The Uncountable Triumphs of Daneshevskaya

Anna Beckerman talks building a community with her peers, incorporating her day-job into the music and her debut album, Long Is The Tunnel.

Music Features Daneshevskaya
The Uncountable Triumphs of Daneshevskaya

When talking to Anna Beckerman, who writes and records under the alias Daneshevskaya, I bring up Dunbar’s Number—an idea theorized by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Based on his research into the size of different communities, from hunter-gatherer societies all the way to Christmas card lists, he proposed that an individual can typically maintain relationships with up to 150 people. Beyond 150, things get iffy. Of course, in our actual conversation via Zoom, neither of us know what the theory was called, and I refer to it ambiguously as the following: “I don’t remember where I read this from, or when it was, or if it’s even true. So here’s some absolute BS from me. I read something that people were only meant to know biologically 150 people in their lives. And that’s the level that we can process socially and in our heads.”

Despite my unimpressive vagueness around the half-truths I presented, Beckerman immediately bought in and agreed: “Even if that’s not true, it’s true for me. 150 is almost pushing it. Maybe 50?” A little earlier, she said,“It’s just so silly to think that all these people are listening. It doesn’t really register for me. I don’t think I really understand the idea that so many people are listening to the music.” Beckerman and I agree: Perception from more than 150 people is hard to imagine. But Beckerman’s Daneshevskaya project is already well beyond the 150-person benchmark. She signed to the New York City label Winspear, which also launched the career of indie rock breakthrough Slow Pulp (now signed to Anti- Records); she toured North America with the beloved British group Black Country, New Road. The tour ended at a packed show in New York City’s Knockdown Center, a homecoming for Beckerman. And last week, she released her seven-song debut album, Long Is The Tunnel.

Even if Beckerman can’t fathom the number of people listening to her music, she’ll likely be forced to reckon with surpassing Dunbar’s Number. And, despite her hesitations around connecting with more than 150 people, she’s incredibly community-oriented. Every part of her music-making process is centered around an interest, fascination and trust in other people. Although Beckerman’s songs often come from her own ideas, a Daneshevskaya song is a product of collaboration and community. “I like having ideas that are private–whether it’s my ideas or Maddie’s [Madeline Leshner, Daneshevskaya’s keyboardist] ideas, or Artur [Szerejko]’s, who does a lot of the guitar and the production stuff,” she says. “I like when it starts as a private thing that you just are playing with and then bringing all those elements together. But, for myself, I just start with chords, melody and lyrics. I probably pay too much attention to lyrics. Then, once I have something like that, even if it’s not a full song—even if it’s just a verse, chorus—I’ll bring it to Maddie or Artur or whoever I’m working with and have it go from there.”

Long Is The Tunnel is delicate and tender. Across its too-brief 22 minutes, Beckerman and her community weave together orchestrations of piano, violin, guitar and feather-light drums. “Chamber pop” is the most relevant genre to describe Long Is The Tunnel, but it sounds too formal, too uptight. These songs don’t adhere to rigid structure or formulas. First and foremost, they’re driven by expressiveness. The instrumentations respond to Beckerman’s crystalline voice. On some songs, like “Big Bird,” Beckerman and her peers up the intensity with rumbling guitars, making each lyric sound grave and urgent. In others, particularly the lullaby-like closer “Ice Pigeon,” Beckerman’s vocals float on top of a bed of piano, as airy as clouds in the sky.

Developing these reactive arrangements is another step where Beckerman embraces her friendships and offers to share the creative process with her community. “Once I finish a demo, I really like to feel done,” she says. “I like to give it to whoever’s working on it and not stop helping, but just stop feeling like it’s mine because I feel like it always makes it more fun to work with people. I really like to hand it over to whoever’s producing or writing the arrangement and just be like, ‘I trust you. Have fun.’ Because I think that it ends up being so much more tender and delicately crafted, and has that personal feeling if the person feels like, even if the song isn’t theirs, that step is theirs.”

The trust she places in her collaborators pays off. Long Is The Tunnel features production and instrumentation from Daneshevskaya members Leshner and Szerejko, Ruben Radlaurr of Model/Actriz, Lewis Evans of Black Country, New Road and Hayden Ticehurst. Even though the project is undeniably Beckerman’s, each collaborator imprints their own identity onto the music. As a result, Long Is The Tunnel has a wide range of textures and cadences, particularly for a seven-song project. It opens with the minimalism of “Challenger Deep”; “Bougainvillea” culminates in an echoey swirl of violins and harmony; “Somewhere In The Middle” gets the closest to a traditional indie-rock tune, flashing little lights of synths as it slows to its final half-time chorus. Beckerman’s faith in her musical partners unites the disparate elements Long Is The Tunnel into a tapestry. And she takes pride in the fact that it’s not just hers.

This inclusivity of friends, tourmates and collaborators is not just Beckerman’s preferred mode of operating Daneshevskaya; it’s the goal: “I really like meeting new people through music and working with new people,” she says. “That’s always the thing that motivates me is the idea that, ‘Oh, if you get signed or you do this thing, then there’s this whole new community of people you can work with.’ I’ve met so many of my closest friends just from showing up and being like, ‘I guess let’s try and make a song.’ I didn’t know Claire and Joey, who were the drummer and the guitarist in the band. We had never met before the tour. After a month in a car and sharing hotels with them, I feel like they’re some of my closest friends. More fun, that’s my goal.”

By day, Beckerman “spends most of [her] waking hours with children” as a social worker for preschool kids. And she incorporates them, too, into her communal music. “That is just the lens that I see the world through really,” she notes. “A lot of the imagery does come from things kids said or things I observed working with that population.” That truth is most obvious on the gorgeous “ROY G BIV.” “We’re all in rainbow order / We’re all in rainbow order on the way down,” Beckerman repeats on the chorus. Flora and fauna are abundant on Long Is The Tunnel: “Horse and cow, pig and sheep”; “The biggest bird I’ve ever seen”; the “palm trees” on “Bougainvillea.” Part of Beckerman’s magic as a songwriter is her ability to contrast this childlike view of the natural world with grief, loss and very human relationships.

Family is an equally important fixture in her songwriting. Anyone at her Knockdown Center set remembers her shoutout to her family members there in Maspeth, Queens with her. “My entire family was there. My grandma was there, and my dad and my mom and my brother and his wife, as I’m sure I think I said when I was up there. That was great,” she says. “Daneshevskaya” was Beckerman’s great-grandmother’s name, and the presence of her own lineage animates Long Is The Tunnel. “Everybody’s family is endlessly complicated and interesting and weird and eclectic,” she adds. “I think everyone, even if they don’t relate to the specific details, maybe they can relate to just having that relationship with their family, even if their relationship looks different.”

One of her key reference points is Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell, an album devoted to untangling messy, tragic, grief-filled and beautiful familial bonds. “I think it came out when I was in college, and it was just so—it really changed the way I thought about listening to music,” Beckerman says. “I loved how much about family it was and how it wasn’t like love. It wasn’t about romantic love, but it still managed to be really important-feeling and exciting and intimate and all these things. I was thinking about the fact that I could access that too.”

Whether it’s the friends she’s made from creating music, the family lore that runs through Long Is The Tunnel, or even touring with Black Country, New Road (who she describes as “Super nice. Way too nice”), community is the purpose, the drive and the proof of success for Daneshevskaya’s Anna Beckerman. “If I was doing this alone, I just wouldn’t do it. It’s not fun alone. I know there are people who are amazing and part of making music for them is solitude and isolation, and that’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “But, for me, at least in this part of my life and my life so far, it’s always been about friendship and coming together and fun and creating something with other people. I just have no interest in doing it alone.” Dunbar’s Number is no match for Daneshevskaya.

Andy Steiner is a writer, musician, and works in the music industry. When he’s not reviewing albums, you can find him collecting ‘80s Rush merchandise. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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