Dana Masters balances family and the first full-length album.
Ahead of her debut album launch show at the Mac I caught up with Dana Masters for a quick chat.
You grew up in South Carolina. The Southern states of America, in general, have a great history of music, but there’s also a darker history of oppression and all too often the two are intertwined. Did the area and its history have an impact on you and your music growing up?
Most definitely. My family were, and still are quite involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the south of the US. We were constantly exposed to our history and our culture through that lens. It’s shaped me in many areas of my life.
What are your earliest memories of music and can you remember how you felt upon hearing it?
One of my earliest memories is of massive BBQs my family would have where music like Earth,Wind and Fire and Marvin Gaye were being played and danced to. It’s one of my favourite childhood memories.
As your love of music developed you began to study it at University. How was that time for you?
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I went into University with no formal training. I couldn’t read music at all! For four years I worked harder than I ever had before!
While living in Los Angeles you met an Irishman who was to have a profound impact on your life. Tell me about that first meeting and the way it changed your life.
Well actually, neither of us was too impressed with the other when we first met! I didn’t understand the Irish sense of humour and he was convinced had no sense of humour. We laugh about that now! I eventually married him and moved to his country. I often say I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Another Irishman who was to have an important impact on your life is musician Linley Hamilton. I’ve heard that was also a chance meeting. How did you meet and how important has that chance meeting been?
We met briefly once when I was singing backing vocals for Brian Houston. Then again when my husband and I happened to be out for dinner at Bert’s Jazz Bar in Belfast Linley was playing, invited me on stage to sing and that really was the beginning of my career. Without Linley, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.
Having seen you and Linley interacting together on stage it is clear to see there is great chemistry between the two of you. That is something that can be rare these days among bands with constant revolving session musicians involved. Is it important to you to have that chemistry on the stage?
Yes! I need to love the people I play with or else the performance isn’t everything it can be.
Your debut album will be released in a few days. Will it consist of original material or will there be some covers on there, and have you been writing for it on your own or with other songwriters/musicians?
It’s all original material! I’ve had the privilege of writing these lyrics and melodies and bringing them to my friend and pianist, Johnny Taylor, who has written the chords and helped to arranged them. I love the process.
How did you find the studio/recording process?
Interesting. I haven’t always had great studio experiences. I think I’m the type of musician who really feeds off the energy of an audience. So moving into studio work is a challenge. But this time around was great! I worked with an amazing guy (Michael Buckley) and got to bring a lot of the band into the studio with me and that made the energy amazing!
To date, you’ve played in front of all sizes of audiences from small intimate Saturday afternoons in McHugh’s to audiences numbering in the 1000’s at Proms in the Park and also last year at a notable birthday party for an East Belfast pensioner. How do these gigs differ to you, if at all?
It’s funny, I think the smaller audiences are quite special. You feel so close to people when you can see the colour of their eyes while you’re performing! I have to say that I enjoy the experience no matter the audience size. The goal is always the same: to connect.
As well as being a hard working in demand musician you’ve also got a busy family life to manage alongside the music. Do you find yourself making sacrifices in your family life to pursue your musical career, or is it the other way around?
It’s probably a bit of both. But I am always very clear that the best and most important part of my life is my family!
Either way, is it sometimes difficult to strike a balance between family and music?
Of course it is. I think everyone with a family finds that a challenge, not just musicians. But it’s something that my husband and I are always trying to balance. Finding the right mix for us.
Dana Masters launches her new record on the 14th of April at Belfast’s Mac Theatre.
Dana Masters performing with her jazz and blues band. © Bernie McAllister