Donn T is her own woman. She describes herself as “authentic”. She grew up in a very musical family on the East Coast. Her father and mother are both recording artists and her brother is GuestLove from the hip hop band The Roots.
Her debut album, Kaleidoscopic, drops July 12th. The album is a fusion of multiple genres from house music, dance, pop, and soul. The Dead Hub recently caught up with Ms. Donn T to talk business, Kalediscopic, and tells her tale of writing for rapper Common.
The Dead Hub: Where in the world is Donn T at today? MySpace lists several locations.
Donn T: Yeah I just depends on the week. (laughs) I am bicoastal, as in the United States. LA and Philadelphia. I spend 1/3 of my time in LA, 1/3 UK, and 1/3 Philadelphia.
I’ve written for TV and film, which is why I am in Los Angeles. My label and management are in the UK. I have a very interesting life. I have meetings that I have to take at 10am UK time and I have to be alert. 10 AM UK time is 4 am Philly time. My publicist is in New York and at the moment I am in Philadelphia.
DH: I’d like to say you are a newbie to the music industry but it’s a far cry from that. What made you decide to cut an album now?
Donn T: I’ve been working behind the scenes and I supported different artists onstage like Nelly Furtado, John Legend, and Amy Winehouse. I have been writing for TV and the film area and I am a songstress as much as a vocalists and writer. I don’t ever want to stop doing that (writing).
I have been working on releasing the album; it has been one of my goals. It was a fluke. As a lot of people know, the album making process is long and tedious and can go on for years. I happened to be in Philadelphia, where DJ Junior from Eavesdrop radio, a friend, called me on a Sunday night to meet him at a party. (Sundae Party, a house music party that Lee Jones has in Philadelphia) I am at the party and (DJ Junior) introduces me to (UK based) French producer DJ Simbad. There was Instant chemistry about life, friends, and music.
Monday we went to the studio and 8 days later the album was born. We walked into the studio with no music. It was very fluid and the scene unfolded and was very magical. Funny experience it’s like camp and your locked in a room with people don’t know. We would take short breaks but by Wednesday it’s like ‘we need to talk’. (laughs) Kaleidoscopic was born, written, recorded, mixed, and mastered in 8 days.
DH: Kaleidoscopic really is an array of sound and genre. What influences your music the most?
Donn T: A lot of deep house music, the motor city drum ensemble, soulful house music like DJ spinner.
I feel a lot of the new disco music and Hip hop is embracing a lot of dance music right now. It seems like a natural collision. It’s Kaleidoscopic, soulful, futuristic house music. In the UK I can’t refer to it as dance music. It’s an American thing “dance music” in the UK it’s more refined. There are 100 diff labels for house music.
My background: I grew up in Philly. My dad was a recording artist at age of 13. His hits were at 13 years of age. My mom was a recording artist as well. She was one (a recording artist) when she met him. She was a ballet dancer as a child. Mom and dad are both music historians. They are eccentric and we had an extensive record library. It was a true exposure past and present. It was that environment that made me who I would be as a creative soul.
DH: You mentioned that neither your manager nor label, or producer lives in the US. Do you think that benefits, distracts, or hinders your career?
Donn T: Skype is a wonderful thing. Skype brings everyone into the room with me. I am on Skype a lot!! Sometimes I answer my Skype “Hello Charlie! I am a Charlie’s Angel! I grew up with diversity especially musically and something about being connected is very natural for me to have this experience. I don’t feel pulled in different directions. London is one my favorite places in the world. For me London has the best of every city of my favorite Cities.
DH: What’s been your biggest struggle?
Donn T: I have such a unique perspective. Growing up in a home with recording artists that make it their living and watching the highs and lows of it grounds you in a way so you know what to expect. I think I have been gifted in that way. It’s not a surprise to me. Other artists and now I am in the music business. It is the music business. There’s the music and then there is the business. It hasn’t felt like a struggle for me. I am doing it the way I want to do it but know I am being true to myself. I am doing it right.
Folks would expect have my brother be the guest or something or do hip hop.
DH: You’ve graced the stage with many well known performers. Who’s been the most interesting?
Donn T: I want to say but I can’t! (Donn T decides to share an even more interesting story with me.) Writing for Common and Jill Scott! It was an unusually situation. Jill just been nominated for a Grammy for “Best New Artist”. Common was recording Electric Circus and had part of the song written. My brother (GuestLove from the Roots) called me in to write the lyrics. I had the flu the day before the call. My brother called and asked, “What I was doing. Um… so do you think you can write today?” Donn T, “I am in bed!!” Brother, “I need you come down!”
Jill was touring and she had an hour in Philly. That is minus 15 minutes from the airport to studio. We had 20 minutes to write. The quest from Common was “would you write the chorus for Jill?” Donn T, “Of course I will, but will she sing the chorus I write?” (laughs) Common promised the label Mary J and Jill would be on the album, high stress situation. I got out of bed with bunny slippers and pjs.
I get to the studio and my brother makes a cat bed in the studio with pencil and paper for me to write. My brother handed me the microphone to sing the demo. Fingers crossed! Jill didn’t even see me that day! I was the girl that was not to bee seen like Voldemort from Harry Potter. It was comedy! This how we roll!!
Jill finally hears the demo and says she can do it! Nobody writes for Jill especially in the corner of the floor in the studio. The song “I am Music” was slated as seconded single but never released that way.
Common hadn’t written the song when we stepped foot in the studio. There was no starting point. Common tells me what the song is about…. “LOVE”. Donn T, “Can you tell me what it’s about?” Common, “you know LOVE is …love is love…love is music.” Donn T explains to us, “That’s all I got (from Common).” Is this some form of punishment? (Laughs)
Tons of people walking around and here I am draped in a blanket trying to get clarity.
DH: You should write a book!
Donn T: I am a writer at heart. There is a book coming. Not a recipe book…I am interested in fiction and non-fiction. I’ll do both at some point.
I have to say Donn T was one of my favorite interviews I have ever done. When she says she’s authentic she really means it. She was the most down-to-earth artist who has so much going for her. I can’t wait to catch a live show from her. The album may not be out yet but you can download her single “Look At” right now.
Catching up with Donn T isn’t that hard either. Listen to her stream of conscience (her words not mine) ;-) below: