Dana Foote, the singer-songwriter who helms the bicoastal grunge rock outfit Sir Chloe, is just as likely to cite Cage the Elephant and Balkan folk music as influences.
“Cage the Elephant… their song structures, as opposed to A-B-A-B, they’ll do verse pre-chorus some sort of B-section then chorus verse,” Foote recently told me over the phone. “We’ve done that in the six newer songs where we’ll add extra sections.”
“Right around the time when Sir Chloe started,” Foote continued, “I was getting really into Balkin folk music, particularly the vocal folk music. They have some clips on YouTube [of] these choirs of women with very from-the-gut singing with really close harmonies with a lot of dissonance. It’s very beautiful and abrasive.”
Sir Chloe’s nervy, reverb-soaked debut EP, Party Favors—out today—also has an abrasive streak, pairing Foote’s deep, driving vocals with gritty guitar work. But some of the EP’s most arresting moments are those in which Foote lets her guard down. In EP closer “Michelle,” for example, she delivers the following lines with an unnerving calm: “You want to be / my special one / I cannot breathe / please just go home.”
We caught up with Foote about moving Sir Chloe from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again, writing a song about one of the seven deadly sins, and learning to set boundaries. Check out the full interview and listen to Party Favors below.
American Songwriter: Where are you right now?
Dana Foote: I am in Connecticut. I moved here a couple months into quarantine. I was living on the West Coast and I just wanted to be closer to family.
Where were you on the West Coast before that?
I was in LA.
Had you been there before, or was that your first stint in LA?
It was my first time living there and I liked it a lot. I moved there shortly before everything shut down, so I didn’t experience a whole lot of the city. But what I saw, I really liked. And I had a small group of friends there.
When did you write and record the songs on Party Favors? Was that while you were in LA, or before then?
It was before then. Six of the songs were recorded almost exactly a year ago. And then the rest were recorded in 2018. The four songs recorded in 2018—“Michelle,” “Animal,” “Too Close,” and “Walk You Home”—were written shortly before they were recorded, and then the ones that were recorded more recently were written in the few months before we went in to record them.
Do you see certain themes or throughlines across these songs?
I do think that these six newer songs are a little bit more realized, like we definitely found more of a sound. With themes, it’s not that it was intentional but I would say that there’s a pretty consistent theme that I’ve been noticing in hindsight of boundaries and setting boundaries, because I started the songwriting for Sir Chloe when I was learning about how to properly set boundaries.
A radical and challenging thing! I read that you started the project when you were still in school, is that right?
Yeah, it came together as my senior work. Music students put on concerts as opposed to writing theses, so I put the band together for a concert.
Did the lineup change after you left school?
That band is who we’ve been playing with on the West Coast, ‘cause Pixel [West] and Willy [Giambalvo], our bassist and drummer on those original four recordings, [both live in California].
And now that I’m on the East Coast, [the lineup] is Austin Holmes, who’s a friend of Teddy [O’mara’s], and then Palmer Foote, who’s my brother. He’s my drummer.
Had you and your brother played music together before this?
Yeah, we’ve been playing music on and off since we were kids. We both started early, so it’s been a pretty consistent thing.
I also read that you studied music. Do you draw on that background as Sir Chloe, or do you view that as a separate pursuit?
I do think that learning about music changed my songwriting a lot, but I’m not sitting around thinking about music theory while I’m writing. I definitely think that my songwriting got more interesting… I think it’s more of a broader palette that it gave me to work with, but it’s not something that I’m entirely conscious of.
Can you register any recent influences on the tracks in Party Favors?
Yeah, totally. Cage the Elephant was a really big one. The Velvet Underground has been a big one for us. Mitski, St. Vincent, and Pixies also.
How do you see those acts popping up?
I think a lot of it is dynamics. I guess particularly with Pixies, they do a lot of the quiet/loud dynamics. And we like to incorporate that a lot.
Cage the Elephant… their song structures, as opposed to A-B-A-B, they’ll do verse pre-chorus some sort of B-section then chorus, verse. They’ll have additional parts that they’ll put in. They’ll have an outro and then a B-section before the pre-chorus, and we’ve done that in the six newer songs where we’ll add extra sections. I also see that in Pile’s songwriting too. It’s just more in one song.
“Wrath” is built around the lines “I’d rather stay mad / I took a bath / couldn’t drown my wrath / it’s alright to be mad.” Does anger motivate you to write? What other emotions drive your songwriting?
Well, first off, yes. But also “Wrath” was actually an assignment for school. I wrote it a couple years ago and the assignment was to write a song based around the seven deadly sins. You had to write a song for one of the sins, so I wrote for wrath. That’s how that song was written.
I think there’s definitely anger in a couple of the songs. Again, with the boundaries thing, that can sometimes be met with a little bit of frustration. Some of the writing was exploring that.
How would you describe your vocal style? What songs on Party Favors do you most enjoy performing as a vocalist?
I don’t really know what my vocal style is. I think it’s very guttural. I just describe it as yelling, but I know that’s not what it is. I did a couple of voice lessons in school that helped a lot with shaping words and where singing comes from.
Right around the time when Sir Chloe started I was getting really into Balkin folk music, particularly the vocal folk music. They have some clips on YouTube [of] these choirs of women with very from-the-gut singing with really close harmonies with a lot of dissonance. It’s very beautiful and abrasive. I was learning about that right as Sir Chloe started. I got really interested in trying to use that singing style because I really love it.
My favorite [song] to perform is probably “Untie You,” but lately it’s been “Wrath,” honestly. It’s really fun to sing.
I’ve actually never been asked this question before so I’m going to change my answer again. “Wrath” is the most fun to play on the guitar, so I love playing “Wrath” because of the guitar part, but “Sedona” is my favorite to sing because the harmonies are really fun. We get really loud and we get to yell—it’s very cathartic.
Party Favors is out now. You can order it here.