For those familiar with Daniella Watters, the soulful singer-songwriter whose song, “Missing My Love,” received much support from CBC radio and Proud FM in 2013, it may come as a surprise that at one point in her childhood music was merely viewed as a companion to her then passion, competitive figure skating. “My dream was to be an Olympic figure skater who skated to her own music,” explains Watters via telephone. “That was the dream I had when I was like, 7 or 8.”
Shortly after seeing Watters energetic February 15th Mod Club show, I felt compelled to reach out to the singer, whose music I was introduced to last year during Canadian Music Week. Watters’ growth as a singer-songwriter was undeniable – especially considering that she’s already gifted with a gorgeous voice and warm stage presence. When we speak she has just returned from a two week visit to Los Angeles – the inevitable exodus most musicians flirt with at least once in their career. As with many artists, Watters is trying to figure out where to take her music in order to expose it to bigger audiences and garner more opportunities.
“When I was there, there was this positive feeling of being in the right place because it’s just a bigger scene,” the Toronto-based singer explains. “There’s more opportunities. There’s more people in the industry at a higher level─more music executives. The Canadian music industry has its own glass ceiling in many regards. But on the other side of the coin there’s the fact that so many people migrate there to do exactly what I’m doing.”
Since her visit, the inescapable conundrum known as the big-fish–little-pond or small-fish-big-ocean effect, has reared its head and for now which scenario will win out remains up in the air. “If I’m at the grocery store in Toronto and someone says, ‘Oh, what do you do?’ And I say, ‘A singer-song writer,’ they’re interested and excited and it’s different. When you’re in L.A. and you say that, it’s like, ‘Ah, there’s another one.’ I’m a Torontonian, and Canadian, and I’m backing Canada. I’m patriotic, but when it comes to the music industry it just seems that even our own Canadians like Drake and [Justin] Bieber all went to the states before they had something big happen for them.”
Influenced by “big diva voices” such as Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, as a child Watters discovered that music was a healing way of expressing herself. “I always wanted to sing the loudest in class,” says Watters, chuckling. “And it was probably obnoxious but I just always felt amazing when I sang. I found, like a lot of kids, I sometimes had problems in the home and problems at school – my parents got divorced when I was fifteen – I always felt like singing and writing was a healing method. I felt good. Some people go to church and they sing and that’s how they feel good. I’m Jewish and I went to synagogue, and I never felt singing there made me feel good. But when I went home and sang in English, something that I felt like I related to or was really powerful and emotional, it felt healing.”
Watters youthful talent did not go unnoticed. At 14, in the mid-2000s, she became part of the teenage pop trio, Untamed. After some success with songs like “You’re not going to Score,” which found spots “on 48 stations and on a couple Top 10 lists,” Watters quickly began to notice the challenges in, and outside of, the music industry. When the band broke-up a few years later, the experience had left a bit of a sour taste in her mouth.
“I was kind of turned off from music, so I didn’t want to pursue it. It was such an organic love, almost a romantic relationship between me and music, and I didn’t want to exploit it. What I went through felt too commercial and too exploitative. I was too young to understand what was needed to be in the pop industry and it was a lot of commitment and missing school. And I was too young to understand [that] people were jealous at school when I had a song on the radio. I didn’t know how to react to it.”
Watters withdrew from the public side of music, instead nurturing her gift in ways that created less pressure – performing in an R&B high school ensemble, school plays, starting a rock band, and later going on to college. But during these quietly productive music years, what she describes as a “tickle at the back of my mind” that she could not ignore, remained persistent. After college she decided it was time to take her love back out into the world, and with her rock band disbanded, she embraced a new sound.
“I started to write originals on my own instead of with the band and realized that rock wasn’t necessarily for me. I felt that it could be too loud and I was enjoying the jazz, R&B and the soulful side [of music]. Two or so years ago, I just decided to hit the ground running. [I told myself that] you’re out of school and there’s nothing else that gets you going, and there’s nothing else [that] you’re better at, so you should be doing this no matter what.’”
Not surprisingly, memories of the mixed reaction to her teen success resurfaced, and she began to worry about how others would handle her success this time around?
“I was always scared that if I did well, how would I handle people being around me? What if people wanted to use me? What if I was famous and people followed me around? I was worried about success─like, almost a fear of success. And then I realized that it’s really hard to succeed, so I might as well try anyway and have no regrets.” she says with a hearty laugh. “I don’t care about people going, ‘Oh, look at her hair. Look at this.’ I want it to be about the music. I don’t really care about being on the cover of a magazine but I recently decided that I’ll be on a cover of a magazine if that means I can do what I love.”
This take no prisoners attitude towards pursuing music is serving her well, since rebounding from an exclusive and–restrictive–contract with a notable producer (who worked with the likes of the great vocalists she adored as a child), Watters has begun working with various producers that are helping her tap into the eclectic sound that drives her. “I can be in the captain’s seat and tell them what direction I’m looking for and not have them impose their influence too much, unless it’s one that’s complementary.”
Before I let her go, I ask Watters─one of the hardest working up-and-coming artists around─what keeps her motivated in this industry that can be so fickle and not always reward artists with genuine talent?
“I guess seeing the growth─knowing that I’m growing and I’m getting better. It shows me that I have the potential, that I have what it takes to really have longevity and grow in the industry. If I felt stagnant, that I wasn’t writing new material, that I wasn’t improving, I would be discouraged. But there’s a drive inside, a fire inside that just wants to do music, no matter what it takes─as long as it’s not anything self-demeaning─I’ll work as hard as I can to be able to do what I love.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag