To celebrate January’s “Truth or Dare” theme, we recruited New Jersey’s Donna Missal to give us her cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”:
I chatted with Missal about the vulnerability required to be truthful, which is arguably one of the biggest and most worthwhile self-dares of them all.
ANNE T. DONAHUE: OK, so Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” is beyond iconic. Mainly, I’m thinking about how it factored into Ross and Rachel’s romance in Friends, and how I equated this jam with being “grown up” when I was a kid. What’s your relationship to the song? And why did you cover it?
DONNA MISSAL: So timeless and so good. I’ve always been drawn to the sound of an electric guitar—I think it can be as emotive as a vocal. That’s definitely the case in this song. When it comes to covers, I like to choose songs that are recognizable and perform them as though I wrote them myself.
Rookie’s theme for the month is Truth or Dare. Which do you think this song represents?
I think the song represents both. The lyrics are so conversational and simply put: “I don’t want to fall in love with you. I want to fall in love with you.” Daring and truthful all at once.
Which do you usually choose? Truth or dare? And why?
If we were to play right now, I would choose truth. I like to talk and connect. I’m at a point where I feel so comfortable and open with people. I used to always pick dare.
I’m terrible at Truth or Dare because I’m too stubborn and usually scared to get super-real with a bunch of people I don’t know.
I totally identify with that! I’m so stubborn. I think it can be a good thing, to know what you’re willing and unwilling to do and to be steadfast in those decisions. I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know myself. I know what I believe in and what I don’t. When I feel like I’m in a position that may compromise who I am, I back out. When there’s any opportunity to do or say something I believe in, I go for it. Making those distinctions gets easier the more time you spend getting to know yourself from the inside out.
Agreed! What’s the risk you’re most proud of yourself for taking?
I’ve been writing and singing for most of my life, so to have finally put something out there that I’ve made has been a risk that I was most afraid of. The internet is this vast, scary place where things last forever. To invite a whole world of people to experience something you’ve cultivated for such a long time is an intimidating thing, and I’m so happy to have finally done it.
What made you put your songs online?
I’ve just recently been able to separate the way I feel about myself and the way I feel about my music. It’s always been the biggest part of me, the thing about me I was always able to identify as part of who I am. Once I figured out that it doesn’t define me, but rather I define it, it was such a “duh” moment that opened me up to the idea of revealing it to whoever wanted to listen.
Your tweets are wonderful in that you champion the idea of being one’s self. How and when did you learn to be yourself?
That’s so cool you said that. I really care about that message—being an individual is your greatest asset. I was homeschooled all throughout my childhood and teenage years [and] I have five siblings who were also homeschooled. I never experienced the public school construct, which I think allowed me to have a truly individual sense of self. I wasn’t exposed to regimented group activity, and I never felt the pressure to fit in or do what the cool kids were doing. I was super active in sports and theater, so I made friends with all different interests and backgrounds. I’m really grateful to have grown up that way.
Do you still live with your family in New Jersey?
I don’t live with my family anymore, but I stayed close. I live in Jersey City, just across the Hudson from New York. It makes it easy to visit home, and even easier to be in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where I do most of my writing and recording. I’ve lived in New York, and it’s exciting but exhausting. Living where I am now allows me to not be there if I don’t want to be. It feels like home. Growing up, I was always eager to get out of my parents’ house, and looking back now, I don’t know why. I was encouraged so adamantly by my parents to pursue a career in music, and I was never pressured to go the traditional route. I did a lot of moving out and coming back, jumping from bartending jobs to freelance work as a demo singer. I’m 25 now, and just finally settling into a stable situation making music full-time. “Home” has always meant family to me, and now it’s becoming just as much about being in a place where I feel settled and stable and comfortable
How do you hold on to the person you were while evolving into the artist you’re becoming?
The personal and artistic evolution for me takes place simultaneously. The things I create as an artist are a direct reflection of who I am as a person. I don’t think there was a defining moment in my life when I went from not being an artist to being an artist. I’ve always been an artist, and I will always be. Figuring myself out as a person has been what’s allowed the artist in me to have a voice. ♦
Collage by Minna Gilligan, using a photo courtesy of Donna Missal.