Danielle Ponder is singing into a microphone in the middle of the Bunker Studio in Williamsburg, her vocals strong but subdued as she addresses modern-day heartbreak. ‘Spiraling’, her track for ‘Bose x NME: C23’, has only been finished for a few days but the lyrics come back seamlessly as each word echoes against the cedar plank walls. “It’s about being single and the desire to get back into a relationship,” she tells NME. “Sometimes it’s just the thrill of the chase and all these thoughts are flooding your mind about this person when really it’s just this desire to fill a space instead of sitting with it.”
The track takes on a sincere tone when Ponder leans into a heartbreaking register, singing: “Mercy on me, my lord/Found a man who said he’d be good to me, lord/And I lost myself again.” Sonically, she taps into indie and alternative R&B to capture the emotion of frantic over-thinking. “I had this drum loop and then I put the bass and keys down,” Ponder says of producing the song herself. “Then I started singing these lyrics, and they just came to me. This song is intimate because it’s just me with my laptop, keyboard, guitar and my feelings.”
Born in Rochester, New York, Ponder’s first brush with music took place at her father’s church. “My earliest memories of music were of my father singing and playing piano,” she says. “He’s an excellent vocalist and great musician, and the first person I ever heard perform.” As a teen, a love of blues legends Koko Taylor and Big Mama Thornton inspired Ponder to keep creating.
“I didn’t think I’d ever do music full-time,” she says. “I thought it would be a hobby for me. But with those singers, there was something about the passion they evoked that gave me goosebumps. I just wanted to make people feel that way as well.”
Until recently, Ponder led a career in social justice as a public defender. The gap between vocalist and attorney may seem vast but, for Ponder, the two positions have a lot in common – both allow her to connect with and help people. “When I decided to leave the public defender’s office and become a musician, at first it was really scary,” she says. “But I remember feeling this weight lift off my shoulders. I knew I was moving into work I was meant to do.”
Even as Ponder worked tirelessly in her law career, music remained at the forefront of her mind. She finally decided to become a full-time performer after realising just how much audiences resonated with her stories and her voice. ‘Some of Us are Brave’, Ponder’s debut album, aims to inspire “courage and strength” in listeners and is a modern take on the music she grew up on.
“The thing about blues and soul music is that it’s so connected with the pain and struggle of Black Americans in this country,” she says. “In that music, you hear sorrow. It’s authentic and it can’t be denied. It’s easily felt because it comes from deep within.”
Ponder reached new audiences while supporting Marcus Mumford on tour last year. Now she’s set to headline her own dates with stops across the US, including a show at New York’s Lincoln Center, for Black HERstory Live, a two-day festival celebrating Black women in music. Ponder is excited to find new ways to share her story and inspire others. “I enjoy giving that to people,” she says. “Giving people a message that helps them feel a little better walking out than they did walking in”.
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