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Maturity in a Funny Facade: Danielle Ate the Sandwich, June 2 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 20 May 2011 05:47

Danielle AndersonStarting with the stage name Danielle Ate the Sandwich and extending to her unabashedly silly intros to YouTube videos, her press photos, her jokey stage banter, and her ukulele, Danielle Anderson projects a whimsical image that’s a marked contrast to her voice and her songs.

And while she made that bed to sleep in, she’s not hesitant to say that it irritates her when people don’t take her music seriously. “I hate when people laugh or call my songs ‘cute’ and ‘little’ and ‘funny,’” the Colorado-based singer/songwriter said in a phone interview this week, promoting her June 2 show at Rozz-Tox in Rock Island.

Despite the gimmickry that suggests a novelty act, the 25-year-old Anderson is worth watching. Her third album, last year’s Two Bedroom Apartment, is mature and even startling in its writing and performance.

The title track and “Where the Good Ones Go” are sweetly longing, and Anderson doesn’t shy away from humor in some songs: “Oh, El Paso / I have ridden on your highway curves / And I have spoken to the governor / About the use of your U-turns.” The waltzy, saccharine album-closer “American Dream” is cleverly biting, with its played-straight brightness and good cheer providing the sarcastic commentary instead of the words. This lightness creates variety and perhaps leaves the listener open and vulnerable to some devastating lyrical weapons.

Addressing Anderson’s mother and based on her recollections, “17 & 53” is in many ways a model song, building to wisdom and epiphany through layers of specific memories. “You were 17 the year your father died / And he was 53 and you were 17,” it begins. “In the museum where you laid your head to sleep / The artifacts were cold to comfort you.” But it’s not merely a remembrance; it mines a family story for a universal theme of children failing to recognize their parents’ mortality: “And while you are growing older / I am busy growing older, too.”

“Soldiers” and “The Doctors” are similarly serious, and Anderson deftly, gracefully avoids the pitfalls inherent in songs about military recruitment and illness, writing with elliptical economy and singing with an artful but natural confidence.

And although this was Anderson’s first album with a band, the accompaniment to her voice, guitar, and ukulele is restrained. “I didn’t want to be: ‘Danielle now has a band, so she’s playing acoustic guitar and there’s a drumbeat behind every song. And she’s called Danielle & the Sandwiches,’” she said. “I loved getting to play with talented people and work with them, but I didn’t want it to overtake what I was. ... It is about the songs and the writing. So I want above all [for] the words to be heard, and only complemented and painted in better with the instruments.” In the mixing process, she said, “we were pulling everything back and cutting out. ... I wanted it to be more of a landscape than a big, scary spray painting.”

Anderson was featured on YouTube’s home page in 2008, and she’s amassed more than 30,000 subscribers to her channel (YouTube.com/user/daniellesmagic) and nearly 4.7 million views overall. Her videos look (and are) homemade, and she’s a hands-on artist, still booking her own shows. When we talked, she’d just completed a milestone in the transition from individual to entity. “Yesterday I opened a business account at Chase bank, because someone wrote a check to Danielle Ate the Sandwich instead of Danielle Anderson, and up until this point I hadn’t had a business account yet,” she said. “So I figured: Why not? Make it happen. Small steps.”

She’s also graduated, she thinks, from getting sweet deals as an emerging artist, such as the fixed-price arrangement she had recording Two Bedroom Apartment. “You can only get special favors for being the underdog for so long,” she said. “And I’m feeling maybe I’m transcending out of that ‘She’s just a little girl gettin’ started. Won’t you cut her a break, mister?’”

She admits that her relatively quick success has posed challenges. “I’ve had the luxury of not being well-known as I was writing my first couple of albums, so I didn’t know what it was like to juggle playing lots of shows and being a performer and a songwriter,” she said. “So now I’m trying to be both and stay dedicated to both. ... For a while I wasn’t even thinking about songwriting, and it’s caught up with me now, to the point where I’m really disappointed that I haven’t been doing it this whole time. It hit me that ‘Oh wow, the reason I’m here is because I write songs. I need to keep doing that so I can keep doing all this other junk.’”

Fear could also be holding her back. “It’s scarier, too, once there are people actually listening ... ,” she said.

And while she rues that her funny bits often detract from her music – virtually every blurb about her notes that she’s been called “Joni Mitchell meets Sarah Silverman” – she said she thinks a show without humor would be too difficult: “I think what it comes down to is I’m naturally funny, so it’s hard for me to turn it off.”

A no-song, all-comedy set, she said, remains a fantasy.“I’ve thought about it in my little-girl dream head ... but I’ve never seriously considered it. ... I’m not far enough along in my career and standing to do whatever the hell I want.” Plus, she said, “I think stand-up is the hardest job in the world. I don’t think it’s something that should be taken lightly.”

A no-jokes show, however, is something she genuinely wants to do. “For some of the grandmothers out there who like my songs but don’t like my dick jokes,” she said, “it could come.”

Danielle Ate the Sandwich will perform on Thursday, June 2, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue in Rock Island). The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. and also includes Teenage. Cover is $8.

For more information on Danielle Ate the Sandwich, visit DanielleAteTheSandwich.net.

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