Within a year and a half span from early 2015 through 2016, everything shifted for Dana Why, the Asbury Park, New Jersey-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Dana Yurcisin. His fiancée broke off their engagement, he lost his job and moved back home to New Jersey from Maine, and entered and ended a new relationship.
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The culmination of three life-altering events, Why’s debut, The Lyre, was a chapter in his life that he needed to finish writing.
“The Lyre is as much of a breakup album about a person as it is about a place,” said Why in an earlier statement. “I was unmotivated regarding anything except getting high and cranking out an obscene amount of demos.”
Initially a 30-song triple album, Why, who previously performed under the moniker Static Sex, filtered through songs that have remained with him for years. Within a more cinematically set pop and alt-rock frame, The Lyre coasts through coats of experimental sounds, uncovering the pains and pleasures of love and loss and feeling lost.
“Glitter” opens the vault of The Lyre in under two minutes, from the breakup and the move and escalates in intensity, even through the more lackadaisical, guitar-heavy “Western Cemetery”—named after the resting place in Maine where he’d smoke weed and found some solace. Whatever, I’ll own my sins and make sure they are many, sings Why in the more somber piece.
Hovering over self-observations, and seeping in melodic fixes, The Lyre acutely forks through different sonic ascensions, from the hypnotic “Mt. Misery” and the powered pop of “Jersey Devil,” a picking apart oneself in order to remain whole—Help, I’ve had dreams / Of a repeating scene / Happiness calls / From behind a glass wall—before closing on the tranquil instrumental “Broke & In Love.”
“Finishing The Lyre felt like such a purge,” Why told American Songwriter. “I finally feel free to work on whatever I want, without this old, unfinished project hovering over me.”
Already set to release his next album in 2024, and in between finishing his second album with his other band, Grasser, and another project with Joe Zorzi of Modern Chemistry, Why spoke to American Songwriter about closing this chapter of his life in songs, and how a six-year stretch of albums—and an Australian bird—also inspired The Lyre.
American Songwriter: The Lyre was some years in the making for you even though you didn’t know it yet. Tell me when the songs really began piecing together for you.
DW: It’s funny, because back in 2016 when I finished tracking guitar for the record, I would’ve told anyone who asked that I was probably 80 percent done with the record at the time. I think it was Ezra Koenig who said the final 20 percent of a record is actually the most work. The songs were mostly together, and the vocals were finished in 2017, but the mixing and tinkering and getting everything to play nice and sit where I wanted it is where the biggest challenge was for me. All the while, I was learning so much about production and mixing during COVID, that I kept circling back to apply all this new knowledge to old songs, which was almost more difficult than if I were just starting to mix these songs from scratch — deciding which old choices to keep and which to trash and improve upon. It was a laborious process, but one that got me to the finished piece.
AS: These songs are ones you’ve been sitting with for some time How did some of them evolve over time, in feel or meaning as they were fleshing out more?
DW: Every track on the record dates back to 2015 when I was spending countless hours in my apartment, demoing idea after idea into my phone that would eventually become these songs. Each song went through so many iterations over the years, I couldn’t even formulate an accurate guess as to how many. They were constantly evolving. I’m an artist who is very directly inspired by my favorite artists, so I might hear a new song and immediately get a brand new idea for how the chorus in one of my songs should sound.
All of the albums I listened to and loved from 2016 to 2022 had an impact on how this record turned out, from Frank Ocean’s Blonde to Xiu Xiu’s Girl With Basket of Fruit, to The Alchemist and Freddie Gibbs’ Alfredo, to Porches’ Ricky Music and All Day Gentle Hold !. You can find bits and pieces of these and so many more all over The Lyre.
AS: From “Glitter'” to “Broke & In Love,” the songs were definitely sparked by the three life changes you mentioned. What else ties these 15 songs together?
DW: I try not to think of records as something that need literal, direct thru-lines as much as just thematic and sonic cohesion. Whether or not the songs are about the same things isn’t really as important to me as the fact that the music is a snapshot of my tastes, emotions, and skill-level regarding musicianship and production for a certain time period. Even if I take stylistic detours, there’s an inherent cohesion in that it’s all me, making all of the decisions from a similar headspace. I like leaving some room for ambiguity. It keeps listeners coming back to find new things. So while all of this was creatively spurred by heartbreak, I express it in a multitude of ways.
AS: Why did you land on The Lyre as the title?
DW: There’s an Australian bird called the lyrebird which is known for its innate ability to mimic both real and unnatural sounds. I thought that was a really cool concept, and it was shot down when I pitched it as the name of the network that our daily satirical news show would air on, at the job I was working at the time in Portland [Maine]. I liked the name enough that I held onto it, and when I was writing this record, I felt that it applied to how my friend Ryan and I were approaching this thing sonically. We wanted to make our guitars sound like as many different instruments as we could, using effects pedals to do a lot of sound design work. It just felt right, while also being a bit ambiguous.
AS: Going back even further, The Wrens’ final album, The Meadowlands (2003), helped direct things musically on The Lyre for you. Sonically, The Lyre is bigger in all its soars. What feeling did you want to get across on the album?
DW: Catharsis. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m looking for as a listener, and what I feel is missing from so much music. I want to feel something when I’m listening to a song. If I’m not moved by a piece of music, I will never return to it. It’s as simple as that. So when I go about writing something, it has to hit me emotionally, long before I even consider the lyrics or vocal performance. The music, alone, must function as an ecstatic ride, and only once it does do I feel like I can move on to writing lyrics.
AS: Thinking back to your earlier releases, and even your Static Sex era, are you the same songwriter now?
DW: I do feel like the same songwriter, in that you can very much trace a line from my earliest records to The Lyre. I’ve just come so far regarding the toolkit I have to bring my ideas to fruition. I just feel so much more in control in regards to arranging and mixing my music, so I can arrive at the vision I have in my head much more efficiently than I could in the past. Back then, it was a total guessing game, and I barely gave a second thought to getting the sonics “right” in the traditional sense. All my shit was in the red. I had no idea how to EQ (equalize) or compress a damn thing.
Even with The Lyre, there was so much new work being done on old songs that I still don’t feel my full potential will be reached or heard until my next record, where I can start mixing it from scratch with all that I’ve learned over the years. I’m never done learning, so while I’m taking the same musical approaches and tricks and “signature moves” from record to record, I get a bit better at bringing them all to life every time. I’m super excited about future releases because of this.
AS: How do songs tend to come to you now?
DW: Usually in pieces. It’s all very intuitive. I never sit down and write a full song start to finish. Ideas come when they come, and I capture them in voice memos on my phone. When it feels like the time to start laying an idea down in Logic, I’ll do so and just kind of do what feels good at any given moment. I don’t give myself too many rules, other than “what’s the most fun, exciting thing I can do for this part?”, and I typically go with my first good idea. Anything I have to think too hard about is probably not gonna stick. I’m just thinking in terms of what I’d most like to hear personally as a listener and then giving myself every thrill I possibly can. When you have the whole theme park to yourself, why impose any limits?
Photo: Dana Why / Courtesy of Hundred Yard PR