Nicole Pfeifer, also known by the moniker Devata Daun, exudes a warm confidence. She smiles easily and invites conversation, our topics ranging from septum jewelry to curry recommendations. This welcoming human being I recently met seems directly in contrast to her recent musical work, best described as “electro darkwave.” Both her persona and her music could be accredited to a simple fact: Pfeifer is finally becoming comfortable with herself.
Pfeifer grew up in the south-central Minnesota town of New Ulm, famous for its German-American heritage. There, Pfeifer felt singled out as not only an adoptee but, in her words, the “only Asian.” This sense of exclusion from the norm fed into a feeling of deep-seated alienation. Pfeifer now lives in Minneapolis, her life in the Twin Cities has fostered personal growth. Her gratitude for the inclusive community she’s found here has enabled her to celebrate her heritage, and by extension, to celebrate herself.
Music was not always a cornerstone of Pfeifer’s life. She credits her brother for finally talking her into spending some time in a studio they had access to. His incessant badgering to try her hand at songwriting has changed the course of her life, but not without putting in the necessary toil. She says she committed eight hours a day to sitting down and crafting songs, honing in her natural ability. One of her first musical endeavors was in the band Nicole and the Avalanche, creating melodic piano indie-pop tunes.
A solo project seems a natural progression of her musical career as a highly individualistic person with an increasing awareness of self. Leaving behind the politics and group identity of bands has allowed Pfeifer to take control of what she produces, becoming the boss of herself. She can now pursue the sound she wants, staking her claim in the local music scene in a genre that doesn’t have a true “scene” here. With her dark, brooding electronic music and distorted yet soulful voice combined to create a distinctly lo-fi product, Devata Daun (that’s pronounced Duh-vah-tuh Dawn) seems an anomaly in the musical landscape of the Twin Cities.
Championing individuality while still searching for a community seems a recurring theme in both Pfeifer’s musical career and life, a tough balance to achieve. An upcoming record label she is helping found seems to be an attempt to achieve harmony. So far Pitch Records, hopefully officially launching by the end of this year, is home to two other artists like herself: solo projects creating progressive electronic music. Also on the label is her producer, Ryan Olcott of 12 Rods fame. Pfeifer spoke highly of Olcott’s involvement, saying that he pushed her music to the best it could be while not comprising her initial vision. She is hoping to release two more singles besides the already-released “I’ve Been Here Before” before dropping her debut sometime before the year’s end.
We discussed the music that she had been listening to lately (Lower Dens, Stereolab, Joy Division, Depeche Mode) and reminisced about the few albums she had growing up (specifically Fiona Apple’s Tidal). However, Pfeifer doesn’t cite any overarching influences. She works with an old Casio keyboard she thrifted, allowing the limited capability of the machine to cause her to think creatively about the music she writes.
Instead of deterring her, limitation and alienation have caused Pfeifer to thrive and push herself to create unique music. Her advocacy for pursuing individualism is inspiring, as she reclaims her outsider status and blossoms into her own vision of who she is.
Hannah Marie Hron is a sophomore at Hamline University studying English, Communication, and Women’s Studies.