Quarantine Didn’t Just Give The Dallas Synth-Pop Duo Time To Explore Their Creative Limits — It Gave Them Their Debut Studio Album.
The past six months have put this year through the wringer, so any account of positivity — no matter how few and far between — feels like a vicarious remedy.
Fortunately, the electro-pop duo of Danni Nordan and Kris Williams aka PRIZM are sharing with the rest of us the infectious positivity they found in otherwise grim times. Along with their producer Geoff Rockwell (PRIZM’s name comes from the chemistry between the three of them), Nordan and Williams slightly broke quarantine to unexpectedly churn out their debut album. What culminated is a synth-heavy, bubblegum pack of 12 tracks born from nights fueled by coffee and chocolate and living room dances under chromatic disco lights.
The duo has long been making music together as an acoustic eponymous project Danni and Kris, but in recent years has been fizzing up as PRIZM with catchy singles like “You Should Know” and “All Night“, both of which are included on the album — the latter of which shares the album’s title. Newer tracks on All Night, like “Mine” and “Closer” share similar pulses to that of Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated.
The duo says having a lot of people looking for an escape this year inadvertently put them in front of a new audience, which is made clear by their current monthly listener count of nearly 40,000 on Spotify. They even found a new fan in Paris Hilton, who featured the album’s title track in a video celebrating her birthday earlier this year.
We caught up with Williams to talk the jubilance that she says saved them in these scary times, her “soul sister” relationship with Nordan and the rewards of making people feel good when they need it most.
All Night is out on all streaming platforms now.
Hey Kris! Congratulations on the debut album.
Hey! Thank you.
This is a long time coming because you and Danni have been working together for almost 10 years, right?
Yeah, we’ve been working together musically for almost a decade now. It was a really kind of odd way of meeting, too. We had a bunch of mutual friends on Facebook, and she would post videos playing guitar and singing and I did the same, so I finally reached out to her and asked if she ever wanted to get together in real life and jam out. Then we got invited to the same Christmas party and decided to go together, so I just drove to her house and we met in her front yard in person.
What’s really strange is that we actually lived in the same subdivision when we were kids in this small neighborhood in northwest Fort Worth, and we had a lot of the same neighborhood friends but we never met each other. It’s crazy because she’s like ‘I used to ride my bike down this street,’ and I’m like, ‘I used to rollerblade down that same street!’
How does your tight-knit friendship bleed over into your work dynamic? You two are very well balanced in that you’re both similar but still have different personality types.
It’s actually very intuitive of you to point that out, because we really do. If you put us in the same room together, the mannerisms are the same or we’ll say things at the same time and we have these inside jokes, so we’ve become similar because we’ve spent almost every day together for 10 years. We get mistaken as sisters constantly, and so I think it’s because of those things that make us so much alike. But yes, if you truly get to know each of us, we do have a lot of differences. Danni is really great at handling and executing the little things and smaller details, and I’ve always been good at handling and executing big things. She’s a lot more extroverted and gets her energy from being around people and from going out and I wouldn’t say I’m overly introverted, but I am a little bit more reserved. She’s very sensitive and nurturing and I am kind of a leader, headstrong-type. Our opposites complement each other well.
Do you feel like that translates into the music at all?
Yeah, the speed of songwriting is one of the best things about our friendship and our relationship because we do mesh so well with that. We don’t get our feelings hurt if someone doesn’t like what the other one has come up with, and we’re both very encouraging of each other. What we love about PRIZM is the vocals, and they can be really vocally challenging, so we really amp each other up and we’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders. That’s where us having that solid friendship and being actual, true best friends and soul sisters comes in.
You two also make music and Danni and Kris. Does that, along with your close friendship, make it harder to separate PRIZM from the rest of your creative process?
Danni and Kris started at the very beginning of our friendship. We’ve both been playing guitar for about 16 years and singing for even longer, and when we first became friends, we both loved writing singer-songwriter music — very coffee shop-type songs. It has grown from there, and then all of a sudden we were getting paid gigs and doing it full-time, playing five to seven times a week. So playing weddings, bars and corporate gigs kind of turned into us covering our favorite songs and music that we love listening to together in the car, which is a lot of Fleetwood Mac. Like, a lot. And we love The Eagles and Heart, too, so Danni and Kris is very ‘60s and ‘70s and then PRIZM is ‘80s-inspired.
And you guys performed for one of Blake Ward and Double Wide’s QuaranTV episodes early on in quarantine! At Tate Farms, right?Yeah! It felt great to be getting to do something again. Everyone putting it together was doing it safely by wearing masks and distancing — we loved it. We were so excited to get to play music and get dressed up. We played a couple of our Danny and Kris originals along with a couple of our favorite covers and just had so much fun. You should have seen us walking around that farm in our disco pants and sequins on. Oh man!
OK I loved those looks! Speaking of the pandemic, did COVID push back your album release at all?
Actually, the reason the album exists is because of quarantine. When everything shut down we had no gigs, no jobs and all this free time that we haven’t had before because we’re on this perpetual touring schedule. So when the quarantine happened, our producer was like ‘We have all this time now, do you guys want to come to the studio and it’ll be just the three of us making an album?’ So we went into the studio almost every day for a month and a half or so, and we went in and we just wrote, laid down lots and lots of vocals.
That sounds so much better than my quarantine experience.
It was something that really saved me. I know Danni feels that way as well because we’ve talked about this. Just being able to go in there and create and make music really saved us because it was a dark time for a lot of people. So, it was nice that we got to, you know, safely go in and still execute our passion and create an album.
Does not being able to fully perform the new album in a traditional sense steal any of the excitement in releasing it? It’s such a fun and upbeat, pure pop album.
I felt that a little bit in the beginning, but after seeing people tweet us or leave comments saying they’ve been having dance parties with their family in the living room or that it’s getting them through all of this. A lot of people discovered our music during quarantine and have been listening to us all summer, so that was really cool to me that I was able to create something that made a lot of people feel good and made a lot of people dance. I know it sounds cheesy but like that just makes my whole world — knowing that we were part of creating something that made people want to get up, feel good and have fun.
I noticed I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music lately for that very reason, actually! What made y’all want to explore this fun new sound?
With Danni and Kris we were still writing songs, but not as much because we were focusing more on gigging and playing shows. Our producer, Geoff Rockwell, kind of like started percolating this idea to create an ‘80s synth-wave pop band and we were like ‘oh my god, yes!’ Danni and I grew up in the era of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Even now, you have these powerhouse vocalists like Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga, that are just dominating the pop scene, and those sounds are so fun. And like you said, pop music can be a really fun, cool escape. We just kind of blindly went into it, and the first song that we went into the studio and recorded was our track “You Know That You Love Me.” It was a little out of my comfort zone — I don’t even know if I contributed anything to that song. I might have just been on the couch looking around confused and not really sure what the vision of it was, but then watching Geoff mixing it and adding stuff I was like ‘Oh, we’re doing this.”
And that is where the name PRIZM comes from — the three of you — right?
Yeah, we are called a duo a lot, which is kind of the way, visually, you would look at it. Geoff prefers to be behind the scenes as our producer, but Danni and I were like ‘Let’s call it PRIZM so we can have him in there. So it is technically a trio, but not a lot of people know that or I guess dive deep enough to know that.
So with the new album, did the three of you just plan to keep going for as long as need before you felt it was done?
So six of the songs on the album were absorbed from previous music that we had written, and then there’s six others that are brand new that we wrote at the beginning of quarantine. That usually starts with Jeff showing us a track and then we’ll work with him on sounds or vibes we like. He’s really great at understanding what we want and coming back and having the map laid out.
What was the first song you started writing for the album?
I think it was “Can’t Bring Me Down,” which is an uplifting anthem — a self-empowering song. I tell people we only eat and drink chocolate and coffee and maybe a little bit of wine. We’re just fueled on caffeine over in there. There’s also a song called “Disco Biscuit” where Geoff sent us the track and Danni came over to my apartment in Deep Ellum and we just walked to the store and got a couple bottles of wine and came back and turned on these disco lights that I have and started singing. Then we kind of walked all around Deep Ellum just singing it and fleshing out ideas — we did a little voice memo and sent it to Geoff and he was like ‘This is it.’ So, some of it happens with the three of us in the studio and sometimes it’s just what happens in the moment. But the whole process was just really fun, and we didn’t put any pressure on each other and we didn’t put any pressure on ourselves. We just tried to have a good time and tried to be creative.
It really comes through on this album. It’s so much fun.
I was just happy and excited every day getting to do that. I think Danni and Geoff felt the same way.
Was that your goal for this album? For other people to feel the same way y’all did while making it?
At the end of the day we started PRIZM just for the fun of it, and that has always been my mindset even a year and a half later! I’m doing this because this is fun for me and fun to do with my friends. I just want to share it with as many people as I can and kind of spread the good vibes of our album that I feel like are on there. Danni and I were talking the other day and we already want to start writing again, so we’re eager to keep it going and to keep pumping stuff out that people can have fun with and enjoy.
Cover photo by Jessica Rockwell.