Indonesian alt-pop singer-songwriter who wants her music “to be friends with others”
As far back as she can remember, Denisa has always dreamed of standing out.
Her dream began when she was six years old, and the clip for Avril Lavigne’s monster hit “Complicated” appeared on her TV screen. âI thought, ‘What is this? Wow, this chick is so cool! With this tank top and this tie! âRecalls the 22-year-old. NME. âI wanted to be like her growing up: hanging out with lots of friends, playing together and skating together. “
Sixteen years later, it seems Denisa has finally discovered what sets her apart. His debut album “Bloodbuzz”, released on October 15, finds the singer-songwriter navigating the aftermath of a failing relationship. The result of nearly two years of work, the alternative pop production of ‘Bloodbuzz’ is a far cry from the bratty pop-punk that ignited his musical awakening all those years ago. “I think my voice is too soft for that,” says Denisa.
Born Bernadette Denisa Dhaniswara, the native of Jakarta spent her childhood listening to Lavigne but also Sum 41, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance. Her family temporarily moved to Kuala Lumpur and then to Bangkok, Denisa enrolling in high school in the latter city, where she says she was ruthlessly harassed by her peers.
âAt one point, I was too scared to go to school. It was unbearable. I would go home, then – like a typical teenager – put my headphones in my room and be alone, âshe said wistfully. “Music was my only friend.”
“Pamungkas once said to me: ‘just be honest in your words'”
Denisa hit rock bottom when she began to struggle with anxiety, depression and self-harm. Eventually, she discovered that music was more than just a friend – it also served as therapy. To cope with her difficulties, she “fanned herself” by scribbling original and random lyrics in her journal. Keeping a journal is still a practice that she maintains today: âEvery therapist I have known has told me that if I can only meet with them every other month, just write [what I feel] in a newspaper.
After graduating from high school, Denisa returned to Indonesia and studied audio engineering at SAE Institute Jakarta. She was often hired to work the sound for live concerts by independent bands such as alternative rock band Glaskaca and pop-rock singer-songwriter Pamungkas. The latter finally became her confidante and helped her gain self-confidence to start her own path as a musician. A concise but resonant advice Pamungkas gave him: “Just be honest in your words.”
In 2019, Denisa wrote, recorded and self-funded her first EP, âCrowningâ. Instead of channeling the pop-punk music she loved as a teenager, she decided to take inspiration from acts she grew to love as a young adult: Radiohead and Bon Iver.
“I don’t want to go back on my words in five years and cringe”
Looking back, Denisa admits that she may have “tried too hard” to stand out. âI was very idealistic at the time. I just wanted to be unique and I just wanted to be a singer that you can’t find anywhere else, âshe explains. “Musically, I think ‘Crowning’ was a success, but back then I didn’t really want to play it live.” The benefit of hindsight also allowed Denisa to discover another major flaw in the EP: “Because I was trying so hard to be unique, I wanted my vocabulary for the lyrics to be so quirky that people couldn’t. understand, “she laughs.
Denisa felt compelled to improve her lyrical art. “I don’t want five years from now to rethink my words and cringe.” She decided to take inspiration from Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” album in 2020 and Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” album in 2007, as well as Bleachers and Phoebe Bridgers.
She started working on “Bloodbuzz” in mid-2020. Produced by Denisa, Johanes Abiyoso, Kevin Valeryan and Baskara Putra and Rayhan Noor of Lomba Sihir, the album follows a chronological narrative. It opens with Denisa facing the impending end of her romantic relationship (‘Ben’) and ends with her finding bittersweet comfort in celibacy (‘(Un) comfortably Alone’). For the distribution of the album, she teamed up with Demajors, the prestigious independent label based in Jakarta that has supported well-known names such as Candra Darusman and Gugun Blues Shelter.
Instead of trying to purposefully score supposedly unique points, Denisa decided to showcase every layer of her personality on âBloodbuzzâ. The debut single from the album “You Are Not My Savior” flaunts her sarcastic side as she happily shuts up her condescending former lover (“Everything made me feel part“).
80s-influenced ‘J Street’ expresses emotional instability as she dreads but also anticipates a whole new romance: “All around the dark side of the street / In my room on my bed I would play dead / But I felt something when you came / At that time of night when you were too closeâ.
Denisa states her favorite lyrics in the album’s closest, “(Un) comfortably Alone”, influenced by hard rock. “I just wanna feel again / Would God let this pain stop? / Like a virtue, I would be by my side / Would they stay even after biting?“she asks. The song features Denisa in her state of highest emotional conflict – she has no problem being alone, but she worries about feeling numb from her loneliness.” This is the phase where, like : âWill I love again?â But, at the same time, I accepted wholeheartedly that I would be alone for the rest of my life! âShe laughs.
Now that “Bloodbuzz” is out, Denisa thinks she has finally discovered what makes her unique as an artist. Working on the album made him realize that the key to standing out is not to rock Avril Lavigne’s tie or transform into a Thom Yorke woman, but to perfect a signature lyrical style. âIt all comes down to the wording. The lyrics tell a story without using complicated vocabulary, but I can put one and one together and make it contemplative as well. “
On top of everything, Denisa hopes her music and lyrics can help others as her musical heroes helped her when she was a struggling teenager in a foreign city. âThis is why I decided to study lyricism, in particular how [write] lyrics that are not only catchy, but also meaningful for people to identify with. This is my goal in making music – I want my music to be friends with others. “
Denisa’s “Bloodbuzz” is now available via Demajors