New Jersey pop singer Donna Missal is on a new journey, having self-released her third album Revel on June 16 and taking her career into her own hands. It comes with a whole new kind of vulnerability and freedom, a spot Missal probably never prepared for as she was previously signed to a major label. But in these times of artist control, perhaps it’s a blessing, with the new collection of 10 new songs marking possibly her best material yet. With her electronic-leaning album, Missal kind of danced away all the pain with new anthems, club bangers and introspective ballads. The record came together after a period of couch-surfing in Los Angeles, a lot of uncertainty and a heck of a lot of soul-searching. Donna Missal headlines West Hollywood mainstay The Roxy Theatre on Thursday, July 20, after playing last week at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. It marks her first return to the LA stage since late 2021 when she and Wet Leg opened two dates for CHVRCHES.
“Dance In The Light” and “Tomorrow” have two-step, uptempo energy met with graceful, alluring vocals. “Paranoia” is a delicate, acoustic strummed, slightly coffee house-leaning tune. “Move Me” is pure, ethereal dance-pop at its finest. Missal is no stranger to songwriting, having penned tunes for artists as varied as LP, Tinashe, The Knocks and Leon Bridges. An artist’s process of songwriting is churned out so many different ways and Missal’s adventure this time has taken a turn to her own experiences, thoughts and feelings.
The album was pieced together from writing and recording sessions over a year, in all different studios, homes and bedrooms of friends,” said Missal. “Unlike my other albums, I didn’t make Revel by getting in a studio with an executive producer and a collection of songs and the intention to create an album. I had no intention of making an album at all while I wrote these songs. I was dropped from the label I had released all of my music prior on, and being on my own for the first time I was trying to make sense of how to go on, really. Only thing I knew to do at that point was to write about starting over, and finding my will again. It really was through pure will that it became an album.”
There are some instincts built into Missal’s DNA, coming from a musical and creative family, including her grandmother who was a songwriter, her father who was a musician in the 80s and her brother, who plays guitar in her band. Music is imbedded in Missal’s soul and perhaps her talent is her greatest superpower and one that helped her navigate a tricky time, leaning on her musical skills, knowledge and even history.
“There was a kind of special emphasis on music in my home growing up that was really guiding, and it wasn’t until more recently in my life that I’ve discovered how to find my authentic and original voice. I love and respect the artists I grew up on that informed me, and I also find it so important to me in my music now that I’m doing my own thing. There were so many advantages to having a family that encouraged creativity and freedom of expression and I feel really lucky for that.”
In an era not only of artists signed due to overnight TikTok popularity but also radio playing a select number of artists, one would think that a major label deal is the end-all-be-all, but in today’s climate, any artist can make an impact. Missal’s impact and perseverance have proven she’s here to stay, despite sharing in December publicly and with fans that she was dropped. It most certainly does something to an artist’s ego, but in her case her independence has given her the chance to be reborn.
“It’s an interesting freedom that I haven’t experienced before, one that felt at first more like an emptiness and a loss. What I’ve found through the process of making Revel is that sometimes freedom feels like that. I have been learning to let go of expectations of myself, my life and my music, and learning to value experiences over accomplishments. Being on a label doesn’t allow for that kind of perspective in what you make, so that has ultimately been a really healthy shift for me. It’s really hard to make sense of how I can still have a career, but I take it a day at a time right now.”
More recently, in April, Missal tweeted “live music is so special i hope nobody forgets,” a sign that the singer is not only optimistic about performing again but also how much she believes in the stage and how she is a fan of live music. With her upcoming show at The Roxy Theatre on Thursday, Missal is eager to share with fans how she has evolved.
“I really want to elevate the experience for myself and the fan, I have always cared so much about the show being a special experience, and that starts with the music. But I’m looking forward to creating more of an immersive world with my performance and I how I present it, too. There is a sense of improvisation though that feels really inherent to what I do and I won’t lose that.”
As fans await what sounds like an unpredictable show, Missal has also transformed through her visual content, appearing with her striking orange hair in a dance studio for “God Complex,” in a New York City subway for “Move Me,” and in an abandoned warehouse in the music video for “Flicker ” (think Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance…What A Feeling” but without the flash). Nothing is over-the-top, but rather stripped back. She is found absorbed into one place, into the movement of the space, living for the present (and maybe dreaming). The videos are not super glossy, and rather somewhat relatable, as Donna Missal balances this juggling act well, creating just enough mystery and spontaneity while also being herself.
“I think about this a lot actually —the balance between mystery and vulnerability. When it comes to my presentation, it helps me to imagine a character, using the music to create the way this character looks and what worlds the character lives in. My music is autobiographical and my inner most thoughts, feelings and ideas, so ultimately this character is an extension of me, which I always hope comes across as vulnerable as it feels to me. Then I imagine this sense of limitlessness, which of course doesn’t exist in my real life but something I want for the character, so that I have boundless creativity around imagining what it looks and feels like. I think that’s what might inspire the feeling that you can relate, while you’re also transported. That’s what I hope to do with everything I make.”
Donna Missal performs July 20 at The Roxy Theatre with opener Loyal Lobos at 8:30 pm, $25.00.
Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Jasmine Rutledge