Interview: Dana Gaynor

Dan McAvinchey: Thanks for speaking with us Dana. So when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Dana Gaynor: I started playing guitar at the age of ten. Interesting story: one afternoon after returning home from school I was helping my mom get things ready for dinner when we heard music coming from the streets. I always loved music, especially rock and on this day I heard what sounded like a song I had heard on the radio coming from the street. We opened the front door to find a marching band of 100 guitar players and about 50 accordion players followed a float with an electric rock band playing a Beatles song. Turned out it was a promotion for a local music school. I just had to join up so for $100 I got 10 lessons and a Chinese Les Paul copy guitar with a little amp. It was enough to get me started. I ended up playing with the kids in the school learning and playing songs we heard on the radio.

Over time I got better and joined bands. Eventually I went to the Berklee College of Music for a few semesters to get the basics of theory. It cleared everything up for me. After that I joined a jam band which became regionally successful, did a variety of studio gigs and over time opened for a number of international bands, some of whom I became friends with. I moved to California and became what I would call a second string player for the rock stars. When they were home off tour and wanted to gig they would call me to fill out their bands. I got to play with many well known players but became a protégé to John Cippollina from the 70's band Quicksilver Messenger Service. He taught me a lot, most important of which was to find my own voice as a guitar player. The stars taught me to play "in the moment" and generally let go of observing myself. From there I became a member of the house band at JJ's Blues in Santa Clara, CA and backed a variety of notable blues artists. I kept on learning, trying new things and playing with people way better than me. Over time I got pretty good.

Dan McAvinchey: Was your latest album, "Power To The People", self-released?

Dana Gaynor: Yes. I have had a plan to start my own record company. I know what I want and have a vision of how the music I write should sound. I have over time worked with some great producers and engineers as part of various studio gigs. I was a staff musician for Magna Glide records a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. I am kind of a geek so I started to learn how to do both jobs along the way. I took one of those sixteen week courses in engineering from the local school too. I put some money away and started buying basic recording equipment. Over time I got better at it. Today I have a fully automated Pro Tools studio with a variety of onboard equipment - just enough to do a professional job. Everything is modular so upgrades are pretty easy. I have been finding this very rewarding although the learning curve was longer than I would have wanted.

At this point I am pretty good at it evidenced by very positive responses from fans, music magazines, CD sales, air play. I run a small production company and we are learning the ropes as we go. Someone once said you're either learning or dying. I prefer to learn.

Dan McAvinchey: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?

Dana Gaynor: I have had a vision of a kind of music I wanted to do. It is somewhere between Tedeschi/Trucks, Grateful Dead, Little Feat and Widespread Panic. The band varies in size depending on the venue. The core band is guitar, keyboards, drums, and bass. We add a background singer most shows. We all sing so that is five vocals. For festivals or large venues we add a second drummer or percussionist and occasionally two horn players. The music is high powered but educated reflecting multiple influences from blues, rock, jazz, funk, rockabilly and country rock.

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Dan McAvinchey: How did you write the songs for "Power To The People"? Was it a collaborative effort, or did you work alone?

Dana Gaynor: In most cases I write alone. Generally I get a rhythm part, a groove, or a hook - they just come to mind and I play it into a small digital recorder. Then I work it into a basic song and find a melody. Sometimes the words just come to me right then and there like the song "Rockabilly Billionaire" on the new album. Sometimes not. I will often keep my recorder by the bed and set the intention to write a song about a certain idea. Then in the middle of the night I might wake up with the words in my mind so I just chant them into the recorder. I did this on "Power To The People" and "Ghost Train". The next day I couple them with one of the grooves, and work through the rough spots until an actual song emerges. It doesn't take too long. I sing it for a while until I feel it works then I do a studio demo with all parts for the band. Then I bring them in to do a real recording.

Sometime we change what I did and sometimes not, all for the purpose of making the best product possible. I think songwriting is about two things. 1. I believe all music exists at a certain mental/emotional frequency range. If you can get yourself there they just come through you, or at least that is what happens to me. I have learned to generally live there. 2. Discernment. You have to know what sucks even if you like it. You have to know if it will be real or ego bullshit. I have learned to get out of my own way. Writing and playing for me is a Zen experience. I try to simply channel creativity. It took a long timefor me to understand what would work for me as an artist and performer. I can generally tell before I ever play something for people if it is good or bad and will move an audience or not. It took writing a lot of bad songs and playing them for people before I got it. I was slow in learning, especially about words but I get it now. Sometimes I collaborate. In those rare cases someone sends me words that move me. I sleep on it and a song will generally emerge. I can also craft a song to fit words. It just depends what is needed.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little about the gear you use to get your sound.

Dana Gaynor: I tour regionally in support of my catalog. For this I need two amps (1 for backup) and one for stage at any time. I use Dr. Z amps, specifically a 32 watt Route 66 which use 2 KT66 radio tubes and the smoothest amp to operate around. The sound is goes from super smooth and clean to thick and beefy. My second Z is a 45 watt RX which uses 4 EL84 tubes and is more like a vintage VOX AC 30 on steroids with some specific tweaks. Doc Z is very cool, he makes boutique amps by hand and they are just great. If you need them fixed, he fixes them. At this point I have my own tech so I don't bother him much. Z's amps generally don't have a lot in the way of knobs. Mine are both single stage, all tube amps without reverb. I don't want anything but pure tube beef. Dr. Z. amps work from the combination of tone and volume controls - as you increase tone the sound gets thicker and volume adds crunch. I use a Digitech RP 500, Cry Baby Wah and Tube Screamer Overdrive for effects. I tend to be a minimalist re: pedals.

I have a set of matching guitars I made from Warmoth (Fender licensed) body parts and high end hardware. They are swamp ash with matching wood grain. One is a chambered Stratocaster (7.5 radius neck, vintage finish, standard frets), Jeff Beck Fender hot noiseless pickups, Sperzal tuners, Steel trem block, 3 trem springs, graphite nut and bridge. The other is a Tele also with vintage 7.5 radius neck, vintage finish, Sperzals, strat hard body bridge, SD 59 humbuckers with coil tapping and graphite nut and bridge. I have two Parker Flys; a Classic and a Deluxe.These are high end 5 lb carbon glass fiber precision instruments with inlaid wood. The Deluxe is poplar and has SD 59 humbuckers with coil tapping, Sperzals and the Fly trem plate system. The Classic is mahogany with EMG PUs which Parker put in stock, Sperzals, trem plate and Fishman active pickup. They are both about 25 years old and were made by Parker himself. I also play lap steel on some songs and have a 1956 National Clipper for that. It has national pickups and is stock except for a new nut I had guitar wizard Eddie Conover fashion for me.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you using any social media sites to promote your album and music career?

Dana Gaynor: Oh yeah. I use Facebook, Reverbnation, NumberOneMusic, Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud, Youtube, LinkedIn and a variety of other sites. They are a must in today's world.

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what do you find is working best for you at the moment?

Dana Gaynor: Well I keep in touch with and grow my fan base on all of these in various ways. So in that sense, they are all working. I have eliminated things that don't work. About 6 years back I dumped MySpace. I am learning as I go, people turn me onto new tools and I try them. LinkedIn is strange it kind of works sometimes. I just got a collaboration gig through that. I also have a personal website and a production company site and people find me through them too. Mostly I do push oriented communications to my fans and get 40% responses which is a good rate for someone without a hit song. The Dana Gaynor Band has a lot of audience videos on Youtube and we have started a channel for this. We plan to make commercial videos as well this year. Soundcloud is great for letting industry people have access to a portion of our catalog without any of the hoopla of the other sites. Reverbnation is a great EPK source for venues and industry insiders.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you now find to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Dana Gaynor: Advantages are simple. You are in control. You sink or swim based on your choices. My partner Tony Mancino and I run the show. We hire and fire, back our own projects payoff our own debt and make our own money. We make all the profit from our record sales. There are many ways to distribute products and we are learning as we go. We currently use Tunecore and are doing Asian distribution through Bongo Boy Records. It's fun and honest work. As Tony would say we have very good bullshit meters and that tends to keep us out of trouble. We have found it necessary to understand that as an independent you have to make strategic alliances to move up. Some of these will include things like booking agents, managers, publishers, etc. We have found you need a clear purpose to do any of this. It has to be quantifiable so you can be clear whether it is working at any time. You keep the ones that work and move on from the ones that don't. You need a good entertainment lawyer. You need to be able to account for all the legal issues. A publisher friend says you have to be able to clear the legals. We get it. Ultimately we are creating a kind of business family. People we can trust and work with comfortably. This can cost you some money - you have to deal with that.

Disadvantages are exactly the same.

Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Dana Gaynor: I listen to everything. I like jam, blues, blues rock, jazz, fusion, swing, classic rock, rockabilly, bluegrass, metal, hair, hip hop, rap, reggae, ska, country rock and even some pop. I have to feel authenticity however. If I don't feel it, I won't like it. I need to feel living energy not manufactured effect. If the energy doesn't come through the mix I won't like it. I tend to like live recordings more for that reason, with minimal overdubs. I am bored with the cathartic singer. I don't want to hear it. I like the sound quality of the LA and Nashville studios but not a lot of the music. I don't like words lacking real heart or intelligence. I like guitar oriented music but I have learned a lot from Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Steely Dan, Bill Evans, Tower of Power, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Coltrane, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Parliament Funkadelic, stuff like that.

Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Dana Gaynor: Well we are getting great reviews from our new album. Doors are opening up for us. We will be touring regionally, nationally and maybe get over to Europe in the next year or two. We are focusing on concerts and festivals. Our production company; Euphoric Rebel Productions, creates a few regional festivals each year as well. The last was Jamageddon 2016 this past January 28th and 29th. This summer we are working on producing the Summer Spirit Festival in Bethlehem PA June 24th and 25th. We are working on two new compilation albums as well. So great things, high hopes, and good spirits. We wish the same for you. Hope to see some of you out there sometime.

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The Dana Gaynor Band (DGB) is an award-winning jam band from the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, lead by internationally respected female lead/slide guitarist, singer/songwriter and producer Dana Gaynor. They've recently released their album "Power To The People", which is generating a buzz both in the US and in Europe.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Gaynor, and they discussed her formative years and her current projects.