Dance Crush Blues

It’s time to unveil a new type of post for the Sweet Choreography Blog!

Their craft may be different, but the artistic goal of blues musicians and choreographers is similar: to take the blues they feel and display them for the world to see.  So it fits the nature of this blog to sometimes post interviews of musicians as well!  We’ll get another perspective on how artists approach the blues, and hopefully musicians and dancers will gain a bit more familiarity with how each other work.

Our first music interview will be Amy Kucharik, whose band played at Sweet Molasses last year, discussing her song “Dance Crush Blues”.  It only seems fitting that the first one of these posts would be of a song written by a dancer for the dance community as she started a musical career.  It’s also a song that makes every dancer laugh – it hits that sweet spot of comedy where it takes a subject that people can get worked up about at times and shows us how not to take ourselves too seriously.

I also look forward to hearing the other song she mentions “He Doesn’t Need To Know” once her album is released, but for now, you should check out her Band Camp page:

What thoughts or feelings do you want to get across to your audience when they hear this song?  What is there in the song that communicates that?

You’re asking specifically about “Dance Crush Blues,” which is a song I wrote very early on in my songwriting experience, and that song is essentially a parody blues song, so the feeling behind it was really to make people laugh. It’s very lyrically driven; musically it’s a 12-bar blues. I do feel that the phenomenon of the “dance crush” (which, as I define it in the song, and as I understand the term in normal use, means developing feelings for another dancer based on the enjoyment you get from dancing with them) is a very real and typical experience among devoted social dancers, and I was hoping people would relate to the various frustrations of feeling a dance crush. But mainly, I just wanted people to laugh, and I put in a lot of very dancer-specific references (especially the shout-outs to Damon and Dexter) to make it something kind of special, an inside joke. One thing to note is that we’ve recorded DCB twice now; the first time it had a more up-tempo country feel to it with the guitar and harmonica. The newer Dance Crush Blues EP version is slower, has piano and trombone, and is going for a much groovier, more sultry feel, which I thought dancers would respond to well.

I have written and cover other songs I would play for dancers that I think are more emotionally and musically complex. I think a more interesting example for answering this question would be “He Doesn’t Need to Know,” which is a song in which a woman confesses to cheating on and then murdering her disingenuous lover. That song runs through a range of feelings, from the cheeky and sassy admission of infidelity to the increasing despair and madness of the main character. In that song, the form musically follows the story, beginning very sparse in instrumentation, and building in intensity. As the story goes on, more instruments are added, the arrangement gets wilder and more chaotic. Then at the point of the murder, we break into a slow-tempo, three-part vocal section, which in mind sounds like the victim sinking down into the ocean, and maybe also the furies or sirens singing of his demise. It ends with a wild Bacchanalian sort of witches’ rave part. I love how dancers respond to the changes in tempo and intensity.

What music from the past did you draw from to create this song?

I’m inspired by a lot of different blues and non-blues artists from the past (as well as contemporary). With DCB, I think I was inspired lyrically by sassy blues women like Dinah Washington, or going further back, Bessie Smith or Victoria Spivey, or Saffire as a modern equivalent. Musically, it’s a 12-bar blues, so it’s based on the most common blues structure there is… so, like, I’m drawing from the tradition of blues music more so than a specific artist or song. For a lot of my other material, I draw a lot from the sort of chord progressions that happen in older blues forms or jazz; maybe Duke Ellington or Fats Waller, a lot of New Orleans and trad jazz type stuff. The Asylum Street Spankers are a huge influence. But as a songwriter, I’m also drawing from all sorts of influences, everything from 80s music to country to Klezmer, to ideas I get from watching dancers dance or, like, the color scheme of a Wes Anderson movie, or stories from mythology. 

What was the technical process like to make this song happen – writing, arranging, rehearsing, live vs. studio recorded etc?  Any fun stories?

Both versions of DCB were recorded pretty quickly at my keyboard player’s house, “Studio V.” There isn’t so much arranging that goes into a straightforward 12-bar blues; it’s more about playing the song in the form and letting cool improvisation happen within that structure — that’s something I’ve always seen as a cool correlation between blues music and blues dancing, the way you can improvise and innovate with such simple building blocks. 

We just finished recording our first full-length studio album, “Cunning Folk,” which will be released this summer. There are some blues and some swing jazz (AKA “lindy”) songs on the album. For that, we did a Kickstarter fundraiser and spent two days in a recording studio with a  producer and engineer, as well as many follow-up sessions in living room studios. For that album, we actually arranged the songs; in some cases I had specific solos in mind that were transcribed, and in other cases, the musicians came up with solos. The producer and I decided where thing would occur, or in some cases the band came up with cool ideas. It was a very involve process and I could write several paragraphs about it.

One thing that may be interesting to dancers is that we made the decision to record in front of a “live studio audience” based on the idea that perhaps I would perform better to an audience. At one point, we were struggling to get the right energy for a particular song, “Clocks and Bottles.” At that point, we asked a few dancers to get up and dance in the studio. That was a really cool experience; the dancers fed energy back to us to get that song really rolling.  

We’re dancers.  We love your music.  If you were playing this song for a room full of people, how would you like to see them move to it?

Again, this answer will be more interesting for “He Doesn’t Need to Know,” which winds its way through a lot of different textures and moods and gives dancers a chance to express something intimate and spooky and then something languid and then wild abandon. In Montreal at Bagel & Blues, when the song explodes at the end, I saw a dancer take off his hat and wave it in the air — that made me tremendously happy. We recorded a version of “Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (on the EP), and for that I wanted to slow it down and make it sultry, with lots of tremolo shakes on the piano, to get dancers to really shimmy. With DCB, I just want to see dancers rocking out and having a good time.