Donna Missal has had a busy year. The LA-based singer/songwriter released her debut album, the stunning This Time in September. A mix of rock, soul and hip-hop, the project was a long time coming.
“I made the record for two years and some of the songs on it were written so long ago, so it’s a really cathartic process to package it, put it out and go play it,” she says.
The 27-year-old New Jersey native toured with King Princess in July and is currently on the road with Sir Sly and Joywave.
“It’s been unreal,” Missal shares. “It is so special to go out onstage and sing your songs and people know the lyrics. I don’t think it will ever get old.”
In the midst of planning her U.S. headlining tour for early next year, Missal spoke with Billboard about writing, “time traveling” through her lyrics and addressing her sexuality.
Making an album over two years, things change between when you start the writing process to when you’re on the road performing. What has that journey been like?
Songs are three- to five-minute worlds of what someone is feeling. Being a writer as well as the performer, it’s an incredible experience of time travel and finding ways that songs travel and evolve with you. They can really change given the way that you’re feeling in different stages of your life. It’s creepy magical, and performing them is an indescribable experience.
I like how you described it as “time travel.”
Yeah, you write something because you’re feeling something and the feeling is so powerful that it has to come out of you in some kind of process. That’s just the way that I write: I’m processing something that I’ve experienced or that I understand or want to understand. It’s like a little microscope on a concept or a feeling, and when you perform, you step back and re-examine that. It’s a very special, cathartic thing to do.
Was there a specific situation or experience that inspired the song “Keep Lying”?
No. I wrote that song about six years ago and it was first released as a demo. To be totally honest, that song is about such a personal frustration for me and I think that’s why it’s performed in the style that it is. I was at a point in my life where nothing was happening the way that I wanted it to.
I felt like I was in the midst of deception from all angles. I wasn’t getting what I wanted from my career, I wasn’t happy in my personal relationships and I think that frustration, that sentiment really comes through in the way that it’s performed. To me, the song is about absolute frustration with your circumstances. And that concept of deception — I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had such a strong, visceral reaction to being lied to or feeling like the reality you set up for yourself isn’t actually real. I think that’s why the song resonated with me and why it was so important for me to put it out.
Have you heard stories from fans who have interpreted your lyrics in a way that you weren’t thinking about when you wrote them?
All the time. It’s one of my most favorite artist to fan experiences. To know that you made something and it resonated with even one person is really wild, but I love it. I think it’s something that keeps me really motivated to make music and want to continue to put it out there and tour it.
You recently addressed your sexuality on Instagram. What made you feel like you wanted to do it at that point?
Instagram isn’t that serious to me. Opening for a queer artist, King Princess, who is so outspoken and so proud of who she is and what she’s about… I think because I was exposed to such a huge LGBTQ fanbase, I was getting a lot of questions about [my sexuality], which I had never gotten before. I’ve identified as bisexual since I was a young teenager, but I started receiving a lot of messages and questions about my sexuality. It made sense because of my exposure to this really supportive, inclusive, incredibly powerful group of fans because I was opening her concert.
I think the timing was just in that moment because of the questions I was being flooded with. I wasn’t trying to really single anything out, and to me it was a beautiful thing that is so absolutely normal to me. So at the time I wasn’t like, “I am making a stand and I’m coming out.” I was just like, “Hey, here it is, but I don’t have to answer any of these direct questions.” I’m also hoping that the more it’s normalized — like, you can identify your sexual preferences or you don’t have to. You can associate with something or you don’t have to. These are all absolutely, completely personal choices.
I think if you have some kind of platform, any kind of platform to speak up on behalf of marginalized groups, I think it’s important and it will help get to the point where we’re not even talking about this anymore. It will just be the way we are as a human race — not questioning everything all the time, but just accepting it.
What advice would you give to young people who have been told their sexuality is just a phase?
I would say that the more love and respect you can show toward the people who may be misunderstanding you, the more we can see the rhetoric and conversation around this issue change, especially if these people are your family and friends. Trust that they will come around because your visibility and your truth is valid.
Who are some other LGBTQ artists that have inspired your own music style?
I have always been influenced by queer art. It’s so woven into the fabric of what we’re all about, we’re all just emulating or learning from gay culture. That’s a firm belief of mine, especially as an artist. It’s never been the driving force of why I pick something up, because I always go back to my personal belief that it’s not that important, but from personal experience, getting to tour with King Princess and getting to know someone making music in the current climate, to see someone so young and so boldly declaring her space with so much pride is deeply inspiring and I got to see that first hand.
My absolute, absolute idol is Frank Ocean. He’s someone I’ve always referred back to as one of my biggest inspirations and, honestly, I don’t even think about the fact that he’s bisexual because his music transcends sexuality. We don’t talk about his art as “queer art,” it’s just art and it’s really fucking good. It’s not something he’s ever exploited or leaned on, it’s just who he is and that’s how I hope to go about the way that I present myself. This is what identifies me, but it’s still not who I am. Who I am is Donna.
Check out Missal’s full-length debut This Time below.