the genres my voice was meant to be a part of. I had been doing a lot of indie folk & acoustic pop punk because that's what all of my friends in high school listened to, but I never felt 100% comfortable in those genres and I couldn't really figure out why until I met them. I had a song called "Drag Deep" that I had written, and originally it was an indie folk song and I hated it so I scrapped it, then one day I decided to delete the guitar track and create a little beat behind it instead, and that's when I decided this was the direction I wanted to go in. Now, almost 4 years later and I'm still in the process of fully tailoring my brand, but I think once this next project drops people are really going to see how much work I've put into developing my sound and creating something that I thought was the best representation of who I am and how feeling the way I feel sounds. 

What inspires you to create?

It's hard to pinpoint exact things that inspire me to create something. I don't really just create shit because I'm an artist, I'm an artist because I have to be. A lot of my art thus far has been a product of pain, and finding things other than pain to write about has definitely been very difficult for me, because I hate writing anything that feels forced. Creating is my therapy, so my best work has always been inspired by pain I've gone through. I've been getting better with that though, so now I'm starting to write things about love, my ancestry and things that just feel nice for me to sing. Lately I've been focusing a lot more on melodies, so people like Erykah Badu inspire me to write a lot because I've started to have more fun with the music I'm making when it comes to playing around with things I can do melodically and it's less about only writing when I absolutely need to. 

Living or dead, who is the dream collab?

I would have to say my dad. I've never met him in real life before, but we actually have a decent relationship. I don't know him very well because it's hard to keep in contact with him since he still lives in the Philippines, but I have him to thank for my intrinsic love for making music. He'd probably say that it was all me deciding what I wanted to do with what I had, but I feel like he gave me some kind of weird internal and spiritual appreciation for the Blues, almost like that quality of his was genetic. I've always had a melodic style that was very reminiscent of the deep southern Blues that he loves to play, and all I want to do is do a rendition of "Orange Soda" with him playing guitar and singing with me. His voice sounds almost exactly like Jimi Hendrix, and from what little I've seen on the internet, he plays guitar just as well too. If you wanted someone famous though, I'd have to make some brown girl magic with Noname, Kali Uchis and Princess Nokia, or some bluegrass shit with Jack White.

Can you describe your creative process a little?

The approach I take to song writing really just depends on the song and what I'm feeling at the moment. More often than not it starts as a specific line or melody in my head, or even a word/phrase that has the potential to be a cool concept like "Orange Soda" and then I have to write something immediately when I hear it in my head. Sometimes it's acapella, but most of my songs are written in one sitting on an acoustic guitar. If I can't write the full song in one sitting, I trash it, but I always keep it written down somewhere, because sometimes if I'm stuck on a song, I find a piece of something else I wrote in the past and it'll fit in perfectly. That actually happened with my song "Range Rover". One day this line "I'm working graveyards 'til the sun explodes, ooh baby I got miles to go" popped into my head, so I wrote it in my notes, and then stuck it into Range Rover to be the bridge a few months later because it fit really well. On occasion I'll find beats that people have sent to me or that I've purchased and write something on top of it, like "Frank", but most of the time they're written acoustically and I work collaboratively which whatever producer I think would do the song justice to create a beat around what I've already written. I'll bring them the song, as well as reference songs to show them what kind of instruments I'm hearing for it, or the kind of vibe I'm going for (i.e. with "Dreamstate", the reference songs were by Willow Smith and Blood Orange, for "Range Rover", they were 6LACK and Syd) and the creation process blossoms from there. The producers have input, and I have my own input, so this way it's a project both of us will feel represents what we're capable of and is something we can be equally proud of. 

What was it like working on and releasing your project, Apathy: My Last Goodbye?

AMLG was honestly a very exhausting and taxing project to work on, as short as it is. All of the songs were written in a span of 3 weeks after a break up with someone I'd been in a fairly mentally abusive relationship with, on and off, since I was 16. It was almost a release of everything I had been feeling and all of the emotions I was experiencing in the process of healing, and you can actually see that in the progression of the songs. "No. 27" was written while I was still in the relationship and "Dreamstate" was the last thing I wrote for this project. This is one of those instances when I absolutely needed to get these songs out of me or I was going to have a mental breakdown because I can't really process my emotions until I get them out as words whether I talk about them, write about them, sing about them, whatever, I literally cannot completely process how I'm feeling unless it's outside of myself. Getting all of that out of me was really nice, but then going back in and going over the songs over and over again as Franco Masuello helped by producing most of the beats and then having to perform the songs in front of people was a really grueling process for me.

I was happy that I created something that people who were going through similar situations would resonate with and it would be therapeutic for them as well, but I honestly hated performing it and listening to it in front of people because I don't think anyone really grasps how much pain I was in writing a lot of these songs. I don't vocalize my feelings a lot, so to know that people were out there listening to things I wrote in some of my weakest moments at that point made me kind of uncomfortable. That's the thing about art though, it's supposed to make people feel uncomfortable, and I think as an artist it's my responsibility to create this music for the people who can't find the particular things I was writing about anywhere else. It was a bittersweet experience as a whole, but I wouldn't take any of it back because I'm proud of what I was able to create out of such a painful situation and I plan on having this project up indefinitely.  

In your opinion, what sets you apart from other artists?

I have a deep knowledge of music, something you can't learn in school, and although I'm lacking in a technical aspect when it comes to how much better I should be at playing instruments or my vocal control (especially when I'm nervous in front of crowds) by now because of how long I've been doing this, I don't think that really affects what I know about how music should feel. I was originally going to say something like "oh idk I don't think I'm that different" but if I'm being completely honest, I do believe that I stand out in a way that a lot of people don't. I think people can just feel that this is something I've quite literally devoted my entire life to, and I don't create music for the fame, the money, the fans, or even because it's a hobby, I do it because it's the only thing I was put on this planet to do. You can find that quality in most of the people in our scene and that's what makes all of us so special. None of us are worried about sounding like anyone else, none of us care about what will get us views, we all know we're going to get views/plays because we're good, and the things we're saying are things the world needs to hear.

On top of all of that, from more of a surface level, I think my wide range of music I've found and listened to throughout my life gives me a different view on how to create my sound. It's why my songs don't sound exactly the same, and my vocal range is extremely wide. Like when I was in choir I wasn't in a specific group (alto, soprano, etc.) they just put me in wherever they needed a voice because I could hit all of the highest notes and all of the lowest ones. My voice and the way I use it is the only thing that's constant throughout my songs, but at the same time I feel like I do unexpected things with it to keep people on their toes. 

Is there new music we should be getting excited for?

YES. There's so many new songs I've been working on the past few months and I'm planning on dropping another project this summer. My music has definitely taken a turn, I was really bummed thinking about the fact that every time I perform in the future it'll be sad music about a breakup, so the focus for this next project has been a combination of a few different things. One of the biggest things is I wanted to make music that people could listen to when they're hanging out with their friends, not something they listen to when they're sad and alone, and I've been really pushing myself when it comes to writing and what I can do melodically; a new producer in the scene named justice. inspires the hell out of me too. He created the beat to one of my favorite songs I've written for this project called "Jansport" and working with someone with an artistic vision that compliments mine so well has helped me create some of the best music I've ever made.

Another thing is I've been inspired to write my music with women of color as my target audience, I have a song called "Hive" that came out of absolutely nowhere, but was inspired by my indigenous Filipina heritage, and it became almost an anthem in my eyes for brown and black women. It was pretty cool because I had no idea what the song was going to be about when I first started writing it, but something came over me and I almost went into a trance while writing and singing it for the first time because it ended up being so powerful, so that's another one I'm really excited for everyone to hear. Finally, the last big thing that's influenced the mood of my music lately is the fact that I've found like the whole love of my life last October, and being with the person you're meant to be with creates a calmness within yourself that is really amazing for the creative process. I even wrote my first love song about him and it's probably the best song I've ever written, up there with "Selfish" which I dropped a little over a year ago.

I know it takes me a while to drop new music, but it's because I'm so nit-picky about everything and it takes time to get to the point where I have a finished product that's up to the standards I have set for myself. I'm glad everyone is so patient with me though! I promise I'm going to have some new material out soon, I just want to make sure it's as perfect as possible before I drop anything.