Americana Highways brings you this premiere of Dana Sipos ‘ album The Astral Plane due out on June 25 via Roaring Girl Records. The Astral Plane was produced by Sandro Perri and recorded by Andy Magoffin at House of Miracles.
Musicians on the album are Dana Sipos on vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion; Nick Zubeck on electric guitar; Tom Hammerton on keys, organ, piano, and percussion; Mark McIntyre on electric and upright bass; and Blake Howard on drums and percussion. Added musicians are Lydia Persaud on vocals (Greenbelt, Skinny Legs);
Michael Davidson on vibraphone; Sandro Perri on synth and percussion; Danielle Knibbe and Barbara Lica on vocals (Daniel); and Fats Kaplin on violin (Daniel).
We were able to ask Dana Sipos a few questions about The Astral Plane. The album premieres just beneath the interview.
Americana Highways: This album is pretty darn magical, start to finish, and the songs fit together so well. Can you walk us through how you came to gather this collection of songs into one living, breathing album?
Dana Sipos: Thank you so much! The album knit itself together quite organically, eventually. I was writing a lot of songs about the different faces and types of loss, the shapeshifter that is grief, those transitional moments and spaces between. I hadn’t set out to write an album of songs exploring the imprints of memories left behind by the shifting sands of relationships to people and place. In fact there was a time, when I was in residence at the Banff Centre in the autumn of 2019 that I was struggling to see how the album was going to come together. But then at the Banff Centre and later during the early days of quarantine in my new home in Victoria, I wrote a few of the songs that, in my opinion, are the meat and potatoes of the album — “Hoodoo” and “Greenbelt” and “Skinny Legs.” These songs explore some very personal and complex family histories and dynamics, as well as this connection between intergenerational trauma and climate change, and then the whole album seemed to click. Then the other songs that I wrote — some quite a bit older that hadn’t found homes on previous albums, and newer ones — all made sense. I was waiting for the puzzle pieces of those songs to complete the album, and then everything fit together.
AH: Your sound is so interesting, with a lot of different flavors to it. We have readers that we are introducing to your music for the first time here. How do you describe your music and your sound?
DS: I often describe my sound as “tenderly skewed folk” — I can’t recall where I heard that from but it must have been from somewhere, and it really resonates. I am obviously very heavily drawn to the storytelling/songwriter aspect of folk music but am not always interested in telling these stories in a linear fashion. I am drawn to writing lyrics that are less obvious, slightly strange — not for the sake of being strange but to encourage listeners to peek behind the curtain and examine a bit closer. Perhaps this also gives the listener more space to find their own voice and hear their own story in the song. There are also a lot of varied musical influences of folk, country, blues, a bit of jazz, a bit of Americana, all peeking through. Mostly though, I love to experiment with production and am so fortunate to have found such a great fit with my producer, Sandro Perri. He has an amazing ear for giving the song exactly what it needs but also for taking elements of production to their edge and balancing them there gently.
AH: Related to the last question, where do you pull your musical inspirations from? Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians and how have they impacted you as a musician and lyricist?
DS: There are so many! It’s tough to narrow it down. There are my earliest influences, the iconic songwriters of the ’60s — Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. A lot of Nick Drake during my formative years. I still find a lot of comfort in those songs. However, some of my favourite artists, like Mary Margaret O’Hara, Arthur Russell, and Beverly Glenn-Copeland, are all so brave and experimental with their sounds. I so admire what seems to be a fearlessness, and I feel like I have gotten braver as a musician thanks to the inspiration of those artists.
AH: Your lyrics have a lot of depth to them, with different lines having impact on repeated listens, sort of a peel-back-the-layers kind of experience the more time one spends with the songs. What is your writing process? Where do you tend to get your best ideas from? How long do you tend to work on individual songs? Do you write regularly?
When I teach songwriting workshops I always stress the importance of having a songwriting practice, but, like the best advice, I don’t often take my own. I journal regularly, and I know that’s not exactly the same thing, but it is still exercising some element of the writing muscle. I started writing morning pages (from “The Artist’s Way”) early in the pandemic, and although I’m not 100% consistent, I love the practice. I write songs more sporadically, but when I do sit to write with a guitar in hand, songs usually come fairly quickly and quite fully formed. I do think that all the time I spend reading and journaling and daydreaming in between helps to get the juices flowing once I am sitting down with a song in mind. I love the stories about American poet Ruth Stone, how she would see her poems come thundering down the countryside and she would have to drop everything and run to the house to try to catch it and write it down in time. Other times she wasn’t so lucky and would see the poem thunder past. But I have been fortunate to experience those rare magic moments where a song visits you almost fully formed – “Greenbelt” from this album was like that. It is a long ballad, and it just poured out in one sitting.
I used to write a lot of songs during long stretches on the road, when I was touring solo. I would turn on my voice memo on my phone and just sing into it over the course of hours as I watched the changing countryside. There was such a peacefulness and freedom to that (and perhaps a glamourization in my remembering). Of course, I hope to be getting back on the road soon, with this new album. But overall, I am thankful that I can generally write a song anywhere — as long as I am alone!
AH: Talk a little bit about the themes that tie the record together. Why are they important to you?
I am so fascinated with memory and how its lasting imprints can form and shift over the many lifetimes of a person, a family, the environment. In a lot of ways, I define myself as my grandmother’s granddaughter and also the grandchild of Holocaust survivors and refugees. I often feel like I define myself around these memories and experiences of my grandparents and mother that really do live in my body and have affected the dynamics of my family over many generations. My grandmother suffered a debilitating stroke a few years ago and lost her ability to speak. As the memory keeper of the family, this was such a sharp loss, and I had to mourn the shift in my relationship with her. We are also seeing such blatant harm being imposed on the earth all over the world — here in BC, we are currently fighting to save the last remaining intact old growth forests in Fairy Creek, a fight that has been going on for generations and will undoubtedly continue, in some other shape and form. We are leaving behind a traumatized earth for our children and grandchildren to inherit.
So the themes of intergenerational trauma and the parallel to the ecological crises of our time feels very palpable to me. The deepest imprints. I’ve become really fascinated with how our Western culture is terrified of death and other painful elements of loss that we have really had to face this past year and a half. Especially in the face of grief and loss, memories become so tangible, alive, they become a character in the story. I think remembering in this way becomes an important guide.
Check out the latest contemporary astral folk album by Dana Sipos right here:
Pre-order/pre-save link for Dana Sipos album: https://danasipos.lnk.to/theastralplane