The Love You Bleed is Danielle Nicole’s third album since leaving Trampled Under Foot. She was a teenager when she was in that band with her two brothers. They came to public attention as International Blues Challenge winners. Danielle is a mature mother now with two children. The songs on this album take an eyes-wide-open look at the realities of her personal life over and above that of a rock bass player who fronts a band that measures some get-down rock against lyrics that don’t blink when it comes to the realities. For instance, being a mother. She explains, “I write about my personal experiences.”
“Who He Thinks You Are” is about her older son. “I went back and forth about should I do this? Should I go there? It’s about not making the mistake of forgetting the impact you have on people, especially the ones that depend on you.
“There’s this dream you have as a child when you find out your parents are real people. They’re not superhuman Gods and infallible. People make really big mistakes and bad decisions, and this song to me was like, don’t let that happen. Don’t let that pass. Don’t get tunnel vision. He’s gotta grow up.”
“Head Down Low” is about a guy whose mother begs him not to leave, and when he does, he gets bitten by a rattlesnake. I asked Danielle if the snake is a metaphor for the struggles of the world?
“You got it. One of my best friends was asking me about this yesterday. She’s like, ‘I was trying to figure out ‘Heads Down Low.’ At first, I thought it was about a person I know. Then, I listened to it more.’ She basically figured it out, too. She asked, ‘It’s basically about the industry and life, right?’ Yeah, you got it.”
In the five years since her last album, Cry No More, Danielle has had three strikes against her. If she were a baseball player, she would have struck out. Instead, The Love You Bleed is a home run.
The first strike was when Concord Records dropped her from the label. “That was about a year after Cry No More was a Grammy nomination that my record label dropped me. I was actually in the studio doing demos for this record when I got the phone call. I was confused and flabbergasted, whatever you want to say.”
The second strike was the pandemic. “During Covid I had a couple of labels that were interested in the album, and I don’t want to say names because I’m not with either of them.”
She bit the bullet and booked studio time on her own nickel. “I got (producer) Tony Braunagel and my drummer some flights because they had to fly in from Vegas. I booked the studio and an apartment for two weeks before the guy at the label said, ‘No, we’re not interested. We’re not gonna do that.’ I had already booked everything. So, I said, ‘Well, let’s do it anyway.’ So, we recorded it.
“I ended up paying for it myself,” she chuckles. “We did a full session, and then a few months later I had the guys come back, and we did another session to complete it. Then I finished up all of the stuff on my own.”
Strike three was the death of her brother Kris Schnebelen who had been with her in Trampled Under Foot and on her first two albums. “When Kris got sick, everything got put on hold. Booking, the record, everything just stopped. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer. He was diagnosed in February. He passed away the following January. He was gone in nine months, and so we just stopped. He was my brother! But he was my first and best friend.
“There are people that are in their early 20s and late 30s and stuff. People their age are not supposed to be diagnosed with cancer. So, between Covid, the shutdown and Kris and his cancer, I wasn’t ready. This was the big closing of an era to begin a new record and a new album: not only an album cycle, but a life cycle.”
It was Tony Braunagel who turned Danielle on to Forty Below Records. “I was coming into the conversation real guarded, like ‘gr-r-r-labels,’ you know? Especially after getting burned five times in two years between managers. That just solidified my making the right decision in following my gut.
“I was nervous, and I was stubborn, but I also knew what I wasn’t gonna settle for, and I think (Forty Below label head) Eric Corne saw value in the product, but he understands on a general level where I’m coming from, what my intuition is. Everything is out on the table. He was really fair, and that really kind of blinded me. He’s not a typical label guy.”
This was NOT Danielle’s first rodeo. “Well, yeah, this is my second climb, you know. Tough? My brothers and I worked so hard digging trenches and laying the groundwork, and then we disbanded, and started all over again. I didn’t get special treatment. People didn’t know Danielle Nicole. They knew Trampled Under Foot, and they started putting two and two together. But this is the second time literally I started from nothing. So, I’ve been around the block a few times.”
Not surprisingly, there’s a pretty heavy theme of loss running through this whole album. Early in our interview I asked if she wanted to talk about that. “No, I’m good. I’m enjoying smiling,” she said, adding, “I’m doing alright. There’s a lot of songs about love on this record.”
A half hour into our discussion, though, she opened up about her own losses and those of her excellent young guitarist Brandon Miller when I asked her about “Fireproof,” a song about inoculating oneself against the fires that light up childhood. Turns out Brandon wrote the piece.
“He was coming out of a pretty bad divorce when he wrote that one, and we finished that one up together. He wrote a lot of the lyrics and all of the music to it, and he was like ‘I’m having trouble making sense of it all,’ and when we got done and figured what it’s about, it was about the demise of his marriage.”
Brandon’s guitar work is a rock-solid complement to Danielle’s vocals and at times intense lyrics.
“Love Forever” may be the heaviest indictment of the dangers of relationships on the album. “That’s actually the only song I didn’t write on the record,” she says. “That’s the only cover, and I love the line, ‘You think the ring on your hand will solve your insecurity.’ It’s not what marriage is about. It’s about being completely vulnerable, and love is fucking hard.”
She’s been there.
“You gotta suck up the pride. There’s no room for it. You can get married. You can do that song and dance as many times as you want, but that connection that you have with somebody, that humbling deep connection, that is what’s forever.
“(The wedding ring) deepens the connection. As soon as I got married, things changed, and I felt they weren’t supposed to change and this isn’t what I agreed to. You changed the deal, man. That’s where I got confused. I was like, this wasn’t you. This is not what I signed up for. It doesn’t give you carte blanche to be an asshole. It was like, oh, I’m married now. I don’t have to cry anymore. No, you have to try harder. You have to be there for somebody. That’s the deal you made, you know?”
The Love You Bleed works on two levels. It stands up with any other contemporary blues-rock album, but heed the warning in the title. This is music for people facing real life struggles at a time when all of society is watching their backs. Brandon Miller’s guitar work, Danielle’s impassioned vocals, and Tony Braunagel’s always spot-on production turn this brew into sweet tea, but those tea leaves have a bite.