We sat down with Artist of the Month Daisy O’Connor at Cosmic Coffee (where, it turns out, she’s friends with everyone) for this month’s AOTM interview. The folksinger gave us some insight into what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign, how she found her Austin songwriting circle, and her upcoming release Mixtape II. Read her full bio here.
How did you get involved with AMF and what does being Artist of the Month mean to you?
I became involved in AMF five or six years ago after releasing my first EP. I met with Alex [Vallejo] who helped get my ducks in a row for my first album release because I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I still don’t always know what I’m doing, but that’s why we have AMF, for when we’re losing our minds and need someone to talk through the details with. I love the peer-to-peer development. Obviously the mentors are experts, but are also peers who have been there and done it before.
Being Artist of the Month is a cool opportunity to get closer to the AMF family and receive support while I release my new album, Mixtape II (coming to Bandcamp June 21st!)
How long have you been performing in Austin and what brought you out here?
I came to Austin to learn about songwriting. I was in a band back in my hometown for about two years, but my friends in the band were settling down and starting families and doing that life. I decided I didn’t want to be normal so I moved to Austin to learn about the craft of songwriting. A touring songwriter friend introduced me to a solid tribe of local writers (centered around the Kerrville Folk Festival scene) who welcomed me in and showed me the ropes. I’ve been in Austin about eight years now, learning, doing my thing, and hopefully getting better.
So you were in a band before you moved to Austin. It sounds like there was a little bit of a music scene in your hometown?
Yes! Before Austin, I lived in Bellingham, WA and there’s definitely a music scene. Its a college town so there’s local bands plus touring acts come through all the time. I go back and play shows every chance I get.
So what initially got you into playing music and songwriting?
I’ve always loved music. I’m one of those people who always has a song on their lips and gets through life singing and coping with songs. Musicals were a big part of my early life. I wasn’t really in any of them (besides background chorus) but I always loved them and grew up watching them and singing all the songs. I wanted to do opera, and do all of these other things that weren’t in my skill set or possible with the resources I had available, so I didn’t think music was something I could actually do.
The summer I turned 14, my neighbor loaned me a classical guitar and chord charts, and I quickly learned some hymns and pop songs. That summer, I saved up my 4-H money and bought my own acoustic guitar. I played a bit in the church band, and had dreams of being a Christian rock star, but it was mostly a bedroom hobby that got me through the lonely times.
I sang in community choirs as a teenager but didn’t know anyone who was a singer/songwriter until my early twenties when I starting hearing some really good songwriters in Bellingham. Eventually I found myself at a potluck with friends where a guitar got passed around. My friends were surprised that I played and sang and next thing you know we are in an Americana trio playing little local gigs and opening for bands we liked. I was like, “Whoa, I feel like I don’t suck.” Which is the funny thing, because I genuinely sucked. But my friends were so supportive and everyone in Bellingham was so kind, allowing me a safe space to explore my voice.
Coming to Austin, people welcomed me even though I was just starting out: singing way too loud, pushing my voice in weird ways, playing horribly. It’s taken forever to get my guitar skills wrangled but Austin has really helped me tighten my shit up. I gotta say the standard of excellence here is really high.
What do you like about being a part of the community here?
People are so good at music, I love that. In my hometown, the people I perceived as songwriters, the people that wrote good songs and you could hear out, were all introverted, cold-climate people, and that made it feel like a closed scene. When I came to Austin, however, it was instantly like “Oh, you like songwriting? We have a potluck at our house once a week, bring something you’re working on.” I got to attend different songwriting groups and retreats, and saw as many shows as I could handle every night possible. There’s just so much going on. It’s such a songwriter nerd town in so many ways and I love that about Austin.
It’s interesting that the songwriting community in Austin doesn’t get as much of a spotlight as other cities.
I know, isn’t it interesting? I feel like some of the best writers live here, but they don’t necessarily gig here more than a couple times a year. So a lot of them have followings in other cities or Europe. A lot of the people I’m talking about are older than me, they’ve been doing it a long time, they are excellent, and they’ve been fortunate to make the connections where someone will take them abroad, show them the ropes, and help them manage the business side of things. I hope someday I get to do that, but I’m also a shy introverted person so it’s hard to push yourself to that level. People are doing it though, and it inspires me to see them shine. I love to watch my musician friends, mostly through the internet, Instagram and such, just slaying it all around the globe. But when you ask people locally if they’ve heard of, say, Danny Schmidt – unless they’re in a small insular folk scene, they haven’t.
How has your music evolved since you first started?
I spent my first two years in Austin playing open mics, making friends, and hanging out at songwriting groups once or twice a week. I was always working on new songs. I was always trying something new so I’d show up at an open mic and be reading off a sheet of paper, which is terrible I know, but I slowly got better. I was a baby when I first came here, even my pictures show I looked like a baby version of myself. I had never lived in the city before, and was like this hippied-out farm kid, so now my style has changed so I’m more presentable for the big city. My music has been less “hickified” and maybe a little more rock ‘n’ roll and cool. I’ve spent a lot of time standing against a wall singing, which really helped me figure out how my voice sounds and how I’m throwing it. I focused on a lot of sensory things because I wasn’t aware of how I sounded before I came here. For example, I didn’t think I had control over vocal modulation, being inspired by theater, which I thought to be all about projection and being loud and pushing your voice, but that’s not where my voice sounds good. I had to learn what I could do in my wheelhouse that is unique to me, and not what Lady Gaga is doing or somebody else is doing. It’s my own little world.
That’s so cool, I’ve never heard of the standing against the wall technique.
I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it either, I think that’s my mild Autism kicking in. I needed some different sensory input. It’s hard to hear yourself, even if you have a monitor coming at you, it’s hard to know what that means. I’m still figuring that out, which live performance is great for. Learning how to use a mic, how to not be awkward in front of an audience. People say I’m funny, but I don’t know, man…I try not to be too canned either. As a singer-songwriter, it’s a tough balance between talking too much and not enough, keeping it natural or doing the same bits between songs every show. I’d love to get to the point where I’ve refined my writerly voice so that the songs speak for themselves. I ain’t there today.
The nature of folk music lends itself to traveling and sharing your stories. How often do you go on the road and where are some of your favorite places to travel?
I like to hit the road as much as possible, but that doesn’t always make sense with the level I’m playing at. I’ve done a lot of tours where I get in the car, leave for the summer, and play coffee shops, bars, little spots all along. I usually have one or two base gigs, which kinda pay for the rest of the tour. So I’ve gotten into that breaking-even level of touring for the most part, but not the five-thousand-guaranteed, pays-for-the-next-few-months-of-your-life kinda thing. That’s a different level. It seems to take the perfect combination of hard work, time, talent, and a critical dash of luck at the perfect time to make that happen. Part of it is how assertive you are and your social skills. At its heart, being a singer-songwriter is a service job. You gotta serve the people something they can’t resist. So far, I find my favorite audiences on the West Coast, West Texas, and in Central Texas. I’ve also got a solid tribe in Oklahoma, where I made the two Mixtape albums.
Getting into house concerts has been big for me. People come to listen! I played a house show in California a couple weeks ago and the level of feedback I got after the show was incredible. One lady told me “I feel like every song you sang was the story of my life.” So people do feel it, and it matters. For the most part, I play heartfelt music. So it’s hard when you’re playing a cafe show and there’s an espresso machine running constantly, or at a bar where people aren’t there for music at all. Even at music venues, some people are there just to party. A week before the really good show in California I played a horrible bar show, where almost everyone was listening, or talking respectfully in the back, except for one drunk guy in the front. As a songwriter, you gotta roll with the punches and just keep going!
Do you prefer to go solo or with a full band?
I haven’t toured with a full band yet. I fantasize about it, but other singer/songwriters have told me with caution, “only do it if you’re prepared to never play music again.” It’s such a financial risk and can be so stressful. I can stay with friends when I go on tour by myself, so I can break even. DIY band touring is possible, but everyone has to be cool with not making much money and sleeping on the couch or floor in a strangers living room every night. Me and my bandmates have all put in our time, and we’re over that shit! So I’ve mostly solo toured, and sometimes I’ll get in the car with another songwriter and we’ll swap songs and back each other up for a week or two on the road. I LOVE playing with the band in Austin, though!
What has been your most rewarding musical experience so far in your career?
Ok, this is so dumb, but I love this so much….I loved doing My KUTX…I know it’s not my music, but it was so cool to have the opportunity to look back on what my influences were, the path that I had taken. A lot of artists on My KUTX like to talk about songs they like right now, or what’s cool right now. But I wanted to do a deep sea dive of all of the music I was inspired and influenced by, through different phases, and put together a playlist that maybe wasn’t the crowd pleasing hits that you’re used to hearing on KUTX, but it was songs that mattered to me. I loved everything about that experience.
I’d say my second most memorable experience would be playing with a band. It can be stressful, especially for TV or radio gigs. I want things to be organic and I play much better when I don’t have that stress. So I love playing with a band when it’s not stressful. When I get to do the thing I love with the people I love.
A little bird told us you’re working on Mixtape II, has that been released yet?
It is currently in the process of being released. I’m posting the last few songs on Patreon right now, and the Bandcamp release is Friday, June 21st. I wasn’t going to release it publically, but it’s happening!
And it was recorded on eight-track?
Yes, we recorded and mixed it on eight-track cassette, but of course it’s all digital now.
Where did you record it?
We recorded it in Norman, Oklahoma. I have a sweet friend up there, Kyle Reid, he’s an Oklahoma legend. He plays in a band called the Low Swinging Chariots, I love those boys. He plays with a lot of popular Oklahoma artists and is always on the road. When I go up, I’ll usually spend 5 days recording, but in the midst of that he’ll have a rehearsal here, a gig there, another gig somewhere else, and a solo project he’s working on. At the same time he’s so peaceful and zen, which keeps the recording process stress free and lets me do my best work. We met at Folk Alliance six years ago and since then he’s become one of my best friends. His family is my family. Those ‘family’ ties is what touring is like for me.
You really care about building relationships with people, which has led to a few successful crowdfunding campaigns. What has been your experience as an artist using platforms like Patreon?
Honestly, they’ve been great so far. The thing that’s challenging about a Kickstarter is that it’s something YOU have to deliver. So you have to know that going into it. You need to have a plan in place for it, based on all the information you’ve gathered, talking with other artists, looking at other kickstarters. See what works. You have to study the craft. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. You have to deliver. I still feel lingering guilt when people donate but don’t respond. Maybe they just wanted to donate five or ten dollars, but there’s this weird feeling of, “Are they ever going to want this poster?” I’m thankful to the folks who’ve donated to my Kickstarters. They have helped fund my albums so I don’t have to go into debt to finish them.
Do you have any tips for bands who are trying to fund their projects in a similar way?
Look at what other people are doing. Make sure your video is short and succinct. Make it personal, talk to the camera, tell people why this matters to you, and what difference it will make. Also, give it some personality but don’t make it campy. Mention it all the time during the campaign, funny pictures, videos, etc. People don’t post enough about their crowdfunding. Sometimes I need to see it ten times before I remember to donate. Then it gets to the wire and they need to make $10k in three days. You can’t post enough, the people who care about you donate, and anyone who unfollows you for posting too much, they probably don’t care about you anyway.
Great advice! So, what’s next for you? What are some of your upcoming goals?
Playing Red Rocks. Just kidding, that’s still a little down the road. It would be so special to get to tour with a full band out on the road. In a way, playing shows is not my favorite thing because it’s so intimate, so vulnerable, especially when you’re alone, as a woman. So it’d be nice to do more touring, but I wouldn’t want to do it alone.
I’m also at the point where I want to wipe everything I’ve done clean and start new. Maybe not totally new, but the next version of my music, change up the set. So come to the gig at Geraldines on June 21st, it might be the last time you hear some of my music.
How can people keep in touch and support what you’re doing?
Right now our next big gig is at Geraldine’s, celebrating the release of Mixtape II! You can also join my Patreon if you want to hear all my latest songs. I post a few songs a month, and patrons are always the first to receive new albums and singles. So far, I have released 4 albums on Patreon at a rate of two per year. I’m also active on Instagram, Facebook, and keep my website up to date at www.daisyoconnor.com