An Interview with Canadian Synthwave Artist Dana Jean Phoenix
Dana Jean Phoenix is a synthwave artist from Toronto, Ontario who sings and writes her own songs. Her performances are high-energy and her music is driven by her passion for the classic sounds of analog synths. In an email interview, she told me about the roots of her passion for music, her approach to its creation and how she recharges her creative batteries.
Karl Magi: Tell me about the genesis of your passion for music.
Dana Jean Phoenix: My parents constantly played music in the house when I was growing up, so I was exposed to a lot of different genres early on, but I was especially obsessed with their vinyl copy of Michael Jackson's 'Off The Wall'. I'd play that record over and over and dance and sing to it for hours. After attending the jazz program at Humber College, I toured as a back-up singer for R&B artist Jully Black and then became the lead singer for the NuFunk band God Made Me Funky, before going to Sheridan College to study musical theatre, and appearing in the Mirvish production of 'The Musical Of Musicals the Musical'.
KM: Talk about your approach to music and the elements, musical ideas or themes that you explore.
DJP: I love to write about self-empowerment and taking your destiny into your own hands, and I also love to get people dancing and moving with me at my live shows. Those are two elements I have in mind when writing. Also, nothing excites me more than a classic analog synth sound - its a perfect combination of humanity meets technology. Whether I take that in an optimistic or sinister direction, can inspire some cool songwriting ideas.
KM: How does the process work for you when you’re creating new music?
DJP: I love collaboration, and I've been so lucky to have worked with so many talented producers. I will work with a producer's musical idea, which will inspire melody, lyrics, and theme. If I'm producing a track, which I've started to do, I usually jam on my Roland JD-Xi. It's got some great sounds and is a 4 track looper with drums, so I can really flesh out the bones of a track.
KM: What are your impressions of the synthwave/retrowave scene in Canada today?
DJP: It's exciting to see it grow. I opened for Dance With The Dead at Lee's Palace in Toronto to a packed audience and everyone was so into it! Coming back from my European tour has definitely given me a new perspective though - they really take the scene to another level! Everything from the lighting and sound is top notch and the audiences party like it's their last day on earth. It's inspired me to make shows in Canada more of a full concert experience with lighting and cool visuals, so it's more than just playing songs live.
KM: Where would you like to take your music in the future?
DJP: Touring Europe this year was an incredible experience, and I'm looking forward to touring the US in August and September. I want to do a lot more Canadian touring as the scene is growing here. It'd also be awesome to tour Australia and head back to Europe again and see some places I didn't get to play the first time around.
My new album Pixeldust will be out in September and then I will be focusing on touring. After this release, I'll be taking more of a producer role and exploring my love for electro-funk and lush chords.
KM: How do you keep your creative batteries recharged?
DJP: I love watching comedy whether it be sketch, stand-up, or improv to just laugh and be inspired. Toronto also has incredible green spaces and beaches to visit when I need a bit of fresh air and external motivation.