Dana Gavanski is an emerging Vancouver-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter, who grew up in an artistic home — her father is a filmmaker and her mother is a painter. Gavanski has long harbored a desire to sing. The rising Canadian singer/songwriter relocated to Montreal to study, and as the story goes, during her senior year of college, her former partner left a guitar behind, and she decided to that it was the perfect time to re-learn the instrument. Ironically, she didn’t immediately go into music: she spent a summer as her producer father’s assistant in the Laurentians, working a derelict hotel-turned office that according to Gavanski looked like something out of The Shining.
The long days behind a computer cemented her her desire to make music, “because it was impossible to play that I needed to, in order to feel like it was real,” she says. The income she earned and saved that summer, funded a year of writing religiously, eventually leading to her debut EP, 2017’s Spring Demos, which the rising Canadian singer/songwriter describes as “whatever was coming out of me. A flood.”
Slated for a March 27, 2020 release, Gavanski’s full-length debut Yesterday Is Gone reportedly reflects her aim “to make something bigger, more thought through.” Steeped in determination, uncertainty and a simple desire to write a good song, the album’s material took shape after she returned from a writing residency in Banff, Alberta. She left the residency resolved not to worry about her songs being “too obvious.” She also began to learn the art of empty time, of being alone with her emotions, of losing herself in a landscape. And naturally, she considered how she might be able to use writing as a way to make sense of her life after a tumultuous breakup and a relocation to a new city.
Feeling adrift in Toronto, Gavanski struggled to make herself feel at home and connected, but her solitude allowed her to develop a grounding writing routine: she kept office-style hours at her bedroom desk, writing every day until she felt that she was starting to understand the writing process — and more important, to see that transforming a burning desire into something clear and tangible is a delicate and vulnerable act. That it often means letting things happen as they’re meant to happen, to accept losing some degree of control.
Yesterday Is Gone is co-produced by the Vancouver-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter, Toronto-based musician Sam Gleason and Tunng’s and LUMP’s Mike Lindsay. While Gleason helped Gavanski bring out the tunes, Lindsay’s input marked “the beginning of developing a sound that was closer to what I had in my head,” Gavanski explains. Excited by the other elements of a song introduced during production, Gavanski and Lindsay were keen on finding essential things, not overblowing, keeping things bare and letting the elements speak for themselves.
The album’s material shapeshifted as it passed through the hands of its production team, taking on different tastes, feelings and visions. When Gavanski performed the songs with a band, they found a new and very different form. She was intrigued by performers like David Bowie and Aldous Harding, who inhabit different personalities on stage, physically tuning themselves to their music. “Watching these kinds of performances,” Dana says in press notes, “I feel my body longing to express myself in exaggerations … to leave behind self-consciousness and become this energy.”
Interestingly, a three-month trip to Serbia in late 2018 pushed performance to the forefront of Gavanski’s mind: she took singing lessons to learn how to sing with the resonance that defines traditional song. Inspired by the bombast of the country’s music of the 50s, 60s and 70s, including the high-energy kafana or cafe music, all which were rooted in expressive pouts as it was in vocal resonance, the trip created a yearning to completely inhabit herself on stage. “I often feel we’re all just these controlled bodies,” she says. “Sometimes I just want to make a snarl with my lip and keep it there.”
Expressive urges run all throughout the album’s material with each component being meticulously and purposefully placed to yield a deeply sincere response to the chaos and uncertainty of human emotion. “Often we have to go a little far in one direction to learn something about ourselves,” the Vancouver-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter says.
Album title track “Yesterday Is Gone” is a hauntingly gorgeous yet highly unusual song: centered around a playful 7/4 meter, the song is actually a bittersweet meditation on longing, nostalgia and the passing of time that sonically recalls Man Who Sold the World-era David Bowie, late 60s pop and fellow Canadian folk act Loving. “‘Yesterday Is Gone’ is more of a straight pop song than the others on the album,” says Gavanski. “It’s about the intractability and muddiness of time passing. At the time I wrote the song, I was super into 60s pop music and the idea of what makes a classic song classic. I was toying between being more obvious in my lyrics and progressions while still tending to feelings hard to describe.”
Directed by Nina Vroemen, the recently released and gorgeously shot video for “Yesterday Is Gone” is set in Montreal’s Metro. We follow the emerging Canadian-born singer/songwriter in brightly colored 70s-styled through the Montreal transportation system’s colorful, modernist, late 60s-early 70s architecture. The video feels like feverish dream punctuated by loneliness and the gentle hum of the trains pulling in and out of each station. Of course, commuting underground is where space and time are endlessly distorted: everything is a constant state of arrivals and departures. (Unsurprisingly, the video immediately brought back memories of commuting from my hotel room to various venues and events in Montreal. I think I’ve been in two of the stations featured in the video, too.)