march 2012

Dana Fuchs live: the music guides her, flows through her, possesses her. (Photo by om-photodesign posted at My

She Doth Teach the Torches To Burn Bright

Dana Fuchs steamrolls Iridium in acoustic mode, plans new band and acoustic albums, a live DVD…and wants to know your sign (not really). Baby loves the life.

By David McGee

After a blazing acoustic set at the Iridium jazz club in New York City, Dana Fuchs, author, if you will, of one of 2011’s best albums, Love to Beg, took off for what amounts to her second home, the European continent, where she has a devoted following and tours most of the year.

Touring abroad is hardly the only item on her 2012 agenda, though. In May she’ll be back home in New York, returning to the Highline Ballroom, the scene of a raucous, sold-out show for her and a band augmented by keyboards, horns and a trio of female soul sisters belting out luscious background vocals. Returning to the venue a year after her 2011 triumph there, she’ll likely be playing to a sold-out house again, but also to cameras, filming the event for release as a DVD. As it was a year ago, so it is sure to be this coming May: an audience packed in sardine-like, bouncing off the walls and hanging from the rafters--and holding on for dear life against the force field generated by Ms. Fuch’s mercilessly intense performance. She also has an acoustic album in the works, and at year’s end plans to return to the studio with her band for what will be an eagerly awaited followup to Love to Beg. And, at last, her first studio CD, 2003’s Lonely For a Lifetime, is being reissued, on her own Antler King label.

Our Lady of the Tousled Blonde Mane sets it on fire. (Photo by om-photodesign posted at My

But about that Iridium show….

Yours truly, having seen Ms. Fuchs and her band in full flower twice in the past year (including at the aforementioned Highline show), feared the intimate confines of the Iridium might well crumble beneath the assault of her onstage intensity. She didn’t disappoint in the intensity department, but dashed my fears of imminent demise by channeling her energy into her impassioned, albeit friendly, banter with the audience and most importantly, into her songs. She did on occasion sit on one of the front monitors, barely out of reach of the front row patrons, but she wasn’t stalking the stage panther-like as she does in larger venues, she didn’t climb up on anything or anyone or sing while prone. But she did dig into her songs with her ever-present determination to communicate, her resolve to do so rendered more vivid in close quarters. “Misery,” a song available only her self-released Live in NYC CD, is a fairly surgical excision of a once loving relationship now gone poisonously co-dependent (she introduced it by saying it was her stab at writing a positive love song after her mother had berated her for all the depressing songs she had penned). She has on occasion sang it with some wistful tinge in her voice, but on this night she was taking no prisoners, the veins in her forehead popping out when she spat out the chorus in that startling Joplin-like wail of hers: “Are you just like me, holding on to misery/needing something to believe/I think you’re just like me, holding on to misery/needing someone to believe in.” At the end, the truth of her performance and the raw nerve she had become while singing had overwhelmed the audience to the point where it collectively took a breath before breaking out into thunderous applause. She duplicated this feat, but tenderly, in revisiting one of the most soulful moments on Love to Beg, the ballad seeped in sadness but rising to hopefulness as it unfolds, “Rollin’ On,” which she always dedicates to her late brother, who passed away last year in a losing battle with brain cancer.

Dana Fuchs and Jon Diamond, ‘Misery,’ the acoustic version.

Both “Misery” and “Rollin’ On” are, by Ms. Fuchs’s standards, softer fare. Yet, accompanied by her longtime musical collaborator, the formidable Jon Diamond, on guitar and harmonica; and versatile Matt Beck (whose credits include work with Rod Stewart, Matchbox 20, and Spiderman on Broadway) on guitar and dobro, Our Lady of the Tousled Blonde Mane set it on fire anyway. In fact, the message of “Set It On Fire,” Love to Beg’s blazing, anthemic cry of self-affirmation and a summons to live life with a vengeance, benefitted from a more austere setting, in that the fury of its band version was ratcheted down while Ms. Fuchs delivered the lyrics with a backwoods peacher’s sense of mission. “Love to Beg” also stomped with righteous conviction, and as the opening song set the tone for the night when Ms. Fuchs, hair flying, body coiled like a rattler about to strike, cut loose on the tune's closing gospelized testifying—the whole endeavor had such a punch to it as to render moot the absence of a full electric band. In a nice, benediction-like touch at the end, she called on pianist Jon Regan (who played with a former Iridium regular, the late Jimmy Scott, one of the 20th Century’s great blues balladeers), and introduced a beautiful new ballad, sensitive, torchy even, titled “Wait Up.” As a teaser for the new album, if that’s what it was, it was almost too much to bear, as its lyrics and affecting melody demonstrated the same mating of meaningful content and memorable music she achieved on Love to Beg.

Of course through it all there was her sheer physical presence on stage, commanding and open-hearted at once, as always striving to connect, treading lightly but treading nonetheless into religion and politics (when she mentioned the sorry field of Republican presidential candidates and added, “At least Obama has a heart, right?” a patron off in a corner reacted with a robust yell of “No!”) but always emphasizing the humanistic, inclusive philosophy she adheres to. Blessed with an often self-deprecating sense of humor, she simply lets it all hang out onstage (almost literally—the low-cut sundress she was wearing over her painted-on, low-slung jeans revealed ample cleavage; but hey, it keeps the cross straight, right?), carpet bombing the crowd with explosives of the F variety as the music guides her, flows through her, possesses her. Reflecting on the heavily choreographed aerobics of the likes of Beyonce and Rihanna, one can only resort to Shakespeare to describe the allure of Dana Fuchs in comparison to the mainstream’s prefabricated icons: “She doth teach the torches to burn bright.” And as the smitten Romeo confessed, so can it be said of her Iridium audience: we ne’er saw true beauty until this night.

Dana Fuchs and Jon Diamond, acoustic, ‘What You See.’ The full band version is on Love to Beg.

Being a work in progress, Dana Fuchs is finding her songs revealing themselves anew to her every time she performs nowadays. In the audience you can see it happening in the course of a set, in fact. In our May 2011 cover story, she admitted she chooses her live repertoire based on which songs are cutting deepest with her.

“Oh, my God--it happens almost every show,” she said then. “It’s great to go to different countries and get outside of New York because then I can really connect with a new meaning of the song every night. But on these songs [from Love to Beg], I’m constantly surprised, because we’ve been playing them seriously only since January onstage, when we went to Europe for five weeks. There was a moment when I thought, What is this song really saying to me now? And I started choosing only to do the songs live that I really had a new connection with, that had the same meaning as when they were written but I understood what it meant more. Doing 'Set It On Fire' at the Highline, having the girls up there, the horns and the organ, all of a sudden when the girls were doing those background vocals I was just chilled and moved to the bone; and I realized, I just wanted everybody out there to connect with that experience of don’t throw it away, don’t just throw life away; and for some reason hearing the girls--because they’ve got that gospely sound--did that for me.”

Those taking this journey with Ms. Fuchs should be heartened by news of new acoustic and band albums on the drawing board. The latter will commence towards the end of the year, after the touring is all over and the holidays are approaching—“that’s sort of my down time,” she said in an interview following the Iridium show. “I want to be not moving through the holiday period over here. So we’ll make a record during that time and deliver it to the label by January for a spring release. We’ll go into the studio as soon as we’re off the road. We want to finish some songs; we’ll do some more writing on the road.” She expects to have “at least 20” songs to choose from when recording begins.

Tentatively titled Broke Down, the acoustic album was originally going to be released on her own Antler King label, but now is likely to be coming out on Germany-based Ruf Records, which licensed Love to Beg for release and reportedly is looking to sign Ms. Fuchs to a multi-album deal. Broke Down, she said, was at first nothing more than a series of demos she and Diamond recorded in the latter’s living room. They gave copies to a few friends, the response to which was “you should just print this up!”

Dana Fuchs and Jon Diamond, ‘Bleed More’

At which point she and Diamond added new tracks, along with a mandolin and a dobro, and “thought, alright, why not? Just a different piece of music to have that shows a different side of us. A lot of the tunes that people have heard; some tunes that people have never heard.”

Asked whether the new acoustic songs are extensions of themes she explored on Love to Beg or reveal her going in a new direction as a writer, she said it’s more the latter “but not entirely.

“On Love to Beg I was sort of tapping into this realization that people just want to be happy, just want a little peace of mind. We've written an all-out gospel tune, a very non-religious gospel tune, actually kind of dark but somewhat redemptive, called ‘Livin’ On Sunday,’ which might be the title of the band album. It’s sort of about my late brother and the life he never really had--livin’ on Sunday and the promised hope of religion and all that, but I tied it into what I’ve seen all of us doing on one level or another. When we get to this one point in our life, or we reach that one goal, or find that right partner in our life or that right house, we’re gonna be happy. It’s sort of expounding more on that theme. I’ve just been trying to really pay attention to people wherever I go, and that’s where I get stories. And talking to fans after a show, I’ve gotten so many ideas from that. I think the writing is going there, a little more, more human stories and some gritty stuff--there’s a song on there called ‘Filth Bug’ (laughs). Gettin’ a little weird, maybe, I don’t know; we’ll see.”

Of the older songs getting the acoustic treatment, she mentioned “Baby Loves the Life,” from the Live in NYC CD, and from Love to Beg the funky “Drive” and what she describes as “a fun acoustic version” of “Misery.” She might be the only person who would ever use the word “fun” in the same sentence containing a reference to “Misery.”

Dana Fuchs and Jon Diamond, acoustic, ‘Baby Loves the Life’

As bawdy and gregarious as she is onstage, Ms. Fuchs is thoughtful and reflective in conversation (and in two interviews with your faithful friend and narrator has yet to drop a single F-bomb). As detailed in our May 2011 cover story, she’s knocked around and been knocked down a few times only to pull herself up by her own bootstraps and keep on rollin’. The strength she exudes onstage, and on record, is real, but out of the spotlight she doesn’t play the hard-boiled dame. She meditates. She runs in Central Park. She loves philosophy and “the little symbolisms in any culture or religion.” She dabbles in astrology but only as a passing fancy—“I wouldn’t bank my future on reading my zodiac every day.” She laughs easily, at herself and at the everyday absurdities of the business she’s in.

Which brings us to a question about the reissue of Lonely For a Lifetime, the 2003 studio effort that introduced her on record following her acclaimed run in the singing part of Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway hit Love, Janis. Seeing as how she’s a few years and many life experiences away from the time she recorded the album, one wonders what she hears in the artist she was then in contrast to the artist she has become in the ensuing years. The answer is typically complex, but revealing.

“Listening back to Lonely,” she begins cautiously, “I remember at that time we were writing our own songs for the first time, and I had just finished doing Love, Janis and we were in the middle of recording the album when we started showcasing for all the major labels; we’d pack the Mercury Lounge and these labels would all come down. And I’d get all this feedback--what is she? Is it rock? Is it R&B? Don’t know what to do with her. Don’t know what to do with her. At the time I was being sent a lot of songs to cover by writers, these people I guess labels bring in for some singers all the time. I just remember one of the songs was something about ‘Intentions,’ and one of the lines was ‘Ooh, baby, I like your dimensions.’ At that point I was so frustrated, I said, ‘Look, I’m no Bob Dylan here, but my God! What I’m doing has to be better than this!’ So I went in to make Lonely a little bit with the attitude of screw all that, I’ve got to do what feels right, but not quite the competence to not keep looking over my shoulder and wondering if I’m doing the right thing, mixing, or adding guitar parts or singing a certain way. Going, ‘Oh, is it commercial enough?’ ‘Is it hooky enough?’ You know, those buzz words everybody uses. There’s a little more self-consciousness happening in Lonely than in Love to Beg because, finally, with Love to Beg, it’s several years later and I went in without second guessing as much. You know, sometimes I hear stuff on Lonely and I go, ‘Oh, I wish I had done it like this.’ For instance the song ‘Strung Out,’ which got a little ballsier than I wanted to on the record, the original demo is a really fragile, slow, broken song. And we had a friend who was also a producer come in and say, ‘Naw, naw, this has to be a ballsy rock song,’ and I sort of regret that. There are little moments in there that I hear and I think, I wish I had gone with my instinct on that. But I think everybody probably does that when they make a record.”

For a limited time Dana-autographed copies of Lonely For a Lifetime are available, plus a free mp3 download of a live version of the title track, from the Live in NYC album. A limited edition Dana Fuchs t-shirt is also available. The CD and the t-shirt are available at Nimbit Music.

Live in NYC is available at

Love to Beg is available at


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