By John Carlow for Tom Tom Magazine | Photos: John Carlow – Finding Charlotte Photography
Dana Dee of the band Poor Choices found this Janice Dickinson mantra to have some truth to it. Amused to be using the reference, she explained that by acting if you possess the qualities you feel you lack; eventually they will come to you.
An unexpected admission about early days as a drummer, from the 31 year old Ontario, Canada native sitting across from me at infamous live music venue, Logans Pub in Victoria BC Canada. Dana recalls how she moved here in 2006, entering law school and graduating in 2009. Called to the bar in 2010, this now criminal defense lawyer leads an almost dual existence as the drummer in an all-girl punk band.
I came to know Dana through the local roller derby league. No stranger to sports, she had previously played varsity basketball while in military college as a naval officer from 2001-2005. “Made some great friends there but got into trouble. Got into trouble a lot,” she explains. Dana skated for the Eves of Destruction under persona “ Faryn Height.” A fitting derby name; with a self-described “intimidating” six foot stance, this striking tattooed gal would go on to tear up the track for five seasons before hanging up the skates, due to injury.
It was during that time that a teammate would direct Dana to a drum kit left behind by an ex-boyfriend. Wanting a backup hobby, she fulfilled a longstanding desire to give an instrument a try that she actually wanted to learn. Though she had wanted to play drums or guitar at a younger age, Dana was instead taught classical at the Royal Conservatory of Music and piano from the age of 9 until she was 18. Having left home and embracing music on her own terms for perhaps the first time; she sat down to teach herself the drums.
Indeed, Dana would become part of a band where no one started out knowing their instruments. Playing for about three years now, she initially suffered through that left behind kit. “At one point, I’d be holding the snare with my left knee, and had the bass weighed down with an old Singer sewing machine from the 60’s,” she recalls with a deep laugh and often photographed smile.
Just under two years ago, she would buy a Sonar Special Edition kit from local music retailer, Long and Mcquade for about $ 1100.00. Evolving by listening and persistence, she finds herself confident in the style of music she plays now. Never feeling disadvantaged by lack of formal training on drums, Dana still realizes that starting out with learned proper technique could prevent something like a repetition injury. She goes on to say that it would be better to practice more, but is handicapped by space in a house with others and the cost of electrics with headphones. She found value in learning to adapt to other kits, by being in situations where you couldn’t always transport your own or have the time to switch drums on a night with a full ticket. “Becoming more aware, I can appreciate how I could sound better if I tuned this or changed that. I know how to tune drums. I’m just not convinced I’m doing it right,” she explains.
Describing her style as a “straight forward eight note punk rock beat,” Dana admits to not being a technical drummer or a fan of “fancy beats.” “I don’t believe you have to be someone that knows everything about something, just to love it. I can’t see myself advancing to jazz or anything, but feel on the edge of a change.”
“The better you get at drumming, the more important it becomes.”
Learning guitar now and helping to write songs is perhaps a reflection of the change she alludes to. Dana also loves to sing and does so in side projects Mascara Nights and The Eastones. “I used to sing backup for Poor Choices, but there just wasn’t enough mic’s around.”
With new material in the works, Dana speaks fondly of how Poor Choices have evolved. Friends and ad recruited talent brought together the blank canvas and the band formed from the ground up. “Get in a room. Think it out. Sure its gonna sound like shit. But after a while it doesn’t anymore. You want to be good. It’s how bands start.” She goes on to say that no one was naive to the fact that this was going to be a band that attracted some attention by all being girls. “In fact though, it’s just how we started out and learned together. From day one, it’s always been that we are here to have fun.”
Though not being able to recall the exact number of Poor Choices shows behind her now, Dana acknowledges that after watching and listening to recorded shows, she can see the band’s progression. Dana feels that bands should be democratic, stating that drums are not so much an anchor as much as only part of the whole sound. Admittedly shy at one point in her life, she maintains that she isn’t one to be the center of attention, or a showboat. “But maybe one day I’d love to do a drum solo. Let’s make that a goal, a year down the road.” She looks forward to the energy, friends and atmosphere of live shows. Without real drummer idols, Dana will still observe other drummers on stage, perhaps considering trying something she’s noticed and appreciated. She plays skin to sticks, with no more than four nearby. Her “wear for comfort” rock T and jeans look nowadays comes with a trademark single drumstick jammed in the back of her pants. Pre gig rituals include hot water over the hands before a show; “wards off cramping,” and a two pint limit before a set to, “lessen the chance of a dropped beat.” “But I guess it’s not THAT strict of a limit,” she winks.
Though she plays a driving and loud style, Dana’s musical collection reflects diversity with an emphasis on “catchier” styles. “There’s a reason why pop music is so popular. There should be a reason music stays in your head.” In her mostly vinyl collection, Electric Six is a particular favorite. Searching further, you’d find tracks from The Stones, Turbonegro, Van Halen, Scorpions, early (glam period) Bowie, Clash, Ramones, Joan Jett, Runaways, Hives, and lot of the local punk and rock and roll scene. “I also appreciate soul music, some blues, metal, some classical and even some old country like Dolly Parton.”
Much like that musical coexistence, Dana’s professional and musical aspirations seem to find equal importance in her life. Though a persona she doesn’t “advertise” at work, she always thought colleagues would be “cool” about what she does after hours. Indeed, at a ‘lawyers Battle of the Bands’, The Eastones tilted the applause O meter, impressing judges, “two of which were actual judges,” she recalls.
“We shook up that crowd. It was a moment of triumph.” An important band to her, the two piece affords Dana the chance to sing, write and take creative advantage of living with guitarist Matt Easton. “You can also gear up fast for a show. Everything fits in a car,” she adds.
There’s an obvious enthusiasm you detect in Danas voice when she talks about playing drums, where her musical projects are heading and even about just listening to music, live and recorded.
When asked what advice she would give to anyone starting out with drums, Dana suggests the people that surround you as you start, are paramount to your success. “Find likeminded people. Jam, write and watch others. It’s all about people,” she nods with a smile.
She paused and thought a moment, then remarked, “It’s a subconscious thing you know; not a routine you have to follow.”