Dana Glover Biography
This musical heritage has naturally found its way into Glover’s debut album, Testimony. As for the themes explored therein, they are suggested by the disc's title: giving testimony, telling the truth, expressing just who Dana Glover is.
"I had a dream that Testimony was the name of the album," she remembers. "It was very vivid and very specific and when I woke up I thought, 'I don't really know what the finished product is going to sound like, but that's the title.'"
In addition to its soul-baring and legal connotations, the word "testimony" here also reflects the testifying of a believer. To be sure, a gospel-like fervor bursts from the title song, for one; "Rain," too, seems heaven-sent. "I considered writing 'Rain' as a kind of cornerstone of believing that I was going to do this album – I knew that when I wrote it. It felt inspired."
As those who meet her may guess, Glover is a small-town girl, but her life experiences have bestowed a certain worldliness and sophistication that also inform Testimony. By the time most kids are learning to drive, she was living in New York City, working as a model with a solid career ahead of her. But Glover always knew her true path lay in music.
Though she's also lived in Nashville and Los Angeles, she has never strayed far from her roots in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. "We grew up in a real Southern way, where church was simply a part of life," she attests. Contrary to what some may expect, however, services weren’t always sedate. "Our church was what people think of when they think of Southern Baptist – more people were playing instruments than were in the congregation. Sometimes, it was as if we were all playing for ourselves."
She had very little formal training as a musician, taking piano lessons on and off but mostly playing by ear. "I think I could have been much better if I'd studied," she admits, "but playing by ear was much more fun." She also took up the saxophone.
Commenting on the role of genetics in her development as an artist, Glover states: "My mom was the biggest influence of all. She grew up playing the piano, so there was what I guess you could call 'ear' in our family. And we learned to harmonize from a really young age." In fact, Glover's younger brother is also a professional musician.
She says of the culture of her youth: "My world was small. I wasn't shut off – we had a TV – but there was a lot I didn't get." She was drawn to singers like Whitney Houston, George Michael and Aretha Franklin. "I would look for that kind of music on the radio," she says. "That sound would grab me immediately. I remember when I first heard Mariah Carey. Her voice definitely affected me, partly because she also drew from the same influences and styles."
"To me, gospel music was the cool stuff," Glover reiterates. One of the first albums she owned was by The Imperials. "Though not well known in the mainstream, their songs spoke to me," she says. "I was always especially drawn to the people who sounded like they were singing from the heart. I'd listen to The Winans a lot, and that just pushed me; that sound moved me. I'd also hear the black choir from the neighboring church, and they would sing and just kill it, just kill it. I'd think, 'That is the real deal.'"
Despite all this fertile homegrown soil, Glover's first real musical epiphany came when she left Rocky Mount. When she was in eighth grade, her family moved to Asheville, NC, where her mother had family. "Asheville was a big, positive change for me because I got to become something different," she reports. "That's when I began to form my own musical identity. Even though I was barely a teenager, I was sure music was my true love." The pivotal experience was pure '80s: "I had a solo at a talent show and I played 'St. Elmo's Fire' on the sax. I knew I was connecting with the crowd, and that moment defined me."
Glover's family didn't stay in Asheville long. "It's almost like it served its purpose for me, just enough to mold me a little bit outside of where I'd grown up," she muses. "And then as quickly as we got there, we left." They moved to Wilmington, NC, which sparked major changes in Glover's life. It was around this time that her parents split up. "Life was not always easy," she confides. "My mom is an amazing person and she has always taken on quite a bit. She was the rock for our family."
This period also marked Glover's discovery of modeling. "I'd started thinking about it," she explains, "because I'm tall. It did become a priority for a while once I started doing it, but I still knew music was my road, even if I didn't know how I was going to get there. No matter what else I've done, I've always felt I was a musician first."
At 16, with her family's blessing, Glover took the big leap and moved to New York City. It was the first time she'd been on a plane, let alone to a place like Manhattan. "Being away from home broadened my world view, which broadened me musically," she says. "When I later spent time in Milan, it made me think differently about the way I'd grown up, about my values. It made me look at people differently."
In New York, Glover found her way to some familiar sounds: "I'd frequently take the train to hear the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and was always inspired. It was a constant reinforcement of my passion." And then, at 18, she moved to Nashville and began playing piano as an accompanist. She started writing music at the encouragement of a friend. "He pushed me to be my own person," she says.
Glover lived in Nashville for several years. Her family had moved there as well, but eventually they all decided Nashville was not the right place, especially since Dana was not focused on country music. Her brothers headed to Los Angeles and she followed.
"I didn’t know if California was the place for me to pursue music, but I knew Nashville wasn't," she affirms. "I'd already known North Carolina wasn't, and I'd ruled out New York, so that really only left California. I didn't know how I was going to create my life there, but I was somehow certain it was the right place for me."
In L.A., Glover continued to work on her music and sang on a couple of demos for other artists. It wasn't long before she met Alan Mintz, who became her attorney and manager. "He really connected to my music," she says. "Alan felt something in it that spoke to the music he'd grown up on."
Mintz began setting up showcases for record company executives. One was a nerve-wracking performance for DreamWorks Records A&R rep Jared Levine. Glover recalls: "I played to just Jared and Alan and two other people in the room, and it was torture – I was so nervous." This agony paid off, however, when Levine began talking to his DreamWorks colleague Robbie Robertson, who ultimately signed Glover. "I wasn't fully aware of who Robbie was," she confesses. "I knew his songs from The Band but didn't put it all together. It helped that I didn't realize it because I got to know him on my own without being intimidated. And because he's an artist himself, he knew how important it was for me to find my own voice."
As her debut disc was coming together, Glover lent her voice to a couple of films, including "The Wedding Planner," to which she contributed "Plan On Forever." Then DreamWorks gave her the rare chance to deliver a love song for an ogre: Glover sang and wrote the lyrics and part of the music for "It Is You I Have Loved All Along," from the Shrek soundtrack, which has since been certified platinum.
Glover's own album came together with the help of producer Matthew Wilder, who oversaw No Doubt's multiplatinum Tragic Kingdom and has worked with Christina Aguilera and Natalie Imbruglia, among other artists.
Glover says the experience of recording Testimony was "awesome." Though most of the tracks were cut in studios around Los Angeles, all the vocals were laid down at Wilder's home facility. "The process with Matthew and Csaba [Petocz, the engineer] was so special because they really embraced my style and became like family," she relates. They also called in a team of highly respected studio musicians who helped Glover find just the sound she was after.
"The first time I heard the Train song 'Drops Of Jupiter' on the radio I called Jared," Glover informs. "I got his voicemail, so I put the phone to the radio, going, 'This is the sound – this is it: I want this kind of string sound.' And we got the same amazing guy, Paul Buckmaster, for my record!" Glover also loved working with father-son musicians Abe Laboriel Sr. (on bass) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (on drums). "It was just magical working with them," she confirms. "I cried the day their part of it was over because they were just so warm and encouraging."
Glover felt a similar bond with Wilder, trusting him to know what was best for each song: "With 'Rain,' for instance, I had always played it faster than what you hear on the record because it's long and it doesn't have a typical song structure. Matthew was the one who slowed it down. The slower tempo makes you focus on the lyrics more. He was so right about that."
When it came to her vocals, however, Wilder gave Glover free reign. "I had so much fun doing those, the background vocals especially," she remarks. "I loved singing with myself and doing those harmonies. They would just kind of shut me into the little studio and let me go. Csaba knew exactly what I needed to hear to sound my best."
Wilder also focused on the vigor of Glover's piano work. She points out: "Matthew was thinking about some of the artists who'd had an impact on him – Elton John, Billy Joel, Leon Russell – and felt I had an element of that power in my playing. He wanted to make sure that was heard on the record."
When all was said and done, Wilder, Glover and the studio crew conjured a work that perfectly captures the sound Glover had dreamed of. "Testimony truly comes from the heart and I wanted to make sure it sounded that way, like the records I loved when I was growing up," she says. "I wanted people to see who I am, the strength, but also the vulnerability. All I wanted was to get to the things that were true."