Singing since before she could even speak, for DANA (born Dana Burkhard), music is her whole life. She writes lyrics about her personal stories, experiences that are tough to talk about, and things that bother her in society. We chatted about her creative process, the challenges of songwriting, and taking care of her physical and mental health.
You are a young woman, artist, singer, songwriter. How would you describe yourself?
Many people sing, many are perfecting just their songwriting, some are performing only covers, others play instruments. There are so many combinations of how to do music, But what I enjoy the most, is the whole package. For me, it all influences each other. I need to write my own words, sing them, perform them, record them. I really enjoy all of that.
Also, I am very interested in people and their stories. I love creative people, some of my friends are actors and I enjoy seeing these different kinds of creativity and how we can inspire each other. I also love communicating. Overall I have a lot of joy for things, there is just so much I want to experience, it’s amazing to be alive.
Do you consider yourself an optimist?
I am a big optimist, but of course, not always. And that is an amazing thing about music. I get to be both. I am very happy, but also I have a lot of mental health struggles. I think that if I was only happy all the time, I would have a lot less to say and maybe people would be less touched by my songs. Oftentimes, struggles unite us.
So, even though you enjoy the whole process, is songwriting especially important to you?
Yes. Honestly, if I didn’t sing about the things that I experience, I wouldn’t know where else to put them. I write out of my own life. I don’t think there is one song that is not my own story. It is very hard sometimes, to open up so much, to be so personal. But I want other people, who went through the same things to feel understood. To know that they are not alone in anything they deal with. The same goes for me. Thanks to them, I know I am not alone in all the struggles. There are a lot of songs written from a place of sadness or anger. I sing a lot about psychological stuff, family structures, relationships with people.
But in the end, I feel very lucky that I have found this way of expressing myself. In a way, it’s like therapy for me.
One of the topics you sing about a lot and seem to be very interested in is gender equality. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes. Women have a very problematic position in society and I am affected by it every day of my life. And basically every woman I know has experience with some kind of assault, oftentimes sexually connotated. And I think that made me a feminist. There has been some bad stuff, some really bad stuff, and some everyday stuff that sucks in my life and that affects me.
Your song ‚Speak up‘ is definitely the strongest one about the issue. Was it an easy decision to open up about your own experience with assault?
It was very difficult. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk about that publicly. But in the end, that was also what the song was about: To not be ashamed of speaking up about things that have happened to us. After it was released a lot of people, who have survived similar traumas, wrote to me that the song helped them. In return, their stories and support helped me.
You’ve mentioned that songwriting is sort of therapy for you, do you have any other ways to deal with your emotions?
Yes, I have been in psychotherapy for quite some time. There is a stigma about caring for your mental health and although it is breaking down now a little, I think it’s important to talk openly about mental health care.
What does it do for you?
For me, it’s a space to let everything out, a safe space, and a healing process. Especially for someone who likes to look away from problems. Thanks to psychotherapy, I’ve learned to treat myself as my best friend, to realize that I am valuable and it’s OK to be kind to yourself.
“Thanks to psychotherapy, I’ve learned to treat myself as my best friend, to realize that I am valuable and it’s OK to be kind to yourself.”
Did it affect your creative process? Is it easier for you to open up?
Definitely! Psychotherapy gave me some directions on how to deal with problems, what I can do to help myself. A lot of it is just knowledge. It can be learned. It also teaches you how to reflect on your problems and how to put them in words, analyze them, and put them into perspective.
I’m quite sure that getting to know myself in that way shows up in my songwriting.
Artist in pandemic
Mental health and being kind to yourself is especially important now, because of the global pandemic. You are an artist used to performing in live concerts. How did it affect you?
Just when the first lockdown happened in Switzerland, I was coming back from a tour in Germany. We, myself and the band, were in a full hype. And it was just the beginning, we were supposed to continue for another 40 shows in Switzerland, all of them were canceled. It was difficult to step down from the hype and just be alone at home. But to be honest, I think I was lucky. I study music and thanks to student loans my financial situation was safe. So I decided to use my time for things that I never really had time for.
What did you do?
I have been practicing new songs, cooking a lot and I got to sleep at my own home every night! I took the time to do a lot of new things and projects. In the last year, there was so much time for thinking, learning and practicing. I planned two big projects that I am very happy about. One is my first actual album, which we are still recording. I have done two EPs with five songs each, but never a full-length album. That gave the whole band a lot of structure because now we have a clear direction of where we are heading. I am also the manager of the project because I love organizing and planning it all.
The second project is inspired by my experience of being a part of the songwriting team for a Swiss movie. I used to write lyrics alone, so it was very scary and out of my comfort zone to collaborate with other songwriters. But it was also very nice and inspiring. I realized, again, that overcoming your fears really makes you grow. So last summer, I decided that for a year, every single week, I will write a whole new song with a new musician. I started with my band members, then my friends and now I am writing with people that I have never met.
How does that work?
I am still exploring different ways of doing it, it’s different in every constellation. But we talk about our lives, and we try to find some common experiences, struggles, what bothers us and we write about that. And it has been so great. I think I have become friends with everyone. And I couldn’t have ever planned it, so in that way, I feel lucky that I have the time and capacity to do that.
Healthy routines, healthy body
We have mentioned mental health, but you also need to be physically fit to have such an active life. How do you boost your energy?
My main routine is yoga. I have always done yoga before gigs and rehearsals, but now I exercise every day. That’s good. I feel very present in my body. I have to take care of my body because it is my instrument, I take it with me everywhere. Then, I take a lot of baths, I think that is good for every kind of health. Also, I love vegetables, which I always have, so I eat very healthily. Another routine, although that is more for mental health, is journaling. Every day, I write everything good and bad in my day, what I am grateful for, I track my mood and I also track how much time I give myself.
“For a singer, it’s very important to take care of your overall health and especially your oral health.”
You’ve mentioned that you consider your body to be your instrument. Another instrument for your job and communication is your smile. How do you take care of it?
Well, I brush my teeth two or three times a day. For a singer, it’s very important to take care of your overall health and especially your oral health. Aching teeth, cavities, and gum diseases can be a major problem for singing and infections can affect even the quality of voice itself. So, I keep them clean and healthy. Another thing is, I am a huge coffee drinker. I can’t afford to smell of coffee or have yellow teeth, so I have a toothbrush and toothpaste wherever I go. I brush my teeth everywhere, even on trains or outside.
When I was younger, we used to do that together, as a family. That is such a nice memory, that even as an adult, my brother and I always brush our teeth together whenever we visit each other. I have quite a few nice memories connected to brushing my teeth. I have used Curaprox toothbrushes for so long I can’t even remember. And when I was younger, I was always asking my mum to buy “those soft toothbrushes”. I also have interdental toothbrushes and I go on yearly check-ups to the dentist, of course.
“The best thing you can do is just to speak openly about what you want, and people are so cooperative, amazing things can happen!”
Curaprox is not just about “soft toothbrushes” for you now, is it? A few years ago a collaboration began that led to you being a residential artist for the brand.
That is actually a funny story. Two years ago I was about to go on tour again and I was chatting with another creative that I work with sometimes. And I’ve mentioned that I would like to have some merchandise for touring. But I didn’t want shirts, I wanted something more personal. He said to me: ‘Your smile is SO big, I think you need toothbrushes.’ I thought, well, that is something that every person needs, it is really useful, and I really stand behind the idea of self-care and self-love. I wanted a Swiss brand that I already knew and trusted, so the decision was easy. I wrote a letter (a real letter, not mail!) to the boss, Ueli Breitschmid, owner and CEO of Curaden, telling him who I was and that people tell me I have a massive smile and my merch should be a toothbrush. And he agreed. That is how it started. After a few meetings discussing the toothbrushes, I got an offer to be an artist in residence. At that point, none of us knew what it would mean, but we just figured it out along the way. And it has been going very nice, everyone is just so happy with the collaboration.
It proved to me that the best thing you can do is just to speak openly about what you want, and people are so cooperative, amazing things can happen!
So now, you have your own new line of stylish turquoise toothbrushes. How does it feel and how much of them is your design?
I chose the color. The turquoise is my signature color, it’s also the color of my guitar and my CD. I also got to choose the pattern on the brushes, the D, and the design of the package. The main designer of the product is the chief designer in Curaden, Max Wettach. My whole collaboration with Curaprox has been through Max ever since the first “ok” from Ueli. He really made me part of the whole process. I absolutely love working with him, he’s such a kind-hearted person and really believes in me and my music.
And it all feels great. I’ve been involved in seeing my CDs and posters getting designed and then coming to life before, but holding my own beautiful toothbrush in my hands was a new and wonderful moment.
You were supposed to sell the toothbrushes at the concerts. given the situation, where are they available now?
They are already available at Curaprox Website and CHF 3.- of each toothbrush that gets sold goes directly into my new album, which is amazing. And of course the second we can play concerts again, the brushes will be available on our tour wherever we go.
From past to future
You are still very young, 23, but you have been doing music for most of your life.
I was born into a musical family so it was very natural for me and my brother to make music, it was just part of our lives. My mum used to play piano at night and she basically composed something new for us every single time. We didn’t really have toys, we played with instruments. There was always music in the house, I don’t remember it to be quiet at all. When my brother Joël was 10, he started a band with his friends. I was only 7 so, obviously, I wasn’t cool enough for them and I couldn’t play with them. But at some point, I started writing my own songs so as the sneaky little sister that I was, I decided to just ask individual members of the band to join me playing my songs. Until in the end, my brother was really eager to join (laughs). He is still part of my band today and we’re very close. Same with our guitarist, it’s crazy to think we’ve known each other since then.
What about the future? You have mentioned some projects you are working on, and what’s next?
What I want to do is play concerts. It’s so intense and you are in the moment that is happening only here and now and it is never going to happen exactly the same ever again. I love that. And also being able to see so many different places and feel welcome there is amazing. When it comes to the long-term future, well, I have a whole vision board of goals I want to achieve but details are secret. There’s quite a lot of festivals that I want to play at, a lot of collaborations with artists. I can’t tell you names because those big dreams always sound ridiculous when you have them at the beginning. But it’s very important to have them and especially feel worthy of achieving them.
Photography by Ella Mettler