New Jersey native Donna Missal is part of a new generation of acts blowing the cobwebs off country rock with her uncompromising attitude and sound. She's just released her new album, Lighter, a blood on the tracks account of the end of a romance

One of six sisters, she’s been spending the last few months living in Pasadena, where she shares an apartment with three of her siblings and her beloved cat, Frank. 

Missal talks to Alan Corr about rising from the ashes, her image, and how Irish music played an important role in her upbringing. 

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Your new album strikes me as a record of competing emotions - by turns it's tender on tracks like Bloom and then it's very angry. Was there blood on the studio floor when you were recording? 

"Oh yeah! I mean in a way I never really experienced before. I hadn't done so much writing before while I was actually in the throes of something, like experiencing it in the moment and writing about it in the moment. In the past in my writing I took more time with processing. I think that this record is very much about an individual experience but at the end of the day I feel like it’s also more universal.

"A lot of the vocal takes for this record are from from the sessions in which we wrote the songs. A lot of them are demo vocals because I was trying to capture the moment and express it in the way that I performed on this record."

I really wanted my new album to feel like a visual representation of taking a step in a new direction.

It’s a very cathartic album. In some ways it's a an exorcism after a breakup. Do you think that at this remove now that it's been released that you have risen from the ashes and become a better person?

"Absolutely. I mean, I hope I'm different and I really attribute that to the experience of working through the issues and not ignoring or sidestepping it, like literally walking through it and i think i got the point where i was able to look back on the experience of making this record and learn from it."

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Would you consider yourself part of the "awkward squad" of country rock alongside the likes of Margo Price, Chicks, and Sturgill Simpson?

"I've never really been able to place myself and I always found that to be detrimental until recently. I took a decidedly different step with the creative decisions for this record as opposed to my first body of work and I would love to continue to explore newgenres and be able to do that in a way that feels very free and very like real to me. I would I would love for that to be reflected in the way that I make records."

"I had a really really big playlist while making this record and I listened to Sinead O'Connor a lot.'

You strike me as somebody who unapologetically embraces the whole "rock chick" cliché. Do you enjoy playing with what might be considered an out of date look by some people?

"I think I didn't really have any preconception about the way that I dressed or what I did with my stage performance style. That was just a direct reflection of me - there wasn’t some creative direction behind the choices that I was making in that regard when it came to my image. I think for this album, I did take a different approach to see what would happen and challenge myself to try something different. Interesting results come from making different decisions and I think that’s true of everything in life, not just in music and not just in the way that you package something.

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"It’s just like the way you move through your life - if you're continuously doing the same things, you can expect that you're continuously going to find yourself in the same place all the time.

"In terms of image with this record, I really wanted it to be different from anything I had tried before and I really wanted it feel like a visual representation of taking a step in a new direction. I thought I’d challenge myself to lean into that and I've been empowered in a new way to express myself in a way that doesn't feel like I'm allowing the narrative to belong to anyone but myself and I feel really excited to take control." 

Your wear your musical influences on your sleeve but what about Irish music - have any Irish music acts influenced you? 

"I had a really really big playlist while making this record and I listened to Sinead O’Connor a lot, in particular her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t. I also loved The Cranberries. My father was a big musical influence on me and he was actually in an Celtic rock band called The Kips Bay Ceili Band and some of my earliest memories are of him taking my sister and I to his shows. I was very young, six or seven, and he would bring us on stage so that had a big impact on me."

Donna Missal 

You are one of six sisters and you currently live in Pasadena with four of them. What’s that like?

"It is very cool. I haven't lived with them since we were kids as I moved out when I was 18. I'm the oldest here at the house and I remained really close with them over the years and we've spent so much time making a real effort to stay in each other's lives. It’s cool because the house that we're living in now is so similar to the house that we grew up in and I really feel like our lives are integrating again in a way that they did when we were kids. it's just kind of a trip, man! We sang a lot together as kids and they wrote a lot of the songs on my new album with me so it’s come full circle. It’s beautiful!"