By: Michael Del Vecchio
I spoke with Toronto pop artist, Aunty Social, (aka AuntyDanny on Instagram, aka Daniella Gitto IRL) about what she’s been doing since her EP, The Day my Brain Broke, released this March. The emotional power-pop chronicles her successes, failures and learning experiences as a musician and human being.
Getting through writing blocks
Aunty Social: I get my biggest bout of writer’s block when I’m not listening to any inspiring, new music. During that downtime, I randomize the instruments I choose on my MIDI. I’ll pick something that has a cool name and try all these different chords with it. And if that doesn’t work, then I’ll move on to the next one and the next one. It’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to melody making. If I can’t think of any melodies, I’ll grab my journal and start reading and try to form that into a melody. Sometimes that works. And if none of that works - I quit.
Michael: You said that Crash Bandicoot (PS1) inspired Cortex. How do video game soundtracks affect the way you write and compose music?
Aunty Social: I grew up really relying on video games for that imaginative effect. I used to put myself in those characters’ positions a lot. It’s almost like those soundtracks were the soundtracks for my day to day life, it was this games I would constantly play. Now, when I hear a sound or something that reminds me like one of those video games, I’m more inclined to use it. Especially because one of my favourite emotions is nostalgia. I love everything to do with that specific feeling. If I hear a specific sound that brings me back to something, even if it’s an old McDonald’s commercial – or anything, of that matter - it’s way more of an attachment and I use those kinds of sounds.
Thinking about "Thinking about Thinking"
Michael: How have your feelings of the song changed - from the demos to playing the songs for crowds?
Aunty Social: Thinking about Thinking started as just my vocals and this really, terrible sounding, hip-hop keyboard. Last-minute, we ended up changing the demo to electric guitar and this CASIO toy thing that ended up as the main chorus. That was literally on the last day of production. We had the song done, and then we did a 360 to make it something completely different. That made it even more special when I played it on stage. Every time I listen to a demo over and over again, it loses its substance, you hear every part of it and start feeling repetitive. We had this new song, it had this great new feeling, playing it on stage seeing it all come together.
The themes I hit on in this EP will always be relevant for me. I’m not talking about a single relationship or something that’s in the past. I’m talking about issues and feelings and coping mechanisms I use every day. I feel like it will never change when I get on stage. It will always be me expressing those things on a day-to-day basis that I can’t really shut off.
Crack a Deal
Michael: The vocal riff brings it all together. Did it develop over time? How did it stick?
Aunty Social: It was the first thing I made for the demo at home in my room. When I brought it to the studio, Sam wanted me to redo it. And I decided not to, even though it was a shitty pitch or whatever, I felt it was significant as part of the demo. It bled into the actual song, and I kept it because it had a lot of meaning.
Michael: You mentioned the “9-to-5 Gods” as inspiration for the song. Are they the primary antagonist for the album?
Aunty Social: No, not the primary antagonist. It was how unhappy I was with the life that I was living. That was just an aspect of this great big discontent I was feeling at the time. While I was also dealing with the social anxiety that’s in Traveling Circus, or coping with the traumatic event from Cortex, another thing that added to that was working the 9to5 job that was really dull and not at all something wanted to spend my life doing.
Michael: Has writing the music been as helpful as you thought it would have been when you were writing the demos to now that the music is out?
Aunty Social: Yeah… it did. It didn’t fix the problem, that takes a lot more work than writing a journal entry. There’s a cathartic essence to being able to publicize those thoughts you have that nobody knows or hears. Especially when you’re in such a public space. The whole song is about me thinking about these things being surrounded by people and thinking everyone can read what’s on my face. I don’t feel like enough people actually get deep down with the thoughts that they feel – “I feel this physical effect, and then I start shaking or I start sweating.” I feel like a lot of those roots are from the thoughts we have – “nobody thinks I’m funny, I should just sit in the background – am I too filled with expression?” That’s the part I really wanted to hit on because that’s what causing all these physical effects. Being able to tell people definitely helps. It makes me feel better to know that other people relate to it and find solace in it – “if she can talk about her thoughts like that, maybe I can too.”
Michael: It’s the first single, is it fair to say this is the origin story for the album?
Aunty Social: It kind of is! It’s the one that sends back all the way to my upbringing, raised in a catholic family, going to a catholic school. Unintentionally, yes.
Michael: I appreciate how confident the songwriting is. Did taking risks come to you naturally as a songwriter?
Aunty Social: There’s an easy route where you can guarantee a lot of people will understand and enjoy the song. Or do I want to experiment and try something new that I can’t guarantee everyone will understand, but through my ears, it sounds good. And I think I’m always stuck at that crossroads. But it always feels good to take the experimenting path and have it pay off. I think “Trying” is a good example of that for sure.
Michael: What was the goal of giving each song a collage?
Aunty Social: I had been collaging a lot during that time period. It had been very cathartic. Having a job to do during that really weird time in my life was motivating like I was doing something good. In that vein, I was also using a lot of photos from different times in my life. I made sure to do that to look back at photos I haven’t looked back at in a while. Looking back at my high school and college photos, the most tumultuous time of my life, became the craziest parts of this EP. It wasn’t the music or the lyrics, it was trying to find a photo for one collage. Unintentionally, it became part of the concept – making it a release from that part of my past.
Michael: I thought the clamshells were interesting.
Aunty Social: Yeah! I thought this is the only good to be like – “I broke my brain”. I could break a shell, and it would look like a prettier version of guts and gross blood and stuff inside. Like a broken brain!
Michael: Could you talk about the effect your producer, Sam, had on you as a musician and communicator?
Aunty Social: He took these really terrible demos that I was so ashamed of and embarrassed to show. Half of them weren’t even recorded to a metronome. But he didn’t acknowledge any of that, he saw what I was trying to say, and built on that. He did his research into the person I am and the artist I want to be and channeled that into the music I wanted to make.
There’s always a power dynamic when you walk in somewhere, whoever has the most experience – and I’m always the one with less experience! No matter what, I always feel like that. But it’s just me and him in a room making music, there’s no power dynamic there. He’s someone I feel lucky to call my producer and my best friend, and also someone I look up to as a musician.
Overrated / Underrated
Aunty Social graciously let me pick her brain over some topics on a round of Underrated/Overrated, serious and silly alike. You can decide which is which:
1. Disney + ?
“Uh… overrated,” she says. “I feel like it’s going to be one of those things everyone watches for a while and then say – Okay, I have my fix of nostalgia, I’m never going to watch Suite Life of Zack and Cody again.”
2. 20/20 Vision?
“Is this - eyes?” she asks, laughing after a bewildered pause. “I feel like that’s perfectly rated!”
3. Fabric Softener?
“I don’t use it - overrated. Based on the fact I never use it.”
4. Having your coffin shot into outer space?
“Overrated!” she scoffs, “that seems like something only Elon Musk would do.”
5. Getting lost in a hedge maze and discovering a ghost?
“Underrated. Definitely want more of that in my life.”
“Perfectly rated? I guess… underrated. The music there is great, I don’t know if it gets the recognition it should.”
7. Getting the back row of the GO bus to yourself?
“Underrated! That is truly the most satisfying situation ever. Yes.”
8. Quentin Tarantino Movies?
“I just watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Can I say perfectly rated? For the credentials and acclaim, he’s received.”
9. Lunar Landing (Landing on the Moon in 1969)?
“Overrated,” she says tongue-in-cheek while laughing, “whatever! It’s all fake anyway.”
10. Sleeping without socks on?
“Underrated! I can’t sleep with socks on.”
With shows canceled, there is some (semi)-unannounced music coming out soon. Stay tuned to Aunty Social's social media for updates!
Listen to their tunes here.