The Danielle in Danielle Ate the Sandwich is Danielle Anderson, Kansas City-based folk-pop songwriter and performer in the style of Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. Anderson's dedicated fanbase has grown in tandem with a her sizeable archive of YouTube videos, many of which feature her singing her own material and selected covers accompanied by her ukulele. We are grateful for this in-depth interview with this multitalented storyteller, humorist and musician.
First things first: Please share the origins Danielle Ate the Sandwich as a name. There’s got to be story there.
I named myself when I was first starting out in the music community in Fort Collins, CO, signing up for open mics as “Danielle.” I needed something with more punch and finally decided on “Danielle Ate the Sandwich” when I made my MySpace music page. I knew the name was wacky and weird, but at the time I had no idea I would be able to make it my career. Part of the silliness was a defense mechanism, where I thought, the concept of me getting to pursue art was impossible, so why not brush it off as a bit of a joke, but the name also mirrors my sense of humor, lightness, and come-as-you-are-ness that I want to bring to everything I do-my music, my stage presence and branding as a band. How’d I come up with the Sandwich part? I just like food and think sandwiches are cool.
What got you into songwriting? Are you formally trained as a musician or self-taught?
I was involved in choir, band, and orchestra as a kid, and raised by musical parents who made that an important part of my upbringing. I fell into songwriting more on my own. I had always loved creative writing and naturally put the two together. I have songbooks dating back to 4th grade, and got more and more serious about it, teaching myself to play guitar in high school, and then pursuing performing my own songs when I got to college. I considered myself to be a late bloomer, because a lot of kids know it's their passion very young and go forward with it very confidently. I took a little time to figure out who I was and sit comfortably enough there to get out on a stage and share it.
How has your approach to songwriting evolved over the years? Are you big editor of your songs or do they come relatively easily?
This is a great question! My songwriting has evolved a lot over the last few years, and it’s been a hard and scary process for me. When I was younger, songs, stories and drama POURED out of me. I was very prolific and released 6 albums in the first 10 years of being a professional musician. As I’ve gotten older, my priorities shifted, my love life has become less tumultuous, and I’m making a lot of efforts to be more mentally and emotionally healthy. Those things are all great, but it takes from the places I used to find inspiration. These days, my songwriting muscles are stronger and I’m balancing making something new, in ways that push and challenge me, while still writing something that feels authentic. Another obstacle is making absolute sure there is time in my calendar. I need to actually schedule blocks of time to just think and daydream and allow the chance for something to appear. It sounds awesome, but it can be really difficult to put the muse on a schedule. I’m working with a creative coach, teaching songwriting and music lessons, and taking lessons myself as ways to show up and hang out with creativity, hoping those seeds will bloom into new ideas and songs.
How did you get involved with contributing music to the It’s Not a Burden soundtrack? What are the unique challenges involved with soundtrack work?
I have been friends with the filmmakers, Michelle Boyaner and Barbara Green, for many years after meeting them at a show in Los Angeles when I was touring around the country. We exchanged information after they requested to use some of my music in their independent film, The Bedwetter. They’re very generous, creative people and became my friends and homestay when I toured to LA. We worked together in 2015 when I wrote the music for their HBO documentary about a forgotten artist named Edith Lake Wilkinson, called “Packed in a Trunk.” Their new movie “It’s Not a Burden” is about their own families and the stories of families across the country caring for their aging and elderly parents. When they asked me to write music for this story, I was honored. I love writing about complex human experiences and the tangled ways we love our own families. The unique challenges of soundtrack work can be taking a story that is being told, visually or with a script, and writing something that accompanies it, but doesn’t spell it out exactly, while still connecting to it personally, so it can come from an authentic place. I was and have experienced moving my Grandma and Father into care facilities to better suit their needs as they aged and their health failed, so I was able to connect to the content of the documentary and tell a little bit of my own experience through the songs.
What have you learned about building a devoted YouTube following over the past 14+ years of videos?
Building a YouTube Channel is much harder these days than it was when I got my start on YouTube back in 2007! I had uploaded a few original song videos and one of them was featured on the homepage, back before corporations and big time vloggers were buying those spots. From the feature, I realized that people liked and wanted to hear my music. It was a boost of confidence and made me realize I had something to share and pursue. It made touring to new places much easier, because there were fans who had seen and heard me on YouTube. I still upload regularly and love to have the outlet. YouTube is my stage. It’s the way I share new songs and covers, and give a sense of my personality to new people out there, who might happen to stumble on a video of mine. It’s especially nice to have when touring slows down, and I’m not playing as many live shows, whether that be safety concerns due to Covid, or because slowing down in general feels best for me now. Social media, for me, has always been an incredible tool to build my brand, tell my story as a songwriter and humorist, and to connect with fans, followers and listeners who care about my music and want to know more.
How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy
This is a great book for any aspiring songwriters or old pros. Jeff Tweedy has a great, earnest way of addressing the battle of creativity and breaking past it. I like the simple, easy and human approach to the topic. A lot of songwriting books can go way too deep way too fast with “How to Write One Song” there’s personality, truth and vulnerability in the writing, just as should be in our songs.
Comedy. Sex. God by Pete Holmes
I love Pete Holmes and finished this book recently. I like that he talks about comedy, fame, God, belief and relationships. I want to talk about all of those things in my art and music and always stay close to the pulse of the things that keep the universe beating. Big things and small things.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This is a book that gave me a lot of perspective and clarity considering my artistic practice and the way I approach it. Quick and easy read that gives a lot of encouragement about how hard being and staying creative (with any art form) can be. It gave me a boost as my writing process evolved and my business as a creative became more established.
I checked out this CD from the library when I was in high school and fell hard for the writing and harmonies and stories and complexities in Simon & Garfunkel’s work. Paul Simon is one of my favorite songwriters and singers these songs still take me back to the moments I was first writing my full fledge folk songs and dreaming that maybe I could perform them someday.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
This is obviously a very popular book, but I recommended the 2006 movie because it’s one of my favorites. The colors and sounds that accompany Jane Austen’s story are lovely and poetic. I love the strength of Elizabeth Bennett, family drama, love and confusion, difficult men, annoying sisters, friends doing what’s best for them even if you don’t understand, and the complicated outfits. Lot of inspiration for songwriting!