With her feet planted on both sides of the blues-rock divide, Dana Fuchs is one of the fiercest voices in modern-day roots music. She’s equal parts soul singer and blues belter, funneling her own story — a tale of small-town roots, family tragedy, trials, and triumph — into the amplified anthems and haunting ballads that fill albums like Bliss Avenue and Love Lives On. With her newest project, Borrowed Time, she digs deep into her southern rock upbringing, saluting the loud, guitar-driven sounds that sound-tracked her childhood years in rural Wildwood, Florida.
Many will recognize Fuchs’ vocals as she has been constantly compared to the late, great Janis Joplin. She even channeled Joplin on stage for two years, starring in the off-Broadway production Love, Janis. In today’s musical landscape it seems one can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a gravel-voiced female singer who is ultimately compared to Janis. Dana wears the comparison as a badge of honor.
I knew from the moment I did that show that it was going to come and it was already happening. That’s why I ended up in the show, because, you know, I was just doing my regular nights in The Village in New York City. We were doing our thing and the musicians that were in the show kept coming in and saying, ‘You gotta come. We need singers. You gotta come audition.’ I just wasn’t interested in doing a play. I was like, ‘No, I want to write. I’m writing my own songs, making a record.’ We just signed to this tiny little label out of Boston but I was just starting.
So the producers called me and they said, ‘Would you at least come see the show? We’re going to comp you. We keep hearing about you and how you’d be perfect for this.’ They were desperate for singers. And I was like, ‘Alright, let me see your show.’ I was blown away. And then they said, ‘Can you audition?’ literally pretty much on the spot. I was like, shit. I don’t really know that many Janis songs. I didn’t grow up listening to Janis. That was one great artist that I just missed out on. So I sang a little ‘Bobby McGee.’ They were like ‘Piece of My Heart,’ and just do the scream. So I did, and they were like ‘Can you start next week?’ I knew in that moment, I’m gonna learn a lot doing this. It was a very exciting show to be in. I mean, I loved it, but I knew I’ve got to watch it. I’m going to be called a Janis copy. I’m gonna be compared to Janis.
Janis came out of nowhere. No one was doing what she did. She was this white girl, you know, in Texas, having completely immersed herself in that old soul and blues, a lot of male vocalists and then just belting with a raspy voice. I’ve had a raspy voice since I started talking. When I did the show and I had to learn about Janis and her influences I realized we were influenced by so many of the same people. So it’s understandable. If you put our voices side by side, they’re not that similar. I have a much deeper voice than she did. But you know, like, yeah, it’s an honor. Janis is an icon.
Being compared to Janis, I always see it as a positive because, you know, if people really hate Janis Joplin, they’re probably not going to be into my voice. But if they really love Janis Joplin, and they never heard of me, and someone says, ‘Oh, this chick sounds like Janis,’ then they’re going to pay attention, and I’m going to get that much more exposure. And, you know, not for nothing, Janis was pretty incredible. So it’s not a bad thing. So, yeah, I just see it as a positive and I knew it was going to come. Lately, you know, I’ve been getting a little bit Janis Joplin meets Tina Turner, and I saw some press saying that. I’m like, ‘Yeah, they’re getting the right idea now.’
Wildwood was a small place for someone with such big ideas. Raised by an outspoken family of Irish-Catholic New Yorkers, Fuchs didn’t fit in with the conservative culture of her hometown, and she developed a rebellious reputation at a young age. Some of the things that came her way, though, helped develop Dana’s deeply personal performances. Her first grade teacher took her to a Baptist church where she was exposed to true soul. Later, Fuchs worked as an exotic dancer both in Florida and in New York where she learned a very important skill.
I started in Florida when I was 17, but I had a fake ID that said I was 23. After that I vowed to never dance again. But then I came to New York. I was living in New Jersey, taking the bus over the bridge every day for auditions. I was like, ‘There’s no way I can live working at a sub shop anymore. I need to make real money.’
It certainly helped you know it’s such a different kind of stage, so there were the nerves with performing. I hid behind the dancing for a while, and there were aspects of the dancing job that I loved, like being on stage dancing, I loved it. Then having to like really do the talking game. Within the clubs that I worked you really made your money by sitting and talking to these men who really didn’t understand how to be social, and you had to either pretend you cared about them, or, almost become like a therapist for these lost souls. So that became a little unhealthy yet, I loved the dancing part.
And then in retrospect, the sitting down and getting to know people, for me, I really took it on, I really became invested in the stories of every person, I mean, I can tell so many of them. And then, you know, I wasn’t the best. moneymaker at that, because then I would just sit there for free because I would have a drink with you, and you tell me what’s going on, right now, and I really got into it. I remember I had a therapist at the time. She’s like, ‘Well, if you want to be a damn therapist, go to school, become a therapist and get paid for it.’
It definitely was the beginning of me feeling a connection to human beings in a different way. It’s such an interesting question that you’re asking, because it took years of performing before I realized, oh, wait, that aspect of me that really wants to connect with the people watching me perform is still here. And it’s going to make this experience as a performing singer, so much better. The only obsession I have when I’m on stage is I want to connect to the audience. I want them to feel connected, I want them to feel held by me. And I want them to feel like they’re in this with me. So definitely, all of that came in the last several years of performing.
Equally influential were the artists that Dana’s family listened to. The music upon which she grew up and that felt like home. From her parents’ musical tastes of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, to her older siblings love of Queen, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin.
The majority of earlier releases from Dana Fuchs are slathered in blues and soul. Borrowed Time however, is a sonic tribute to the classic Southern rock bands of the day: Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, et al. But with modern day lyrics laying bare the realities of Capetown, South Africa’s slums, women riding out the Liberian War in a refugee camp, and politicians who’ve sown distrust and discord into our everyday lives. Make no mistake. Borrowed Time is for sure a return to Dana’s Southern rock roots, unpolished and raw, and it all began with her return to Ruf Records and by bringing in producer Bobby Harlow.
You know, I wasn’t really sure what the next record was going to be. Actually, we were going to do it with Jim Gaines, who you know, was the Southern rock guy. So yeah, the seed was planted as we started writing the songs. And then because COVID and the high cases especially where Gaines was right outside of Muscle Shoals. He wasn’t comfortable having people in the studio. He’s older. You know, he’s in his 70s now and he was like, ‘I don’t want to risk getting COVID to make a record,’ and he postponed and then after the second postponement, he just canceled and said, ‘I’m not doing this until COVID is gone.’ So we had the songs already written at this point. And we just assumed we were going down to Muscle Shoals. I didn’t want to do horns, I didn’t want it to be slick. I knew I wanted it to be kind of down and dirty. You know, Southern rock and roll. And funny enough, when talking to Jim Gaines, I don’t know that was the direction he wanted to take me. So it kind of worked out.
Well after Jim canceled, Thomas Ruf told us ‘Okay, here’s two producers. I want you to check them out and see they’re both available. I’ve reached out. They’d both love to do it. See who speaks to you.’ And the guy that we ended up doing the record with Bobby, I just, I heard something he had done and I liked the way it sounded. It just was different. It had a uniqueness. It wasn’t the same old thing for artists in my genre. And I was like, ‘This guy’s kind of quirky. Let’s talk to him.’ So I’m gonna send him demos first and then talk to him. Let’s just all be quiet and see what he says. So we scheduled a call, we gave him about a week with the demos, got on the phone, and he was just like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m just gonna tell you right off the bat. I fucking love the songs and I want to make a fucking Southern rock album.’ I was texting everybody else on the call, my manager, my co writer, guitarist Jon Diamond. I was like, ‘He’s hired.’ Energy! Then as the conversation continued, and he started talking about each song and the ideas he had for them, It was so in keeping what I had been thinking. So it was just easy.
And, you know, he really lived up to it. He brought in the other guitars. We’d never tracked with two guitars. He’s like, ‘We’re gonna do rock and roll. Southern rock needs this. We need another guitar player to do it live.’ And you know, John, my other guitarist was a little nervous about that. I loved the idea. We had never done it. Like I said, he delivered.
He’s like, ‘I’m gonna bring in drums.’ I brought in my bass player, Jack Daley. He’s literally one of the best player bass players alive today. I can say that. He’s, you know, he’s been around for a long time. He was in the Lenny Kravitz band, he’s done all the Joss Stone records, he’s like John Paul Jones meets James Jamerson. So I convinced them to let me bring my own bass player. I was like, that’s the only stake I have in this because the guy gets everything on the first take. And he has no ego. And so they saw that I was right.
And literally, we got there. Guys listen to the demos. After one or two listens they’re just like, ‘Let’s go down to the basement. That’s where we’re tracking and see what happens.’ ‘Double Down on Wrong’ was the first song we tracked. I released the demos because it’s there as the core of the song but where the band took it was just… Once Bobby the producer said give this some rock and roll, those guys went crazy. I was like, holy shit. This this awesome. I had a blast.
We tracked everything live, and like I said, it was our first time recording an album with another guitar player. We were going for that rootsy, Stonesy rock & roll sound, so it was like having Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards in the band. The guys would just start jamming, and suddenly, a song that was written on acoustic guitar would turn into this big rocker, and we’d record it on the spot. The most takes we did of a single song until we got it right was three. It was the fastest album I’ve ever made.
The thing about Borrowed Time is it’s not all Skynyrd and Stones. There are other influences to be sure. “Call My Name” has a distinct Steely Dan flavor about it.
I’m such a Steely Dan fan and my guitar player who I write all this stuff with Jon, a huge Steely Dan fan. It inevitably comes out of him at some point, so one of our songs on every album always has a nod to Steely Dan.
The album’s title track is basically Bruce Springsteen meets John Prine.
The funny thing about that song is the demo version is a little more sensitive. It’s a little bit more of a sad story. And I kind of was thinking when we recorded it, it would be a little bit like Lucinda Williams meets Tom Petty meets The Pretenders. But we had this incredible rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section. The track just felt so good, and here I am, I’m just laying scratch vocals at this point knowing we’ll keep some or we’ll redo some it doesn’t matter.
And I remember afterwards, Bobby’s, like ‘We definitely have the track, but the vocal you’re going for isn’t matching and we’re going to come back to this one.’ That was the hardest song for me to get a vocal on and finally, Jon Diamond screamed from the other room ‘Think Springsteen!’ Once he told me that I just, I closed my eyes and I got my Bruce on. I was like, I’m going to be Bruce. I’m going to be the female Bruce. If you heard the demo, you would say oh, that could go in a Pretenders direction or that could go in a Lucinda Williams direction or even Glen Campbell. And then, all of a sudden, we had this great track, but it was different. I didn’t know how to sing it until Jon said, ‘It’s fucking Springsteen.’
Lucinda Williams does get her influence into the album, full-force on the song “Lonely Lie.”
Do you know that’s funny because the producer kept saying we should do a country song. We were racking our brains trying to think of covers because we know the songs, we were like done. The album was pretty much done. We had one more song to track and we didn’t track it, like maybe it’ll make the next album. It was really just like a raunchy kind of bluesy song. He’s like, ‘I really want to go just a country song.’
So we were racking our brains trying to find a cover, and then, once again, John Diamond said, ‘Let’s just write one.’ Bobby said, ‘Yeah, but guys, we’re running out of time. We have three more days left in the studio, we got to do all the overdubs, you would have to write it and be ready to record it in an hour.’ We did. We sat there and wrote it and recorded it within an hour and a half. I literally said, ‘You give me 90 minutes, we will have a song written, and we will have it recorded. Just me and Jon, we don’t need the band.’ And that’s what we did.
Then there’s the hard-driving “Not Another Second on You,” the song which Dana tells us makes her 21-year-old babysitter want to get up and dance.
During the pandemic, Dana was in school, and had a child, while writing for Borrowed Time.
I had him in the height of the pandemic, April 8, 2020, and it was literally when New York City was the epicenter. I had people calling me from everywhere going, you gotta get out of New York City to have that baby. And it was so stressful, because I couldn’t, you know, I wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere. I wasn’t gonna be able to travel outside the city to have the baby. But it went beautifully. It was so easy.
Now that Borrowed Time is soon to hit the streets, touring the new record is, of course, on Fuchs’ mind. Unfortunately, COVID is still rearing its ugly head.
We were supposed to be leaving Friday for a tour of Germany and Switzerland for two and a half weeks, but the German portion had to get cancelled, because Germany just still is getting hit too hard. And clubs are just not getting the people out that they need to sustain. And our agent and label are just ‘Well, we need to postpone the tour…again.’ But it looks like this summer, we’ll have some good festivals. And, you know, we’re doing some us stuff, weekend trips. I’ll have a bit of a lull now, because it was all last minute to fill the dates that just got canceled in Europe. But taking it as it comes, you know.
Borrowed Time is the album that begins a transition for Dana Fuchs.
This marks the beginning of Chapter 2, in music as well as in life. I’m going out into the world and writing about the people who share it with me. My own story is always going to be in there, too, but this is the first album where other people’s stories are informing my own emotions.
It’s meant for people to feel the music in their gut, but the lyrics are really meant to just remind us all that we’re human, that we’re all just human. Our humanity is all we’ve got. We just see people doing such atrocious things to each other all over the world and of course, right now, what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine is happening in so many other places. What’s happened in our country during the pandemic and these riots. I just want people to say, ‘Can we just take a pause and remember humanity?’ Let’s just be human beings together who all want the same thing, a little bit of peace, joy for ourselves and our loved ones.
And if we could just acknowledge that everybody else wants the same thing we want, live and let live, support each other, that’s really the point of this whole album. We’re living on borrowed time. It’s short, even if we live to be 100, that’s still a short time to be on this planet. So why waste it on hate and greed?
Dana Fuchs is scheduled to appear at The Stanhope House in Stanhope, New Jersey on May 13, and The Flagstaff Blues & Brews Festival in Flagstaff, Arizona on June 11. After that it’s festivals in Romania, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark.
*Feature image photo credit: Kevin Mackall