My sister played [steel pan drums] when I was younger. I was in elementary school and she was in our high school’s steel band and she would bring them to practice. I remember seeing them and thinking, ‘I want to do that when I’m in high school.’ At my high school [Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida] as an elective you could take either brand, chorus or steel band and I chose steel band. And then I had the opportunity to continue with it at Florida State because they have a steel band as well as a really strong ethnomusicology program. I was able to do direct individual study with professors about steel pan.
[The steel pan] is Trinidadian. A lot of people think it’s Jamaican, but it’s from Trinidad. When I first moved here [in January 2009], I thought that there would be more steel pan in New Orleans. I thought, ‘This is great, I’ll find a lot of other pan players to play with,’ but I’ve actually only met two people that play it. Which is funny, because I figured being so Caribbean, and having a lot of musical, rhythmic influences drawn from the Caribbean in traditional New Orleans music, that it would be bigger here.
When I start a song, it’s usually on the piano. I try to think of a hook first and then I come up with a chord structure and words based around the hook—words are always the last thing I write. I write the songs [for Daria & the Hip Drops] and usually after I have my foundation set, I’ll bring it to Graham [Robinson, her producer, bassist and boyfriend] and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ And he’ll give me his opinions here and there and sometimes I’ll take it and sometimes I don’t. Then we work the song with the whole group and see what we like.
I play double seconds, which are two pans, so I have two and a half octaves spilled out across two drums.
I have one whole-tone scale in my left drum and one whole-tone scale in my right drum. I really love double seconds because I love the range and it works because if I have a guitar player soloing, I still have some good mid-range notes I can play to accompany it. It still has a higher end, so if I take a solo, it can really pop out.
What I’m really trying to do is take an instrument that people normally don’t listen to and making it appeal to the masses. I know steel pan isn’t for everyone, but I could listen to steel drum every minute or every day. It’s such a beautiful sound to me.