On sophomore record, Madeline Jackson screams into the void that everything is not going to be OK
Sitting at the Dirty Dungarees bar during a lengthy, rambling interview with DANA’s Madeline Jackson and Chris Lude, the overwhelming funk of Rally’s French fries mingles with the smell of cheap detergent as laundry is being purified. Nobody intentionally wants to get stuck at a laundromat to see a show, just as much as they didn’t want to get stuck in a dive bar on Summit Street in the mid-2000s when, in those ramshackle environs, the Columbus underground was last on full tilt, brimming with mold-breaking ideas and noxious moxie.
Kneeling in Piss, the band fronted by Alex Mussawir (formerly of Future Nuns), has fully taken the torch from the last guard (bands like Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit, Pink Reason and Sword Heaven) and taken it into the present, even writing a manifesto about it. But it’s DANA that has embodied the essence of that movement.
Recording a NPR Tiny Desk Concert among the Dirty Dungarees washers and dryers, DANA has christened the place as a firmament for punk hoodlums and avant performances. The band’s sophomore album, Glowing Auras and Black Money (Heel Turn Records), which DANA will celebrate with a release show at Ace of Cups on Saturday, Sept. 21, displays the type of heavy evolution from primordial to primal to prime-time that virtually defined the local scene’s brief national spotlight years ago.
But arriving at Glowing Auras was an epic struggle, to say the least, and for a brief moment, DANA almost ceased to exist. The bottom figuratively dropped out from underneath DANA upon the release of the band’s debut album. A hurricane of life events obliterated the original lineup. The departure of guitarist Bobb Hatt, though, hurt the most, as he was regarded as the sonic lodestar of the group and was a founding member along with Jackson.
“When the record release show happened at Ace, I saw a change in Bobb,” Jackson said. “It was not what he was trying to do. [Doing] promo for the record made him uncomfortable. He thought we were getting too famous. He didn’t like to be recognized. He didn’t like the accolades. It went against his ethos.”
“I also don’t think it’s easy for anyone to be in a band with a couple,” added Lude, in reference to his relationship with Jackson. “There’s a lot of fighting, a lot of drunken shenanigans, and we’re basically assholes.”
In that aftermath, Lude moved from behind the kit to take over on guitar, while he and Jackson recruited Brian Baker on drums and Dan Matos on bass to fill the holes. The pell-mell lineup jelled quickly and went straight to work recording Glowing Auras. As a result, the album is noticeably urgent compared to the band’s debut. The first version of DANA came from a chrysalis of improvisational noise, wherein the band would cull its songs from free-range practice sessions, while Glowing Auras is steeped in actual “songs,” though Jackson and Lude maintain that the spontaneous nature that birthed DANA is still firmly a part of the process.Get news and entertainment from the lodestar of Columbus media delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
“We actually sat down with an acoustic guitar on this one and wrote ‘Cupid,’” Jackson said. “That was weird. I don’t think that will ever happen again, though. I have a lot of attention issues, and when we do improvisational stuff you kind of trick me into working.”
“For me, I used to think that’s the only way songs could be written, ’cause it’s the only way that I had written songs,” Lude said. “But with this band no one can say that it sucks if we all write it together.”
There’s a communal chaos and conspiratorial bent that drives songs like “El Sicko” (a reference to the mysterious Circleville Letter Writer), the aforementioned bop “Cupid” and the tumultuous opening salvo, “Creamed Corn.” Channeling the heavy dystopian vibes of Brainiac and Pere Ubu, the album is accented greatly by the electronic freak-outs of Brandon Reisig and the blurting horns of Kevin Green. Above it all is DANA’s most distinctive voice: Jackson’s Theremin, which, after trial and error through the band’s tenure, she’s learned to bend at her whim, conjuring pleasant melodies to counter the din.
If there’s any sort of agenda on Glowing Auras, it’s to be wary of agendas. Amid the visceral jabs on “Boneless Grapes,” Jackson snarls for us to “drink the Kool-Aid, say what’s the punchline?” This call to arms resonates throughout the record, implying that no matter what we worship, we are inherently doomed. It’s also akin to the identity crisis DANA confronts whenever it takes the stage. On any given night, the foursome is either the token punk band on an all-noise bill or the noisiest mess of atonal carnage in the presence of more trad rock bands. DANA just can’t win. The band doesn’t fit in, nor does it care.
Despite the thematic arc of what Jackson refers to as “positive nihilism,” DANA still takes a pointed stance against a number of targets on the album, particularly Columbus’ blue line. On "Pork Pie," which is Lude and Jackson’s pet name for the police, the lyrics pose a direct affront towards what Jackson sees in our city’s civic hypocrisy. Even Mayor Ginther is spotted grinning in the video.
“When the lyrics for that were written, it was just after the Black Pride 4, and I was very upset and I couldn’t think of anything else,” Jackson said. “If you take it verse by verse, I’m addressing ironically the white liberal who wants to put themselves at the forefront of a conversation about something that doesn’t involve them.”
With such a statement, it would be easy to approach the new DANA as a band intent on world-building — a guide, of sorts, on how to fight the power and create a culture. But it’s more slash and burn, as the band is not content with the present. Soon Lude is eager to trash his guitar, buy a Moog and get right back to work on the next chapter.
Days after the interview, Jackson wanted to clarify exactly how DANA wants to be heard, regardless of whether the band gets more “famous” for aligning its sonic barrage with something more palatable to the normies.
“I guess all I really want to convey is that the record is not meant to be a manual or constructive in any way, but merely an attempt to cope with every day feeling like doomsday,” Jackson said. “My therapist says the best way to not be ruled by your anxieties is not to fight them, but to fully acknowledge them. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here. Everything is not going to be OK. And we're living with that every day one way or the other.”
Check out a Spotify playlist of DANA's recent musical influences below, and read the band's commentary on the songs here.