Alongside a few million Americans, Danielle Anderson is looking for work.
“I got a call back from K-Mart,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Really? K-Mart?’ But things are getting a little grim. I really have to think about this.”
Customer greeter might be the best option for the singer-songwriter during the downturn. It’s not exactly easy turning a living playing gigs and selling albums, even if her fanbase is in the thousands. Most of those fans don’t know of her financial worries, let alone her real name. To them, she is simply Danielle Ate the Sandwich, a bespectacled goofball with a golden voice and evocative lyrics.
They visit her MySpace page, buy her songs off iTunes and watch her YouTube videos. When she does get out of her apartment to perform for them, be it in New York City, Los Angeles or Fort Collins’ The Alley Cat, they come to watch.
Danielle represents a new breed of musician, the kind who utilizes the constructs of Web 2.0 to establish herself on a national scale. Her popularity is measured in page views (over 160,000 each for her MySpace page and YouTube channel), and her indie cred is bolstered by blog posts (Boing Boing, Westword’s Backbeat Online, Anti-Gravity Bunny.)
The internet fame is starting to spill out into reality; the Fort Collins Musician’s Association recently named her the city’s Best Female Singer-Songwriter, and she’s lined up what’ll be her biggest gig yet at Denver’s Monolith Festival this September.
It’s all happened for her over the past four months, a speedy succession that likely never would’ve happened for any young artist 10 years ago. This CSU grad just happens to be in the right place at the right time.
But for now, a day job might help.
The biggest musical influences for Danielle have been the “older songwriters who said really complicated things in really simple ways”: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell. Looking back at her earliest days, one must wonder if Raffi played his part, too.
He was, after all, among the first artists she listened to in the Nebraskan household run by her music teacher mother, Sally. Danielle would learn to play piano, violin and clarinet within the span of elementary school, taking up choir in middle school. She moved to Colorado in the eighth grade, attended Arapahoe High School for four years and then enrolled at CSU. She kept at music during her college years, even started up a band — Backdraft: The Musical.
Bandmate Brandon Wright gave her the ukulele she plays as Danielle Ate the Sandwich. The instrument is a quaint aspect of her persona. Danielle says the uke is her ideal musicmaker, its tuning and clean-toned sound much to her liking. It’s present on most of her recently released second album, “Things People Do,” yet she says she’s always been adamant about not being pigeonholed into the role of “Girl Who Plays The Ukulele.”
Considering her warm, soulful alto, developed over years of school choir, that’s unlikely.
“Not only does she have the fundamentals down, but she’s got a unique honest voice, not manipulated at all,” Greta Cornett, FoCoMA president, says. “It’s got that kind of indie feel to it, like you’d expect to hear it on the ‘Juno’ soundtrack.”
As far as lyricism, Danielle tends to write from her own life. Each song is injected with personal experiences, sometimes crossing a certain boundary into sensitive subject matter.
Like most songwriters, the characters of her songs are nameless — not that those close to her don’t pick up on who’s who. She’s written about family members in ways that can be (and have been) interpreted as negative portrayals, as well as the on-and-off relationship she’s had with her so-called “manfriend” over the past two years. He’s not the type to take things the wrong way, though, she says.
“A lot of the songs I’ve written about him, it’s not necessarily the truth. It’s more about my interpretations, my insecurities, my emotions,” she says.
However: “It must be weird for him to hear songs about other boyfriends.”
Danielle says there is no story behind her stagename.
“I didn’t want to call myself Danielle Anderson because people just pass over a name like that,” she says. “I would. I just made something up.”
She was surprised when the name wound up on the front page of YouTube last December, her video performance of “Conversations With Dead People” under the Featured Videos tab. For about a year up to that point, she’d just been using her friend’s webcam to make her own videos.
“I love it,” she says. “Combining acting with singing is like heaven in a burrito for me.”
She’s nearly made 30 of them. The most popular include her 4 a.m. performance of “Ode to Optophobia” and a refrigerator-backed cover of “Dream A Little Dream,” in which she gives shout outs to syrup and cheddar-melt topping.
Her jokey antics contrast the more serious tone of her music, and Danielle has come to find that some fans would rather see her acting silly then singing a song. She pokes fun at them in her video for “Born in the Wrong Body” with a pre-song skit, imitating an acronym-spewing browser in search of a quick laugh.
“Danielle Ate the Sandwich is more of a performer,” she says. “Danielle Anderson is kind of a loner, antisocial, would rather be doing arts and crafts then out drinking with my so-called friends.”
She adds: “But at the same time, it’s given me what I want, gotten me where I’ve wanted. I’ll take it.”
The Internet’s judgment of Danielle hasn’t gone without the occasional rude or lewd comment. Danielle isn’t bothered by it — but her mom is.
“It’s like, why would they even say that?” Sally Anderson says. “But I also see that some people, they love her. I’ve told her that what she does gives so much to so many people — some an escape, some an opportunity to reflect on their lives. To be able to give that gift is a pretty great thing.”
Danielle received her degree in apparel design and production from CSU about a year ago. She’s always been a fan of craft making; she sewed the cloth pouches that case the CD versions of her self-titled debut. She’ll be selling some of her craft items — as well as performing at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. — at Everyday Joe’s craft fair this Saturday.
She’s thinking about moving to Washington in July, citing a need for change. But people tell her she ought to stay in Denver, a budding music hot spot, so she feels conflicted. Wherever she may go, she says she’ll still be making songs. And videos.
“I want to be well-known but not quite famous,” she says, adding with a laugh: “I think I’d sell out quick.”
Staff writer Erik Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.