Bobby Harlow

Spending (Borrowed) Time with Rock Goddess Dana Fuchs

Dana Fuchs a diamond in the rough when it comes to sublime, sensitive, Southern rock storytelling – and that’s not simply though her music, but through kindhearted conversation, as well, which we were so lucky to have with her earlier this month.

Superior can be a difficult word to define, let alone use as means of describing something or someone. It can carry an air of condescension or sarcasm that is not expected or appropriate. So when we say that Dana Fuchs is superior when it comes to women in rock and roll today, we are not brushing aside nor knocking down those in her lane… because Dana Fuchs is simply in a lane of her own. Her peers may be the Taylor Momsens and the Amy Lees of the world, but you can’t compare traditional punk-y, grunge-y, mainstream rockstars to someone who just skims the top of the underground circuit.

This singer-songwriter is, in all her gritty, gravelly, sensitive, sensual prowess, going back to the roots of the head-banging genre to unite the most in-your-face soundscapes with the most inward of emotions. Borrowed Time, out Friday, is the epitome of such style and inspiration. Fuchs is a soulful siren soaring comfortably at the crossroads of small-town theaters and sold-out stadiums while driving home interpersonal narratives and guitar-driven musicianship (and friendship) – all of which we can’t help but admire.

So far we’ve heard “Hard Road” and “Not Another Second On You,” but I want to know how you decide on what sets the tone of an album for the audience. How do you decide on what singles come out first? Are those first steps into a new album cycle all your idea or one that is more collaborative?

Ah, that’s a great question. It sort of happened after the fact for this album. I mean, initially you always think, “Ok, the first single you’ll release is the album title track,” and based on the demos, that’s what we thought it would be, too, but then once the recording was all done and some of the rockers came out…. Well, a few people on the team were like, “This is such a different sound for you. I think we’ ve got to throw that out there first and show people what this album is gonna be – surprise them a little.” Then “Hard Road” was one of the first that everybody just agreed to get out there. That’s a real rock and roller and I haven’t done a song like that, so letting it be the first thing people hear? I agreed and it’s one of my favorites. This surprised me because it wasn’t one of my favorite demos, but then when we got done recording, it was one of my favorite tracks and now a single.

Wow. Really? It’s such a raw song right from the start, but maybe some things just take time.

They do. I mean, I liked the demo enough – I did. I just wasn’t sure what we were gonna do with it. When the band tracked it, it took on this whole Stones vibe that when I heard it, I was like, “Oh, now I love the song. That’s what it needed – the band.”

I’m looking at some of my notes and on one of my listens, I wrote “Rolling Stones and Deep Purple take a trip to Atlanta to see Janis Joplin and come back buzzing.”

I love that! That’s perfect. That’s amazing, thank you. I think the musicians will be just as happy as I am with that that reference you made. That’s fantastic.

I hope so. Actually, I wanted to note that the musicianship on all of what you do plays a big role in why it is captivating on every level. Do you think that the music you make and release would be different if you had different people lined up and on the instruments?

It is so crucial. I think the band is the key ingredient. You can have great players, but if they’re not fun to be around – if they’re divas, and I’ve had those once in awhile in the past – it’s not going to click [sonically]. I’ve been always pretty careful with knowing who I’m getting in the studio with. The funny thing is, so of course it’s Jon Diamond on this one who I’ve done all my albums with and write all the songs with, but it’s also now the bass player. I have a “I will not leave home without Jon Diamond and Jack Daley” policy when it comes to making an album, because they’re so great, and Jack one of the best bass players that’s out there today. He’s also just as good of a human being. I knew going into this record that he would be the ingredient, but it was the producer who brought in the other guitarist and the drummer. At that point I had had enough conversations with this producer to know he wasn’t gonna choose anybody that wasn’t, you know, a great player and a great human, too.

I have to tell you, when I got to the studio to meet with them, it was quickly the most fun recording experience I have had. I’ve loved all of my recording experiences, so don’t get me wrong with this one. It was just special, like, “Hey, we’re gonna go for it. We’re gonna go rock and roll. We’re gonna have a blast. We’re gonna keep it loose.” That first day experience, that whole thing, just carried over on every aspect – when recording and when not recording. It was just a great time.

How spectacular for all of you. There’s always been a sense of energy and liveliness to your songs, but it did feel like that was stepped up when it comes to the buoyancy on this album. I think the audience is going to have just as good as a time listening to Borrowed Time as the star and the musicians did making it.

Absolutely. You’re so spot on with that because I think that we wouldn’t even need to demo because it was such a good time. We did, but I just trusted them all. I had these great musicians around, so we’d play through a demo and then they’d say, “Let’s just go in the studio and mess around.” It would just be fun or we’d be in there laughing and cracking jokes and trying new things. We just kept rolling – that’s why some of the intros we even had to cut and some of them are still so long! Everybody was just jamming and having good time. We weren’t worried about the clock ticking. We did have a deadline, but it was a deadline for the sake of getting the album done and not the deadline where you can’t afford the studio time if you go over because it will cost you thousands of dollars. There was none of that because the studio was owned by the other guitarist and he had just built it. In fact, we are the first band to record in it. They named the vocal booth after me! It was my favorite vocal booth ever. It was cozy, their dog was watching me through the window, my kids were running around upstairs. It was amazing and it was fun and that is felt [on the album].

Wow. To hear that the music that came out of an experience like that, too… I think that will resonate even more so when feeling that almost familial aspect and comfortableness that clearly you were playing off of.

It is exactly that. I felt like I was back in this seventies when, as you see in those documentaries of bands that did it all together like that, it’s relaxed and fun. I was like, “Wow, I finally got to have that experience that I’ve always wanted based on what my heroes did in the studio where you’re just having a great time jamming out.” Everybody was playing off of each other. No one was watching the clock or punching in and out of a clock thinking, “I gotta get outta here.” We just had a great time.

And the music that came out of it? Special is an understatement.

It is. I’m so proud of how we worked and what came of being in the studio.

On the topic of things to be proud of, “Faithful Sinner” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

That means a lot. Thank you. You’re giving me goosebumps. I haven’t done a show without that song since it came out.

That’s the perfect lead up to my question. I was going to say, having loved this song for so long, what about it has made it a staple to you in your catalog, and will it continue to be now that Borrowed Time’s own songs are on the way?

That’s a grand question, because there are certain times when you make a new album that move you away from all the older stuff. “Faithful Sinner” is just one that I feel like brings the audience in because we’re all imagining ourselves in the story. Even though the song was inspired by losing my dad and the relationship that we had of me worshiping him as a child but learning that he was a very tortured soul and had a lot of demons, it was also about growing up. We fought a lot back then, but when I became an adult and learned about his life and walked in his shoes a little bit, that’s when real healing came and our relationship returned just in the knick of time, getting very strong again. I got to deal with him in his final days, which reminded me that there was just so much love there. However, he was a broken human and I think we all have a little bit of that faithful sinner inside of us – and more importantly, we all probably know a real faithful sinner in our lives that is just trying to do the right thing and based on tools they were or weren’t given. Everyone has their own demons and some can’t cut it. I feel like it’s just such a human story that when I do it live, when I’m singing it, I feel like I’m just sitting around a circle with the audience and we’re all just telling a story together. It’s weird, heartfelt experience and no amount of new songs or albums will take that away.

For a song that is so robust, it also feels very intimate. It’s very easy for anyone to hold close to their heart.

Exactly. I love that you said it that way because it is intimate. I also think the robustness comes from the amount of passion driving that story and the sound backing it.

It must have been so nice to have that outlet during these not-so-inspiring times. Having, to some extent, worked on this album during this social and cultural whirlwind, was it difficult for you to be creative? I can imagine that it might be probably a little draining with every everything going on to try and find levity or warmth or fun in any way.

That’s an amazing question and point, and, honestly, I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to write about. We were initially scheduled to work in September, but by July I didn’t even have any songs so I decided, because I just felt like I don’t know what I want to say anymore., that there was already so much going on in the world for me to add to it. But, here’s the catch, I had written so much of my own personal experience within the last several albums, my own and certainly using stories from audience members who related to other songs that I would then draw upon, but it was more insular. This time I just felt like I wanted to kind of get out into the world, listen to the stories of everyone, and I needed to read up on things everywhere.

At the time I was finishing my undergrad degree, taking advantage of the downtime in the pandemic. I started doing a study with this amazing professor on social change, social situations, and social statements done through art. We studied various plays, various bodies of music, and various books, and I just immersed myself in the history of this country, the history of wars in other countries, and pretty rough stuff. Studying the news and people, looking into other places – Cape Town, South Africa for instance – even writing alongside a mother’s diary entries, it all informed a lot of the lyrics on this album and in a way connected me even more with people.

This new album of yours consists of 12 tracks, and now we know that you and your instrumentalists had so much fun in the studio building them out (which warms my heart), but since you had such a creative, close-knit vibe, I’m wondering if it made narrowing down the tracklist harder than normal.

Yes. What’s funny is that this time (and this has never happened before), the order of the demos were done in kind of the order that the songs were written. The same pattern of writing and recording is how the album ended up being sequenced. The producer and I both, even before we were tracking and we had this whole conversation, was like, “You know, funny enough, I think the demo sequence is going to be the album sequence.” I thought about that and at the time I thought that was too premature to say or decide, but after some time… I thought, “Well, that actually could make sense.” It’s kind of cool to do it that way as each song evolved, too, and it also ultimately made sense.

It seems a little bit serendipitous!

There was a lot of that with this album, especially with me and Bobby [Harlow], the producer. We were really just on the same wavelength for many things. That’s initially why we chose him, too. We had a few producers we were going to meet with and listen to their stuff, but literally within the first three minutes of the call with Bobby, I was texting my manager who was on the call with us and my co-writer guitarist, Jon, saying, “This is the guy. I don’t need to talk to anybody else. This is guy.” I just knew that the things he was saying were exactly what was in my gut about the tone and the direction.

Oh, that’s beautiful. When it comes to doing something that you’re passionate about and you’re putting your heart in, you want make sure that it is being kept safe and that your vision is being honored.

So true! Then when you have somebody that is really there with you to support it and believe in that same vision, it’s just so easy to play around and say, “let’s see what happens.” In that moment we all know that we’ve got this kind of safety net with the musical team and we’ve got this foundation to work with and now we just have to play.