When singer-songwriter Ashley Daneman speaks, she laughs easily and melodically. Listening to that laugh and looking at her folded comfortably into a chair in the sunlit showroom of Kalamazoo Piano Co., at 310 N. Rose St., you wouldn’t guess that she was a victim of domestic violence.
But it’s no coincidence that Daneman is putting on a free concert of new music at Bell’s Eccentric Café Oct. 25 in partnership with an organization that provides help to victims of assault and violence, the YWCA of Kalamazoo. And it’s no coincidence that the concert is timed to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“I was a child in a home where my mother and also my siblings got hit and verbally abused. It’s something that people don’t like to talk about in general, but we need to talk about it if it’s going to be revealed,” Daneman says.
Her forthcoming album, People are Fragile, tackles the aftermath of that domestic violence.
Daneman was able to record the album with the help of a Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative (KADI) grant from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, which requires that an artist’s project have a community impact. But Daneman says she would’ve found a way to record her fifth album “come hell or high water.”
“I wrote (the grant request) to partner with the (YWCA) to hopefully have my music impact a greater portion of the community that might not normally access my music and also educate people about domestic violence,” Daneman says.
And while the album won’t officially be released until early 2019, Daneman — whose unique sound blends modern folk and jazz — will play songs from People are Fragile at the concert and each concert-goer will receive a copy of the album. Representatives from the YWCA will also be on hand to talk about domestic violence and ways to identify it and help yourself or someone else who might be a victim of domestic violence.
Daneman is open about the trauma she endured and how it’s necessary to heal from it and not perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Her music, especially her new album, has been a huge part of that healing.
“I’ve made this album just completely without shame or self-criticism,” Daneman says. “You know, my last album (2015’s Beauty Indestructible) was good and it was well received, but I kind of never was sure if I was good enough.”
So what’s different about the new album?
A more open approach, Daneman says. She credits this to several factors — a type of therapy she’s undergone, a significant birthday, and a decision to let go of shame.
Last year she began Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, a form of psychotherapy that helps patients process traumatic memories with the aid of rapid, rhythmic eye movement, which mimics eye movement in REM sleep and is thought to help lessen the intensity of negative emotions.
Daneman says the therapy helps to feel less like the traumatic event is happening every time a person thinks of it.
“When you’re traumatized,” she says, “the events and emotions get out of regular sequence in time. So (EMDR) helps you put them back in time so they’re not always with you.”
As a survivor of domestic violence, Daneman says that there’s an inherent feeling of shame that hitchhikes onto that survival.
In working to shed that shame, Daneman chose to record People are Fragile live, with musicians playing each song together at the same time, rather than each performer recording their part individually and then those tracks being mixed together later. Whatever happens live stays in the song. Daneman says she also experimented with ad-libbing lyrics on some of the tracks.
“Through the recording process, I got to practice feeling unashamed, which, for victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence, is a huge deal, because you learn that you are the problem, so this was a huge step unlearning that I am not the problem. That I am not a problem. It’s not perfect, there are mistakes, but I just refuse to feel shame about it,” Daneman says.
And turning 40, which she did earlier this year, had an impact all its own.
“It’s not a bad thing, but when I turned 40, it was, like, really hard to process it,” Daneman says. “You know, I’m not 27. I’m not 32 … I’ve been trying to be like, ‘What does this mean that I’m 40?’”
Daneman’s song “The Feeling of Heavy” talks about wanting to let go of shame. “They laced it up real tight, this heavy load, when I was just a little thing,” the lyrics go. While Daneman doesn’t sing the lyrics, there’s a rhythm in the way she speaks them. “So I grew up strong under the weight of heavy/ And they said, ‘Girl, this has been passed down, way down, generation to generation. It was mine and it’s yours, so get used to the feeling of heavy.’”
“It talks about my desire as an adult to lay that burden down, to be free of it,” Daneman says. “And how hard it is to be free of it. Ultimately, you just have to do it for yourself and make that decision, because it’s your life.”
Daneman hopes that attendees at her concert at Bell’s will walk away having learned about something that affects our community whether it’s right in front of their face or not.
“I hope that people who don’t think about domestic violence have that on their radar,” Daneman says, “so that if they come into contact with someone … if someone could be helped out of domestic violence because of something that someone learned at my concert, that would be amazing. But, for the music, I think my role as an artist, me personally, is to sort of invite people into that tender place where they can feel their feelings.”