- Published: Saturday, September 12 2015 12:01
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
As human beings, somewhere, our destiny is already written. We grow with our grand dreams when we are young, then our lives take unexpected twists and turns and take us to directions we never expected. Some of those directions test us intensely, sometimes not in a very nice way, to the point that we need to find refuge or salvation somewhere in our souls by gripping onto something that keeps us alive.
Dana Fuchs knows this, for certain, very well. And through music, this fabulous New Jersey born singer/songwriter has found solace in her life, gifting at the same time millions of music lovers through her wonderful voice and through her songs.
When Bluebird Reviews meets Dana Fuchs, she looks, as always, stunningly beautiful and very chilled, despite being constantly on tour with her band. Songs From The Road is her latest live album, which has reinstated once again the stature, charisma and talent of the American Artist. "You know, the thing about the live album, it's kind of funny because it came about at the very last minute. We had already done two studio CDs with our label and, when it was time to do the third, as part of our deal, we were asked to do a live album. So I said to them: "Great, I have got a show coming up in New York City, let's film it there!".
Putting together the tracklist of a live album is always a difficult task and one would imagine that, sometimes, tough choices need to be made in cutting off some of the fans' old favourites. "That was really the hard part. What made it easier was the fact I already had some songs out there, part of my early albums, already on the first live CD I did some time ago. I have been touring Bliss Avenue (her latest studio album) for the last year and a half and I thought these songs were still sounding very fresh to me. So I said to myself: "Ok, this live album it's going to be mostly concentrated on Bliss Avenue's songs plus some other stuff I never managed to film on camera in a live concert before". So that's what I did".
Music is one of those life's paths in which an artist may make really great friends for life, in terms of fellow musicians. For Fuchs and Jon Diamond, co-writer of most of Dana's songs and band guitarist, though, things have been a little more personal, having been not just partners in crime, musically speaking but also partners in life. Despite not being an item any longer, both Dana and Jon keep working together and it must have been pretty tough, given their past together, to reach that stage in which writing songs together becomes just "part of the business". "You know, it happened pretty early on for us, when we were doing other people's music on the blues circuit, as they call it here in New York. After one year of doing that, I realised that it was time for me to write my own stories. I didn't grow up in Tobacco Road and all those great blues songs weren't exactly my story. I just wanted to write my story in my own way, with that kind of rock and roll influence, because I was raised on classic rock from my older siblings. Jon and I first wondered, "How do we do this?". So we sat down and our first song was called Hiding From Your Love, which is on my first studio and live CD. So after that, we thought: "Ok, this is fun!". You know, sometimes you struggle, sometimes you don't, sometimes you throw it away and revisit it. There is always that process but it did feel natural for us, working together. We just really come from such similar places, musically and stylistically, so there was never any big fights between us about music directions to be taken or that sort of discussion. It has always been cool, with Jon".
Dana Fuchs is one of the most recognisable voices of the music business. Her voice fully frames the personality of this highly talented artist. "I joke because I was the youngest of 6 kids but the loudest! I remember in school I was constantly hearing people saying: "Oh, you've got such a deep, powerful voice, with such resonance". I was always hearing that, but, until I started singing, I didn't realise how strong it was. I remember one of my first shows in New York, the sound man said: "Oh, my God you are blowing up my desk, with your voice!". It just sort of happened and then, of course, I started working with a vocal coach because, naturally, I would sing that hard and I was so inexperienced that, after 4-5 songs, my voice would be tired and swollen. In that way, I learned how to use that "instrument" to my advantage over the years".
Bluebird Review has been listening lately to a lot of the Bliss Avenue studio album, to which Dana Fuchs was referring previously. The themes of the album recall darkness and a touch of spirituality as well. An album in which it is hard, sometimes, to imagine what was Fuchs' state of mind. "Certainly darkness. I love your view of that record. You know, "Bliss" has been for me a long affair. After having been in the studio for several times and recorded an album that probably will never see the light of the day, because I didn't feel that album was really me but someone else's, I finally just felt I could really open up and being who I am. I felt I had the chance to share some great experiences I had and people I deeply loved and just throw it all out there, when "Bliss" was made. You can't do that, on an album, until you are in a good enough place of your soul to do it. You can't sing about the pain, when you are still in it. I think it's always easier to do so in retrospective, to look at it and say: "Wow, what a powerful time that was, what a lesson or experience I learned" and then you can be a little more reflective about it. It is more redemptive too, because a lot of the songs' lyrics are very dark but at the same time, the music is still upbeat and I love that kind of contrast in a record".
Many know that this New York-based artist has had the leading role in the Broadway musical inspired by Janis Joplin called Love, Janis. Also, a very successful stint as an actress in Hollywood, by playing the role of Sadie in the 2007 movie called Across The Universe, nominated in that year for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
It must be a bit tricky to juggle so many careers. "I've gotta to say, it's not that tricky. I had to make a choice after I did the film Across The Universe. The agents in Hollywood wanted me to take a year and come out and audition every day and live that kind of life. At the time, I was so ready to get on the road because, all in all, music is my real passion. Acting is fun, you know, I always say, if something cool comes along I would think about it, if it doesn't clash with my music career. You know, acting is such a big commitment too. I didn't really have a lot of juggling to do. It would have been different if I had within myself a burning desire to act, but music is all that matters to me. If I was not going to make music, I would have probably been teaching children (chuckles)".
Life has been hitting Dana Fuchs very hard, in recent years, through some personal family losses. Having been so close to her family all her life, one may wonder how Fuchs managed to overcome such hard times and how much music might have helped this phenomenal performer to mend such deep, emotional scars. "I feel so lucky that music can be so cathartic for me. Recently, it was the first year anniversary of my father's death and the eighth month anniversary of my brother's death at the same time, literally the same day. It was a very loaded time for me because a week after my father's and brother's anniversary it's my sister's anniversary too and few months ago was the anniversary of my older brother's death. Your question, in that respect, is really timely. Since the first loss, which was my only sister's and was so shocking because she took her life, that was the moment when I realised I HAD to do music. Making music together was our dream when we were little girls, although there was a considerable age gap but we shared the same bedroom and she was singing to sleep at night, I shall never forget that. We were both gonna make it as singers.... When she took that dark path and didn't survive, that was my big wake up call, like saying to myself "Let's do or die". Since then, after that, there was my oldest brother, who coincidentally was my sister's bandmate and he'd given up music for all kind of strange religious ideologies and it depressed him and he had a very tortured life since then. Being with him as he died, due to a terrible and unexpected brain cancer, was another terrible moment for me and I had just to thank music that took me through the whole of it. The music and the audience. To be able to go on stage and say "F**k, I just had this experience, how many of you had that too?". And the people would yell out the names of lost loved ones and I would say "Let's celebrate their lives tonight"... It's such a blessing".
Our website has had the opportunity to see the American Singer/Songwriter performing at the Lead Belly Tribute night in London, at the Royal Albert Hall, where she beautifully belted out a potent rendition of Gallows Pole, first recorded by Lead Belly back in 1939, then re-vamped by Led Zeppelin in later years. Given the importance of the event and the amount of extraordinary musicians present that night, Dana Fuchs must have great memories of that magical night of music. "You know, it was amazing to discover that all the stuff I used to listen to when I was a kid, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, were so immensly influenced by Lead Belly. Even when I was unaware of all this, Lead Belly has been indirectly a big influence on me. It was a spectacular night. I have gotta to say, that place, the Royal Albert hall, is indeed "Royal". I don't think I have ever been on a special stage like that ever. Just being with all those musicians, on so many different levels, different styles and sharing that night on stage together, was one of the highlights of my career. I had such a great time and to sing a Led Zeppelin song! My word, that was the icing on the cake! I was so terrified and excited at the same time to sing that song. It wasn't an easy one to sing but I threw myself into it deeply and I just felt the story of that song so much".
With such formidable career, surely Fuchs must have no regrets at all in her life.... Or maybe not? "Oh, plenty. You know, wishing I had stuck with piano, done more lessons and practicing some more, little things like that, for example. Certainly, over the years, you look back and you go: "Aarghh, what if I had done what this person said to do, back then?". You know, I was a little stubborn when I started out, I was a little anti-pop. I remember I was approached at the time by somebody that wrote some really terrible pop lyrics and I was horrified at the idea of working with this person.... I certainly made my path in music harder for me already since those early days (chuckles)".
To be constantly on tour does not give many windows of opportunity to record a new album. Dana Fuchs is currently promoting an acoustic album of her most famous hits called Broken Down, available exclusively at the venues where she is performing before its release date in November 2015. When it comes to the recording plan of a new studio album, though, Fuchs is not entirely sure when that is going to take place. "It just depends when we can get into the studio. We have a pretty full tour schedule up until November this year. We usually record over the holiday period, that's when everybody is off the road and we can get musicians here in New York. It depends also about what the label wants and what we would like to do and, as you can imagine, there are always a lots of discussions happening on this subject. But we are writing and it will be interesting, as it always happens with my records. I never know the directions they are gonna take until you get into the studio and you feel it. It's like being on a stage, I never like to make a setlist, I like to feel what the audience is up to and what they feel like and then I can kind of call it from there".
Before parting company, there is one of Fuchs' songs buzzing in BBR's head, called Long Long Game, in which she is singing: "Whiskey bound on a whistling train, another town but it's all the same. Take a bow when they call your name, oh baby, that's the price you gonna pay for fame". I cannot stop myself by asking Dana whether that "Whistling Train" has taken her where she wanted to be, in her life and career. "Great question. That is one of my favourite songs on that record and I never knew why and I thank you for that. That Whistling Train may have not taken me where I thought I wanted to be, but for sure, much further from where I was. I feel it's just taking me to where I'm supposed to be and that's when you learn, that is the one thing you really realise. You realise that the notions and the dreams you have, will set you on a path on which you have to be open about whatever the outcome is. If you merely focus otherwise on things like "It's gotta be in this way" then you end up missing out on so many beautiful opportunities around you. So, I guess my Whistling Train is still going".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato