Öona Dahl's New Album, Morph, Is an Immersive Musical Balm to Soothe the Pain

Öona Dahl
Öona Dahl Photo courtesy of the artist
In February 2020, Öona Dahl decided it was time for a break — a long break. She was at Stonehenge filming the self-directed music video for "Love Is All We Need" with her idol-turned-friend Kirsty Hawkshaw and feeling rundown from over a year of nonstop touring and after falling ill with what she now thinks may have been undiagnosed COVID-19.

That month would mark the last time she played a show.

While the New York City-raised producer's on-the-road lifestyle — and the income source for both her and her husband, Chris Milo (AKA DJ Three) — was put on hold longer than expected, she hasn't sat idly. A self-proclaimed workaholic, she dropped three solo EPs: the self-released Road2Awe, Godtripper on Watergate, and Re:Luminate on Milo's Hallucienda. To top it off, Slumber, her project with best friend Amber Cox, had two releases drop via XLR8R and more recently on Guy Gerber's Rumors. She also completed her second full-length album, got married, and "made a remix" — AKA a baby.

The album, Morph, dropped on May 7 on Hallucienda, only weeks after she gave birth to her daughter Aura. And with it comes a rebirth for Dahl, as she processed the darkness and difficulty of 2020 into a pastel-hued sound bath.

"Even though I haven't been able to see anybody, it's been a little weird — and nice — to really hear myself think," she explains to New Times over video chat. "That's why the album is so personable.

"It's hard to write when you're on the road. You go home, and you're rushed to write a track, then you leave, and, later, you have to pick up where you left off. I love being able to start a track and then not have to worry about stopping it and just keep going and keep the vibe. Because sometimes when you go back to older projects, you don't have that same moment, that same magic that you had when you started it."

While she used the extensive time at home to create beautiful things, it was not without its challenges. Without shows, she and Milo live a secluded life on Florida's Gulf Coast, having moved there years ago to be closer to family. During that time, they lost close friends and family to COVID-19 and mental-health struggles and had to hunt down artist grants so they could survive beyond the six months of rainy-day funds they'd saved.
After losing a friend and witnessing a nation traumatized by racial violence and the intensifying pandemic, Dahl found herself in a dark space when she started working on Morph shortly after her birthday in June 2020.

"There was a lot of negativity going on in the world," she elaborates. "I was in my head and needed a creative outlet to heal me. When I go into the studio [in a space like that], that's when some of the best stuff comes out of me, when I really just needed some self-healing.

"It's funny because when I look back at it now, and I hear the album, it totally makes sense that a lot of these songs are happy," Dahl reflects. "They are emotional, but there's something that makes you feel good about them. This reoccurring thing I do that I've only recently noticed is that I go into the studio and replace what's missing. With this album, I wanted happiness and positive energy. And I wanted something for people — including myself — to listen to that might make them feel better in times of darkness."

The personal effect of the creative process was profound and now lives on as another sonic Öona Dahl gem for her fans to immerse and lose themselves in.

"Morph is short for metamorphosis. While working on it, I 100 percent went through a metamorphosis. I am a completely different person than I was a year ago," Dahl says. "And I think the planet has also gone through this cycle of death and rebirth, in some way. I wanted to dedicate the album to everything we've all experienced in the last year."

The album closes with the pulsing "Sparkle & Fade," which Dahl started after a night out at the legendary Berlin techno club Berghain. The psychedelic-birthed track inspired the bassline through much of the album. The acid-house drum machines shine with an ecstatic post-club sunrise glow. Dahl has synesthesia, meaning sounds can evoke colorful visuals for her. That helped her reveal the color palette for the project, represented by the silvery blues and purples in the self-directed music video for "Morph."

From the dreamy soundscapes she creates to her luminescent aesthetic and the lucky moments she's manifested in her time on earth, Dahl's magic is palpable. During an interview for Mixmag in 2018, she reflected on the song that got her interested in dance music, deciding on Opus III's 1992 hit "It's a Fine Day." Even though the question got cut from the interview, Opus III frontwoman Kirsty Hawkshaw heard her call through the ether. Their friendship began when the veteran dance artist commented on Dahl's DJ set accompanying the Mixmag interview.
"She wrote, 'Hi, I love your music. My friend introduced me to you.' I literally screamed," she says. "I wrote her and told her everything about the interview. She was like, 'It was meant to be. Let's work together.' The rest is history. We're really close. She's got three kids, so I've been calling her throughout the pregnancy and asking her mom questions. It's a pretty beautiful relationship. We talk weekly."

"Serenity," on Morph, is the pair's second collaboration and came together in a separate session from "Love Is All We Need." They also have more songs they're working on together.

"She's just been so influential to me since I was 7 years old when Opus III's 'It's a Fine Day' came out. The fact that she reached out to me to work on music still blows my mind," Dahl marvels.

The "Angel" producer has always been drawn to electronic music, and after attending her first rave at 14 in Toronto, she knew it was going to be her life. Shortly after, she got turntables for Christmas and started DJ'ing at a popular raver hang out. By 17, she got her first club gig in New York, and at 18, moved to Tampa to earn a degree in sound design and digital media.

It was in Tampa that she would meet some of her lifelong fellow raver and DJ friends, including Milo, whom she encountered at an afterparty where he was playing. He took her under his wing, becoming a friend and mentor, ultimately releasing her music on Hallucienda, on which she says she "can be completely open as an artist." Years later, while they were working on her 2017 debut album, Holograma, their relationship blossomed into the romantic partnership it is today.

It's quite full-circle that years after meeting on a Tampa dance floor, they'd return to Florida and begin a new phase of their lives as partners and now parents, yet still ready to return to the incomparable glow and hum of the dance floor.

One of her big takeaways from her transformative time alone is the importance of investing time in self-care and doing what makes her happy.

"I think that's the only way I made it through this, was doing things that make me happy."
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