Welcome back, everyone, to The First Act. I hope you are all in good spirits! But if you’re not, and you need to be reminded of what it feels like to be uplifted, then listen to Dana Falconberry, and good spirits will be restored to you. I have found Dana’s music to be tremendously calming and ever so pleasant.
The first song I ever listened to by Dana Falconberry, “Lake Charlevoix”, is a beautiful sample of the majesty of her recently released album, “Leelanau”. When I listen to the music of Dana and her band on this album, I feel like I am ambling observantly through the woods in the early Fall. The leaves have just turned that “Maple Leaf Red” and every step I take leaves an imprint in the soft, moist earth. “Leelanau” not only brings the sound of Nature to life, but transports you into Nature itself.
When Redding Hunter of Peter and the Wolf mentioned her to me in his interview for this column, I immediately pounced on the recommendation. Not only did I enjoy her music enormously, but I discovered that she would be playing in Boston the following week as the first act in front of Futurebirds and The Heartless Bastards. Click HERE for pictures from the Dana Falconberry/Futurebirds/Heartless Bastards show.
I made arrangements to go to the show to interview Dana and her band. After a short, but enjoyable set, I met Dana and the band backstage, where we found a relatively quiet place to sit down and chat. Dana and her band (members include: Gina Dvorak, Karla Manzur, Matthew Shepherd, Christopher Cox ) are an absolute delight and I am wicked excited to share their music and our interview with all of you patient, wonderful readers.
As always with my column, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you all to a wonderful music act–and so, for your listening pleasure, I give you: Dana Falconberry.
THE BAND: The Album, The Creative Process, The Story.
Matia: So, welcome to Boston you guys.
Matia: So you guys have been on tour since, when, January? I looked at your past show schedule and it seems like you’ve been on the road for quite some time.
Dana: Yeah, well, on and off. It hasn’t been constant, but we’ve been on and off on the road. And sometimes we do different lineups because some people can’t make certain tours.
Matia: So how did you have time to record the record?
Dana: Well we did it all in about a week so it wasn’t that time-consuming.
Dana: Yeah, we did the main stuff in a week. We lived at this… well I lived at this church house studio in Austin and we recorded for like 15 hours a day for a week. It was pretty intense.
Matia: Wow. That’s crazy. Let’s talk about the album a little bit. Did you write all the songs yourself? How much collaboration was involved?
Dana: Yeah. I do all the lyric writing, but then we collaborate on our parts a lot. Everybody usually… I guess on that record I wrote some of the parts, but especially now, our newer stuff, everybody writes their own parts.
Matia (to Matt): So did you write all of your percussion parts then? I noticed you had a very interesting job up there on stage.
Matt: Yeah percussion was… it was both of us, kind of… I’d throw an idea out there and she’d be like, ‘Well how about this…’ and I’d try to implement it. Just kinda like push-and-pull, lots of back and forth.
Gina: I think all-in-all Dana has a certain aesthetic or idea of the sound she wants and we kind of all understand what that is a little bit…
Gina: So, even if she can’t define what it is, Matt can kind of like do different things…
Matt: She’ll be like, ‘a willow tree blowing in the wind’ or ‘a song bird chirping’ and I’ll be like…
Matt: And I can tell pretty quickly if she likes it or not.
Matia: So you guys have been playing together for a while then.
Matt: Yeah, a couple years.
Matia: How did you guys come to be who you are now–a band, I mean.
Dana: I’ve been playing with Gina for about 5 or 6 years. And then the rest of us, I guess put a show together, well, two years ago, for a specific show. And we put the band together for that. And then I just kept asking them to play shows.
Matia: Are you all from Michigan originally?
Dana: No, I’m the only one.
Matia: You’re the only one. So are you guys from Austin, then?
Matt: Nope, nobody’s from Austin.
Matia: Nobody’s from Austin! And yet you all live there! So then where are you all from?
Gina: We’re from Texas, the three of us, just not from Austin. A Houston suburb. And we have a missing member here too. She’s from Texas too. You two (Dana and Karla) are the only non-Texans.
Matia (to Karla): Where are you from?
Karla: Washington D.C.
Matia: Okay, okay… East Coast, alright!
Matia: So what kind of background do you guys have in music? How long have you been playing? Have you studied music theory? Anything like that?
Dana: Well Chris is a mastermind.
Chris: I actually went to school here in town…
Matia: Did you go to Berklee?
Chris: Yeah, I went to Berklee and studied various things.
Matia: So then you lived here for a time then?
Matia: How did you like it?
Chris: I liked it alright. I wouldn’t live here again.
Dana: But he was super excited to be back here! He showed us around and he was just in his own little zone.
Matia: So was it the winter that did it?
Chris: Ah, the winters, yes.
Matia: How long have you guys been playing music? How long have you (to Gina) been playing Banjo?
Gina: Not very long.
Matia: Is that your primary instrument?
Gina: No, I play guitar, not very well, but I play it.
Matt: Gina wails on the guitar, don’t let her fool you.
Gina: I didn’t study music theory or anything, but with Dana I kind of just morphed into playing banjo. I did musical theatre when I was younger and so I started singing a lot when I was young and then when I was in like 6th Grade I started playing guitar, and took some lessons. And then with Dana, we tried a bunch of different things. I’ve never played guitar with you, but we did percussion things.
Karla: I think it just keeps morphing to… whatever the song needs.
Matt: Everybody plays multiple instruments in the band.
Dana: Karla plays like a billion instruments and Lindsey plays a bunch of instruments.
Karla: Gotta do a lot of practising.
Matia: You were on the accordion, right?
Karla: Well the accordion, I call it the “one-handed accordion” because I only play with one. I’m kind of learning as we need it.
Gina: I think what you do with the accordion is like what I started to do with the banjo. Like, “I can try to figure this out, maybe”.
Karla: Yeah, that’s the thing… it’s like, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing, so I’m going to try to make cool sounds with it’. That’s kind of my approach for that. But I’ve played piano since I was 3, basically.
The Show and The Tour.
Matia: What did you think of the show tonight?
Matt: It was kind of early, but at the same time everyone was really attentive and the sound was great.
Dana: Yeah, and it’s a beautiful room too. We’ve played so many awesome venues on this tour. It’s crazy. We were just talking about how hard it’s going to be to go back.
Matt: Better than the dives we were playing. We’re a little bit spoiled now.
Matia: Are you going to continue touring after–well, when’s your last show? You’re playing in New York and Philly next right?
Matt: Yeah, and then D.C. Unless we get swept away by the storm. We’re kinda keeping our eyes on that. But we just got a tour van, our own van, so we don’t have to rent anymore.
Matia: What happened to the old van?
Karla: We’re renting a van right now. It was having some problems today though.
Matt: We were actually going to drive it off into the Atlantic. Go straight into the Atlantic Ocean.
Matia: Well that’s a great way to put it down, I suppose.
[Laughing and ‘Yeahs’]
Matia: You’ve been on a kind of cross-country road trip for this tour. You must have seen some really fun stuff.
Matt: Oh yeah. Futurebirds have been great, The Heartless Bastards are totally awesome. It’s been a fun tour.
Dana: Yeah, it’s been a really fun tour.
Matia: So what’s the plan after your last show?
Dana: November is kind of–we’re doing a lot of one-off type stuff, like Oklahoma City, and stuff like that. We’re going to do a lot more touring, obviously, but we don’t have a lot of stuff lined up. We’re working on lining stuff up. And then January/February we’re going to write for the next record.
Matt: Yeah, that’s really the big thing–aside from trying to scare up some tours–we’re trying to really set our sights on the next record because we’ve got a lot of new material that we’ve been cooking. We played several of the songs tonight that aren’t even on the recent release.
Matia: Yeah, I didn’t recognize like half the songs you played.
Matt: We’re just super stoked about the new stuff. We love the old stuff too obviously, but that’s kind of what we’re looking towards on the horizon right now.
Dana: Yeah, we’re excited to record the new stuff. I gotta do a little more writing!
THE ALBUM: The Process, The Sound.
Matia: Do you guys listen to other bands while you’re recording your albums? Do you think they come through in your music?
Matt: I totally did.
Chris: Yeah–during this last album there was a lot of different things. A lot of orchestral music.
Karla: Chris did all the arrangements for the strings and the harp.
Chris: Yeah, I think it comes through.
Matt: Well, what I was listening to, I don’t think really came through at all. I was listening to nothing but Sufjan Stevens, “The Age of Adz”. Like every day driving to the studio it was all dreary and cloudy and stuff. Oh my God, every time I hear that record I think of our recording, of that session. It brings me right back to it. It probably didn’t translate at all.
Karla: There was that Shearwater show. I remember telling you guys about it. And we have since played with Shearwater.
Matia: That’s cool!
Karla: And we’re friends.
Dana: Shearwater is one of our dream bands.
Matia (to Dana): So what were you listening to then?
Dana: Oh, nothing.
Matia: Nothing? Just silence?
Dana: No, not even. I didn’t have time to listen to anything. I was literally recording for 15 hours a day and then I would go to sleep and I would have like “sleep recording dreams”. My brain was just crazy, stuck in recording land and I would go to sleep and wake up and go ‘Sleep–take 2” and roll over and then, ‘Sleep–take 2. No this isn’t right, sleep–take 4”.
Dana: I didn’t leave the studio. I left the studio twice for tacos. Other than that I didn’t leave.
Matt: So a little background… the studio that we recorded in is an old Gospel church converted, you know, and there’s also like living quarters in it as well, so that’s why she was able to crash there. There’s like a family that lives there and they were out of town that week, so we could stay up really late and get all spooky and stuff.
Dana: Then we did a kitchen jam one night. Well that was the last thing we did. We finished the record and then we just went nuts in the kitchen
Matia: This current record, “Leelanau”–that’s a place in Michigan right?
Dana: There is a lake “Leelanau”, but the “Leelanau” I’m referring to is a peninsula in Michigan. It’s like this specific area in Michigan. It’s on Lake Michigan and there’s the “Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes” there.
Matia: When I was listening to it, and this may be because it’s Fall up here, but every time I listen to that record I feel like I can see, or I can hear the leaves changing color. I’m just walking around, and it’s super colorful up here right now, so maybe that’s it, but I feel like I’m hearing Nature come off of this record.
Dana: Oh man. That’s so great!
Matia: I love albums that feel like one long song, like the second side of Abbey Road.
Dana: Well, that’s kind of what we tried to do with this last album too.
Matia: Yeah, I think you did it.
THE SCENE: Austin, TX — The Place, The People.
Matia: Are you guys one of those bands that everyone in Austin goes to see? Are you one of those local acts?
Matt: Austin is funny though. It’s funny because like, I don’t know if I should divulge this information. It’s kind of insider info.
Matia: I can turn this off if you want!
Matt: Whatever. It needs to be called out. The thing about Austin is there is so much talent there and there are so many amazing bands that it’s like really saturated with that stuff. Consequently, it’s like you have to go out and get cred on like a national scene, in order to get like—I mean, we are supported in Austin, but it’s hard to get to that point in Austin because…
Karla: I think the hardest part about it is the crowd. I mean, like–the radio stations have been so supportive of us there and the newspapers have been really supportive. Like KUT, which is the NPR station there, they have been so good to us, it’s crazy. But I mean still, they can do a whole story on you and you can do a live session in their studio and still not a whole lot of people come. Sometimes a lot of people come though.
Matia: When I was talking to Redding Hunter I asked him to list off the first five bands he could think of and you guys were the first one on his list.
[Aws and Giggles]
Matt: So are you going to ask us that question?
Matia: What question? The first five bands? Do you want to answer it? How about this: are you friends with any bands in particular in Austin?
Dana: Well, okay, Austin bands. Maybe our new favorite is Goodfield. They played on our album release show.
Matt: Yeah, they were just up in New York at CMJ too. Yeah, yeah, Goodfield.
Karla: And My Jerusalem.
Dana: Yeah, I just went on tour with them.
Matt: And Shearwater too.
Dana: Yeah, I was just on tour with My Jerusalem and it was so much fun. They are so awesome. They’re really, really good people.
Matia: Well, that’s good. I’ve been trying to delve into the Austin scene from up here, which is a little difficult given the distance, but I try to give our readers a sense of the scene that these bands come out of because the whole idea behind the column that I write is it’s exclusively for smaller bands that don’t really get the press that they need to really earn a substantial living.
Matt: That’s righteous, man.
Matia: Well, you gotta try. I was raised by a musician, so…
Dana: Another one of our favorites is Some Say Leland.
Matt: There’s a lot of good music happening in Austin and we’ve been there long enough to see the ebb and flow of the scene. And it feels like right now there’s a lot of productivity and creativity going on.
THE SOUND: Let’s Talk Genre, or Not
Matia: Alright, I have to ask you guys… I’ve been thinking a lot about genres in music lately and how they really just don’t apply anymore because when you say a band is, ‘oh it’s like folk-blues-electronica-punk,’ and it’s like, ‘okay, so what is that?’ I just want to ask your opinion, do genres still have any relevance in music anymore?
Dana: Yeah, I think so. I think so as far as… especially when you’re thinking about doing opening slots for other bands. Of course, I love the cross-genre thing too. Or maybe genre can be redefined or something. I think that it does matter what kind of music you play. And there are still different kinds of music still, and different scenes to be in for sure, and different audiences that wouldn’t necessarily like the same things. I think the language of it just changes a lot. Indie, for example, doesn’t mean “indie” anymore. It doesn’t mean independent, and that’s fine.
Matia: Do you think there’s any validity to classifying yourselves in terms of genre? Or is it just take the sound for what it is and think of it what you will?
Dana: Well, I think definitely, yes. I would love for people to just not think of us as any specific thing and just listen to the music, but I think where genre is important for an up and coming band is that to catch people’s eyes and ear you have to explain what you do because they’re not going to listen to the whole record. You know what I mean? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t listen to the whole record of somebody I didn’t know, unless somebody told me to or I knew what they were doing. I know it’s not a popular thing to label yourself, but I think it’s important in some ways because you have to market yourself.
Matia: Okay, so how would you classify yourselves then?
[moment of brief silence]
Gina: Lately I think people have been saying, “Avant Folk”.
Dana: Yeah, somebody told us that we’re “avant folk” and we really liked that. On our last tour we got a lot of unsolicited genre definition. And “avant folk”–we really liked that one. I think that’s accurate. I mean it is folky, but we do weird–it’s not like Bob Dylan folky.
Matt: The next record might throw that away. Maybe the last record could be classified that way. I don’t know. We’ll let y’all decide.
**If you know a band you think would be great for this column, then send their music to Matia Guardabascio at firstname.lastname@example.org.**