By: Courtney Dabney
Don’t let the acoustic guitars, seamless harmonies and country swagger fool you; Danni and Kris are not folk musicians. After all, a mutual love of Avril Lavigne — instead of typical odes to Neil Young or Patsy Cline — is not how Americana duos start.
Danni James and Kris Williams, the singers/songwriters behind the eponymous group, prefer an approach to music that sheds any classification. In a semi-futile attempt to compare them to the industry’s standard-bearers, their sound is twangier than the Everly Brothers, bluesier than Hall & Oates, but more soulful than Simon & Garfunkel. Bottom line: They play music.
“We started off more kind of indie folk-ish,” Kris says. “But when people see us perform or listen to our album, they’re like, ‘That’s not what I was expecting.’”
The indie folk sound is apparent on Danni and Kris’ debut full-length album, Mountain Sounds, released in 2017. Opening track, “Yesterday,” begins with faint finger-picking and lush and layered vocal harmonies, and on few occasions throughout the album’s running time are any instrument outside of a guitar and two voices ever heard. Yet, after enlisting a full band and settling into the local live music scene, the duo has comfortably shed the folk moniker.
“Honestly, if I were to play soft music like [what was on our first album] all the time, I’d get bored,” Kris says.
Now, the pair, who’ve been hitting the local stages for just over four years, will take their genre bending to new heights with a new project called PRIZM.
While PRIZM was initially concocted by the group’s manager as an ’80s synth pop pitch to local music-licensing powerhouse Musicbed, the two have clearly embraced the different sound and image for the side project. Metallic pants and synthesizers have replaced bell-bottoms and guitars. And photoshoots at the Stockyards usurped by glittery studio shots. They’re quick to compare the music to the decade’s female glam stars — Whitney Houston, Gwen Stefani and Madonna, to name a few — and they’re not far off the mark. The music bears little-to-no resemblance to the energetic bluesy vibe of their primary gig as Danni and Kris. But stripping away their established image and entering the studio with a new sound in mind had its creative rewards.
“The thing that’s really cool is — and we’ve always talked about this — even if we didn’t do live performances, we would want to write songs for people,” Danni says. “We’re a great writing team, and we’ve never really thought about any of our songs as our songs. You know?”
Both inspired in the same year — Danni was 15, Kris 13 — by ’90s pop/punk star Avril Lavigne to pick up a guitar, the two grew up two blocks from one another but didn’t meet until years later when they had become far more proficient at singing and playing.
“She thought I went to the same school as her because we had a ton of mutual friends,” Danni says. “Then, whenever she hit me up on Facebook like, ‘Hey, let’s jam,’ I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t go to the same school. It took me a year to break the news to her.
With a schedule stacked with live performances; an EP, LP and single available for download; a Fleetwood Mac tribute show completed in January; and a side project off the ground, the duo has become full-time musicians with ambitions that reach far beyond the Metroplex.
With PRIZM released and available for licensing on Jan. 11, Danni and Kris continue to chip away at their next EP — this time, with the full band to replicate their energetic live performances. And, in the meantime, they’ll be hitting a stage most nights of the week in the DFW area.
“People are always telling us, ‘You should do a show at the Rustic in San Antonio. You should do shows at other big venues.’ And I’m like, ‘Then we’re going to be a Fleetwood Mac Tribute Band, Danni and Kris, and PRIZM,’” Danni says. “So, I mean, as long as we do good stuff that I’m getting to pour my creativity into, that’s all that matters.”
By: Courtney Dabney