Dana Fuchs’ 4th album, Love Lives On, drips with emotion, honesty and passion. Recorded in Memphis, the songs are soaked in traditional American soul, along with a huge dollop of blues, and yet sound bang up to date. Born out of the pain of family loss and also the birth of her baby, Dana Fuchs sees the album as something of a new beginning for her. It is, she says, “all about hope and perseverance.”
Down at the Crossroads talked to Dana about making the album and the background to some of the songs.
DATC: Congratulations on the new album, Love Lives On. It’s got a great classic feel to it, great arrangements, great vocal performance – we love it! Tell us about the background of making the album and what you were trying to do with it.
DF: Thank you! I decided to get out of New York City and go to the root of the music that inspired me to follow my passion. The southern soul of Stax/Volt, Hi Records and Sun Studios. From Otis Redding to Al Green to Johnny Cash. All huge musical influences.
It’s a way of paying homage to these great artists who inspired countless others. All roads pointed to Memphis. I wanted less heavy guitar and more space for the vocal. So, in
February and March 2017 we wrote songs with that direction which was so much fun because we only wrote with acoustic guitars and we would sing the horn lines we imagined creating with Memphis horns. Then I took a European tour that April trying them out live and then I went to Memphis to record my faves in May 2017.
DATC: Musically, it’s very rich – you’ve really got a great Memphis soul sound going, Tell us a bit about the musicians you worked with and the process of making this album.
- Charles Hodges – Charles created the soul rock organ! At one point I had a steady diet of those Hi Record recordings of the Reverend Al Green. I never really knew much about the Hammond organ until I discovered these records as a young girl. That warm enveloping syrupy church sound that just makes you swoon. Charles Hodges created that as far as I’m concerned.
- Steve Potts is the drummer – I wanted a seriously rooted drummer. A guy who had as much power as he does soul. A guy that defies all genre. That is Steve Potts. Almost 70 years old and plays with the strength of a 20 year old but with the wisdom and finesse that comes from his years of experience playing with so many legends of these genres.
- Then there is Glenn Patscha – Glenn has played on every album I’ve made except my very first. He’s truly a musical genius. He brings a flare and style to the piano, Wurlitzer and organ that is so unique. It’s incredibly unpredictable. He plays as if he’s a string or horn section and literally sings the parts for both before they even exist. He can make keyboards sound like guitars, strings, horns, bells and go from dark and moody to happy and hopeful in one measure. It’s other worldly.
- Jack Daley is the powerhouse bass player. He’s got such a feel and focus that just glues together every song. He’s also been on most all of my albums. Not to mention he’s just a Prince of a human being. Jack is such a strong presence on bass yet at the same time can totally adapt and go with any flow. He’s like that personally, as well.
- And then, Jon Diamond – Jon is the person I began my real musical pursuit with. He is the one who turned me on to Otis and Al Green. He puts the music under my words and knows where I’m going with something, sometimes almost before I do. It’s a real songwriting partnership. He’s been in the trenches with me since day one. For better or for worse…hahahaha!
These guys were the live tracking band and made the songs come to life. We’d listen down to the acoustic demo of each song once or twice and Steve the drummer would say, “Let’s cut it!” And we’d go in and usually they’d nail it in the first or second take.
It was seamless. After that we brought in the horns. Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers.
They are the main studio guys down there and I see why! They were lightning fast.
I’ve never worked with a horn section before, but it was amazing to be able to say, “Hey guys, can you make that part a little more…sad?” Sometimes I’d say “lonely” or “desperate” or “hopeful’ and they’d just nail it in one take. The singers were also just unbelievable. Reba Russell and Susan Marshall. Again, lightning fast and this style just pours from their bodies and throats! Felix Hernandez was another gem we discovered down there. We kept hearing congas on a few of the tracks and I finally asked the producer Kevin Houston if he could find someone. We were almost out of time, but he delivered Felix and Felix more than delivered!
All of the musicians were chosen by Kevin Houston our producer except my NYC guys who’ve played on most of my albums: Jon Diamond, Jack Daley and Glenn Patscha.
DATC: The album has a very positive, uplifting vibe. How much does that reflect your approach to life? Because as I understand it, life was pretty difficult for you at one stage.
DF: Yes, life definitely threw some tough punches my way and knowing that this is what life tends to do and many others have had it far worse, I was able to make the choice to use it as a way to grow and maybe even benefit others by sharing through music, or to just shut down. There were times when I wondered if I’d ever be able to find joy on stage or in music again, but music never let me down. (The business might – but the music doesn’t!). As a Dutch friend of mine who works with refugees, addicts, orphans and autistic kids likes to say “we can go bitter or go better”. I love that. So, the album became about hope and perseverance. Hopefully for anyone struggling who listens to it they’ll know they’re not alone.
DATC: Tell us about Callin’ Angels. It sounds like a call to be defiant in the face of difficulties.
DF: This is a song that has a verse for each family member who I lost. The idea came about when I arrived at our Harlem studio at Jon Diamond’s place to write and he was playing the chords and saying “Come on all you angels.” Which struck me as odd because he’s an atheist and Jewish! He had no intention behind the words and was just thinking “gospel” style. I immediately recalled a message someone sent me after my mother passed saying that with all the family loss I now had a lot of angels watching over me. I was struck by the sweet sentiment and then reflected on how many of us have gone through loss already, so it has become a song of conjuring our lost loved ones in our hearts at every show. But, I love that you see the defiance because it’s definitely there. There are times when I just speak to my brothers, sister or parents and say: “where the hell are you and why did you have to leave too soon?” Sort of telling them “ok, if you’re angels watching over me, give some clue as to what the heck I’m supposed to be doing!”
DATC: And then there’s the gospel feel of Faithful Sinner, with the invitational church organ at the outset. What’s the background to that song?
DF: This song is about my father who went into the hospital with pneumonia and then was sent to a rehabilitation center to get his strength back. He never did and died there hours after the family left him for the night. I know that he knew he was going and I could see how scared he was. He was a very tortured soul who had one of the most brutal lives of anyone I’ve ever known. Severely abused by his own father & mother. His father’s beatings only stopped because his father took his own life. My father found him. With all that pain he was most certainly a flawed parent. Yet he tried so hard to do what was right. A young man with 6 kids of his own struggling to keep his family running, he still always made sure we had a Christmas tree with toys, Easter baskets, bicycles he taught us to ride and he even made Halloween costumes every year for us with scraps of things around the house. He could also be very angry and scary – especially when he drank. That’s when the pain would overcome him, I think. Still we knew he loved us. He’d go to schools battling for us if we were wronged. In the end, I know he felt so much guilt for where he failed as a parent. He was raised Catholic and convinced God would never forgive him. After he died my brother had a dream where my father told him that he thought “God set him up to fail.” This floored me, and I thought about my dad being once a beautiful little baby with so much hope and promise only to be neglected, abused and then try still to be a good person and father. Which in many respects he most certainly was. Hence, Faithful Sinner. Ultimately, aren’t we all just flawed beings who are trying (I hope) to do the right thing?
DATC: Have you a particular favorite song on the album, one that’s particularly meaningful for you?
DF: It changes around. First it was, Love Lives On, because that song was written for my mother while she was passing away next to me and I had just found out I was having a child. Then it was Faithful Sinner and lately Sedative because it’s such a fun one to do live. Plus, everyone initially thought it was about sex and a relationship gone wrong but it’s about panic attacks in the middle of the night from a mind that’s gone wrong!
DATC: You’ve included a cover of Ring of Fire. Johnny Cash’s original with the mariachi horns and so on is so distinctive, I wondered how you could do it differently. But it’s great. Why did you decide to include this?
DF: After my father passed away, I began covering this song live in this gospel way dedicating it to him each night. He was a huge Johnny Cash fan as was I, thanks to him playing it for us as kids. It was always so well received by audiences and once I knew I was recording in Memphis it made so much sense to add it. It’s become a tribute to two great and tortured souls with bellowing voices.
DATC: You’re an ambassador for the JED Foundation. Tell us about that.
DF: The JED foundation is an organization whose mission is to protect the emotional well-being and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. Statistically, teens and young adults are suffering at alarming rates from a range of mental health issues including suicidal ideation and attempts. This level of emotional distress can be brought on by being overwhelmed with the transition into adulthood, especially if they’re battling depression, anxiety, bullying, discrimination, or any number of hidden triggers in their lives. I was approached by the CEO, John MacPhee, a few years ago, who is a fan and had been to several of my shows and heard me talk about my sister’s suicide around a song I’d written for her called, Songbird Fly Me To Sleep. Since then, I have trained with JED and The Moth to become a JED Storyteller and I always attend their storyteller events and fundraisers, where young people get up and share their lived experiences. It’s really a smart approach, because hearing another person sharing what happened to them and how they got, or fought through it, is an incredible way to reduce stigma and create empathy and understanding. The song, Fight My Way is another one of my faves on the album, which I wrote just 2 days before going to Memphis to record, about the stories I’d just heard the night before from several young people who, if not for the right support, wouldn’t likely be here today. I was so moved and shaken by it that I had to write a song about it. Being a JED Ambassador simply means I spread the word through sharing my story and lived experience and I always point to JED’s amazing resources online any time I’m given a platform. So, for me that’s always connected to music. On stage, in the studio – wherever. It’s the only megaphone I have so it’s the best way I can hopefully serve the cause.
DATC: Dana, thank you!
I’m Franco Francesconi, the black&white shot of Dana Fuchs is mine: I’m happy to see my work here, but I’d appreciate to have my name mentioned. I shot it in a Savona (Italy) in July 2011, as you can see by my Flickr album “Live Music” https://www.flickr.com/photos/spiderfrank/5987624115/in/album-72157655840619435/. Thank you
Of course Franco. Now acknowledged. Thank you for your permission and apologies – I usually like to acknowledge but couldn’t find details on this occasion. Great photograph, by the way. Best regards.