Richmond based producer and vocalist Donnie Dale recently caught our attention with their dark new record “Archangel Blue”. The 23 year-old self-taught pianist, bassist and vocalist puts their heart on the line when chatting with us about their past music influences and the origins of their new self-described genre “spy-core” in an intimate interview. Read below.
Indie Current: What is spy-core? Can you describe some of your influences?
Donnie Dale: So definitely leaning into this whole “spy-core” thing, it draws from a lot of influences through the musical learning process I have. Spy-core is my own evil–inner gay bitch feelings of just sauciness and avenging one-self in a very smooth way. I don’t have to do the absolute most to knock you over with my breath ya know? That’s kind of how spy-core came to be. I got to the point with music isolation where…I didn’t want to work with other people. I felt vastly limited in what I was doing with other people. I made the music very centric to my own feelings that I meditated on, making a sonic expression of those feelings.
So “Spy-Core” was also that feeling of being closeted in most environments, which I know is a universal queer feeling. Feeling closeted in a workplace, in public and around family. Just making sonic expressions about feeling like a spy in the place I had gone to. That’s where it came from. Not leaning into the genres that people expect me to do either. I know a lot of people don’t want to be boxed in. It was also a matter of preservation for the long term. Giving myself the freedom to define my own genre and my own person.
Sonically, it’s heavy, dark…lots of vocals. A lot of my inspirations come from my religious background and more so that I never connected with the scripture or the sound (organs, choirs,reverb etc). The way I internalized those things…I felt like a spy. I was observing all these sonic qualities and absorbing other people’s energy as well.
IC: What is “jellybot (my saint)” about?
DD: When B.ckwrds Haus Collective [a collective founded by Donnie Dale in Richmond VA] was coming to a close, I realized I was putting 100% of myself into relationships with people. I had two very disruptive falling outs with people because of intimate boundaries being crossed. That song was really my way of bouncing out of that place and helped me reclaim myself. I had been just pouring myself into everyone else, instead of myself, which is a recipe for toxicity. I had to step around that, and I thought to myself, you got what you deserved because you ignored yourself, your calling, your spirituality and this is what you get. I had to learn from it. “Jellybot” is a way for me to bop to my own self-loathing. I wanted to be accountable for the decisions I’ve made, and the intuition ignored.
“I learned to step left/
Hearts hurt like I deserved/
It wasn’t like we were made for this earth/
You may suffer with time, but I pray that you flourish”
IC: Religion is a very powerful, and conceptual part of this record. What’s your religious background?
DD: I grew up in a predominately Irish-Catholic household. My parents are kind of ambiguous in that sense. My mom was Episcopalian but never really identified with Christianity. She was more on the agnostic side, which I didn’t know until way later.
IC: In terms of feeling like a spy in a religious background, was there ever any fear? Cutting out religious influences can be exhausting.
DD: My mom gave me a very agnostic, spiritual point of view. Although, my dad really wanted religion to be a point of bonding. I definitely felt paranoid in that sense, but I was never rejected for the fact that I rejected religion. I was very fortunate in that sense. I was however, an altar server for a good long while. That more than anything made me paranoid because I was around people that were very pushy about it. Catholicism is very literal. The blood and the body, is the blood and the body. A lot of that essence carries into my art too, none of the beliefs though. I’ve been spying and observing these things..but I’m also rebuking them. I can find community in other ways.
IC: Would this record be a cleanse of those things?
DD: Absolutely. Archangel Blue is me exhibiting the worship I built for myself. The spiritual practices I’ve developed for myself. That is how I’m able to make music.
IC: You handle your own production as well as being a vocalist. What was your process with this record?
DD: I’m self-taught on piano and bass. I’ve sung in choirs and have done theatre. I’m also a visual artist and painter. With this record, I’m sampling layers of my own vocals and adding instruments that sound like a synth when it’s really a guitar. There’s a lot of encoding and switching going on in production.
IC: You have a lot to say on this record. What is the main message of the EP?
DD: The essence of this record is just to relay these self-affirming things. I wanted to see this record through and release it as doorway to my creative world. If I can do it, you can do that. I want people to feel recharged, and powerful enough to do their own thing.
Listen to Archangel Blue below.