Dani Isaily knows who she is and she wants you to know too. Born and raised in Chicago, the singer, songwriter and producer has already worked with Vic Mensa, ProfessorFox and L3GION. We talked with her about her upcoming music, why Chicago deserves it’s very own Rocafella Records, and the importance of writing about reality, regardless of Instagram likes. So if you didn’t know, now you will.
Tell us about yourself – who is Dani Isaily?
This is the second time this week I was asked this question. I don’t know why it’s so hard to answer a question about yourself but it is. I’ll start off with, I’m from Chicago, my favorite color is baby blue, I love Selena, and I’m the girl that stands up for what she believes in at anytime and moment. I also like to lucid dream. I’m actually learning how to decode dreams. It’s so cool and interesting. And. . . I’m a singer,songwriter, and producer (by default) because I hate waiting on people. But I really love producing.
What’s the backstory that led to you being a singer?
When I was little I was always singing, making up dances and writing plays. I would make my little sister and my best friends do the dances or play in the plays. My mom would save our halloween costumes each year so that I could use them as the wardrobe for the plays. I think it was cute in the beginning until they had seen and heard enough N*Sync and Cheetah Girl routines haha. Then, in elementary school I was in the church choir and my sister and I went to an acting camp where we did musicals. As I got older and everyone changed their career choice from princess to nurse mine was always to sing and I always knew it would never change.
Which three things, people or places would you say are the biggest influences on your music?
My dad is my biggest influence in music. His music collection is crazy. From elementary school and still now, my dad would play the BeeGees, Elton John, Queen, Doobie Brothers, Beach Boys, Morrisey and so many more bands and say “$5 if you guess who this is”. The harder it was the more money we would get and vice versa. We literally did that every time we were in the car which was twice a day. Because of him my musical knowledge is wider than most. I’m baby Kanye with the samples. I write my own music, so my second influence are my experiences. I think the more authentic the lyrics are the more emotional the song will be. Emotion is what connects a person to another person or listener to the artist. And lastly, probably the weather. That reflects my mood a lot.. because I’m emo.
You’re from Chicago – a city that gave us Chaka Khan, Earth, Wind & Fire and Kanye. And now we have Chance (the Rapper), Eryn Kane and Vic Mensa. What is it like to live and create in such a musically rich city?
I think the best part about it is that our city has so much hidden talent and passion and that we are all so different. We aren’t as commercially known as L.A. or New York so it’s not as easy to make it as an entertainer but that’s what gives us that push and fire that people know us for.
We regularly see people from the city working together and you worked with Professor Fox, ProbCause, and Saba on “Still In Chicago”. Is it a place where people are ready to collaborate?
I think it depends on the person. Just like any city, there are people that just wanna make good music and then there are people who just want a name and want a feature from anyone thats on. But you learn real quick how to differentiate the two. I love collaborating with talented genuine people in general and if they’re from Chicago that’s just a plus. I think it would be crazy If Chicago was running the music industry. We could be like Rocafella and make a movie like State Property haha.
Is there anyone you’ll be working with in the future or who you’d like to collaborate with?
I’ve worked in the studio with Vic recording a few songs he wanted me on. So, you’ll have to look out for little me on a song or two. I also work with one of the best producers in Chicago named L3GION. A lot of producers do not play the piano and as a singer I love working with pianists. Someone I’d love the collab with in the future is Kanye. He’s like a museum to me.
“Still In Chicago”, it talks about the hardships of the city. How does the harder realities of life impact you and what you create?
This song actually wasn’t supposed to ever be released and was just dropped without me knowing but I liked the message behind it. I forgot who said this but a famous songwriter said if you can write an amazing happy song when you’re not happy then you’ve mastered songwriting. I’m not there just yet so I don’t write songs that aren’t my reality. Still In Chicago was the first song I ever wrote and I just wrote what I live. Everyone has their trials and I use mine to create.
One of your lyrics, “What do I call you?” refers to someone asking about your race. With Black Lives Matter and the many other people and movements that highlight racism, do you think we’ll see more people talking about issues like this?
Sadly, a lot of artists talk about whatever is “in” at the moment so I do think more and more people will for that reason. But I’m excited to hear music from artists that are actually passionate about what’s happening in the world with not only Black people in America, but minorities in every country. Palestinians in Israel and the Haitians in Dominican Republic and so many more. I have a song called “What’s Up” that I wrote about the killings of black men and women by police and Palestinians in Israel. It’ll be on my project.
You’ve released a few songs over the years, but more recently you’ve been in the studio. What does your music sound like in 2015?
I just released a song called “You Love It” on my Soundcloud and it’s more R&B pop. The first few songs I’m going to release are more of that sound. But once those two are released my sound is going to be a little different.
Can we expect any releases in the near future?
I’m releasing a new song called “Ride” very soon. But I’m working on a project right now that is more hip hop/ pop than anything I’ve done. I don’t have a release date but I’m about 4 songs in. I’ve produced a lot of my project so far so the sound is going to be a lot different. The topics I’ve been talking about are much different too. It’s real Chicago.
Although you’re at the beginning of your career, is there anything specific goals you want to achieve?
Um, a goal I have just for myself is to always do what makes me happy and strive to make creative and original art. I want to show people through my music and other things I do to stop giving a fuck what anybody has to say about a thing you do. Fuck likes and opinions. Just always ALWAYS be you. That’s one thing nobody will ever one up you on.
Words & Interview: Grace Shutti
Photos: Kevin Barrett