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Dana Wylie: Canadian Singer/Songwriter Profile


Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing.

Dana Wylie (Photo by Marc Chalifoux)

Dana Wylie (Photo by Marc Chalifoux)

Dana Wylie started off her adult life as a theatre actor after studying theatre arts at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. She acted professionally for five years, but she always played music. She says, “I grew up playing piano and I did a lot of musical theatre, so I was always a singer, but something mysterious and intangible started compelling me to write songs. I’d never done that, I didn’t grow up strumming guitars and writing songs around campfires.”

Another decision that she made after her change of heart was moving to Taiwan. Dana explains, “I knew that, if I was embarking on this new life as a musician, it was going to be like running my own business and I was going to need some money. I decided to move to Taiwan to teach English and save some money. I did end up saving a lot of money there, but rather than teaching English, I ended up playing music professionally for my money as well as some acting gigs.”

The musical opportunities that Taiwan afforded Dana allowed her to build up her chops as a musician and pay her dues. She elaborates, “There’s a really thriving scene there of expats who like to do creative things, so I ended up playing in blues bands and bluegrass bands and jug bands as well as doing corporate gigs with cover bands. I was also writing my own stuff and trying to play it at gigs whenever I could.”

During her time in Taiwan, she met a man from England and started a personal (and musical) relationship with him. After moving to England, she started immersing herself further into her musical career. Dana says, “We started a band together and that was the beginning of me focusing on my original stuff exclusively. I had saved up a good chunk of money in Taiwan, so we were able to focus on just being musicians for two years. We spent quite a bit of that time hustling gigs and driving all over that island playing as much as we could. During that period, we released two albums.”

The band broke up in 2010 and Dana felt that she didn’t have the energy to continue to pursue a full-time music career. She says, “I was just kind of burnt out. After five years on the road, you kind of hit a wall and it just feels unsustainable. I went to university for the first time. At the age of 30, I started my BA in music and I finished that, had a baby in the middle and went into the MA program which I’m still in technically. It was really with my fifth album that I’m re-emerging into full-time music making and more fully continuing to pursue a career.”

There’s a disconnect between the music that she personally finds influential and the ways in which other people describe her music. Dana explains, “Compared to other singer/songwriters, I haven’t immersed myself in that realm, although I have gone through periods where I really immersed myself in some of Dylan’s work and in Joni Mitchell’s work. I’ve also immersed myself in bluegrass for certain periods and jazz in certain periods. If I could say that there’s one kind of era or genre of music that’s my favourite, it’s rock music made between 1967 and 1972. I think it was a magical time.”

As for what other people hear in her music, she says, “I do get a lot of Joni Mitchell. I don’t know if there’s direct influence there, but there certainly is indirect influence because I’ve listened to a lot of Joni over the years. I’ve had people also say Joan Baez, who I’ve never listened to, mostly because of the quality of my voice.”

Lyrics are at the core of Dana’s creative process. She says, “Songs for me always start with a lyrical idea or a conceptual idea that I’m feeling and I want to get across. Once I have a lyrical hook, I’ll start to sing it and turn it into a melody before I bring it to an instrument. I don’t always have time to sit down at a piano or with a guitar. I think my work has become melodically stronger because often I’ll just work with melody and lyrics before I start to bring in a chord progression.”

Her songs are often created as a whole unit. Dana explains, “The guitar or piano part comes together with the lyrics which comes together with the melody. For example, when I’m recording, I find it really difficult to track my vocals separately from my guitar playing because they don’t feel like separate aspects of the song.”

Dana’s latest album was released in October 2017. She says it was one of the least stressful album recordings she’s ever done. She explains, “It began with me talking to my colleague Harry Gregg. I came to him about two years ago and said, “It’s time! I need to make a new album!” We made demos of two songs so that we could apply for some grants.”

They got the grants and began the process of choosing songs for the album. Dana says, “I had a few years worth of tunes that I hadn’t recorded. I had lots of old songs that were around and a few newer ones. We talked about which songs we wanted on the album and then what kind of instruments we wanted on the album. The grant money we got determined that in part because we got all of the money that we went for. We were able to really be imaginative and ask, ‘What would a horn section be like on this song? What about a string quartet on this song?’ "

Dana points out that the main challenge for independent musicians is making a living from music. She’s come to understand that there are many ways to make music a meaningful part of her life without turning it into the thing that defines her. She says, “When I was younger, there was an idea that if you couldn’t make music your whole existence, were you really doing it successfully? Now that I’ve started to let go of that, I find that my passion is as strong as ever. Music constitutes a very fundamental part of who I am, but that doesn’t in any way mean that I have to make all my money doing it.”

Ultimately she’s made an existence that embraces music making and still makes financial sense. Dana says, “I’ve come into this existence that’s more eclectic and that’s not about my own personality as a musician, but is about using the skills I have to cobble together a living which is what anybody’s life is all about.”

In the future, Dana’s main goal is to continue to sustain herself. She explains, “If I have a goal, it’s to be able to sustain. On a literal level, I want to have the new album result in some decent festival gigs for the summer and some folk club gigs for next season. I hope that I can sustain something that will make the resources available for me to do another album.”

Creativity is something inherent in the way that she lives her life. Dana says, “In my life, every week looks different, even if there are consistent things that I do. I pursue certain projects and then move on to other things. There’s room for creativity. When I stopped being wrapped up in the identity of being a singer/songwriter, songs now insist themselves upon me and when they do I try to put the work in and get them written.”


Deb on August 19, 2018:

Amazing voice and extremely passionate. She will leave a legacy to girls that with passion and hard work you can make a living as an artist! I thank you and my daughter thanks you

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 30, 2017:

That was a really interesting article to read. I've never heard of her before, but I love her voice. I'll definitely check out more of her music. Thankyou. =)

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