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The first time I heard Danielle Desiree Williams’ voice, it was floating over the speakers at popular local music stomping ground, Merdekarya.
Her voice flowed easily like silk above the song’s steely overdrive while I chatted with the manager of the establishment, who had plenty of gushing superlatives to share about the musician.
Some 5 years have passed since then, and together with her band, Skies Are Red, Danielle has released 3 singles and 2 music videos, with more music on the way.
Following the release of their most recent single, Wounds, I decided to set up a well overdue virtual sit-down to get better acquainted with the woman behind the voice and heart of Skies Are Red.
Skies Are Red is a band of storytellers, weaving the threads of human experience into hard-hitting rock anthems and contemplative ballads.
Danielle shares the band with her husband and guitarist, Dervin Frank, and bassist Chloe Doyou.
Tying together their catalogue of music is a tune that confronts oppression, questions the status quo, and spotlights the challenges and triumphs of the underdog.
Some songs magnify the personal, while others sound the alarm on issues that have a broader effect on society.
Danielle gives a deeper look into her songwriting:
“Ignorance is a song that was written about the plight of the Orang Asli of Malaysia.
“It is about their voices being silenced, of how their rights have been stripped throughout the years. It’s a song of hope for better preservation of their roots and identity.”
After attending a Bersih rally some years ago, Danielle channeled the energy she felt there into Beyond the Certain: “The song is about seeing what’s beyond the curtain of lies that are fed to us on a daily basis.
Seeing what’s beyond our understanding, opening our minds to different possibilities of what the actual truth might be. What we see isn’t always the truth. It could very well be a facade.”
Danielle describes her lyrical activism as being mostly incidental and unplanned.
Her songwriting is fueled by intense emotions and an instinctive need to digest and give voice to them, rather than a conscious attempt to wave the flag for a given issue.
Skies Are Red’s music is a reflection of what Danielle and her bandmates stand for, but she does not believe that musicians have an obligation to champion specific causes.
She suggests instead that musicians should discuss whatever they gravitate towards in song, but that social commentary should not be an expectation:
“I used to be more publicly vocal about my opinions on society and politics.
“These days, I don’t want to argue online anymore. It’s draining. I prefer to say what I want to say through my music and do what I can to help make things better. Not every musician chooses to discuss matters in the world, and that’s fine. It’s a choice and not everyone should do it.”
Intentional or not, music has the power to bring attention to the world’s many sufferings.
Listeners derive a sense of comfort and connection from music, whether we’re hearing someone sing about personal struggles or broader, even distant, social issues.
Music can provide us with the courage to enact change in our regular lives, and it can soothe the hurt we might be carrying within us.
The songs that stay with us throughout the various phases of our lives are the ones that helped us to recognize that we are not alone. The artists we keep coming back to are often the ones who made us feel seen and heard.
Skies Are Red’s most recent release, aptly timed at the beginning of Malaysia’s quarantine, is titled Wounds and is a manifestation of a series of turbulent dreams Danielle had been dealing with.
“There was a night when I was feeling very strongly and Dervin was playing the chords for the verse,” Danielle shares.
“I started writing and without speaking to Dervin, I began singing the first verse of the song. I couldn’t really talk about my feelings at the time, but it all came out in the lyrics.”
Wounds explore wrestling with the aggressors of our interior and exterior worlds, but the climax of the song sees the vocals and the instrumentation escalate to a hopeful note: With conviction, Danielle sings, “my wounds shall heal in time.”
The pandemic has been a shared burden for communities across the world. Unfortunately, the collective sense of uncertainty, frustration, and despair brought on by the pandemic hasn’t removed our existing troubles.
It has thrown an additional heavy blanket over the weight we already carry on our shoulders. Danielle’s words provide reassurance during a time where many of us might feel starkly disconnected, isolated, and distraught.
Danielle’s influences include RnB goddesses like Toni Braxton, Faith Evans, and Lauryn Hill, as well as singer-songwriters like Liz Phair and Avril Lavigne.
“These amazing singers have beautiful ways of conveying their emotions through songs.
I can get lost in my own personal thoughts just by listening to them.”
As a performer, she looks to Brandon Boyd of Incubus for inspiration, drawn to his commanding stage presence and fluid movements.
She also cites Foo Fighters as a key point of reference for lyrical approach and songwriting. “Together, they’ve inspired me to write my own songs, learn how to convey my emotions through singing, and be my most authentic self.”
Danielle’s crystalline vocal quality, lilting notes, and unflinching lyrical tone reflect her diverse influences and are a defining feature of Skies Are Red’s sound.
These artists have also inspired Danielle to prioritize authenticity in her musical journey.
To her, being authentic means expressing her emotions genuinely, especially for issues she feels strongly towards.
Skies Are Red’s singles are available for listening on YouTube and Spotify, including Wounds. Their upcoming EP will feature Ignorance and Beyond The Certain in its selection.
Each song will be accompanied by a uniquely created artwork from a series of artists. Danielle also shared that we can expect to see their third music video following their EP release in the coming months.
All images were supplied by Danielle Desiree Williams.