It’s hard to mistake Danielle Ryce’s voice for anyone else’s in New Orleans. Her sound is unique enough on its own to make you crane your neck for a better listen. But once she picks up her violin, an instrument she has been training on since she was a young girl, it’s as if a lock has clicked into place. I got to know Ryce while she was working with her old band, Nyce!, and am thrilled that she is back on stage with her new group, Dianella, a fusion concept melding pop, rock, and traditionally instrumental styles of music. String sections can often be overlooked by mainstream New Orleans music, but Ryce is bringing them out, a wonderful addition to the ever-changing musical landscape of our city. Get to know Ryce a little better with our Emerging Musicians series this month.
Katie Sikora: When did you start playing music?
Danielle Ryce: I started playing violin when I was six years old. I realized I could sing about halfway through high school and also picked up the guitar around then. That said, I didn’t take the guitar very seriously until a year or so ago.
KS: Why do you play the music you do?
DR: I wanted a way to combine my violin background with my singing and songwriting. I get this insane high from writing music, and it’s been such a fun challenge to write string parts for all of my songs. In the end, all I want is to write and perform music that provides an emotional purge.
KS: Do you draw inspiration from other genres as well and if so, which ones?
DR: I grew up playing classical violin and listening to folk-rock from the 60s/70s (thanks Mom and Dad). High school led me to the indie-pop, singer-songwriter scene (thank you Regina Spektor and Sara Bareilles). College led me to jazz and deeper into New Orleans music, and post-college has led me to other pop-fusion artists like Andrew Bird and Kishi Bashi. There’s so much music out there to learn! All of these styles have had a huge influence on me as a musician and as a human.
KS: Where did you grow up?
DR: I grew up across the lake on the Northshore in Slidell. Geographically close, but incredibly different than life here in New Orleans.
KS: Describe your music.
DR: Structurally, my band is a classical string trio (violin, viola, and cello) with a “typical” rock band rhythm section (guitar, keys, bass, and drums). The result is a fun, extravagant pop fusion because the strings add this romantic, dramatic element. I love that this ensemble can keep things tight and funky, but it can also get huge sonically.
KS: What has been your favorite performance experience in New Orleans thus far?
DR: Last time we played at Siberia was really magical. Now that we’ve played a few shows together, I was able to relax and let go instead of focusing on “cue the strings here!” and “make the ending obvious!” or “what the %@#%& was that lyric again?!” I was able to put myself back in the shoes I was in when I wrote the songs, which helped me soak up the experience. It felt as though the band was right there with me; they sounded phenomenal!
KS: Which New Orleans musicians most inspire you?
DR: The ones who still find pure joy in music. Unfortunately, because there is such a large music scene in New Orleans, it’s so easy to burn out and get bitter. We all work so hard, and it can be so disappointing to get so little in return. But when I hear musicians like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform their music as if they’re having a conversation with family or I hear newer original music artists doing what they do best, like Julie Odell belting her heart out and sending me into a teardrop overload, I’m reminded that music is not a competition and it’s definitely not something that is validated by how much money you make or how many people hear you. It’s relaying emotions as honestly as you can so you can have a shared experience with the crowd. Those are the performances that really keep me going. But seriously, New Orleans, respect and pay your musicians!
KS: Favorite place to catch live music in NOLA?
DR: That’s such a difficult question! I think a large part of the charm here is that music can be anywhere, anytime. One of the best shows I’ve ever been to was at Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, a band called Star & Micey from Memphis. You just never know where your next music experience will be here!
KS: What do you love most about this city?
DR: Its character. The people here are resilient, welcoming, fun-loving, and creative. Everything from the sounds of the street to the buildings reflects that character to me. Every day presents a new celebration and a new friend, and yet it always feels like home.
KS: What is your favorite non-musical activity to do in New Orleans?
DR: Trying new restaurants and bars with my friends. I love running and walking around the city, and hiding in various coffee shops for hours at a time.
KS: Favorite food to eat in NOLA?
DR: I’m a sucker for crawfish and snowballs, but it changes constantly. Not to mention, I really, REALLY miss Sneaky Pickle and am wishing it a speedy recovery.
KS: What are your next performances?
DR: September 6 at the Hi-Ho Lounge with my buddies in Burris and September 28 at the Art Garage. For that show, I’m hoping to put together a bill with one or two other bands, plus have some sort of interactive craft workshop going the whole night.