Ice Glitter Gold is the latest release from Dana Buoy, the project of Dana Janssen (Akron/Family). Influenced by a range of sounds that includes European dance music and the suave, sophisticated sounds of pre-New Romantic acts such as Roxy Music, the LP sets its sights on the carnal, the celebratory, the nocturnal and their intersections and departures; there are moments of introspection and honesty, openness and self-examination as well. Tracks such as “Twisted Sky” and the titular piece reflect a tightly focused musical style. Across the album’s eight tracks we were witness the most cohesive and assured Dana Buoy record yet.
Speaking from his home in Portland, Oregon, Janssen is reflective and eager to discuss the album’s creation and the continued evolution of Dana Buoy. One step in that evolution is the departure of Janssen’s longtime friend and collaborator Justin Miller. In the near half-hour conversation, Janssen’s voice registers audible disappointment when the subject is broached, though his good-natured enthusiasm returns as he discusses the possibility of live dates with the band throughout the coming year.
We started our conversation by discussing Janssen’s compositional process for the new release.
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Where does an album begin for you? Are you always writing or do you set aside a specific period to compose?
I had time with this record. That’s a really good thing for me. I don’t think I’ve ever really had much time to do a record, aside from the first Akron/Family and Dana Buoy releases. With this one there was no deadline, no label reminding me of a deadline. I could take my time, write songs, sit with them for a while, come back, re-craft, redistribute ideas throughout the songs and see what comes out of it. That was a really beneficial approach. Over the past three years I was writing, recording and shaping these things. When I came to the end of it I probably had two-three more times the songs than are actually on the record. It wasn’t exactly the most congruent idea with all those songs involved so with the help of my label, I was able to whittle it down and craft a more cohesive vision that became this record.
How do you view this as different from the other Dana Buoy releases? You mentioned that you whittled down the number of songs and kept them cohesive. Do you feel like the past material was less cohesive?
I feel like every record is cohesive, the songs fit well together. With this one, I wanted to shift more toward a nighttime perspective. Maybe shift things in specific song toward a minor key, shift the color of the sounds toward a darker, night time vibe. Like a Full Moon party in Thailand, people going crazy, losing themselves. You’re not getting called out by the light of day. That was something I wanted to approach with this record. The previous ones were more about having a good time, positive vibes. “Maximum aloha” was my mantra throughout the whole birth of this band.
I was thinking along the nocturnal vibe of Roxy Music or Bryan Ferry.
Absolutely. Those records are super important. But it’s funny: I know records like that, but for some reason, it took me until a month ago to listen to Depeche Mode. [Laughs.]
I know what you mean. I was in college at exactly the right time to become a Ween fanatic but I actually only listened to that band for the first time a year ago.
I caught Ween pretty early. Akron/Family worked with Andrew Weiss, who produced and played with those guys. He was such a great dude, and it was interesting to get his perspective on the inner workings of that band. Those guys are fucking amazing. Everything they did was so awesome and ahead of their time. I saw them once in Boston, and they played one song for about 30 minutes, and it was incredible.
One of the most striking elements of Ice Glitter Gold, to me, is the bass playing. The bass carries the songs in ways that, in a more traditional setting, you’d expect the drums to.
I started every song with a four on the floor kick pattern. That was the nucleus of every single song on this record. Having played drums for the previous ten years, I always had a very rhythmic, percussive approach to music. This time, I wanted not to express that on the drums themselves so I tried to break it up throughout the other instruments in a way that they worked together in such a way that they created one rhythm overall. Different elements are accented with different sounds, so I suppose the bass was really the root of all that. It’s the first gravitating point for me, it’s where my ear goes.
After that, I crafted the drums to fit in the spaces in between. There is a lot of heavy kick on the one throughout the record but having the bass playing outside of what it would normally be was a different approach. I suppose a lot of that stems from listening to a lot of different African musics. Years ago I got into Fela Kuti and, with him, the drums are this static groove, and the bass playing was always incredibly attractive.
You’ve also made a record that sounds contemporary but lacks the digital frigidness that a lot of current records have.
Did you say “frigid” or “rigid”?
When I write music, I’m not necessarily chasing what’s happening at the moment whereas a lot of music is derivative. I’ll hear a song, and then another song comes out that sounds exactly like it. I just try to come from an honest perspective of where I’m at and what I’m feeling. So, maybe just the intention of honesty is what’s warm and inviting about that.
And I guess we can deal with “rigid” as well because this doesn’t sound like something that was made on a grid.
Feel is everything. A lot of this album is electronic, right? So it inherently has rigid elements. It’s quantized and on grid. But there are guys like J Dilla who take one element and make sure it isn’t on the grid. A lot of this record is a performance of the instruments. Most of the drums are performed live but are not strictly quantized. So the performances are kind of what’s coming through. It gives it that bush and pull.
Were the lyrics on this album inspired by a particular moment in time?
Absolutely. A lot of it was the view of the story that may be my story or other peoples’ stories that I’ve heard. One of the songs is about my friend Matt Sheehy of the band Lost Lander. We hang out a lot and one of the stories he told me became an important part of one of the songs. I took some liberties to dress it up here and there. However, a lot of it is based on factual occurrences.
You mentioned the abundance of material that you had. Do you ever contemplate farming songs out to other people?
I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never actively pursued that by any means. My publishers have asked me to try it. But I’ve never actually done it. Maybe I should. That’s an interesting way to create music. But I tend to orchestrate and arrange songs to a pretty detailed point. By the time it’s ready to present to someone it’s not necessarily finished, but it’s pretty clear what the direction is. I don’t know if someone else would want that much direction.
Between when you made the first Akron/Family record and now what’s changed about how people get their music heard?
Shit, man. [Laughs.] A lot of it is the right place at the right time. With Akron, Michael Gira ran the Young God label. He was just finishing up work with Devendra Banhart, happened to have free time and listened to the demo we had mailed to him. He liked it, had room in his schedule and had the attention of his fan base to plug us into immediately. We just got lucky.
Seth Olinksy and I made 50 copies of our demo on CD, walked to the mailbox at Astor Place, put them in the mail and said, “Well, here goes.” We heard back from two out of the 50. That’s a pretty low percentage but whatever. Merge Records sent us a postcard that read, “Hey, thanks for the submission. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to work on anything right now but keep it up.” It was nice to get an acknowledgment. Michael was the other response.
But these days there’s so much noise, there are so many great songwriters out there that have great sounds and make great music, it’s hard to be heard. I guess you need to appeal to tastemakers. I feel like word of mouth is still pretty important.
This marketing guru, Seth Godin, wrote this book Tribes about how maybe instead of pushing toward mass markets it’s about pushing toward niches. You have people who will talk about your work and champion it and want to spread the word. I’m more interested in that approach. Outside of that? I really have no idea.
I guess we should talk about Justin Miller and his role in Dana Buoy.
I’ve known him forever. We grew up together, and we always played music together. When I started Dana Buoy in 2012, I’d written and recorded the record and put it out and then was going to go on tour with Youth Lagoon. I asked Justin if he was interested and he was. He was involved with the band from that point strictly in the live capacity. But, just as of a couple of weeks ago, he’s decided that he’s going to be going in a different direction, so he’s not going to be playing with the band anymore. It’s hard.
None of us can know the inner workings of a band if we’re not there but I’ve definitely had groups that I’ve loved and seen a guy leave and been disappointed. But I also understand now that people get married or have jobs, and those things can become more important than music.
Exactly. We’re in our thirties, and most people want to have kids, and you have to set your life up. There’s no good time to break your leg or have a kid; I don’t think, but, with Justin, he’s trying to make some changes and get himself set up to progress as a human being. It happens with a lot of bands.
What happens from here?
I love playing live. We want to get out on the road. Playing live is such a unique experience. You can’t download that. You’re standing in the room with the person on the record. It’s an important part of why I record music in the first place.