You can hear the quacking in the background as Danielle Howle checks in with a half-dozen of her web-footed friends on the grounds of Awendaw Green, the music venue-recording studio complex she calls home.
The 44-year-old Howle is a musical lifer. And she'll be the first to tell you that a career in the music biz is not easy. From her first band Lay Quiet Awhile to Danielle Howle and the Tantrums and on through her solo years, the singer-songwriter's journey has been a constant struggle. But after more than 15 years of making music, Howle lost steam. She followed up her last album with the Tantrums (2002's Skorborealis) four years later with Thank You, Mark, an eclectic duo album with Hootie and the Blowfish's Mark Bryan.
And instead of making her own music exclusively, Howle started producing other people (Thomas Champagne, A Fragile Tomorrow, Ten Toes Up) and began working on a project known as the Swamp Sessions. With the Sessions, she enlisted a bevy of local and regional artists — including Shovels & Rope's Cary Ann Hearst, Upstate singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, Mechanical River's Joel Hamilton, and Joel Timmons of Sol Driven Train to name a few — for six impromptu recording at Awendaw Green. In February, Howle released the New Year Revolution, an eclectic collection of nine songs with Firework Show serving as her backup band.
"I love them so much. They're such good people, and they're really good players. I like being with them. We have an Americana-rock 'n' roll thing going on that's really interesting. I love the rhythms they produce," she says. "There is something really going on, and I don't want to leave home without them."
Howle enjoyed the experience of working with all those talented musicians and is proud that A Fragile Tomorrow followed their album with her by joining forces with musician and producer Mitch Easter of Let's Active. "I feel like I've done my job, and they've graduated," she says. Lately, she's been lining up shows like mad and has booked tours with Firework Show and roots-blues artist Bret Mosley for February, March, and April, respectively. After those two road trips are done, Mosley and Howle are planning on sitting down to do some writing together.
"I put out 13 records, and I don't understand why that didn't work. So it's time to move the fuck on," Howle says. "That's why I love the Swamp Sessions so much, playing with my new friends, writing new tunes and playing with Bret Mosley. It's all new now."
Joining Howle's journey into new-ness is a burgeoning interest in jewelry-making. She's been selling pieces on her website, where they've proven quite popular, and she finds the time she spends crafting jewelry frees her musical creativity later. "That's exactly why I need this stuff," she says.
The one real constant of late has been her work with Creative Spark. She's been teaching classes there for kids three to seven, offering them an early peek into the process of songwriting.
"They get four days, and we write songs about nature and things they're studying in school that are fun. The whole class writes the song, I record it on Garage Band, and we burn that to a disc for them to take it home," she says. "One class did a baby sea turtle song, then acted out the baby sea turtle hatching out of an egg and walking on the sand. They did it six times in a row."
In addition to all this activity, Howle's been compiling a list of artists for a dream album of duets, including new Charleston resident Daryl Hall. These days, her spirit has been renewed, and she's overflowing with ideas and ambition and accepts the challenge of an artist's meager circumstances.
"It is time to embrace the most amazing thing in life — to create. It's time to embrace it and own it. I haven't always owned it, but I'm owning that shit now and I'm grateful. There's some heaving lifting, but most people do not get to rock this long," Howle says. "And there's something about opening your mouth and having a sound come out that changes people's hearts."