The rock and roll prowess comes honestly for Dana Fuchs. She was raised in a rock appreciative family, surrounded by cooler older siblings who guided her toward influential greats like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Now she’s an influence herself, a notable rock vocalist with an unmistakable vocal talent. We recently asked Dana about her background and how music helps her cope.
You’ve got this great rock and roll resume, but I’m wondering if that’s true to your childhood. Were you raised to appreciate rock music?
Absolutely. It’s funny, because I’m the youngest of six kids and all of my siblings and parents were really into music. Not everyone had musical talent. I think my mom did but she never did anything with it. She was in band and choir, but my oldest brother and sister had a band. At one point, my dad turned our entire living room in their rehearsal space and got them a PA system, some drums and they would rehearse there all the time. Because of being the youngest of six, I grew up on everything — the Beatles, Ray Charles, Zeppelin, the Stones. I was really fortunate to have such a wide array of musical genres.
That’s great. So many people who grow up with older siblings will point to them as their musical influences, being able to receive what’s cool from an older brother or sister.
Yeah I remember my oldest brother and sister had the Stones or Fleetwood Mac and we would stay up late at night or hang out on weekends always playing along. We had coffee cans and wooden spoons and we would literally jam out. [Laughs] It was so much fun. Music was literally the bond between us all. Me being the youngest and those two being the oldest, the age range was pretty vast but we were all able to hang out around music.
Obviously I want to ask about the new album and you’ve mentioned in your PledgeMusic campaign how personal these songs are so far. Is that par for the course for you in terms of every release being so personal or is this more so than before?
Honestly I’m wondering the same because they’ve all been so personal. The first one started after the suicide of my sister, my only sister, who was probably my biggest musical influence. It was her and my brother who had that band and she turned me on Queen and would sing me to sleep every night since we shared a bedroom. Her death was the catalyst for me to wake up, because I was taking a destructive path at that point, too. I had just moved to New York and she was already here. We were both small town girls trying to make our dreams come true. She’d taken a lot of wrong turns and when I moved up, we tried to connect, but she was pretty far gone. She took her life shortly after that, and so that was a real wake up call for me.
That first album was all about drugs and organized religion, which is where we came from. My brother would also deal with his own battle with mental illness, which was tied into this religious loop he fell into in the south. I wrote a song for him called “Bible Baby”. After my sister’s death, he took a turn for the worse because they were so close. He went into the woods and burned his guitar, his car, everything he owned, ran out naked and from then on, he was in and out of institutions.
So that whole first album was about all of that stuff: addiction, religion and death. Since then, unfortunately, each album has had a big pivotal moment where I’ve lost another family member. They’ve all been quite personal. In the last five years, I’ve lost that brother, another brother and both of my parents, so each record has been dedicated. It’s been a heavy, heavy trip.
On this new record, I’m hoping to put death behind me. I lost my mom shortly after I found out I was pregnant. We’re calling the tour next year Ready to Rise and since we’re not done with the album yet, it could very well be the album title, too. It’s putting the loss, hopefully, behind us a little bit and starting with new life with this unexpected baby coming at the strangest time.
The two songs I’ve written so far deal with all of this. One song “Calling Angels” was literally accidental. I was writing two weeks ago with my songwriting partner and we had this chorus melody and he was mumbling words. I heard angels in there and he’s atheist so it was interesting to me that he was saying angels. I’d been writing this song where each verse was about a family member. I didn’t even realize it was happening at the time, but it’s in order of their passing. So it’s a tribute to them.
I also don’t write a lot of happy baby songs, since I don’t write happy much of anything. [Laughs] But I ended up writing one right after having this little child and seeing all of this footage in Aleppo of these babies being brought out of war called “Orphans.” So this next album, I have no idea what the theme will be at this point, but it will all be personal.
Has music been the place you process traumatic experiences for a while?
Absolutely. With each passing of a family member, especially with my mom, I remember just saying, “I can’t see myself ever getting on stage and peforming again.” Her loss was so devastating that I couldn’t imagine doing it again. I did cancel some months of shows, but quicker than I imagined, I was writing again and ready to perform again. I think it’s because of that catharsis. It’s a vehicle to heal from this.
Then you get in front of a live audience and I’ve had some amazing fans following from the get-go and they know these stories. I even see their faces when I write these songs. They come to every show and they want to express a story that they have in common since they’ve lost someone. The shows have been about that — that we’re all in this boat called life together and suffering is a part of that, unfortunately. But you can transform that and change it into this joyful thing by sharing the music together. So it’s really shaped the live show for these last five years.
Yeah I was going to ask if that’s allowed the fans to connect at the same deep level that you’re writing at, but it sounds like that’s true.
My very first album, more than 10 years ago now, was the very first time I started talking death on stage after the death of my sister. I thought, “Wow, this really invites people in.” It’s something I had to do to get through some shows and to have things make sense to me. But now it’s such a part of the show and the writing. I’m going to offer up my story and take back theirs. It’s wonderful because I’ll get notes from fans who find me after a show and they’ll tell me their own stories and experiences of loss, and those will often given me an idea for another song. It’s such a shared process at this point.