Dana Janssen has acted as drummer/percussionist for freak-folk act Akron/Family for nearly a decade now. His love for the band hasn't dwindled, but he'd been itching to put out a pop album, and in 2009, he decided he would do something about it. Thus, Dana Buoy was born. Out of a love for David Bowie, the sun, and adventures 'round the world, Dana found himself on a journey that led him to create his first album, Summer Bodies, on Lefse Records under the new moniker. The warm, dreamy tunes might send you on a spontaneous road trip to the beach (or Thailand, if you're Dana). Janssen took a break from recording some acoustic versions of the tracks to talk with us about all things Buoy.
Hey Dana! What are you up to right now?
I’m in New York recording acoustic versions of Summer Bodies just so we have them.
All of the songs?
Yeah, most of them.
How long had you been working on songs for the new album, Summer Bodies? Were they written all at once?
Pretty much! I started with two of the tracks and then I moved out of New York. I met this girl and I was super inspired to run with it, so I just started writing and went to Thailand for a month. I did all the arrangements and orchestrations through my laptop while I was over there. Over the course of a year, I suppose, I did it.
What brought you to Thailand?
I don’t really know. I was supposed to go to Australia with my other band, Akron/Family, and the girl I’m dating was going to China. She asked me, “Why don’t we meet in the middle?” And I said, “Yeah, totally. Let’s go to Thailand!” We went and it was such an amazing experience. We stayed in Bangkok for a few days, then went down to the islands and stayed there for the last couple weeks. That’s where I got most of the work done. We had such lazy days just hanging out. I wanted to do something. After that we went to Shanghai.
Where did you move when you left New York?
Portland, Oregon. After that, my girlfriend and I wanted to get out of the wintertime there because it’s just so gray for so long. We decided to move to Mexico for the winter. We packed up my Mazda and drove down to Mexico. I think we’re going to move back to the States for the summer, because it’s kind of tough to operate out of Mexico. I haven’t been back in a couple of months because we went on tour, but my stuff is all there. I’ve gotta hire someone to fly out there and drive my car back with me.
You’ve been in Akron/Family for about 10 years now. After all of that, what’s it like playing solo?
Oh man, it’s so different! I’m the frontman, I’m the guy that’s up there singing and playing guitar for every single song. Without the security of my drums in front of me it’s such a different experience. It’s kind of a learning curve. The first few shows, I definitely had to close my eyes a few times and work up the energy and really go for it. Since then, I’ve gained some speed and gotten confident. I feel like I’m better at performing the songs now. There were definitely a few days of “Whoa this is so different!” Having been in Akron/Family for so long, I’ve got a lot of experience playing live, which helps a lot.
What’s the lineup when you play live?
It’s one other guy. We're a duo right now. We’re using a lot of samples and machines, which isn’t ideal. I’d love to have a full band, but when you’re opening up for other people, there’s just not good money, so I can’t really afford to take a band on the road right now. That’s the goal: to eventually get a drummer to fill out the sound more. I think it works pretty well as a duo though.
Who is the other guy?
One of my best friends, Justin Miller, who still lives here in New York, did the run of the March tour with me. And then on the West coast, my girlfriend played bass on it.
Are either of them on the recording?
No, actually. The recording is pretty much all me. There are a couple of people on there, but pretty much it’s all just me.
It’s awesome to be able to say that you did everything on this record.
Yeah, it’s cool in a way to have this particular vision of the artist that gets completely filled out by himself.
How would you explain the difference between Akron/Family and Dana Buoy?
Akron’s music is very much a collaboration of the three of us. We all have so many ideas, but it’s just one outlet. We’re all such dynamic musicians and this was my chance to just do my pop songs, you know what I mean? That was the idea when I got into it. I just wanted to write a pop record and to be able to express that from a different way. So that’s how I started Dana Buoy. I’m pretty excited about it. It feels so good to be able to just express your music in a whole other way, and then still have Akron to go back to, but just diversify your palette. It’s good to get it all out and not feel that it needs to come through a different channel.
Yeah, it must be nice to be able to do exactly what you want to do.
Yeah, totally. Just have one thing going on instead of having so many different ideas of different types of music. It’s nice to just focus on one aspect of your songwriting and have that be what you’re presenting.
So do you feel that you’ve achieved the pop album you had in mind when you started writing Summer Bodies?
It’s not quite as gratuitous as something like Justin Bieber, but it definitely hits the nail on the head with what I was going for. I feel like we have the pop elements and still have dreamy parts of it as well. It goes along with the sequencing of the record. The reason I sequenced it like that was more thinking about the listening scope of vinyl, with the A and the B side. The A side is more upbeat, up-tempo and the B side is a little softer, a little bit more of a mellow listen. It’s kind of nice to have two sides to the same puzzle. I thought that was a pretty cool thing.
Buoy isn’t your real last name. Why did you choose this moniker?
I’ve always been a kind of sunny person. I was hanging out in the house one day with my housemates just brainstorming. Dana Buoy came out and it just kind of stuck. And it sounds kind of like David Bowie. I was like, “Fuck it, we’re going with it!”
You a big David Bowie fan?
Oh yeah! Definitely. Who isn’t, really?
True. And the name is pretty appropriate for an album called Summer Bodies.
Yeah, totally! Exactly, it fits the whole theme.
And the fact that you were in Mexico when you wrote some of the songs.
Yeah! It’s weird how all these things started fitting together.
How was shooting the music video for “Call To Be?” Did you get tired from all that running?
So much fun! Yeah it was pretty exhausting, to be honest. They have to get at least five to seven takes of everything, just doing the same thing over and over. I kept on running all day, but I had fun. It was cool to go to all of those locations in LA.
Whose idea was it?
A friend of mine, David Horwitz, is a writer who lives in LA, and he came up with the concept. He just really responded well to it and a friend of his, Sam Molleur, the director of the video, was super into it. We had to adapt it a little bit from the original script to fit the budget, but it all ended up working out really well.
Have any solo shows coming up other than the one in July?
Nothing set in stone just yet. Akron is taking some time off, so I definitely have plans to do more for the rest of the year and until next year. I definitely need to keep myself busy and this is the perfect thing to do with this time.
Are you working on your next album?
Yeah, definitely. I actually started writing a couple of songs this past week. You’ll definitely be seeing more of it soon.
Catch Dana on drums with Akron/Family at these shows:
9/8 – Dallas, TX – Common Table (tix)
And solo (for free!) at the PDX Pop Now! Festival on July 22nd at 7:30pm.
BONUS: Stream the "Cruisin' In My Cutlass Supreme" mix Dana curated exclusively for Noisey below.
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