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A change is gonna come 

Danielle Ponder previews a different musical direction with new singles

The depth and power of vocalist Danielle Ponder’s voice runs way deep. Live, this 38-year-old musician from Rochester attracts large crowds looking to be taken to a better place. It’s funk, it’s soul, it’s hip-hop, it’s R&B, and it’s spectacular. Her music takes up residence in your head and won’t leave.
click to enlarge “I think she has a brilliant mind, a serious ability to create beautiful art, a unique ability to connect with people, and she gives those around her the freedom to bring their ideas to the table,” producer Dave Drago says of Danielle Ponder (pictured). - PHOTO BY KRIT UPRA
  • “I think she has a brilliant mind, a serious ability to create beautiful art, a unique ability to connect with people, and she gives those around her the freedom to bring their ideas to the table,” producer Dave Drago says of Danielle Ponder (pictured).
Now Ponder has discovered she’s in her own head as well, but she’s aiming to get out. Gone are the chutzpah and anthemic salvos of her earlier work with the bands Black August and The Tomorrow People.

As Ponder moves toward a forthcoming album later this year, her current solo work represents a new direction; it’s music with an acute sense of innocence, surrender, and release. So how did she arrive at this inner peace? How did she get out of her head? The answer is easy: She stopped caring about minutiae.

“Honestly, I just started listening to some of my favorite songs and I thought about how I actually don’t care about the mix on that song, or I don’t care whether they use a conga instead of a snare on that one,” she says. “I care about how that song made me feel, so I want to release some of the nitpicking that I’m doing and really, if a song makes me feel good or makes me feel the emotion intended, then it’s a good song. So having that type of mindset has freed me up a little bit.”

Dave Drago of 1809 Studios is one of the producers who has worked with Ponder for the last two years, and was the man behind the recording console for her forthcoming single "Be Gentle," out on June 26 via all streaming platforms.

“The growth I saw in her vision and the laser focus she developed was beautiful to be a part of,” Drago says. “Honestly, I’m not sure about what she is choosing for the final album cut, he says. “She knows what she is doing. She works from her gut. I hang back until she needs something specific.”

But the recording process hasn’t been very easy for Ponder, who classifies herself as a perfectionist. “I really want this next album to be great,” she says. “I want to make sure that it truly reflects me as an artist. I feel like my debut EP — “Blow Out the Sun” — with The Tomorrow People doesn’t reflect where I am currently. So I’m really looking to create a body of work that is synonymous with who I am as a person, and that’s a lot. It takes a heavy emotional toll, so a lot of the delay has been my whole ‘me being in my own head.’

“This music now is definitely a little moodier, bluesier,” she says. “The issues are also a bit more complex, not as upbeat and anthemic. I wasn't trying to empower anyone with this album, I was trying to put my thoughts, insecurities, pains, and feelings on paper. It’s very personal to me and my experiences. There’s more vulnerability.”

In the meantime, Ponder is releasing a series of singles to placate fan demand, including two done Down Under. “I was going to Australia to do a couple of shows and my manager connected me with this band called Karate Boogaloo, who are absolutely amazing,” she says. The feeling was mutual, so Ponder and the Aussie band got in the studio and wrote two songs together, called “Look Around” and “A Little Bit.”

Ponder is confident the prospective album, whose intended July release was delayed after the pandemic stalled some of the recording sessions, will come out this fall. In the meantime, the pair of songs that Ponder wrote and recorded with Karate Boogaloo will come out together soon, to take the pressure off. And it’s working. “I feel happy with what I have created,” she says. “I feel like the album will definitely come out the way that I want.”

To ensure this quality, Ponder has divided her time between 1809 Studios with Drago, The Green Room with producer Matt Ramerman, and producer John Viviani at his home studio. And yet she still has time to advocate through her work as a lawyer in the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. She balances that with her night job as a musician.

“I do both because they are my passions, Ponder says. “I don’t think about balancing them because I love both of them. Music gives me a way to tell the stories that are impacting people in my community. I believe music will always play an essential role in creating social change. It can't do it alone, but it is necessary. I love that it allows me to express myself in a way that many people can hear.”

More on Ponder's music can be found at her official website and Facebook page.

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at
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