Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

Lantern Tour Ad

Denitia Finds Her Way Home on ‘Highways’

By Abel Muñoz

Photo Credit: Noelle Fries

Denitia Odigie’s music has undergone a transformation with her new Americana-steeped album Highways, which just arrived on 10/14. After years in and around R&B both as a solo artist and in the duo, Denitia and Sene, it might seem like a massive departure. But to her, it’s a a return to the fundamental sounds she loved most growing up and a more fitting musical vehicle for what she has to say these days. True to the Christian ideals with which she was raised, Denitia is about using music as a tool to unify through self-expression and Highways, largely written during pandemic times, is a roadmap to healing ourselves and learning to appreciate who and what we are to each other rather than focusing on divisiveness and difference. It’s the balm we could all use a little more of.

Would you describe your shift toward Americana as a deliberate change or more or a natural progression?

I think of it like an evolution. But I also recognize that there has been a dramatic shift between my previous albums and Highways. It mostly feels like completing a full circle. This is the kind of music that I started out making, which was more in the vein of folk music… more Americana influences and elements. I was playing with that palette when I was making my very first records. And so, I feel like my journey has been a return to home in a way.

As an outsider looking in, it seems like your musical trajectory has kind of paralleled your geographical transition—Texas, Nashville, New York City, Upstate New York. Is that at all accurate?


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

Yeah, it’s interesting. I also feel that. I feel like I was very inspired by the Brooklyn scene and what was going on there and what was cutting edge. And I think now it’s kind of a return to an interest in what I can I do with something that is timeless, what I can do with classic sounds.  And I started writing this album still living in Brooklyn. I didn’t know that I was gonna move upstate at that time. I really wanted to make a record that felt like ‘the essentials.’ It’s a return to an acoustic guitar and vocals. I started making this album in the apartment I shared with my partner in Brooklyn. And I guess, maybe, this led me to the woods a little bit.

Some of your music has appeared in films and on television. Is that satisfying?

That’s been one of my most prominent interests in making music: pairing my music with visuals. When I’m making music, one of my aims is to create an experience, to create a world that I can invite people into. I feel proud that my songs are part of these moments in visual culture and in visual media. It’s something that I’ve always wanted. And it’s exciting that directors have been reaching out and have really been vibing with my songs and wanted to use them to help tell their story as I’m telling my story. It’s really exciting.

“…to create a world that you can invite people into.” What exactly does that mean to you?

My appreciation of art has to do with immersing myself in the piece, whether it’s visual or audio. That’s something that really resonates with me, and that’s part of what turned me on about music to begin with. Going back to when I was a kid, I remember letting my imagination run wild and letting my emotions be inspired [by that]. I remember picturing the thing that the artist is singing about or writing about [in my head] and I think that’s something that’s so valuable about music. It’s like reading a book. You’re forced to picture it yourself and then have your own experience with the words that the author has presented. That’s something I find really valuable about music—this transcendence [that goes beyond the artist’s intention]. I’m excited about continuing to create sounds and write lyrics that invite people into my story so that they can have their own immersion and their own experience with it.

Beyond having your music played on television and in movies, I noticed that you have a TikTok channel where you cover some wonderful country songs from the eighties and nineties. Why did you choose that time period?

That’s the music I grew up on. For better or for worse, I think a lot of the times when you grow up on something, you think that it’s the best. Maybe that’s the case, but I just really enjoy that music. It’s really inspired the core of who I am as a songwriter. It’s really influenced me as an artist and also as a person. My partner and I laugh about this a lot. She also grew up on eighties and nineties country. It kind of makes you a romantic because the stories are so dreamy, and the love is so endless. On my TikTok page, I started covering songs that I really liked, and I found that they really resonated with people.

It became this conversation where we were all reminiscing about songs. And people were telling me about songs that I didn’t know, so I’d learn them and play them. I love sharing those moments. It’s been long enough to where those songs have faded from the zeitgeist. It’s fun to hear them with a different interpretation. And as I’m learning those songs, it’s inspiring me to write.

I first started writing this album at the beginning of the lockdown and I was revisiting old records that I used to love. And I just started to get really inspired. It’s kind of a nostalgia thing.

Who were some of those specific influences?

I’ve always carried with me that eighties and nineties country stuff like George Strait, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks and Reba. I’ve always been a big fan of George Strait, and I think that music is timeless. My producer Brad Allen Williams introduced me to a lot of stuff that I didn’t know.

The first single of the new album is the title track “Highways.” In a previous interview, you mentioned it was influenced by Glen Campbell’s road song, “Gentle on My Mind.”  What does the image of the road mean to you?

I want to note that my producer, Brad Allen Williams is the one that put me onto Glen Campbell. Before that I hadn’t realized how much I love his music.

You asked me what does the road mean to me?

I feel like there’s some safety in this idea of always moving. You have the trope of the cowboy in country music and how he’s always gonna be moving on. He’s always gonna be moving on to the next ranch, to the next job. And I think that’s really interesting. I’ve never thought about it until talking to you right now, but… there’s some security that I’ve felt in just always moving on to the next thing, moving on to the next place. It’s like untethered in a way. And I have found myself searching for a place to belong. And I’ve kind of talked about that in my other records. My last album, I had a song called “Place to Be” where I was talking about where am I gonna go next?

I gotta find my place to belong and the song “Highway” is about a new version of myself. It’s me reflecting on the love that I’ve had in my life, the connections that I’ve had. I was thinking about my family and how I haven’t lived at home for years. Even though I’m always moving on to another phase or another era, another group of friends, or another physical place that I live, I always want to take these memories and these connections with me— I never wanna leave those behind. And so, in that way, it kicks off this entire album, which is really based on that theme of these connections and having these deep connections that I’ll always hold onto no matter where I am or where I go next.

That idea of the safety in always being on the move is compelling.

Well, I think it can go either way. I think that you can feel destabilized by always moving, and maybe it’s not your choice to always be scrambling for the next purpose or the next place. But for me, I’ve found a bit of security in being a little bit of a lone wolf. In that song I say, “The road lays out all around me and with her, I’ll never be alone.” As if to say, you can always rely on being able to get up and go if you need to or if you want to. And that’s not just about running away from life. It’s about evolving and changing and moving on.

When I think about the idea of belonging, it is always tied to my queer identity. Do you think it this is true for you?

I think maybe some of the origins of looking for where I fit could’ve started with my identity as a queer person. Even more so, I think that as an artist it has to do with finding a community of likeminded individuals and finding a place to thrive and be supported. And I feel like I have found that several times in my life. And as I evolve, I wanna continue to foster that and make new connections with people.  I think it’s all of those things. I think about it artistically and also in terms of my identity as a black person, as a woman, and as a queer person. So, there’s a lot to sort out. There’s a lot to offer there in terms of finding a sense of belonging somewhere.

Another recurring idea on Highways is the concept of home. What does ‘home’ look and feel like for you? Do you feel like you’ve arrived there?

I feel like I’ve had lots of homes in my life, and I’ve arrived at this conclusion that home is where you want it to be. I feel like the concept itself is transcendent of place and location and is more about being at peace with yourself and creating a world around you that is peaceful instead of being at odds. And so I do feel like I’m experiencing a version of home right now.

It’s also about love. I know that might sound generic, but it’s also about fostering love around you. I have an amazing partner and we’ve created a life together. That feels like home. And I feel as though even if we picked up and moved somewhere else,  we’d just create that again. I think it’s about what’s in your space and who is in your space.

What influence or impact did growing up in a religious environment have on and on your development as an artist? “White Lights” seems to touch on this.

I think in “White Lights”, I wanted to just play with that [religious] imagery. And I was thinking about how sometimes people think about the future as a time when they can finally be happy. I was inspired by being in a moment and in a place where I felt that right now.

In terms of my background of growing up in the Christian Church and going to a Christian school, it’s really special. That’s how I started to really play music. I led praise and worship both at school and church. And that’s how I really started to play guitar and sing at the same time.

Music has always had a spiritual nature for me, which I’m so grateful for. It has informed my viewpoint, how I want to treat music, how I wanna be in the music industry, and how I want to deliver my music. And yeah, I think that my upbringing had a lot to do with that.

What was the inspiration for the song “Old Friend”?

I was just doing a lot of reflecting and I was thinking about a best friend. In your life you might have a lot of best friends. I had a best friend; we were both singer-songwriters. We were very young and were so close. And then life happened. And then fast forward to now, and I’m sitting in my apartment thinking, “Oh man, we didn’t stay in touch.” I was also just thinking: If I were to see them right now, would I still feel very close to them? Would it feel like we were still friends? But again, I’m talking about feeling really connected to people, even if after, we don’t speak for a long time. I really value true connection with people.

Can you tell me a little about why you choose to use the symbol of sweet tea in “All the Sweet Tea”?

I was thinking about how we could be anywhere. We could be right here, enjoying this moment, and that would be amazing. There’s a whole world out here; there’s a whole life to experience. I think that “…all the sweet tea in Carolina” just represents, like, a slice of the best thing in the best place. They have the best sweet tea down there, in the whole south. In Colorado, they have some of the most incredible mountain ranges. And I think those lines just represent that we could go experience the most amazing thing in the most amazing place, or we could just be right here at this moment. But it’s all just out there waiting for us to go and live it if you want.

Can you talk a little bit about the development of the album closer, “I Wanna Live”? I think it’s a beautiful way of ending the album with a hopeful message of hope.

It ‘s late summer 2020. George Floyd has just been murdered. Breonna Taylor is murdered. And it just feels like these people are needlessly losing their lives. And this is stacking up and stacking up and I was just feeling loss and grief and helplessness and just sadness and anger. I knew that I wanted to do something about it in terms of writing a song. I knew that I wanted to write something, and I’d been approached by different people to create songs around these situations. One person asked me to write a song or to sing a song called “I Can’t Breathe.”

I think this goes back to my upbringing in the church— the things that we sing are sort of like mantras. I decided that I can’t sing a song where I repeat ‘I can’t breathe.’ That’s not what I want to give people. That’s not the mantra that I wanna sing. I do think that that is extremely powerful and palpable as a phrase, and people can use that however they need to get that message across. But for my voice and my point of view, I want to create a mantra for people that would give them hope.

This is about basic human existence and the basic need and the basic right to live a happy life no matter who you are or what you look like. It didn’t take me long to write that song because I had really been mulling it over for a while and journaling about it. And I wanted it to feel tender. I wanted it to feel understated. And I wanted it to feel bare bones so that I could communicate this message and just ease it in front of people that need to hear it. And so, the times that I have performed this song live, you could hear a pin drop afterwards. I want you to be drawn in and I want you to really listen to what it is that we’re saying when we say ‘we just wanna live.’ And I’m really happy to have that song as a part of this album, as a part of my story.

Abel Muñoz (He/Him/His) is originally from Texas and now lives in Nashville New York City. He is passionate about art, but most days he can be found working at a sexual health clinic. He loves 90s country music, especially Linda Ronstadt and George Strait. His ramblings and adventures can be found on various social media platforms (Twitter: @artofspectator, IG: @artofthespectator).