Madeline Jackson turns loss into art and channels R&B singers of the past in DANA
When Madeline Jackson, who grew up mostly in Toledo, moved to Columbus from Cincinnati in April of 2014, she was “on an Oprah trip.”
“I’d been very anxious and depressed for a long time. I was very unhappy. I knew the things that I wanted but I wasn’t doing them. I was kinda stuck,” Jackson said. “So I was like, ‘Well, when was the last time you were happy?’ Playing music and performing.”
“I was at CVS getting my birth control,” she continued, “and I was like, ‘I’m gonna call [guitarist] Bobb Hatt.’ And I said, ‘Hey Bobb, what if I did this noisy, psychedelic lounge act? Do you know anybody who’d be into that?’”
Hatt was into it, as was drummer Andrew Morehart, and at one of the first gigs in early 2015, bassist Albert Gray offered his services to round out the lineup. (Chris Lute now sits behind the kit while Morehart is on hiatus.) The band’s brand of noisy psych-punk solidified early on in loose rehearsals.
“I was writing without an instrument at all, just voice,” said Jackson, who also plays theremin in DANA. “And then Bobb came from an improvisational background. Most people’s minds were blown in early DANA because people were like, ‘Oh, Bobb can play notes and melodies.’ Before that it was just a dozen pedals and a wall of incredible sound.”
DANA released a seven-song live recording in 2015, but the band is best known for its live performances led by Jackson’s commanding, go-for-broke stage presence. “I’ve always been fully into it when it came to any kind of performance,” said Jackson, who couldn’t believe her eyes when someone showed her a picture of herself performing (“I was like, ‘Do I really do that shit with my hands? What am I doing?’”). “It’s not necessarily performative. It’s soulful and authentic. The audience can always tell if you’re phoning it in or if it’s an affectation.”
“Much of what I do,” she continued, “is based on R&B and soul performers. It’s not a conscious effort, but the footwork, all of that — that’s classic rock and roll. It’s white people doing black [music]. I don’t think at any point, ‘Oh, I’m gonna do a James Brown thing or a Chuck Berry thing.’ It’s just feeling it. I was raised on that kind of music.”
As a teen, many of the performers Jackson revered were male. She adored Jack White and absorbed his aesthetic. “There were also other male frontmen, and I started to dress like them and act like them — less and less femme,” she said. “When I later went and taught at the Athens Rock Camp for Girls, I tried to give them better groundwork and good resources for strong female performers.”
Test pressings for DANA’s new record are in hand; Jackson hopes to release the album, which will arrive via local label Heel Turn Records and Chicago-based cassette label Dark Circles Records, in March, followed by touring in April or May.
In life and in her songwriting, Jackson takes inspiration from family members she lost. Jackson’s father died when she was 4, and her mom passed away from leukemia when Jackson was 13. Her uncle, who became her legal guardian, died in a motorcycle accident two and a half years ago.
“I’m wearing my mother’s face for the rest of my life / I’ll never know how it feels to be somebody’s wife,” Jackson sings on 2015 track “Confirmation Name.”
“I never foresaw myself being in a normal, hetero relationship or succeeding in that. My mom and a lot of women in her generation, that was the end goal,” she said. “I look exactly like my mother, and my mom’s name was Winifred, and her mom’s name was Winifred, and her mom’s name was Winifred and they all thought that I was gonna be a Winifred. But I just look like her. I wanted to sever myself from the same destiny as them, even though I respect them.”
Jackson also strives to embody her mother’s sense of humor and positivity. “My mom went through a lot and was still so funny and cool,” she said. “She pushed any melodrama and negativity out of her life. That was one major thing I learned from that experience — having a minimal tolerance for bullshit.”