As the conversation slipped away from her new EP and into the tumultuous social, political, and musical landscapes the country finds itself in the first lines off of Danielia Cotton’s lead single “A Prayer” kept coming back into focus: “There’s a war in the world. It’s getting closer to you. Even in the red, white, and blue.” With everything going on in the country right now, from Trump, to the DAPL protests, to the Black Lives Matter movement, Danielia Cotton’s “A Prayer” couldn’t be more relevant. What happened to the values our country was founded on? What happened to the American Dream? “What God do you pray to?” Danielia asks, and it’s like she’s asking the entire country where our morals went.
“A Prayer” is the new EP by the Brooklyn recording artist Danielia Cotton. Released earlier this year and marketed as the first half of a two part album, “A Prayer” is an exploration of spirituality and self-empowerment. It’s classic rock, soul, gospel, and singer-songwriter roots have amassed Danielia with an ever growing audience, and for good reason too.
Born and raised in the nearly all white town of Hopewell, New Jersey, Danielia grew up in a household filled with all types of music. Her mother, a jazz singer, would play the likes of Nancy Wilson, Johnny Winter, and Bonnie Raitt in one room while her brothers would be listening to Led Zeppelin, Chicago, and others in another. As a member of an interracial family in a nearly all white town, Danielia was exposed to all types of cultures and genres of music, but it was rock, in particular, that took hold of her. “I think that rock appealed to me because I didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes and I wasn’t white. Rock music spoke to me because it spoke to that anger.” Her debut album, Small White Town, spoke directly to that struggle and catapulted her into the public eye.
The struggles Danielia faced growing up barely reach the surface of the amazing journey she’s been through to get where she is today. She was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which threatened her entire life and career. Her voice, the most vital and distinctive tool in her art, was under attack. After an intensive surgery, Danielia recovered and miraculously discovered her voice could reach another octave. Instead of losing parts of herself, Danielia grew from going through her struggles and defeating them.
Danielia had been a religious person her entire life, but it was her surgery and recovery that helped inspire her religious awakening. Born into the Baptiste Church, she converted to Catholicism with her mom so she could go to church with her. As she grew older, she learned more about herself and decided she needed to find her own path. She now subscribes to both Judaism and Buddhism. “I feel like Buddhism is more of a thing to center me and move me forward in a very powerful way and Judaism and Buddhism both get you outside of yourself and give you a way to give back to your world.” She compared choosing her religious beliefs to trying on a pair of pants: whatever pair fit her best is the one she wears.
The diverse cultures and ideologies that have influenced and guided Danielia thus far are all over her latest EP. “A Prayer” has the instrumentation and vibe of a classic rock record, but Danielia’s gorgeous voice and the splashes of gospel and soul make it uniquely her own. The album’s second half, which will feature big name guests like Michael Carvin and Carl Burger, will explore new directions and sounds that are thus far unexplored by Danielia. Though the sounds may differ, she is the thread that runs through all of her music.
If her turbulent past has taught her anything, it’s the resolve she gains after going through a tough time. “I only write things that I’ve come to terms with. Don’t go back into moments where you can’t be resolved as a person because then you’ll be on stage and be a hot mess.” Unlike some songwriters, Danielia doesn’t write from a place of confusion or turmoil, but from a place of resolve. She wants the connections she makes with her fans to be healthy and constructive, for both ends.
Unfortunately, Danielia does not find much of today’s popular music to be healthy or constructive. “The Top 40 shit is just not hitting me. The stories are not mine… I don’t know what speaks to this current generation.” Growing up with social media, reality television, and “YouTube sensations,” as she calls them, the Millennial generation hasn’t found what Danielia believes her generation did. “As we lose Bowie, as we lose Russell, as we lose Prince, as we lose one after another, where do we even see the buds of them?” This sentiment is very popular among the older generations of music listeners. There are many bands that Millennials look towards for rock innovation but many believe, as Danielia does, that rock and popular music isn’t in the best place right now.
There is hope, though. Danielia and artists like her are the very solution to her concerns. Her music and lyrics are deep and they explore topics that are not often explored by mainstream artists. Her commitment and strong spiritual beliefs give guidance to her fans and allow them to connect with her and her experiences.
Guidance and resolve are exactly what we need in the turbulent time that we live in. Yes, Trump may be president and the Top 40 may be filled with a bunch of shit, but at least we have musicians like Danielia Cotton who believe in something and who will fight through life’s struggles to find resolution.
Photo credit Chia Messina