Interview | FFS 5 with Ben DeBerry of the Danberrys

Dorothy Daniel and Ben DeBerry are the Danberrys. More than just a clever moniker, the duo are the latest to begin climbing up the Americana ladder. Between their textured instrumentation, fiery vocals, and savvy lyricism, we think that there’s a pretty good chance that they’re bound to be one of the next big things on the roots rock block.

Ahead of the release of the duo’s new album, Shine, on 24 July, DeBerry sat down to take on our ongoing ‘FFS 5’ interview series.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

Dorothy and I both grew up about an hour outside of Nashville in Dickson, TN. We were both into music from a very young age. When I was ten, a music teacher showed up to class with an acoustic guitar, and I was immediately drawn to it. A month later, I got my own guitar and started taking lessons. I never looked back. It’s been an obsession ever since. Dorothy was always a singer, getting coaxed onto stages by her parents and various other adults in her life.

We had a top-notch choral director in high school, Cindy Freeman, who taught us the importance of dynamics and musicality and how to stand apart musically. That education proved to be priceless, and I still remind myself of those concepts whenever I feel like I’m backsliding into some bad habits. 

A defining moment was when I wrote the songs for our first EP, and we were lucky enough to run into a recording engineer who saw promise in our talents. His name was Wilton Wall, now a close friend, and he recorded our first EP for free. We learned a lot from those sessions, and we still love the Company Store EP with its quirkiness and real factor.     

Dorothy has said the biggest defining moment in her musical career was the day I gave her a guitar and taught her to play her first song. She immediately discovered that she was a writer, as well as a singer. Every new song she learned to play inspired her to write something of her own. That was a huge turning point for her. 

As an artist, how do you define success?

Success in an artist-driven world can be very fickle. One sets goals and then hopefully achieves them. After those goals are met, you set them even higher, and thus the cycle continues. I think the artist Aaron Lee Tasjan summed it up perfectly in his song “Success” when he says, “Success ain’t about being better than everyone else. It’s about being better than yourself.” Success for us is being able to meet ourselves in the moment instead of living for the completion of that next goal. We both play and write music in the hopes of projecting a message of hope, healing and wonder. The greatest feeling as a musician is when you find you’ve inspired others to follow their dreams or when you realize that your songs have helped someone through a tough time in their life. That’s success. That’s the reason we make music.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?

The business side of music is not for the faint of heart. There is so much rejection on so many levels. Timing is everything, and networking also has a huge impact. The business side seems to require a certain amount of strategery that’s counter-intuitive to an artist’s way of being. Being open and vulnerable with your music can be challenging in a world where everyone has an opinion about the validity of the art you’re making. I think the greatest struggle is trying not to overlook your achievements while still reaching for that next level. And holding yourself to your own standards, instead of someone else’s standards, is key. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself why you’re making music and whether you’re proud of the music you’ve made. If the answer is yes, then you need to keep going and trust that things will work out.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist and band? What do you hope to achieve?

In our view, no goal is unrealistic if you’re willing to work for it. We believe our music has the ability to reach the ears of a global audience that appreciates a wide variety of genres. Given the current state of the world and the music industry, however, we’re not sure what short-term goals are realistic. At this point, our long-term hope is that we’re able to keep making records that we’re proud of.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

Playing with our 1-year-old daughter is very rewarding and inspiring. Creativity just oozes out of her, and it’s fun to jump on that ride with her. We also enjoy a variety of outdoor activities that includes things like hiking, camping, fishing, disc golf, and biking. Dorothy finds creativity and inspiration while sitting on the beach reading a good book. She inundates herself with stories and literally studies and obsesses over psychology and the things that motivate human behavior and thought. I’m typically more laid-back. I find my mojo in the woods in the Smoky Mountains.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm