Moving from the New York punk scene to the world of French children’s music may seem like a radical leap, but American expat Dana Boulé’s reinvention sprung naturally from her eclectic and successful musical career. On the French release of her new bilingual album and interactive book, What Do You Want To Be? Qu’est–ce que tu veux être?, Dana (an avid INSPIRELLE reader) takes us through her journey from the Lower East Side dive bars to the wooded enclave of the Parc Floral, where she will soon be performing as part of the Les Pestacles children’s music festival.
For this wildly creative composer, her music is the universal language reaching audiences everywhere.
Congratulations on your new album, Dana. Let’s start at the beginning of your music career. How did you get involved in the New York punk scene?
I moved to New York in 1998 after a series of personal tragedies. I dropped out of theater and classical music and instinctively started writing heavy and angry songs alone in my room. I was lost and redefining who I was when I met a kindred spirit and punk rock guitarist Matt Bixby who gave me mixtape after mixtape of amazing music to inspire me like Fugazi, PJ Harvey, Bikini Kill, etc.
I knew nothing about being in a band but I immediately became addicted to the freedom of thrashing around on a stage instead of the perfection of the worlds I had come from.
I went through several bands during my time there. First as The Sobs, most prominently as Stupid, then as Dirty Magazine. Stupid played all over, anywhere we could, from squats to skate rinks to big stages. The scene in New York in the early 2000s was really thriving with bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and The Strokes all playing the same Lower East Side stages. It was an exciting time to be there.
“I became known as the girl who fed an accordion through distortion pedals and made cookies for each show with ‘FU’ written on them.”
During the day, I was an executive assistant in heels and a skirt but my boss at the time had started his career managing bands so he was very supportive of my night gigs. I didn’t think anything of working a double life at the time, New York just fed me with its incredible energy and I did what I had to do to pay the bills and feed my creative life. It really is the city that never sleeps!
It sounds like an exhilarating time. Why did you decide to move to France?
My New York life was pretty hectic as I worked a music supervision job by day and performed in punk rock bands by night. I didn’t sleep much! During this time, I met my French husband. I was ready for a change, and always knew I wanted to live in Europe at some point, so we decided to make the jump to Paris in 2008.
Tell us how you switched to children’s music to create “Petit Punk Rock”.
My first job after college was teaching preschool where I would make up songs with my classes. Back then at age 22, I had no idea I would end up in Paris yet I did know I would someday make an album for children when I had my own child. And that’s exactly what happened. My son was born in 2010 and I used my time at home with a baby to start my music work with local kids. I held classes in my home studio and developed the songs that would later become part of my album “What Do You Want To Be? Qu’est-ce que tu veux être?” I brought my atelier into a local after school program where I further developed my show and my teaching approach learning English/French through original pop songs.
What was the inspiration for your new album and interactive book? What has the process of recording and releasing it been like?
I was inspired to make a modern bilingual electropop album and songbook for kids and families that would stand up to repeated listens by everyone in a family. 12 songs in English and the same 12 songs in French.
I don’t think children’s music has to sound a certain way; so I just made an album that I would love to dance and sing to with my son.
Silly songs but also songs with positive messages for kids about community, never giving up, being the creator of your own path in life and a curious participant in the world we all live in.
I wanted to create a fully interactive experience for families so I made an activity and lyric book that has the English and French lyrics side by side so you can really learn either language. The book is made to be a real learning tool. I was lucky to have two amazing graffiti artists, Kashink (Paris) and Robin Drysdale (Brooklyn), collaborate and bring their incredible punk rock vision and colorful style to the illustrations.
To hear excerpts from Dana’s album, check out her WEBSITE
I wrote and recorded everything myself in my home studio. It was important to me to have children singing on the album. So my American nieces (ages 13, 11 and 5) sang all the backup parts on the English side and my French nephews and son (also ages 13, 11 and 5!) sang all the French backup parts. It ended being a true family album! It’s my favorite piece of work I have made as the whole experience has been a true joy. I absolutely love performing these songs for children, their spirits and hearts are so big and so full! When we are all dancing and singing together, parents and kids alike, it’s pure magic for me.
Your music has been used in movies and cartoons. How did those opportunities come about?
One of my jobs in New York was at Nickelodeon, where I saw firsthand how film/TV production works. I had some superb mentors, asked a lot of questions and really learned from that experience how to write specifically for film/TV and most importantly, how to make a great pitch. Opportunities have come through various channels since then. Because I’m able to write in a variety of styles and play multiple instruments, I get asked to do everything from jazz to show tunes to punk rock. I’m recording music now for an upcoming episode of Sesame Street. Staying fluid and connected is really important to me!
How do you balance your creative life making music for both children and adults in French and English?
I approach my creative life with fluidity and a very “what do I feel like doing now” attitude. We don’t stay the same throughout our lives, so my music very much reflects that. I went from classical piano as a child to theater, punk rock, pop, folk, film/TV, meditation/yoga music and now kids and family music. For me, it’s all the same journey, just with different colors. It’s never boring and there are so many genres to explore out there!