Independent artist Dana Why builds on New Jersey’s musical heritage

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Born in New Jersey Dana Why is the alternative and indie fusion artist you need to know in 2023. After performing under the moniker Static Sex for over a decade to modest success, Dana Yurcisin is now emerging as a full-fledged solo artist with his musically versatile debut album The pound, which just dropped this January. The record, nearly six years in the making, was born out of a series of devastating slumps and a somber retreat in his hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. After returning home, Yurchisin painstakingly put every bit of himself into the process of recording and writing The pound. As a result, the record documents Jurchisin’s journey to reconcile with the past, to find his sense of home again, to a soundtrack of eclectic song arrangements

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The poundLead single “Jersey Devil” is a stunning example of the fusion that Yurcisin manages to inject into his music, which features everything from auto-tuned vocals that sound like they were lifted from the hardest trap album of the year to whimsical horn sections, key changes and dissonant guitar lines that recall early Weezer and Beck. Heck, there might even be a few subtle nods to the reigning king of New Jersey, the boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. Even through all the varied genre paths he finds himself on, Yurcisin’s distinctive vocal style and honest lyricism are the clear line and represent a bold, newfound confidence that the lifelong songwriter has been searching for all these years. We spoke with the singer-songwriter about the launch of his latest project as Dana Why, the making of The poundand more.

You performed under the moniker Static Sex for nearly 10 years, but now you’re stepping out as a full-fledged solo artist as Dana Why. What made you do this and was it scary at first to make this change?

The big event leading up to this was finally being invited to join another group [actually]. I haven’t been in a band since college, I’ve always made music but always on my terms. Shortly before COVID I joined my friend Grasser’s band and I thought I was just going to play guitar, but then he wrote lyrics and said, “You’re gonna sing them,” which was new because I wasn’t used to being the lead in someone’s band another. This whole experience of singing on the record and doing the vocals made me feel more comfortable with mixing my voice more like a pop star instead of trying my best to bury my voice like I did in the past . It was time to retire my old name [Static Sex] that I came up with in college, take it a little more seriously and step into the confidence I hadn’t had in so long.

“Jersey Devil” packs so much genre fusion into just one song, ranging from ’90s alternative to R&B and hip-hop. Obviously experimentation doesn’t take a back seat in this project, so what does experimentation mean to you and what drives you to write in this unconventional style?

That’s just how I’ve always written. I don’t usually sit down with an acoustic guitar to develop full song ideas. The way I create is all over the place and in pieces. I’ll get an idea for a riff or a vocal and I’ll write it down on my phone and I’ll just have these mountains of little tidbits that I store in Evernote. For me, writing music is recording — these two are one thing for me, and many times I’ll find the song while recording. Recording is the area where I have the most fun and I’m kicking myself to figure it out. [Laughs.]

I can imagine you probably listen to every kind of music under the sun, but who are the central artists that shaped you and that you find you continue to reference in your music today?

I’ll be that guy: I’m from New Jersey and I live in Asbury Park, so Bruce Springstein is a big influence. I can’t get around it and I can’t pretend I want to. [Laughs.] First time I heard born to run it pretty much taught me how to just write epic music with movements and key changes.

Another very impactful record for me was Perfect from now on by Built To Spill, and even though it’s only eight tracks, they’re all super long and winding with so many interesting paths to get to where they’re going. I get bored very easily as a listener, so I need constant stimulation, whether it’s textural or movement. Growing up, I was very fond of classical music—and that sense of movement, building, crescendo, and release is still very important to me.

Touching on those New Jersey roots, how does your homeland play a role in your art and what makes you fly the New Jersey flag with so much pride?

I was living in Maine when I made the first half of this record and I was convinced I was done with New Jersey. [That’s] what everyone thinks at a certain moment, but they end up there because of this gravitational pull that we can succumb to at any moment – which I [eventually] I did. At first I wasn’t happy to be back in Jersey and it’s kind of like the Jersey Devil. I was so in love with Maine and my friends there, so moving home felt like a loss. I have since recovered and slowly regained that sense of community. I’m back to feeling like New Jersey is my home and I love creating with the artist community here.

Lyrically, what are some topics and themes that you touch on throughout The pound?

This is a record that has been created [over six years] when there were so many things. I was engaged before I started this record, and my then-fiancé broke it off and I was fired from my job—so it felt like an inevitability that I would have to come home. It was this whirlwind of nasty, weird feelings and trying to process them. I recorded a lot of the vocals in my parent’s room at home when they were at work—that’s where I spent my time as a kid in kindergarten, and now here I am again as a 27-year-old recording vocals for an album that I didn’t even know if anyone was going to hear. It’s kind of a breakup album, but I didn’t want it to be miserable or ‘poor me’. I wanted to just express those unhappy feelings, but also have a balance of positivity to chart my way out of these situations.

The pound was released earlier this month on January 20th. What are your plans around its release and in general for the future?

I’ve been asked to play a few gigs and I really want to say yes, but I haven’t yet [full] unite yet. I definitely want to do it because I love these songs and they are a huge part of me. I’ve been playing Grasser so much lately and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it. I’m usually an anxious person on stage, but now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I feel like it’s time to have my own band and play in front of people.

I also have so many records in the middle of making, with my next two LPs about 50 percent already recorded. because The pound it was so hard to finish, I kept starting new projects. but I also knew I had to finish that record to move on to the new material. I also produce, mix and write for people, so there are lots of exciting things on the horizon.

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