DYTD’s Susan Gale, Carmen Elle, Jen Markowitz, and Johnny Ryan
Toronto-based band Dance Yourself to Death debuted their first self-titled album in 2008 with the video and single “We are All Made of Stone.” Accompanied with live performances around Canada and in Berlin, the quartet have become one of the hottest new groups, with their edgy dance rock catching the ears of industry veterans like JD Samson and being plugged on blogs and in music magazines alike.
Drummer Susan Gale (pictured above, left) and vocalist Jen Markowitz (above, right) called me from Jen’s place in Toronto to talk about getting their sound, how they met and became best friends, and the difference between playing to a crowd of queer kids and indie rockers.
AfterEllen.com: We’ll start with the essential question: What is the background of the band? How did you come to be Dance Yourself to Death?
Jen Markowitz: The band started as a trio. It was the two of us and Nina Martinez who used to play guitar with us and co-wrote a bunch of songs on the album with us. She left and played with The Cliks and we added in Carmen on guitar and Johnny on keyboard. So that’s kind of the basic background and I guess how we met was — a really early incarnation of the band was Nina and another drummer at our very first show, Susan was also performing as a solo artist that night so we met that way and just started jamming and hanging out and getting to know each other.
Susan Gale: Jen added me as a drummer based on my singer/songwriter skills. I was like “I play drums, I’m a really good drummer. Can I join your band?” And she called me, without having ever heard me play drums before.
JM: We’ve become a duo in terms of writing everything and we’re also best buds.
AE: How long had you been working on songwriting for this album before it was released?
JM: I don’t know. Three years? A lot of that was working out kinks in the band and arranging a lot of the music and weeding through our material and with the coming and going of new members, songs evolved according to everyone’s range of talents.
AE: So how does it work with the songwriting — you two collaborate and then take what you have to the other members?
JM: We talk on the phone a bunch of times a day and sometimes we’re catching up on friendship business we have to take care of, and in the middle of that conversation, one of us will sing a hook to the other, tap out a drum beat or a bass riff or something like that. We both tend to, I mean we don’t see each other every day, but I think constantly writing and adding to each other’s material in the time that we’re not hanging out.
SG: We’re working on the music constantly.
AE: Did you discuss what kind of sound you wanted to have or was the kind of poppy dance rock just coming out of what you listen to?
SG: We were really strategic about the sound that we wanted. I’m not sure if we reached exactly what our initial vision was but we spent so much time researching production and all of things we wanted for our sound.
JM: We really crafted the sound that we had. We took way longer than we originally intended to make the album because we ran into some bumps in the road that caused major delays and looking back on it, it was quite a luxury. It allowed the material to just marinate a little bit for us and it gave us an opportunity for us to really think what we wanted to do without having a lot of time pressure on our hands. We were allowed to sort of get to know it.
So how long did the recording process take in the studio?
JM: It was a year including pre-production.
AE: How did you know when you were finally done with it then, since it was such a long process for you?
JM: I ran out of money. I mean, with every book, with every film, with every piece of music, you’re only done when every deadline hits, so we had to give ourselves one in order to push us over that cliff.
AE: What do you hope to accomplish now that the album is finished?
JM: I think we’re sort of open to any kind of new audience that we reach. We have a very loyal audience; a loyal queer audience that we’re hoping grows from this. And we played our first European show in January in Munch, German for a festival called Queerty. We’ve since been discussing going back to play more shows in Europe, so that’s something I hope will happen. We have a lot of momentum to make that happen. So far reception has been really, really great and it’s made us really happy. And we’re hoping that continues.
AE: How did you guys hook up with JD Samson for a remix of your song “Sea of Love”?
SG: She performed at Toronto Pride last year and so did we and we shared a bill with her. Then she liked our music and was interested in talking us up.
AE: Are all of you in the band gay?
SG: Yes, let’s just say yes.
JM: I don’t know, this is something…
SG: We’re queer.
JM: We’re definitely queer, and we have girlfriends and stuff but I don’t know if necessarily — you know what, Trish, you’re from AfterEllen.com. Yes, we all are queer.
SG: We’re very very queer. We’re a queer band. No one in the band is straight.
JM: And no one in the band is secret. We have been asked by non-queer media about it and, forgive me if I came off sounding like it was a weird question because it certainly is not coming from you.