Some have it tougher and more painful than most. And some take that pain and create something kick ass.
When Danielia Cotton faced the death of her unborn twins, and her own mortality, she could have shut down. Instead she dug deep and came up with a collection of songs that screams survival. This woman ain’t goin’ down without a fight!
Even the release of her new album, The Gun in Your Hand, is a testament to carrying on. It was released the week of Hurricane Sandy! And for this Brooklyn-based singer and guitarist, that means something more. This third album follows her critically acclaimed 2008 offering, Rare Child.
Cotton has opened for some of the biggest names in rock, R&B and blues including the Allmans, B.B. King, Derek Trucks, Bon Jovi, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Robert Cray. Her song, “Let it Ride,” was on the soundtrack for Sons of Anarchy.
Cotton isn’t about pretty ballads. This singer/songwriter’s collection rocks you, moves you, makes you shout out loud and shake it. Her smoky voice soars above fat and fatal guitars and a fabulously tight rhythm section. The Gun in Your Hand is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year. I caught up with the undeniably talented Cotton a couple of weeks after Sandy had blown through. Check it out …
GUITAR GIRL'D: We tried to set this interview up for before your album release, but I guess the weather had other ideas.
I know, the weather’s really having other ideas these days!
I love the album. It’s written from the somewhere deep inside you.
I kind of went out on a limb on some things. It’s been a tumultuous couple of years, and your writing always reflects your life. So I had a lot of things to put somewhere, and this album really gave me a place to put everything. It took a little bit longer than most albums, which I like. I feel like with anything that you do, the editing process, so to speak, should be one that you take your time on. I compare that with writing a book. You can just edit constantly. And it’s good, you’ve got to go back and fine tune things. Even though when you’re on the road, you’re getting better and better at playing these songs. When you’re making an album, you really wanna make sure that it is what it is.
Because you’re going to have to live with that for a really long time, right? You don’t want to look back and say, “Damn, I wish I had done this one thing!”
Yeah. Shit! But I’m happy with it. It’s slightly eclectic, which I like in an album. I like that it’s not one long song, which can happen sometimes. It’s the kind of album that I like to put on, that goes in a few different places. You see the artist with more than one face on. I like that, personally. So I tried to do that as best I could.
Has this been a healing process for you, writing in your own way about getting through everything you had to deal with in the last few years?
Yeah, it gives you some place to put it. That’s the beauty of art. It can help you recycle pain in a beautiful way and come out with something great on the other side.
I also feel like the songs are really relatable. You listen and think yeah, I feel that.
I have a lot of audience members over the years that have admitted to depressive things. They can identify with the struggle to keep your head above water. But that’s life too, shit. You’re like yeah it’s good! - and then bam! It’s hills and valleys.
Can you tell me why you picked up the guitar?
Well, my mom gave it to me when I was around 12 or 13. I was emotional and probably had a slight chemical imbalance. As an artist, too, you just have that, you know. I’d just be sad sometimes and not know why. She was a single mom and would be like, really Danielia, are you having a minute right now?
I felt like she gave me the guitar as something to do, somewhere to put it all. And it worked. I didn’t come out of my room for 2 days. And then when I came out I had a G, a C and a D, you know? And my fingers were hurting. I was like, the tips of my fingers hurt so bad Mom! I always tell people it’s like fire! fire! That’s how much I wanted to learn.
Who have been some of your guitar focused influences?
Well, I didn’t know my Dad, and mom told me that he played guitar, so that was all I needed. I’ve never met him even to this day, but she told me that he played flamenco guitar and sang. So that was my tie to my Dad. I didn’t need any inspiration. I mean, as the years go by, if you told me I could be Bonnie Raitt in my next life, I’d be like yes!
Tell me about what kind of guitar you’re playing.
At the gigs, I take the role as the rhythm guitarist. I have a Gibson acoustic. It’s the Emmy Lou Harris one. I was actually with Vector at the time, who managed her. They gave me the guitar. It was custom made a little smaller ‘cause I’m so tiny. I got it in the mail and was like ahhh!
I was opening up for Derek Trucks in Rochester and went to this place called House of Guitars with my guitarist. There was a guy who works there who wrote a book who is kind of famous. There was this pink hollow body Fender Telecaster. He was like, this is a Tele on steroids. I’d never seen a Pink hollow body like it. He said he’d give it to me for 500 bucks. My guitar player was like, if you don’t buy that, I’LL buy it for you! So I bought it, and I’ve been playing it ever since. It’s awesome, and I’ve never seen anybody ever have the exact one that I have.
A lot of fans write in and say they love that guitar. I also have a paisley Strat that’s awesome that’s also pink. But the Tele is the one I play. I love it and I take it with me everywhere I go.
Do you use effects? What kind of amps are you using?
Well, I actually just got sponsored by Moog, so I have their new delay pedal. I can actually use some of the effects on vocals. Also, there was a guy who was taking Boss distortion pedals, redoing them and spray painting them. He got bought out, but that’s the only other pedal I have. When I bought it, the guy was like, oh, the last person to buy one before yours was Keith Richards!
You’re in good company then with that!
Yeah! Because we tour and play in clubs that are not always big, I’ll play just a little VOX amp or my Fender Deluxe, or a Blues Junior. I love, love an AC30. It’s just awesome and great, bright and cool.
I’m pretty simple. Most of the amps I go through I just put a little dirt on them. And then I have that distortion pedal and just a delay pedal. Most of the time my amps give me enough dirt, and I only play with a little bit of dirt. Kind of like in “Deep Dark Love” and some of those.
So you’re playing rhythm live. Who else is playing live with you?
Tony Bruno plays with us a lot, who has played with Joan Jett. He’s just frightening. Really good. He’s actually on the album, on “Save Me” and “My Housekeeper.” Marc Copely played on “Deep Dark Love,” beautiful slide guitar on that, another great, great player. Kevin Salem, who’s the producer, played on the album as well. He’s just extraordinary. So it was three great players who came together and did the album work. And also actually Kareem Devlin, who was out with Lady Gaga. He just left that tour. He co-wrote “Save Me” and played on “Easy”. Another great player, just beautiful stuff. It was great to have all of them.
I take guitar lessons in New York to this day with a guy named Alan Cohen. I’m trying to venture into a little lead territory so that one day I can pull out a some killer leads. I always do it at lessons and Alan says, why don’t you do it at a gig? I’m the only girl in the band.. so when I whip it out for the guys, I want everyone to be like oh shit!
So is there a song or two off the new album that you particularly like to play live?
I love “Deep Dark Love.” I love “Save Me.” Even “Watch Me Bleed,” the rhythm part is deep for me. It’s not an overly complicated chord progression, but it has quick changes. We play it a hair faster than the album, and you can get beat! I try to tell people, I’m changing the chords with my left hand, I’m playing a whole nother rhythm with my right hand, and I’m singing in a different time signature!
Yeah, that’s challenging. People don’t know!
I know, I’m like dude, that’s three different time signatures all happening at the same time! There are times when just I stop, and come back in on the 3, but for two beats I’m like where the hell are we?!
Do you have any advice for other guitarists out there?
Continually take lessons. Continually work on your craft. Practice, practice, practice. I have a vocal coach, and I have a guitar teacher still to this day. You can never progress enough to where there’s nothing that you can’t learn. I think that’s the best way to pay homage to what you do.
So what’s next for you? Where will you be touring?
Radio can sort of dictate where you’re gonna go. I told the fans on the website.. you have a voice. You’re not a singer, but you have a voice. It’s become a very indie-run industry. You know what your voice is? Call every radio station if you like an artist. Request their songs get played. Call the venues you go to and places you like and ask them to book your favorite artist. That’s where you have power. Without you buying a ticket, we don’t get booked there anyway. Use the power that you have as the ticket-buying, record-buying, radio-listening audience and take that and use it. Like, vote! Vote! You have a voice, it’s very powerful, and if you all use it, you can change the face of how music is. That’s my opinion.
Check out Danielia Cotton's The Gun in My Hand and make up your own mind! More at danieliacotton.com.
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents 65amps, Dean Markley, Agile Partners, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the co-producer of the Women's Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band, Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.