The big review: Download Festival 2022
Download Festival is back at full-scale for the first time since 2019! Here’s all the action from Donington Park…
In a cabin in the woods, Dana Marie Wright is getting into character. Dana Dentata – Dana Marie’s fearless alter-ego – has had an “awesome” few days, playing her debut UK shows at Reading & Leeds and ALT+LDN festivals, bringing her unique brand of rap-rock-horrorcore to her British fans for the first time.
Dana Marie, however, has had a more frustrating time, arriving at the airport to discover that a visa issue meant she was unable to return to her home in Los Angeles. Instead, she’s in her native Canada for the first time since the start of the pandemic, in idyllic woodland at her family house known as “the chalet”, trying to arrange safe passage back to the City Of Angels and dealing with life’s petty minutiae.
Right now, however, it’s time for her to talk Kerrang! through her incredible life story. And that means connecting with the other Dana.
“Before this interview I was arguing on the phone and then it was like, ‘Okay, that’s fucking bullshit,’” she laughs. “Time to be Dana Dentata now, bring her out…”
Because Dana Dentata gives precisely zero fucks about petty minutiae. With her facepaint and gloriously untamed mullet, she resembles a cross between Insane Clown Posse and the big baddie in a demonic splatter movie. Her music is proudly provocative and brutally uncompromising. Her lyrics document pain and trauma in unflinching detail.
In fact, Dana Marie inadvertently invented Dana Dentata to help deal with that pain and trauma. While her stage name evolved organically from her time in all-female punk band Dentata, she soon realised that she was a different person when in that mode.
“When I would play shows with the band, I would become this person and say things I would never say,” she explains. “I would tell people to go fuck themselves all the time. I’m pulling a snake out of my pants, eating my tampon, doing all this crazy shit and I never remotely felt the least bit shy, stage fright, anything.
“Later, I thought maybe I was in the moment or whatever, but I didn’t realise I was completely taking on a new persona and identity. Dana Marie was so abandoned, abused, defenceless and helpless that my subconscious created her to protect me.”
Sadly, there’s a lot that Dana Marie needed protecting from while packing several lives into her short time on this planet. A Britney Spears fan as a child who would teach her friends choreographed dance routines at school, her mother died when she was just 14. Since then, Dana has worked as a model, a stripper and as the frontwoman in Dentata before arriving at her current incarnation, where she became the first female solo artist to sign to metal behemoth Roadrunner Records.
So far, so Hollywood movie script. But there is a much darker side to Dana’s story, and now she’s finally ready to speak her truth…
The personable young woman dialling in on the Zoom call may be in full Dana Dentata mode, but, if you look closer, elements of the real Dana are also here. So, while the mullet – cut with relish once she split from a boyfriend who told her it would make her “look so ugly I’ll break up with you” – is in full effect, she appears fresh-faced, with no facepaint. A ginger cat interrupts at regular intervals, seeking a snuggle.
But the true Dana Marie is surely most present when she talks of the harrowing abuse she endured in her mid-teens. For legal reasons, Kerrang! is not able to publish full details, but Dana says her song Happy Family is about her being groomed online, aged 15, and then raped, aged 16. Dana says she then developed a dissociative disorder, a condition which can make people feel disconnected from themselves and the world around them, and can affect memory, identity and perception. Dana Dentata’s aggressive, take-no-shit persona followed once she joined the band.
“Even the name – Dentata means vagina with teeth,” she says, tearfully. “It’s like, no-one’s going to rape that girl if I create her in my head, no-one’s going to do that to her, you know? No-one’s going to hurt her; if anything she’s going to beat the fuck out of everybody, she’s fearless. I had nobody and my subconscious and desire to be an artist shat that person out to protect me.”
Dana says her experiences were so submerged that it was only after hearing another survivor’s alarmingly similar story that she realised exactly what she’d been through, and could make more sense of her dissociation. Meanwhile, the fall of Harvey Weinstein made her believe change was possible.
“I wouldn’t be here right now doing this interview if it weren’t for the #MeToo movement,” she says. “I had never spoken to or even thought about those things that happened to me as a kid. From there, I was able to do some healing and learn who the fuck I was. I didn’t even know I was raped until two years ago – and that happened to me when I was 16 years old.
“I was Dana Dentata since I was 18, screaming ‘fuck men’, and I’m so open – and I didn’t even know. So I can only imagine how many other people have repressed their truth and don’t know themselves because of shame and the lack of talking about it.”
Many of her songs seek to weaponise that pain, with violent imagery stalking her lyrics. She has previously spoken of her surprise that there aren’t more female serial killers.
“I don’t believe in violence,” Dana explains. “I don’t actually want to kill everyone that’s ever abused me, but I do think that with the level and intensity and amount of experiences that I have, artistically having that violent release and fantasy is very healing and necessary.
“I don’t actually want to go out and kill these people, but it’s so normalised and we’re so used to being spoken to in a horrible way as women from male artists. It’s on the radio, all the big hits are talking about ‘bitch, suck my dick’ or whatever, and there needs to be balance artistically for equality.”
Talking about what she went through is clearly distressing for Dana. She wells up several times during our hour on Zoom (“Probably no interview happens where I don’t cry a little bit, so don’t worry, this is normal for me,” she admits), and discussing her experiences feels intrusive. But she is determined to talk about it, in order to help empower others who have been through similar experiences.
“All of this is awful,” she sighs at one point. “But, at the same time, I’m here and I’m talking about it and it needs to be done. I think this is my purpose and why I’m still alive, why I’ve made it through all of this – I need to warn the others.”
This frankness makes her extraordinary debut album, Pantychrist, an important, if often difficult, listen.
“I do want to make a difference for the people that hear this,” she says. “I want people to be able to feel differently about the shit that they’ve been through, and know how strong they are capable of being. I really have the intention of reaching everybody and saying things that haven’t been said before, in a way that reminds people that they aren’t victims and weak and powerless, they are everything opposite of that.”
So there was no compromise in Dana’s message, even once she’d signed to the corporate might of Warner Music-owned Roadrunner.
“I really wanted to say the word ‘rape’ on an album released by a major label – that was bucket list,” she says. “I need to speak in this way without shame, say things very loud and very direct and get this message very clear. I just want to normalise talking about it and not feeling silenced because of shame, because it’s not our shame to carry.”
And the spectre of abuse has haunted Dana. She may have had a lucky escape when she decided to visit her family in Sweden rather than go to Miami and work for a modelling agency owned by notorious billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. But she later became a model, moved to Hollywood and found herself immersed in a depressingly sleazy scene.
“I was around all these directors and producers and the modelling world,” she sighs. “I’ve really seen this shit. I’ve experienced a lot of trauma and sexual assault and abuse and rape and things like that in my life and I think a lot of women have, more than it’s talked about.”
More recently, the man who championed her early in her career, Marilyn Manson, has been accused of abuse by multiple women. Dana says she was “shocked” by the allegations, which Manson denies.
“[He’s] been my favourite artist and biggest inspiration since I was 10 years old,” she says. “I read every interview, every lyric, every ‘thank you’ on the album, every inch of his book… This person influenced me so much. I’ve been a superfan my whole life. So yeah, my brain is definitely short-circuiting.”
In a world where seemingly any idol can turn out to have feet of clay or worse, Dana is determined not to disappoint her own fans, known as the Dentitties, who pack her Reading show with an obsession that verges on mania. Central to that mission is the Pantychrist album. Much more than a mildly amusing pun, Dana says the Pantychrist “is the healed, whole, superhero, indestructible version of myself”. As well as making the album, she has dedicated time and effort into healing herself professionally, physically and mentally, through new music business deals, medical treatment and extensive therapy.
She underwent what she calls, “a spiritual awakening psychotic breakdown where I went crazy and then was never the same in the best way… I love myself now in a way that I was not able to before, it’s representative of healing a lifetime of very intense trauma.”
Despite the plethora of religious references on Pantychrist, Dana says she does not subscribe to any organised religion. But she has consciously moved away from the dark side. Before, her email address featured the number 666, now it’s been switched to 444 (“It means angels are trying to tell you a message”). Her upside-down crosses are now in the more orthodox position. And the demons that featured prominently in her art and videos – and which she felt were spilling over into real life – have now been banished.
“Having all those things around me does attract bad energy and darkness,” she admits. “I realised that I need to focus on the light. We do ourselves a disservice by being like, ‘Antichrist, upside-down cross’ to be anti-religion. Yes, a lot of things about Christianity are awful, but that doesn’t mean you have to surround yourself with darkness. You can not subscribe to those things and still be surrounded by the light and positive intention.”
Musically, too, Pantychrist sees Dana ascend to a higher plane. Songs such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and the Travis Barker-featuring Spit represent a mind-melting Megan Thee Wyld Stallyn cocktail of sex-positive rap and cocky rock, while Apology brings a soulful pop dimension. Most surprising of all is Free, a beautiful, acoustic, Lana Del Rey-gone-goth ballad featuring the heartbreaking lines, ‘The only time I let somebody in / They hurt me again’.
“I can’t even get through playing anyone that song without crying,” Dana says. “When I was going through a lot of the horrible stuff as a young teenager, I didn’t have anyone to talk to – but I had an acoustic guitar. I would write these quiet, sad, acoustic songs alone in my room. It has such a mental attachment for me with that, that’s why I went the total opposite end [of the sonic spectrum], because it was too painful, raw and vulnerable. It was so much easier to be reactionary and angry and loud and scream. I need that outlet, but the real pain, vulnerability and openness is in those acoustic songs.”
It also signposts a way for Dana Dentata to infiltrate the mainstream. She is unabashed in her ambition to become a huge star, all the while maintaining her edge.
“I want to make mass change and affect a lot of people and I want to reach a lot of young girls,” she grins. “But I don’t want to do it by having to do shit I’m not proud of, or dim my life down or quieten it. I want to prove that you can do it by being raw and real and being yourself.”
She maintains Roadrunner “understood the assignment” when signing her, and have made no attempt to tone down her art. That leaves her free to manifest a future where her live production can match the imagination of her image.
Her unique look is influenced by Insane Clown Posse, KISS and professional wrestlers (“I love when you can see someone and be like, that’s that fucking person. You know that’s Stone Cold Steve Austin from 10 miles away”). The obsession with customised Barbie dolls, which adorn her mic stand live, comes from her fascination with the juxtaposition of “youth and innocence and cute, but at the same time it’s disgusting and fucked up”. Which, in turn, was inspired by Hole: “There’s so much about Courtney [Love] and the imagery that Hole had that was taking pretty, soft, beautiful, gentle things and making them gross and angry and scary.” An Australian fan that Dana calls “the queen of the Dentitties” made her the customised Barbie-style model of Dana that features in Kerrang!’s photoshoot.
Meanwhile, Dana is encouraged by what she sees as a shift away from vanilla personalities, as the public embrace those they might once have dismissed as ‘freaks’ and ‘weirdos’.
“People are becoming a lot more accepting,” she says. “There’s more of a need for things that are real and true to who people are, not just this produced fake thing that gets a lot of hits on Spotify. With how real shit’s got in the world, people really want realness and rawness.”
And Dana Dentata certainly brings that, even if Dana Marie is in a better place these days.
“My therapist would tell me it’s better to teach others from scars, rather than open wounds,” she says. “All this time, I’ve been teaching from open wounds that have been oozing and infected, and I never put hydrogen peroxide on any of them. I really dedicated myself towards making them scar, because I do want to make a difference for the people that hear this.”
There are, no doubt, many more chapters still to be written in Dana’s incredible story. But she sees Pantychrist as an opportunity for her to switch to a more positive narrative.
“I’m so happy to be here doing this,” she insists. “Yes, it’s very heavy, painful stuff – but that’s what life is about. I just want people to know that a lot of horrible things have happened to me repeatedly for a long period of time, and I’m still standing, I love myself and I can smile and laugh today.
“I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me,” she adds. “I want everyone to believe in themselves a little bit more. I genuinely believe that this is my purpose on this earth.”
And with that, Dana Dentata takes her leave and Dana Marie heads off to try and find her way home to Los Angeles, to carry on making a difference, one song at a time.
Pantychrist is out now via Roadrunner Records.
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