Artist Spotlight: Daneshevskaya

    Daneshevskaya is the project of singer-songwriter Anna Beckerman, who grew up in a musical household; her father is a musicologist, her mother studied opera, and her brothers played various instruments in the house growing up. Now working as a social worker for preschool kids in Brooklyn, Beckerman started releasing music on Bandcamp in 2017, using her middle name, also her great-grandmother’s last name, as a tribute to her familial roots. Her debut EP, Bury Your Horses, came out in 2021, and last week, she followed it up with Long Is the Tunnel, which was co-produced by Ruben Radlauer of Model/Actriz, Hayden Ticehurst, and Artur Szerejko, and features contributions from Lewis Evans (of Black Country, New Road), Maddy Leshner, and Finnegan Shanahan. Both playfully enchanting and hauntingly poignant, its seven tracks toe the line between traditional and patchwork songwriting, blending memories, diary entries, and dreamy images in ways that hold a mirror up to her own life, those around her, and beyond. They’re haunted by the past but possess a childlike curiosity that seems to drive them down unpredictable paths, artfully arranged but pure in its emotional expression. You may not be able to pin it down to a single thing, but Beckerman holds battling emotions at once, hoping you get closer to the truth somewhere in the middle.

    We caught up with Daneshevskaya for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about her musical upbringing, working around children, Long Is the Tunnel, and more.

    How do you look back on your musical upbringing?

    It was always such a huge part of my family and the way I interact with the world. In some ways there was some pressure to learn how to do things the right way, but in a lot of ways, when you just have a lot of instruments around – like, how many kids get to have a piano in their house growing up? When I got older and was left alone, I feel like being able to wander over to a piano and just play, even if I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing, is a very unique thing that I feel very lucky that I got to do. It was both that everyone around me was playing music, but also, there was so much music accessible to me. It was before iPads or whatever, so if I was really bored, I would just plunk around on the piano or the accordion or whatever – my dad loves to collect random instruments, so just whatever was around. I’ve taught music here and there, and the way it’s usually taught is so regimented and practiced. I think there that has so much value, but just the value in encouraging a child to not know what they’re doing and go up to an instrument and just be silly and play, in the way that they would play with toys, is cool, too. I feel like I got to do that, with also the framework of lessons and having someone to give some of the language that you need to interact with music.

    And then, just so much singing. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize how special it is until you leave and go form your own life, and then coming back to my house and staying the night and waking up to my dad playing a beautiful piece on the piano and be like, “What? I grew up with this? I’m the luckiest kid on earth.” [laughs] Having a guitar in the living room, and whoever’s around it will just pick it up and start playing – it’s involved in the house, but it’s not about, like, “Everyone look at me, I’m performing.” It’s about, “This is just a part of our house.”

    So much of it sounds based around community, but did you crave that time to be alone with music? What else did that unlock for you?

    I mean, so much of it is just being bored as a kid and having access to the right things when you’re bored. Our family computer had GarageBand on it when I was like 11, and I would just spend hours making songs about, like, the TV show Lost. I must have had three songs on GarageBand about Lost. [laughs] If I were to listen to them now, I’m sure I’d be like, “That’s so horrible, I can’t believe I made that.” But the expectation wasn’t like, “I’m gonna make something for someone.” It was just like, “I need to make something right now, and I have access to these tools.” Boredom’s a very big thing that I try and remind myself is a blessing.

    I always think about, there are so many great breakup albums, and I definitely think it’s because there’s a lot of emotion and feeling and ideas that come with a breakup. But I also wonder how much of it is just – there’s so much space in your life all of a sudden. I know so many people that have a breakup and they’re like, “I’m going to learn guitar,” or, “I used to play piano, I’m going to try that again.” When this space opens up in your life, things come in to fill it, and it’s about being open to just letting stuff happen.

    Was there a moment when the reason you made songs, or the weight that they had, started to change?

    I think as I started working with more people and had certain expectations surrounding music, it went from just being something that was purely for fun and joy, to something like, “Oh, I have to get this done.” I’m not great with deadlines – the feeling of having to do something is challenging for me, but I think I’ve tried to maintain the feeling that you have when you’re a kid on GarageBand or whatever, that curiosity. I try and keep that at the heart of what I’m making, because I do think you can hear it when someone has to make something. They lose completely the part of it that is fun and exciting and is a discovery.

    The titles of both of your EPs reference car games one might remember playing as a kid, like guessing how long a tunnel will last. That also feels like an invitation to talk more about the importance of this kind of childlike playfulness in your music.

    I love the idea that when you’re in a car, I can’t really be on my phone or be reading because of car sickness, but I always loved car games because I feel like they were this way to fill space. But yeah, I really enjoy spending time around children, and being around other people who find joy in children. It was kind of a random thing where I went back to school to get my social work degree – I wanted to work in harm reduction, and then I got placed in a daycare. I was like, “This is not what I want to do,” and then I just went to one day of work, and it was the first day of any job I had ever had where I was like, “Wait, I’m happy. I’m leaving work happy and excited to go back tomorrow.”

    When the world is so new and discovery is such a big part of every day, it kind of rewires your brain – even though you’re an adult and you’ve already been through that, I feel like it does kind of change the way you think about things to just constantly be interrupted by joy and curiosity, but also extreme sadness and despair. When you go hang out with a bunch of adults or go to work with a bunch of adults, very rarely is someone going to say something that you’re just like, “Wait, what?”  But I feel like that happens to me like 40 times a day, situations I would have never imagined myself in or conversations I would never imagine myself having or ways of seeing the world that I feel distant from. I feel like being around that makes my brain more flexible and open to new ideas. It interrupts all the thought cycles of adulthood and feeling like you have to xyz, which is another reason why I think it’s such a good balance for the music world, which can feel so set and impossible.

    Can you talk more about that balance?

    I feel like really great artists and really great producers can have an understanding of the right way to go about something, and I think those people are really important and necessary. But  I just know that that’s not going to be the way for me, so I always try and maintain the other side of it, which is a little bit more chaotic. It’s still really important to respect people who have an idea of the right way to do things and have a more structured understanding of music, because I definitely know that I need that, but if you have all that and no chaos – it’s a very interesting interaction between the two that makes stuff that I’m interested in and stuff that I would be excited to create.

    You’ve said that hearing stories about your grandmother, who passed away while you were writing these songs, made her feel like a version of you in the past. What did understanding that lineage mean for you as a songwriter in the present moment?

    I had access to a lot of her words and her letters, and similarly to being surprised and being flexible with language and having curiosity with language, she was someone who really thought about words. She was a poet and she wrote so many letters, she had boxes and boxes, and she’d saved every letter she’d ever received. Sometimes when I think of the past, I think of it in like black and white, devoid of all these things that my life has. But it was very illuminating for me to read all of her poetry and look through her pictures and her letters, because I think she did have this flexibility and charm with language that reminded me of myself and the way that I want to use words and create things using words. I look back on conversations that I had with her growing up; she was so careful with the way that she picked every single word she would say. A lot of people I’ve talked to have a family member who they would see pictures of when they were younger and just be fascinated by, and she was an actress when she was younger, so there are all these amazing pictures of her in Joan of Arc or Shakespeare, all these different plays. I always found myself so entranced by them, but also part of my everyday imagery for a while was just going through her stuff. You know, part of death is stuff figuring out where stuff goes, so I was physically processing a ton of stuff, and that imagery just made its way into my brain.

    Listening to Long Is the Tunnel, it sounds like nurturing that curiosity often requires a kind of peace or a moment of pause. One of my favorite lines is from ‘Pink Mold’: “I need the stillness to grow/ It’s all I know/ Forgive me just one long look into the sun.” Do you feel like that’s kind of how creativity works for you, too?

    Yeah, I think you said that really nicely. Also with the titles of the albums, those in-between moments that aren’t necessarily, like, intentional space, but there’s so many moments of peace where you are able to take in all the things happening. I think those moments have always been interesting and exciting to me, like everyone looking at a bird or playing a game in the car, because that is also kind of a moment of pause. All these little moments in life where you get to not only reflect, but also just see and take in are of interest to me, and something that I find that I keep returning to when I write songs.

    Some of the songs here and on your previous EP also have to do with saying goodbye, which is also a weird in-between moment. Does it ever feel like a challenge to wrap that up in a song that’s supposed to have a certain structure, a beginning, middle, and end?

    I always think about my dad, he teaches music and musicology, but he did a whole class on the middle of songs. He was like, there’s so many rules about what has to happen at the beginning of the song, and there’s so many rules about what has to happen at the end of the song, and the middle of the song is where people kind of get to freak it and do what they want to do. Sometimes I’m like, what if the whole song is just the middle? [laughs] The structure can be very comforting, but finding that balance of having the right things happen at the end of a song and feeling like I’m not forcing it too much  – I’m definitely still figuring that out.

    Although the nature of the songs feels personal, you don’t always reveal how they’re related to your life. Are these connections clearer to you now than they were when you were in the process of writing?

    I feel like ‘Pink Mold’ and the lyrics to that one – I liked writing those and it felt like such a natural thing. And then when I looked back on it, I was like, oh, yeah, I was really thinking about taking space and being frustrated by other people when they need space and time to grow, but also realizing I need that for myself. But I didn’t realize as much what I was saying until someone said it’s like a breakup song or a goodbye song, whereas the whole time I had thought of it as kind of a love song. I always felt uncomfortable with those types of labels in a relationship where you’re like, “You’re mine, I’m yours,” so I thought that song was me trying to be like, “Look, we escaped that world of possessive love and ownership, we get to have this relationship where we choose to spend our time together.” But I didn’t really realize that’s what I meant until someone had been like, “Oh, so it’s a breakup song.” Sometimes hearing other people’s reflections can help me realize I did really mean something very specific, I just didn’t realize it until someone reflected something else. And if someone hears it as a breakup song, I think that’s cool too, it’s not like they took the wrong thing away. It’s cool, once I can get far enough away from it, that it just can be what it is, and everyone can have a different reaction to it.

    I read that some of the material dates back to 2017. How does it feel to have this stretch of time captured in a record?

    It feels great. I think it’s nice because you write a version of the song in 2017 and then you completely forget about it. Me and Maddy [Leshner] wrote ‘Bougainvilia’ – it must have been 2017 or 2018, and then we didn’t think about it for a long time. When we were thinking of songs for this record, we were like, “That song would be good,” but it didn’t have lyrics in certain parts, it was completely unfinished. And then you get to make it new again by adding all these pieces to it. Once we showed it to Ruben Radlauer, there was a whole other wave of newness that was added by them coming in and adding their instincts and different pieces to it. So even though the heart of the song is five years old, each step along the way, I feel like it’s gotten to grow and become what it is now. And then going on tour and performing all the songs, I didn’t ever want it to feel like we just had to play exactly how it sounds on the record. I feel like I couldn’t do it if I was just playing the same song for six years. But because like this it gets to grow, it’s really nice.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

    Daneshevskaya’s Long Is the Tunnel is out now via Winspear.

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