It’s just a few days before Donna Missal is set to leave for Houston to begin her stint opening for CHVRCHES across the United States. The L.A.-based singer has been busy with rehearsals, figuring out a cohesive way to bring together her body of work. There is new, unreleased material and songs that will drop while she’s on the road, in addition to her older music and the tunes from her 2020 album, Lighter, that she has yet to play live. This will be Missal’s first tour since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It feels like everything has changed so drastically about touring, as well as our environment,” she says over a Zoom call. Missal will be performing in cities she has seen before, but the experience could be something entirely new. “It feels like I’ve never done this before and I’m going on my first tour ever. It’s a strange feeling. I think it’s all very unknown still and I won’t know what I’ve gotten myself into until we’re out there doing it.”
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Missal had been staying active making new music. In fact, her new single “(to me) your face is love,” stems from this period. It’s part of a body of work that brings together Missal with UK producer Sega Bodega – he also produced her single “sex is good (but have you tried),” released in March 2021. The two began collaborating remotely during the pandemic, but this single actually stems from an in-person session, Missal’s first since prior to the stay-at-home period.
With “(to me) your face is love,” Missal offers a dose of retro-futurism with a sound that recalls late 1990s breakbeat. The accompanying video is a fashion-forward clip where Missal’s wardrobe, both sculptural and ethereal, reflects the juxtaposition of the powerful, electronic beat with delicate vocals.
Over a year ago, when Missal, like so many others, was at home, she bought some equipment and started recording at home. It was something she hadn’t done before. “All the music that I had made at that point, even if I had started it on my own, was created in a studio environment,” she says. “This was the first time I was working on ideas with total autonomy. It was just me messing around at home with vocals.”
Missal had a goal in mind. She wanted to gain enough skill at recording her own vocals so that, when the time was right, she could go into the studio and better explain the sounds she wanted or, maybe, do it herself. “I just wanted total freedom to focus on voice and lyrics and melody,” she says. So, instead of recording to an instrumental track or writing music, she used a clicker when she recorded with Logic, singing to a tempo that she thought would work.
The pandemic also prompted Missal to connect with people who could collaborate virtually. That was new for Missal too, as she’s typically worked on music with others in person. She sent her a cappella demos to Bodega, who composed music around the tracks and sent them back to her. “ It was the first time that I ever worked in that kind of process before,” she says. “We started making a lot of music that way.”
Flash forward to the summer of 2021: Missal flew out to London for her first recording sessions in a studio since the onset of the pandemic. The 10-day excursion was also her first longer stay in the city. “I wanted to finish everything that we started and I wanted to meet the people that had been working on this music with me remotely,” she says. “I had amazing support from my label to go do that.”
But Missal was able to do more than finish the tracks that began as remote collaborations. She and Bodega decided to spend a couple days writing new material together, in the same space. “It was so different from how I had been making music for about a year [at that point],” she says. “I was back in my environment, an environment that was very familiar to me, writing in a room with a person present and they’re producing and you’re doing your thing. It felt like a completely brand new thing, even though it was something that I had done before.”
“(To me) your face is love” is one of the songs that came out of this session. They wrote it in a matter of hours while in the studio, with Bodega working on the production and Missal handling lyrics and melody. “The song was really instantaneous. That’s always really fun for me, when they come together that way. Minimal effort, and you’re making choices based on what feels good and what you like,” she says. “You’re not thinking about how it will be perceived. You’re making music with someone in real time where both of your intentions are very pure.”
The experience in London proved to be eye-opening for Missal. “I also had this idea going out there that I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with those people,” she says. “It’s the most inclusive group of people that I’ve ever met. They were incredibly kind to me and brought me in like it was nothing. No one had questions about whether you were a visible person or whether you were worth it to engage with. That just wasn’t part of the way that anyone made their choices there.”
It was a chance to work on music without having to think about likes, followers, or whether or not it will sell or appeal to her fans. “I had a real revelation while being out there. I felt so much freedom that I hadn’t felt before,” she says. “It’s something that I’ll bring into my process moving forward with everything that I do, this openness to allowing yourself to be creative and make choices that feel good without worrying about all that other shit that tends to muddy the process and make music-making about something that it shouldn’t have ever been about.”
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