The Danberrys are Nashville husband and wife duo, Dorothy Daniel and Ben DeBerry. I first heard Dorothy’s commanding voice and Ben’s picking during a Grateful Dead tribute show at the 5 Spot several years back and I was drawn to their sound and pleased to discover their original music. Their new album, Shine was produced by drummer Marco Giovino (Band of Joy, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller) and executive produced by Brian Brinkerhoff and it’s out today.
AnaLee: I know it’s been tricky getting this album out during the pandemic, and that you’ve worked really hard to make that happen, congratulations! I’ve enjoyed all of your previous releases, but it feels like you’ve really come into your own on this album and I think Shine is your best yet. The production, the songs, Dorothy’s voice and Ben’s guitar playing... it all just really works. Tell us about the inspiration behind these songs and a little about making the album.
Dorothy & Ben: It really means so much to us when people connect with what we’re doing. This album is very different from our past work, sonically and process-wise, and it does feel like we’ve come home to ourselves in a way with these tunes. Brian Brinkerhoff approached us about making a record after we released Give & Receive, and his only real stipulation was that we co-write everything together (not something we had successfully done before). At the time, we were venturing through one of the hardest periods in our personal and professional lives, in the process of coming back into the world after taking some time off to heal. Dorothy had been dealing with severe PTSD, and we had recently cancelled a string of shows & had even come close to divorce. Our foundations as a couple and as a band had crumbled, and we were re-building, re-imagining, re-emerging, re-everything. We had a lot of life material to work with for this record, and we used the writing to process our emotions and experiences. There is some darkness on this album, but hopefully you can hear our unwavering hope and faith as well.
Recording the album was a totally new experience for us. We flew out to Boston, MA, to Marco Giovino’s home studio, having never met him in person. He had signed on to co-produce the album with Brian after he heard the songs we’d written for this particular project. We had initially set out to record a stripped-down acoustic record, but the songs seemed bigger than that once we had written them. Marco put together a killer band of Boston musicians, and we met everyone on the first day of recording. It was a little nerve-wracking – placing that much trust in people we’d never met – but we had always been huge fans of Marco’s work & it just felt right. We recorded most of the album over three long (amazing) days. Marco’s producing style is very raw and authentic – very few overdubs, very few passes, just capturing the magic that happens when a band plays a song together for the first time. It was a completely different experience for us, and we couldn’t be happier with the way everything turned out.
AnaLee: You’ve been collecting pre-orders for the album for a month or so now, with a portion of the proceeds from the vinyl and CD pre-sales going to the restoration efforts of the Promise Land Heritage Association in Charlotte, Tennessee, which I believe is near where you both grew up? Tell us about the foundation and why it was important for you to recognize their work?
Dorothy & Ben: Dorothy grew up on Promise Land Road, just a few hundred feet from the two remaining buildings of the once-thriving Promise Land Community. Promise Land was settled by freedmen after the American Civil War, and the stories of those times have been passed down through the ancestors of Promise Land for generations. Growing up on land that was once encompassed by a large slave plantation and hearing those stories as a child had a huge impact on Dorothy’s perception and knowledge of racial injustice. Over the years since Dorothy left home, Promise Land has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and has grown tremendously with its community outreach programs and educational tours. We played the opening of a Smithsonian traveling exhibit there just last month.
It’s pretty obvious that there’s a watershed moment happening in our country right now, and we had been looking for ways to better show up for our black communities and to help bring awareness to racial injustice after the most recent wave of racially-motivated violence. Dorothy reached out to the former (sometimes not-so-former) director of Promise Land Heritage Association, Serina Gilbert, and that’s when we found out they were raising money to restore the church building. This building in particular has a fascinating and truly inspirational history. The church was the home of the famous Promise Land Singers who hosted “All Night Singings” during the days of segregation – it was the only place where black and white people could legally congregate together in Dickson County during that time. We decided that helping the fundraising efforts for the church would be a good place for us to start. There’s much more to do, and many ways to do it, but starting with our hometown felt right for us.
AnaLee: We have two videos to talk about today! A music video for the title track, Shine, plus, Nashville’s Scot Sax made a short documentary about the making of the album.
Dorothy & Ben: Yes! Scot Sax actually directed both videos. He’s a genius (and a wonderful friend and fellow human to boot). Dorothy and Scot dreamed up an impossible vision for the music video, and we were so happy with the way it turned out. The song is about Dorothy’s experience of overcoming childhood trauma, so it was a tricky subject to tackle visually. The imagery is meant to convey that feeling of relief when a child wakes up from a nightmare and discovers that she is actually safe. It was shot on Dorothy’s family’s land in Charlotte, TN. We hauled a whole bedroom out into a cow pasture in the middle of the blazing hot summer. We also burned a bed in Dorothy’s uncle’s tobacco barn. It took two full days to get all of the shots. Dorothy’s family hosted our huge crew and helped with generators and trucks and other supplies. It was an enormous undertaking, but it was worth it. Our favorite shot is of the butterflies flying around the door at the very end – so surreal. Scot actually mined a lot of the material for the documentary while we were planning the music video for Shine. We had a long, intense conversation with him one night in his basement about the story behind Shine – abuse, suicide, healing, the meaning of life, faith in the light, those types of things. He was secretly recording the conversation, and he ended up using several snippets from that conversation for the documentary (with our permission, of course). It was the first time Dorothy had talked openly about her childhood experiences, so watching the documentary for the first time was a little intimidating and ultimately quite freeing. Scot really pushed for the unfiltered truth, and he was so instrumental in helping Dorothy find her voice around these difficult topics. Much of the material on this album is inspired by life experiences that people simply do not talk about, so talking about this music has become part of the healing process.