IN CHARGE: CHELSEA DASH DOES THINGS HER WAY ON DANGEROUS
BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
“I mostly write in hindsight, because I have to be able to process all of the emotions of what’s happened before I feel like I can give a clear view from start to finish in a song.” That clear-eyed, measured view of her song craft is what gives Chelsea Dash the ability to write insightful, powerful pop songs with a purpose. What purpose? To empower and inspire – all while having a good time. Her clear view is on full display, from start to finish, on each of the eight tracks found on her aptly titled album, Dangerous, due July 22.
The lineup of collaborators Dash assembled for Dangerous is a potent group of heavy hitters who’ve worked with scores of A-list artists. The team includes Smitty Soul who’s worked with Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Sean Kingston, Keysha Cole and Chris Brown; Tomas Costanza who’s written for and produced seven top 5 albums, including three that have gone to number 1, plus had a hand in hits by Macklemore and 2 Chainz, among others; and Goodwill and MGI who have Justin Bieber, Akon, Sean Kingston, 50 Cent, and Twista, among others, on their respective, and respected, resumes.
Both personally and professionally, projecting an aura of strength and confidence is indispensably important to Dash, who has an abundance of both. That said, she points to Beyonce as an unabashedly bold and independent artist she counts as a role model. Dangerous is an eight-song sonic and lyrical puzzle with pieces that form a perfectly cohesive message of fun and feminism, revelry and rebelliousness, desire and danger. Chelsea Dash is going places. And she’ll get there her way.
Hi Chelsea, how are you today?
I’m doing good. How are you?
I’m great. I’ve got plenty of questions for you, if you’re ready to rock.
I am so ready!
Well let’s start with the obvious. The forthcoming album is titled Dangerous and there are fewer things in life more dangerous than getting stuck in emotional quicksand.
Let’s talk about the song “Quicksand.” Let me quote a lyric: “I know I’m being reckless/tell myself just one kiss.” Is this song a cautionary tale about the never-ending story about falling for the bad boy?
Yeah, it definitely is just that! I initially wrote it about a girlfriend of mine and a guy she was dating who, whenever he would come up in conversation we would refer to him as Mr. Quicksand, because no matter how many times she tried to get away from him in whatever way possible – because she knew that he was bad for her – for some reason he just kept reappearing and pulling her back in. So it’s definitely sort of a reference to those kind of toxic relationships. I think everyone in their life has had someone in some capacity like that, including myself later on after I wrote that song (laughs). It’s definitely very, very relatable and definitely the cautionary tale.
Yeah. I think I mentioned in my question the never-ending bad boy scenario, right?
Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely someone who has that kind of quality that you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know it’s not the best situation for you, and for whatever reason they have that hold on you. And they know it, too, and they kind of suck you right back in.
Let’s jump ahead here to the video for “Massive Attack” which for me plays out like an updated three-minute aural film noir piece. An old-school movie kind of thing with a twist at the end.
On the surface it’s yet another bad boy scenario, but you’re definitely in charge here, right?
Yeah. I think that’s ultimately the message that I want to send – especially to women. I am a feminist and in “Massive Attack” (video) she takes back control in the end. So much of that song is really an empowering anthem. You know like going after what you want and not standing down. And the video was definitely a kind of twist at the end, like, “I got you! (laughs)”
You sort of flip the script, quite literally.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think there’s a lot that women deal with of being underestimated. And even in the music industry people kind of want to gloss over that and not see us for what we can do.
I’ve spent lots of time with the eight songs on the album and I’ve checked out all the videos and all the material that the fine folks at Reckoning PR sent over. Oh, really quick before I go to the next question, speaking of script, did you have anything to do with the storyline of the “Massive Attack” video?
Yeah, it was definitely pitched to me more as like – if you’ve ever seen the (2011) movie Drive with Ryan Gosling – it was pitched to me more as like a chasing thing and you kind of don’t know what’s going on between a guy and a girl and shot at night, and I definitely wanted it to have something more unique than that. (I wanted) the good girl who can be bad thrown in there at the end, too, because otherwise it would be just kind of trite and boring (laughs).
Yeah, the twist at the end is really cool. Now you mentioned being a feminist, and feminism. We’ll touch on that quite a bit in the conversation, but in general, both personally and professionally, how important is it for you to project this aura or strength and confidence?
It’s so important to me! I didn’t realize how important it was to me until I started doing this professionally. Being in an industry that is just so male dominated – you hear that all the time – and you wouldn’t really think that being 2016 that is an issue. But I definitely had experiences when I was first starting out, before I had any kind of pull behind me be it from a label or PR or anything, of producers who would work with me only for certain reasons: because I was a pretty girl and because they wanted something else, and so on and so forth. I just learned very early on that I wanted to be very transparent with my fans because I knew a lot of young women would be looking at me. I wanted to be very strong and a strong representation that it’s okay to be a strong woman and to project that and know who you are and not settle for anything, or let anybody try and push you somewhere you don’t want to go. So it’s become a very important theme, really, and it’s something that I’m still presented with constantly in the music industry. That’s why I want young women to know that it’s totally fine to stick to your guns.
Well let me say Bravo to you, first and foremost, and let me add context to that “Bravo;” I’m a father of two daughters…
Oh, so there you go (laughs)!
So who are some other artists you feel project that same kind of aura of strength and confidence?
Other artists with strength and confidence – Beyonce obviously comes to mind. She’s probably the best example of feminism that I can think of. If you go to her concerts, displayed in the background on the projection screen is the word “feminism.” There is a fine line between sexy and classy and that’s something I’m very aware of. It’s okay to be a woman and be sexy and in touch with your sexuality, but there is a difference between sexy and classy and trashy and all that. Beyonce definitely rides that fine line, but she also is the first person to standup when someone isn’t treating a woman right.
I had the extreme pleasure of speaking to her for a few minutes several years back now, but even back then she projected all of what you’re talking about and what we’re seeing. The “Lemonade” project is, of course, a pretty impressive piece of work, to say the least. Speaking of other artists, let me take you back in time. Do you have a story you can share of when you heard that first song, or listened to an album, or went to a concert to where, looking back now, you can say that was the moment when you knew music was gonna be not only your passion, but your profession?
Yeah, the first big concert I ever went to was a Rolling Stones concert and I was eight years old. My father is probably the biggest Rolling Stones fan alive and he was gonna take my mom to this concert, but my mom had to work, so he was like, fine, I’ll take Chelsea. I remember there was a backup singer named Lisa Fischer and she will sing a lead vocal on that song “Gimme Shelter,” which as an eight-year-old I had no idea what that song was about, but for some reason I really loved that song. I just remember seeing her and Mick Jagger onstage, and I turned to my dad and I said, “I wanna do that.” (Laughs) Of course by that time I’d been singing before I could talk so he knew that music was gonna be a big part of my life, but I think that was the pivotal moment.
Wow, eight years old. I never get tired of those stories. That’s a great one! The seed of where Chelsea Dash was sowed. Let’s talk about (the song) “Take a Picture,” and the video in particular. At one point in the clip you’re wearing a tank top with the words “I’m actually really smart” emblazoned on the front. You’re a recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston – congrats on that. We’ve talked about the balance of sexy and smart. What do you think is the secret to obtaining that balance?
I think it’s a confidence thing. It’s knowing who you are and portraying yourself as a strong, confident woman. Also, because I’m blonde, there’s definitely a stereotype with that, and especially with that shirt I always feel like I’m trying to constantly prove to people that I am intelligent and just this blonde little pop singer. So sometimes I have to go with the literal route (laughs) and that’s why that shirt spoke to me.
Well it took me less than five minutes into this conversation to, not necessarily be convinced, but to know that the shirt fits – literally and figuratively (laughs).
(Laughs) Thank you.
Tell me about your family and where you grew up.
I grew up in Northern California, in a suburb of San Francisco, in a very small town called Mill Valley. It definitely boomed when Silicon Valley hit, but when I was young it was teeny tiny. But I was one of those people, like, I’m not a small town person. I always knew I wanted to get out of the small town. I had parents who loved to travel and a lot of my extended family lived on the East Coast and New York City, so I would spend my summers in New York City with my aunt, and I knew from a very young age that I wanted to live in New York City. So as soon as I could I moved to New York, when I was 19. So it’s one of those things: I was born in Northern California but I consider myself an East Coast person (laughs). I just moved to L.A. recently, just because there is a little bit more opportunity in terms of music in Los Angeles. So now I’m in L.A. but definitely my heart is still in New York City.
Yeah, Mill Valley to New York City is, again, literally and figuratively, miles apart.
It really is, like I can’t really go back there (Mill Valley) for more than a day because I’m just such a city person.
Let me ask you about a personal non-musical hero of yours. Is there someone who you look up to?
This is gonna sound super cheesy, but definitely my mother (laughs). My mother is just such my hero, my heroine, because she was a teacher and a hands-on mom and I definitely developed a very close relation with her. She is by far the classiest, smartest, most incredible woman ever, and if I could be half the woman she is I will be doing alright.
Well I think that’s the best non-musical hero, heroine you could ask for.
Yeah! And even now as an adult, my mom is my best friend. She’s just the best!
Everything, Chelsea? (Laughs)
(Laughs) Almost everything. We have one of those amazing relationships. She’s very young at heart.
I understand you write all of your own songs. Does where you are – for example, Hawaii versus New York City – affect what you write about?
You know, it doesn’t as much as you might think. I’m not the kind of person to write in the moment. I know a lot of musicians go through something and right away they’re able to spit out a song. So if I’m writing about something that’s very personal or about someone I know I generally have to go through the whole thing before I can reflect on it and write what I feel is a true to form song. So I definitely do take into account my environment, but more so I have to have gone through something before I’m able to sit down and write.
More reflective versus reactive.
Do you write on guitar or piano?
I mainly play guitar and I’ve written a bunch of stuff on guitar. With this album I did something called “toplining” which is where I would sit down with a producer and he would have a bassline of a track and then I would write the melody and the lyrics over whatever grounds he’s laid with the track. A lot of the songs on this album were done that way because a lot of the producers I worked with were hip-hop producers, and that’s kinda what they do. This way I was able to get more of an urban sound by doing it with a track and then developing the melody over that.
That’s cool. Thanks for taking me into the sessions. So I don’t wanna talk politics or what’s going on with the presidential race, but I wanna tie something in to a question. The phrase “the woman card” has been tossed around, and so have words like “feminism” and “feminist.” What’s your definition of “feminism?”
Ooh, that’s really good. It’s basically being equal. Gender equality and being treated the same as a man versus a woman; equal rights across the board. That is my literal definition of feminism. From another viewpoint, as a woman, being strong, being willing to stand up for yourself and believe in yourself.
The album ends with the very powerful and dramatic song “Sticks & Stones.” It begins with a very pretty piano intro, but it’s followed up by more of your very strong, declarative lyrics. Walk me through the writing and recording of this song.
That was the most recent song I’ve written and the last one we did for the album. It’s actually the most personal song I have on the record. It’s actually about a family member. I had a falling out with a family member. We didn’t really see eye-to-eye on things and that song was sort of my version of what happened and what’s still happening. I’m very transparent – it’s gonna come out sooner or later – the song is actually about my older brother and we had a falling out because of the girl he was engaged to, who I very lovingly told him, “Hey, just be very careful.” Because they got engaged after knowing each other for just two months. He took wild offense to that (laughs). Just siblings being siblings, really. It’s a very, very personal song.
Well it comes across that way. It’s really a cool way to end the album, and I have to say, one of my favorite tracks.
Oh, great. That’s great to hear that.
So let me ask a final, fun question: If Madonna and Beyonce were performing on the same night in the same city where you were at – all access backstage passes and everything included – which show would you be at?
Ooh! I would pick Madonna because when I was very little, in preschool, and during one of the show-and-tell things, what I would do is take one of my mother’s cassette tapes and learn a song and sing it to my class, because apparently that’s normal (laughs)! My mother was a huge Madonna fan and so one of the songs that I loved was “Like a Virgin,” and of course being four I didn’t know what that meant. So I waltzed into preschool and sang that song to my preschool class and basically, long story short, almost got expelled for it. So, definitely Madonna is a very big reason why I’m a musician. I’ve yet to go to one of her concerts because the tickets are so expensive (laughs)! So if I ever got the chance to go see her that would just be the cherry on top of everything.
Is there anything we haven’t covered that you might want to add?
No, I think you covered so much here. Thank you very much.
My pleasure. Take care.
You as well. Thanks again so much.