Donna Missal: How an incredible queer artist released a banging album during a pandemic

As her new album lands, the artist shares her thoughts on sexuality, feeling connected and making timeless music.

A long haired woman in a stylish jacket stands in an American desert

In an ever-changing world musicians are reimagining their whole business model. It’s forcing many to get creative with getting their music out there even as the future looks uncertain. For singer-songwriter, Donna Missal, lockdown has provided a challenge – but one she seems ready for.

Lighter, the second album by Donna Missal, has just been released, pairing pop-rock production with big swooping choruses, matched with her incredible vocals. Just as lockdown, kicked in Missal was on tour with Lewis Capaldi, having recently played Dublin’s 3Arena. It may be a culture shock to be back home after a big tour but she is philosophical about it:

It’s the first time that I’ve felt that l feel the same way that so many others do, at exactly the same time. There is something about that that is uniquely unifying and comforting” she says, chatting on a Zoom call from her home in LA.

While at home, Missal cooked up a video for her infectious earworm track, ‘Let You Let Me Down’. Sporting a Shania-style bodysuit and splashing about in a kiddy pool, it’s got a lo-fi feel but it’s also a fantastic pop video, buoyed by Missal’s undeniable charisma.

The limitations that initially were there ended up playing into the video in this really fun way,” she admits. “It was very much running around the house finding ways to be creative with the things that we already had at our disposal, and I’ve never made anything that way before”.

While she is upbeat and philosophical about life in lockdown, she confides that it did make her nervous about releasing her second album. The fear is there. The fear of not being able to tour it right away, not really knowing what that looks like.

“This is about sharing something personal that belongs to you with other people so that you can feel like you’re creating some kind of connective thread between yourself and others. Sharing your very vulnerable, very human experiences, and feeling a closeness with people at a time when closeness is very rare and hard to find.”

That honesty has extended to the way Missal has been open about her sexuality. Missal has in the past discussed being bisexual and has never shied away from being an out, queer artist. I ask her about the Catch-22 of that, how it offers a chance to raise visibility but also risks pigeon-holing artists.

It’s something that you want to talk about, because visibility is inherent to acceptance,” she says, but points out that her own experience of her sexual identity has shifted in recent years. “I’m finding that I identify so much more closely with pansexuality because, genuinely, I don’t care about any parameters around who you are in a physiological sense.

“Because of that, I find that now, after having quote unquote come out, having that start to be intrinsic to headlines about me and my music, and finding that more queer publications want to talk to me. I start to get into this space where I’m like, ‘Shit, am I like misrepresenting myself?’ Or am I now alienating those in the bi community who felt like they finally had someone who they feel can represent them, or that they can feel a closeness to?”

Missal ultimately believes the queer community is able to allow for that journey in how we identify ourselves. “I do think it’s important that there is a general sense of lightness when talking about these different forms of acceptance, because I would love to feel like the queer community can understand that as a concept, and can understand the evolution of this terminology.” She adds, “I can say now, at this point, it’s more true to my experiences with love and relationships and connecting with others that I am pansexual.”

But Missal doesn’t just represent queer people in music, she’s also an enormous talent, as evidenced on Lighter – an album that sounds like the best of ’90s rock mixed with the pop nous of Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain. Missal admits she was inspired by ’90s and ’00s rock and that she “wanted it to sound as classic and as timeless as possible. And I decided it wasn’t important to me to make something that was cool and trendy.”

Her brief visit to Dublin went well too with Missal telling me, “Dublin fans go the fuck off!” and that she “cannot wait to have the opportunity to come back”.

As we wrap up, Missal thanks me for the chat, noting the importance of music journalism. It’s clear with her passion for music and her warmth and good humour that she is the kind of the star who can, not only, adapt in trying times, but provide us with the soundtrack for it too.

‘Lighter’, the new album by Donna Missal is out now. Stream or download it here.

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