Published in the Lake Champlain Weekly
February 26, 2020
By Joshua Miner
Photos by Laura Carbone
Danielle Schenebelen was always destined to be a performer. Hailing from a musical family in Kansas City, Nicole watched her parents routinely play bars and clubs as they embraced their role as a rock & roll cover band. However, Nicole’s dad would soon turn to the blues – introducing his daughter to a world of music from which she never looked back.
By her early teens she was jamming out with local acts in the rock and blues scene, slowly paying her dues while developing as both a performer and an artist. Playing with her two brothers throughout her childhood, the siblings had a unique chemistry which continued to grow as the years went on. Her oldest brother, Nick Schenebelen, had established himself in the city as a stand-out talent before moving to Philadelphia. While the siblings would be half a country away at the time, it wasn’t long before Danielle and Kris Schenebelen moved east to Philadelphia and formed Trampled Under Foot – starting their musical careers in earnest.
“We were just on the phone and started talking about doing a band together. We didn’t have anybody in mind for bass, I just took it up as a way to keep it a family band,” she says of switching from guitar to bass. “I just worked really hard for quite a few months, running scales, running blues, different shuffles, swings and funk and stuff like that. [I] started playing bass and I really fell in love with doing it.”
For two years, Danielle and Kris joined Nick in Philadelphia as they perfected the sound of their new trio. With a blues-rock style powered by her newfound passion for the bass, the band gained popularity and the ultimately moved back to Kansas City – creating a home base for their new band as they prepared to embark on a relentless touring schedule.
Trampled Under Foot would tour across the globe in the nearly 15 years that followed, bringing their own style of blues to music fans hungry for their new sound. They went on to win the International Blues Challenge in 2008, further propelling their career and making waves in the national blues scene. After years of constant touring, they would sign with Telarc and released Badlands in 2013, which reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart.
The album was recognized the following year at the Blues Music Awards as well, winning Contemporary Blues Album of the year and Band of the Year Awards, and earning Danielle Schenebelen the Best Bassist Award.
Kris would leave the band later in 2014, and by the following year Trampled Under Foot would play their final show – ushering in a brand-new chapter for the silky voiced but raw blues rocker now known as Danielle Nicole.
Her great-grandfather, Nicole explains, came to America through Ellis Island. Born Nicoli Frazul, his name was changed to Nicholas Francul. To honor the man, several of his descendants – both male and female – have used Nicolas or Nicole. As it was her middle name already, she decided there was nothing more appropriate for her new image.
While touring with Trampled Under Foot, Nicole had written several of her own songs. Those, along with a number of newly penned tunes, would coalesce into her debut album Wolf Den – released in September 2015. Reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart, Nicole’s new solo career started off with a bang.
“Half of the album was written during my time with Trampled Under Foot, so there was a lot of heavy blues. When I went to record Wolf Den, we were still touring out the last year of Trampled Under Foot – so there’s a lot of that [influence] in the Wolf Den record,” she explains. “But, I feel like the other half of the album was kind of a transition- not necessarily out of the blues, but just into a wider spectrum of music in general.”
Embarking on a solo career allowed her to branch out in a number of ways, she says. Musically, she began to embrace genres of music that previously were outside the realm of Trampled Under Foot.
“You have this epiphany. You’re like, ‘Oh God, who am I?’ I was just part of a band for many years, and it was my siblings’ blues rock band. That’s just what it was.”
While she says she enjoyed her time playing with them, being a solo artist has given her a freedom that wasn’t possible as part of a larger group. With a typical band, she says, everyone needs to be in agreement before any step can be made. As Danielle Nicole, however, she now has the freedom to write anything she wants.
In the years that followed Wolf Den, Nicole did just that. Navigating a crumbling marriage, 2018’s Cry No More was born out of the pain and heartache of the failing partnership – and her endless attempts to fix a love beyond repair.
With this album, she reached the top of the Billboard Blues Charts, turning the agony of her divorce into music that would soon rocket her to the national blues spotlight – only this time as a solo artist. While the songs were born during this tumultuous time in Nicole’s life, she says the album is about much more than simply a romance gone wrong – it’s about decisions and their consequences.
“I think that the album itself is more about the moving on process and getting out of dwelling in negative spaces. [Wolf Den] was just a collection of a lot of blues songs, basically,” Nicole explains about her evolution as a writer on the album. “It goes with having lived life more and having children – adulting. You gain a little bit more perspective naturally, that’s the idea anyway. There were a lot of transitions in my life at the time, the beginning of the end of a marriage. So, I think I was just really clinging to the hope of something better.”
Cry No More represents that turning point for Nicole, and the title track speaks directly to the issue of toxic relationships. While someone may shed tears for their husband or wife as they do all they can to salvage a relationship, there comes a time when an individual must look within themselves and decide if their efforts are being reciprocated. While marriage naturally includes understanding and forgiveness, the song Cry No More represents the agony of a woman who has done all she can to help the man she loves, only to find herself crying over and over – and her partner caring little for the suffering he causes.
Resolving to love herself once again, Cry No More is a promise to take care of yourself rather than sacrificing your own wellbeing for someone who doesn’t care for you.
The sophomore album would earn her a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, as well as various other nominations and awards. While the awards and nominations are flattering, Nicole remains modest, saying the music she creates isn’t to win awards – but to express herself and pay tribute to those who came before.
“Especially as a white musician playing the blues, you really have to understand the struggle of where that music came from as well. While I can’t understand it personally, I can appreciate and respect from where that music comes,” she says. “It still embodies the struggle of what you do to get through it. And sometimes you break down, but that doesn’t mean that it’s over or anything, it’s just that [you got to] do what you gotta do to push through.”
The album ends with a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying, which Nicole says was an appropriate nod to the roots of the genre. The song recognizes that sometimes you just need to let it all out, she says. While she may have decided not to cry over a lost cause anymore, that doesn’t mean that crying wasn’t necessary sometimes.
Although Nicole is proud of the work that went into the album, she says the stage is where she truly feels alive.
“The electricity in the air – I absolutely love performing live. I like the rush of excitement not knowing what kind of mood the crowd is going to be in,” she says. “To really just be one with everybody and not care what their political beliefs or religious beliefs [are], or who their favorite sports team is. The one consistent thing I see everywhere is [people] trying to escape that negativity and escape the chaotic lives that we all lead and just let loose and be in the moment of music.”
For Nicole, there is no better way to push through the struggles of life than to put herself – all of herself – out there in the music. In creating her songs, she finds solace and peace facing the difficulties of everyday life – as well as a way to connect to others fighting the same battles.
As for what’s next for the Danielle Nicole Band, fans can expect to hear new material during her upcoming tour – with a new album expected to drop later this year, she says.
“When people ask what the blues means to me, I really feel that it’s basically putting your soul story to music, and in a really raw and vulnerable way. Coming from my upbringing, I don’t know what it was like to work in the field. I don’t know the struggle that the people [who] created blues music underwent and still go through today. But what I relate to about the blues is just feeling a certain way to your core, [and] you don’t know how else to express it but through this song, or this groove or this bassline.”
Plattsburgh Blues & Jazz presents Danielle Nicole at the Strand Center for the Arts Theatre Tuesday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, with $40 VIP Meet & Greet packages including preferred seating, signed photograph and the opportunity to meet Nicole during intermission. Opening for The Danielle Nicole Band is six-time winner of the Maple Blues Award, the Angel Forrest Trio and Blues Music Award 2019 Guitarist of the Year Monster Mike Welch.