“Has it been eight years? Geez, I didn’t realise,” muses Danilla Riyadi. NME has just asked the Indonesian musician, who performs as Danilla, to consider her career so far: one that has spanned two full-length solo albums, one EP, one live album, a trio (Daramuda, with Rara Sekar and Sandrayati Fay, 2017-2020) and countless collaborations.
She has also earned a reputation as one of the most versatile artists in the game, having tapped into various genres such as folk, jazz, lo-fi, acid rock, blues, bluegrass, and country. In May, she added another style to her repertoire with the disco album ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’ (‘Sweat, Lust & Journey’), released with the band The Glamors.
Speaking with NME, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter was accompanied by The Glamors’ arranger and keyboardist Otta Tarrega, who performs under the stage name Miguel Sanchez. The seeds of ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’, they say, were planted in 2020, when Danilla – already a fan of English hard rockers Whitesnake – was listening to the music of Swedish trip-hop artist Jay-Jay Johanson.
“The ’80s sound was all that, right? Lots of heavy synthesisers and splashy, big drums. I wanted to make something that’s, like, ‘I don’t want to strum my guitar; I just want to boogie!’” she recalls.
Danilla, Sanchez, and the rest of her band started brainstorming, then settled for an “’80s-influenced disco sound” with elements of new wave and glam rock. They’d just picked two songs for makeovers – ‘Terpaut Oleh Waktu’ and ‘Senja di Ambang Pilu’, both from Danilla’s debut studio album, 2014’s jazz-influenced ‘Telisik’ – when the project ground to a halt. “There were some focus issues,” she says, cheekily.
Enter March 2021 and an opportunity to revive Danilla and her band’s disco project came knocking in the form of a multi-platform streaming festival I Don’t Give a Fest. “I was working on my third solo album when we were invited to perform in this gig,” she explains. “They gave us the freedom to create the concept of the performance. I figured this would be a good opportunity to continue what we had worked on [last year].”
Because their virtual performance for I Don’t Give a Fest would be presented more like a long-form music video than a live-streamed concert, they had to prepare recordings of at least eight songs for their setlist beforehand. On top of that, the date of the gig got moved up to early April. Suddenly, Danilla and her band were in a time crunch.
Danilla explains their game plan: “We decided to do things in parallel. Sanchez worked on a few songs whereas our producer [Lafa Pratomo] worked on the rest. We asked our colleagues in Bandung to head to Jakarta for background vocals. I directed the entire vocals myself. Somehow, we managed to finish [eight songs] in less than a week. I think it took only five days. Five days, bro!”
It helped that the band found little difficulty reinterpreting Danilla’s songs as disco jams, partly thanks to Sanchez’s experience with the sounds of the era. “I used to be a member of an ’80s-themed band, so I’ve had the experience of experimenting with synthesisers and such,” says Sanchez, who names Chicago as one of his big inspirations.
Moreover, they knew precisely which points of reference they would use from the get-go. For Danilla, she took cues from Indonesian ’80s icons such as Dian Pramana Poetra, Fariz RM and Chrisye. “When it came to the singing style, I took cues from my mother,” she adds, referring to Indonesian jazz singer Ika Ratih Poespa.
The day of the gig arrived and they were ready for their close-up. For the visual presentation, Danilla decided to channel Eva Arnaz, an Indonesian actress famously known for her action films back in the ’80s. “She was such a big deal during her era and she didn’t give a shit about her armpit hair or anything. I wanted to be her so much!” she exclaims. Sanchez and the rest of the band also received an appropriate makeover, sporting prom tuxes in “loud red colours” and retro square-style sunglasses.
They enjoyed the experience at I Don’t Give a Fest so much that they decided to package the eight songs they had performed there into a proper, full-length album, “so that our fans can listen to them on Spotify and such” – ultimately giving rise to ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’. But Danilla wants to manage her fans’ expectations.
“I don’t want anyone to think ‘Oh, Danilla has gone ’80s!’ because this particular sound is just something that I’m into at this moment,” she explains. “Besides, I’m planning to release another solo album this year [which sounds] completely different from this one.” She also notes that “this ’80s concept was also based on Sanchez and the band’s idea” – hence, the billing of Danilla and The Glamors.
“Eva Arnaz didn’t give a shit about her armpit hair or anything. I wanted to be her so much!”
All the songs on ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’ were cherry-picked from Danilla’s catalogue. Joining the two from her debut were ‘Renjana’, from Daramuda’s folk album ‘Salam Kenal’; ‘Ikatan Waktu Lampau’, ‘Lintasan Waktu’, and ‘Aaa’ from Danilla’s second studio album, the acid rock-influenced ‘Lintasan Waktu’ (2017); and ‘Pinky & Thumb’ and ‘Middle’, from Danilla’s 2019 lo-fi EP ‘Fingers’.
Due to the tight deadline, these songs were chosen for convenience’s sake – “Compared to others, these songs were easier to be reinterpreted,” Sanchez says. But in a stroke of coincidence, all eight songs flesh out a theme that could be described as ‘us against time’ – whether it’s the anguish of waiting for a beloved to return home (‘Senja Di Ambang Pilu’) or how the passage of time has soured a relationship (‘Middle’).
A studio recording is just the tip of the iceberg for Danilla and The Glamors. “We actually have lots of fresh ideas in mind,” Danilla says, adding that they were thinking of releasing their I Don’t Give a Fest performance on DVD. “We want to deliver a ‘real’ live performance next time,” she continues. “We want our audience to dress in ’80s-themed attire. The whole shebang will be 80s-themed!” She laughs. “Once the health protocol is relaxed and we can gather together again, I hope we can make that happen.”
“Is this a fad album? Yes, it definitely is!”
Looking back on the whirlwind that was creating ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’, Danilla and The Glamors are more than aware of what cynics might say. “Is this a fad album? Yes, it definitely is!” Danilla proclaims with zero hesitation. “We basically just fucked around, man! We were just having fun!”
They’re also aware that their left-turn into disco might offend their loyal fanbase, also because ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’ offers retro discotheque singalongs beneath the mirror ball rather than the clubby, high-octane bops recently crafted by the likes of Dua Lipa and Kylie Minogue. But Danilla doesn’t care for external expectations of any sort.
“I know people think of me as this moody, sweet-but-dark lady, but I’m never worried about my image at all,” she says. “I just don’t give a fuck. I’m just doing my shit. That’s all.”
Danilla and The Glamors’ ‘Peluh, Gairah & Kelana’ is out now