Concert preview: Shana Falana mines period of drug-fueled prolificacy for psychedelic new album
One unassuming morning in the winter of 2006, Brooklyn songwriter Shana Falana drove her minivan to work. Originally from the Bay Area, Falana still had expired California plates on the van, even though she'd been in New York City since 2003. Her insurance was expired. Unpaid parking tickets were piling up.
"I was a driving nightmare," Falana said recently by phone, recalling the incident while floating on a friend's houseboat near Oakland. When a cop pulled her over that morning, Falana, who was also addicted to drugs at the time, assumed she'd be arrested. "I literally thought about driving away from the scene of the crime for a moment, but the officer had my driver's license," she said.
For some reason, the policewoman merely gave her two tickets and let her go. Falana couldn't believe it. "I started crying as I was driving over the Williamsburg Bridge," she said. "I thought I was going to jail."
Later that day, in a freak elevator workplace accident, Falana lost half her index finger. Losing a finger is an awful experience for anyone, but for a musician, it's potentially devastating. And yet, a couple of days after the accident, Falana came to an understanding about that day's bizarre series of events.
"I figured out all the synchronicity that happened. It was just totally meant to be," she said. "I had a cassette tape player in my minivan, and there were two cassette tapes on my driver's seat. They were both of artists who had lost their fingers - guitar players, Jerry Garcia and Django Reinhardt. ... They just happened to be there."
After the accident, Falana was set to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from a lawsuit. Knowing the money was coming, she decided to do two things: make music and get sober.
"I went to my landlord and said, 'Hey, wanna take a lien against my lawsuit so I don't have to pay rent for a couple years?'" she said. "He and I worked out this weird deal where I didn't pay rent in Brooklyn in my loft for two years, and I would pay him later and he'd make some money off it. … Drug addicts are very smart."
"I was so prolific during that time," she continued. "I thought if I had more free time, I could write more of these awesome songs. So that's what I did."
Falana also realized she had to get clean before the money came, not the other way around. "I knew I didn't want to have my hands on that kind of money and be an addict," she said.
Most of the songs on Falana's new psych-pop album,Here Comes the Wave, were written during her post-accident period of drug-fueled, rent-free prolificacy. A cover of Lou Reed's "Ocean" deals in dreamy layers of hypnotic drones that build to a guitar-based crescendo, while the intense "Lie 2 Me" swaps Falana's gauzy singing for a more grounded, visceral vocal attack.
"Cloudbeats" sounds as if it were written after Falana got sober, referencing haunting memories of cocaine and pills. But in fact she wrote the song while still addicted, foreshadowing a time when the drugs would fade but the experiences would remain etched in her mind.
"I was in the present and the future at the same time," she said. "Once we recorded this song, I was driving to an AA meeting, listening back to the mixes, and I started crying. It was as if I was writing it now."
"Cool Kids" is the sole newly penned song onHere Comes the Wave, which also features her drummer/boyfriend Mike Amari, and it's the most anthemic, uplifting track on the record. On it, Falana attempts to bring comfort to marginalized and socially awkward young people by redefining the concept of "cool." "Hey cool kids, you don't know who you are / Hey cool kids, it's safe to come out," she sings, ultimately writing a song she wishes someone had sang to her as a kid.
"I would have loved to have had someone telling me that I am safe, and that all these asshole people around you are not what's cool," said Falana, who wondered if the song would still resonate after the recent presidential election, eventually deciding it still rings true.
"The whole reason the song exists is because I'm inspired by people who are already creating spaces," she said. "It's not like I'm foreseeing some future that hasn't happened. I'm actually witnessing many people creating safe spaces for each other."
Ace of Cups
8 p.m. Wednesday,
2619 N. High St.,
ALSO PLAYING: Comrade Question, Plastic Pinks