Dana Falconberry just got some pretty great news: NPR’s All Songs Considered premiered her single “Crooked River” and named her upcoming release, Leelanau, one of fall’s most anticipated albums. She says, with a wide smile, that it’s dreamlike to be able to check that off her bucket list. But right now everything is surreal to Falconberry, who after years of struggling feels like she is at one of her highest highs.
Falconberry grew up in Michigan and went to school in Arkansas, where she started writing songs and decided to move to Austin solely for her music. She’s never had any musical training or education—she’s self-taught and says she doesn’t really listen to a lot of music. Which is weird, but might also be a good thing. Listen to Dana Falconberry and, apart from the folk singer-songwriter genre, it is really damn difficult to find someone to compare her to.
“Early college, I declared one day that I wanted to get a guitar,” she says. “I don’t know why. I don’t know. I was never good at sitting down at practicing scales and learning chords. I learned enough chords to be able to play something, but I was always more interested in writing on my own.”
Since moving to Austin, Falconberry has been writing music and playing shows nonstop. During the past seven years she has been gaining followers, slowly but surely, and through her lowest lows—struggling to pay the rent, not being able to keep a job, trusting the wrong people, you know the drill—she knows this, and only this, is what she wants to do. The biggest lesson she’s learned? Even the smallest things can cause the greatest changes. She talks about her involvement with the documentary film Echotone, for example.
“The director, Nathan (Christ), came to my EP release show in 2006,” she says. “And three years later thought of me and approached me and decided to put me in Echotone. I remind myself of that story all the time, because there are so many shows where it’s easy to feel like they don’t matter. At the time, it seemed like nothing had come out of that release show. But then three years later, someone remembers you and puts you in a movie.” She smiles.
“Things can have an effect, a huge effect, and still, your everyday life can not change at all,” she continues. “And that’s weird to wrap your head around. Ten years ago, if you told me that I’d be on NPR Music, I wouldn’t have believed it. And 10 years ago I thought that if I ever were to be on NPR Music, my life would be totally different from what it is right now. I don’t know what takes you to that level of, ‘Now I see the changes in my every day life.’ I don’t know what it takes to get you to the next level where you don’t need to look for a day job every time you get back to town from touring.”
But despite inconveniences, touring is one of her favorite things. She talks about the people she meets on the road, and I tell her she should write short stories, and her strangest characters wouldn’t even have to be fictional. “It’s such an interesting way to see the world,” she says. “To meet somebody for the first time, sleep on their living room floor, see inside their refrigerator. It’s such an intimate portrait of somebody’s life. When you get that night after night in different cities—and people’s kindness is overwhelming and always constant.”
It’s these people she loves playing for, and the places she grew up in and now travels to is what she loves to write about. She talks about Leelanau excitedly, and how it accidentally morphed into one big story. “I started writing songs and began to see that a lot of them were about places in Michigan that I spent time in as a child,” she says. “It suddenly became about this theme of childhood nostalgia.”
So the shifts are there. The shifts may be subtle, but they’re there. With Leelanau being released Oct. 9, the NPR news and a new tour with My Jerusalem and The Heartless Bastards, I tell Falconberry that maybe soon, she will be able to see the changes in her everyday life. She smiles and says her biggest dream is simply to be able to pay her band and continue playing shows. She doesn’t dream of filling up stadiums. She just dreams of being able to pay the bills.
Plus, the touring she does now? She wouldn’t give that up for anything. “On this last tour when we were in Joshua Tree, we ended up staying with a cult,” she says. “These really cool kids came to our show and said we could stay with them, and we had an awesome night. And in the morning they took us to the headquarters and the cult leader emerged from a concrete teepee. His name was Garth.”