Dana Carroll Interview

Dana: I’m a Philly girl, with a transplant to New Jersey in ’05. I started music probably in second grade, and my first instrument was clarinet. And then I was a big fan of Paul McCartney—I was very young, but I had a friend who had an older brother who kind of turned me on to that when I was probably 10 or 11 years old. I had this Paul McCartney poster over my bed and I’m 12 years old and I said, I want to do that. That’s it. I was very drawn to bass lines, to the bass—that’s what I wanted to do. So, you know, my parents bought me bass lessons at 12 years old. My dad brought me every week to my lessons. I was in a rock band, Taurus, starting at 12. I’m still actually in touch with some of those guys who are also still involved in music. We played a lot of Black Sabbath and that sort of thing. I played in rock bands in the Philly area probably through my early 20s…

My next band, we were called Stargazer. We were playing the clubs underage. Back then it was different. That was probably up until my early 20s, and then I became a real estate manager. I was a condominium manager for the next 25 years. I was consumed by that. So I really didn’t play much after that. I saved my gear, though. I still have a bass I got when I was 14 years old. I got a Rickenbacker 4001 because, you know, Paul McCartney. 

I always said, before I die, I’m going to play again. In 2005 I moved to New Jersey and I had the opportunity to play again. It was like a goth, pop, punk sort of original project. It was cool. We had a singer and songwriter, she was absolutely wonderful and we actually had some good stuff we were doing, so I enjoyed that. It helped me get back into playing. 

 It was not long after that I wound up in a Dead band, my band Lovelight, with my better half Steve and this is maybe, 11, 12 years ago. I started exclusively playing Grateful Dead music, which I enjoyed listening to; but when you play it, it’s really different. It captivated me completely. It was not like anything else. It’s an energy exchange—you’re not just playing the music. And it sounds cliché and all that, but the music is playing you. It’s true. And you’re a conduit for this and it’s just so different, and that was it. I’ve played Grateful Dead ever since. Lovelight Band has become an extended family. We’ve had some great adventures and I’ve had the opportunity to play with so many very talented people over the years.

I saw the Grateful Dead only a couple of times at the Spectrum. I saw a lot of bands at the Spectrum. The Dead wasn’t my focus at the time. I would go to any show. I loved music and I went to everything. The mid 70s through early 80s, were my show experiences; but, you know, I wasn’t able to follow bands on tour. I was managing condos. That was kind of all I did for a long time. But that really starts to consume you and it’s nice to get back to what your soul wants after a while. This is my joy. So I was lucky and grateful to be able to do that. The nice thing was, I connected with my husband and Lovelight at the same time. 

Steve and I met at a place called Lefty’s in Barnegat, New Jersey. It was musicians’ night out. You would go out to jam, random musicians would throw together bands and different people would play together and that’s where we met. I was on bass, and I noticed the rhythm guitarist. It happened over time; you kind of get together and then you’re in a circle of people, likeminded people; I started playing Grateful Dead music with this circle of friends. At first I didn’t know how to play the songs. And we were playing “Bird Song” and I didn’t know it and somebody was yelling out the chords…and it just happens. You get drawn in and then the next thing you know you’re playing, even though I didn’t know how to play it. It just comes out. I don’t know how to explain that. But you play by ear, you play by feel, you play by what other people are doing. You play by paying attention, not so much by what you know. It’s just what comes out. 

Photograph Tom Hawk

Phil Lesh is not a conventional bass player, so I learned a lot by listening. Listening to what he does. Back to my obsession with Paul McCartney, if you listen to Phil play “High Time” on Workingman’s Dead, there is almost something very similar. There is a melodic—I don’t know how to explain it; but listen to “High Time.” Or “Unbroken Chain,” how beautiful is that? The bass is melodic—it’s not like a pocket bass line. It’s this thing that moves with the melody. What Phil Lesh does is unique; it’s not something that I try to duplicate. It’s his soul and his essence. I think that playing Grateful Dead music is different in that it’s what the music brings out of you. That’s why it’s so cool playing with Brown Eyed Women. I think we listen to each other well. And there is something about being inside that music and hearing everything—that draws the music out of you. And then the next thing is, wow, did we just do that? There is always this wow factor for me. It’s so exciting. It’s so satisfying just to be able to be a conduit for that kind of energy. It just blows my mind every time. It really does.

I like seeing Dead & Co. or Phil and Friends play. I also really enjoyed seeing Furthur. You watch Phil Lesh grin while he plays and that just fills you up. I like to watch them play, to watch them make music with each other and watch their joy. And I love the scene. I love walking into these places and seeing people—you can’t go two feet without seeing somebody that you know—it’s a reconnection. I think a lot of people feel that way too when you go to any show. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, to see everyone smiling and everybody’s feeling good and enjoying it. It’s like a family it’s like nothing else. It’s an incredible community of people who care about each other and are happy to see each other, happy to be there and in the moment. I enjoy that immensely.

I got into Brown Eyed Women after I became acquainted with Joni, actually, on social media; and it was like, hey, I play the Dead. Hey, I see you play the Dead and she’s in Florida and I’m in Jersey and that was kind of it. At the end of 2018, I got a friend request on Facebook from Denise, —oh, wow, this is cool. It’s a female drummer, a Deadhead in New York. Wow. How cool is that. But that was it, I didn’t think anything else of that. And in January 2019 there was this group message. It was Denise reaching out to a group of people, myself and Joni included, and it was like, hey, what do you think? You want to do this? And everybody is like oh hell yeah. And that was it. There was a lot of planning over the internet for months, you know, a lot of technical issues being worked out and this and that and the other, and we all met in person for the first time in June 2019. We had a rehearsal in Florida and we played five outstanding shows in a row in Florida and it was magic. It was magic. I mean, everybody— they’re excellent musicians. They’re excellent human beings. It was—it was just perfect. It came together. It couldn’t have been better. Couldn’t have been better, and the feeling of being in that music and with these people, I’m just, the word is grateful, very grateful.

Photograph Erica Brown

Pandemic Update

I like to dig in the dirt and plant things and watch them grow. And we have a little garden center nearby that would deliver plants, which was cool. We could order online and they would drop it off in the driveway, and we would just get to work, which is a lot of fun. So we spent a lot of time gardening and spending time outside together and we were home probably from March to July, groceries were delivered and we settled into our routine. I was very fortunate. I know a lot of people had terrible experiences and a lot more to deal with, and I feel very fortunate that I got through it the way I did. 

I live in South Jersey now, and when I moved here I had stopped working my day job. It’s pretty much just music now, which is a lot more fun for sure! We were fortunate in Jersey. In July 2020 the rules allowed outdoor gatherings up to a certain number and they had to be spaced apart and people had to wear masks and follow the rules that were in place. We were able to have outdoor performances and, they devised a way to have pods spaced apart and we were really lucky to perform that way from July, actually right through the winter. It was 20 degrees out and people were still coming out in the pods with their personal propane heaters and dancing. I think the shows we played in 2020 were a help to people, spiritually and mentally. I know it was helpful for me. My Jersey band is called Lovelight. We’ve been around since 2011. We have fun and we enjoy every opportunity we have to celebrate the music of the Grateful Dead. And we were lucky to have been able to perform through part of last year. 

To answer your question of how my playing differs between with Lovelight and with Brown Eyed Women, I think it differs in that I play a lot by ear and feel. So my playing differs depending on who I am playing with, because I’m playing to what they are doing. Brown Eyed Women has its own style, so I guess I play more toward what I’m hearing. I try to listen to what others are doing and try to compliment it. So I think it’s always different, which is what I love about playing the music of the Grateful Dead, that it always can be different. 

During the pandemic we in BEW stayed in touch with Zoom calls. We had a lot of disappointments, the scheduled tours we were looking forward to playing were being cancelled, but in the big scheme of things the disappointments we had are minor compared to some of the disappointments some other people had. And now (July, 2021) we’ve finally gotten the chance to play together, which was wonderful. We had a show in Baltimore and two shows in New Jersey, and we had a rehearsal when everyone got into town. It was a reunion rehearsal. It was just great to see everybody and we got to relax and hang out for a little bit and had some pizza and talk, you know, that kind of thing. It was a great rehearsal. And the shows were great fun! It’s joyful, it really is!