With ‘Pantychrist,’ Dana Dentata speaks on sexual assault without filters or shame
The 2021 tidal wave of creativity in the wake of the pandemic unleashed the full potential of rap-metal goddess Dana Dentata. The brutal persona of Canadian singer-songwriter Dana Marie Wright, Dentata not only brings a bleak aesthetic edge back to the metal scene akin to Poppy on a Rob Zombie binge but also introduces an unapologetic approach to the uncomfortable topics she addresses as the first female solo artist signed to Roadrunner Records.
Bearing her dark heart and soul on track to depict the trauma she experienced when she was raped at the age of 16, including the process of recognizing the consequent physical and mental impact, Dentata’s debut album, Pantychrist, married her unorthodox looks with a grim narrative that speaks directly to those struggling under similar psychological weight. From the gloriously theatrical title track to the sinister snarls of “Apology,” Dentata’s raw full-length may never have emerged if it weren’t for the enforced isolation of the pandemic, leading the artist to seek answers from herself.
Taking her strength from her previous role in the forward-thinking metal group Dentata, the blistering honesty that makes up Pantychrist soundtracks the process of Dentata’s goal of conquering herself and discovering her identity to truly become the alter ego that empowers her to speak her truth, however painful and traumatic for both artist and listener.
Difficult to hear but impossible to ignore, this is the story of Dentata’s defining year and her even brighter prospects for 2022.
When it comes to productivity, you’ve had quite a roller coaster of a year. How has everything been since your debut album Pantychrist dropped? Have you received closure on the dark reasons that album came together in the first place, by recording it and releasing it for all to hear?
I do. I think it was all I was manifesting for it to be or what I intended for it to be. It happened, and all of the changes that the album made, which impacted my personal life and business and everything, I watched it all change my life, and everything was different. It’s very real and tangible. The people who I intended it for, for the people who have experienced a lot of pain, I know it’s had a good impact on them and made people feel empowered and learn to face their trauma. So that’s honestly really important to me, and I’m so glad I got to do that.
Even just for me personally, I look at the whole process as a birth. I gave birth, and now I’m in the postpartum period of it. Even if no one in the world heard it, just letting it out of me physically into the world was a really good feeling. The stuff that I say on the album has been inside me wanting to be out on an album for 15 years. It really is a feeling of release.
Do you feel more in touch with the reasons why you created Dana Dentata in the first place? Does she feel closer to you as a persona rather than a mask to hide behind?
Dana Dentata was my persona when I was 19 or 20 years old in my band Dentata. But when my band broke up, I went on this journey trying to figure out my real soul music. In many ways, I feel like Dana Dentata died around that time. She went away when I went on this whole journey. Dana Dentata is so much of my true, pure self, which had died and gone away. But this time I felt her, and that side of me completely come back to me.
How much do you feel you’ve achieved, musically and personally?
Musically, I said all the things I really wanted to say on an album released by a major label. A lifelong goal of mine was to talk about assault and that kind of stuff in music in a very strong, empowering way, but with no shame, because you don’t often hear these things being talked about without shame. That’s a huge goal of mine that I accomplished, and that feels really good. I feel free in so many ways, to do whatever I want, and I have a lot of projects and ideas that I want to do next.
Personally, this has been the best year of my life because I got to learn what actually happened to me as a kid, and it helped me understand who I am and what mental disorders I have, how to navigate better and how to be there for myself. I know exactly who I am. [I] could not have said that before without having the proper support and good therapy. I conquered myself, and the most important thing in life is that you have to conquer yourself.
Do you think you’ve made any mistakes?
I think it’s good to always look at things like a lesson, never a failure. There’re no regrets or looking at things as a mistake, but maybe things I would do differently. If I regret anything, it’s not having the people that I hired execute my creative ideas, like having them sign NDAs to not recreate them. I think I need to understand how to protect my vision and art more. I think with the times now, you have to make sure that your creative ideas are protected, so from now on, I pour my heart and soul into the creative.
Do you think your debut album would have emerged as raw and intense as it has if it weren’t for the self-contained isolation of the pandemic?
Everything felt very divine with the timing in the universe. I wanted to make the album and really become the strongest version of myself as a healed person and everything, but also at that period in my life, I was told by many people that I did not have a healthy relationship with rest. To me, resting meant failure before the pandemic, so I would never stop.
I would never not create, and if you take a day to just relax and have a bath and take some self-care, for me that was seven steps back — I’m not doing that. I’m not gonna succeed if I do that. That’s how I was before, and it was just going and going. I was in therapy at the time, too, and even with that, I’d be like, “I have to cancel this session because I have a flight,” so I wasn’t really able to focus.
In the pandemic, I shut down, and I had nothing to do but look myself in the mirror and face myself alone in my apartment. I spent the whole time alone. That was the best thing that could’ve happened for me. Even though I really lost my mind and went crazy, I had a spiritual awakening. I got to meet myself again and discover myself. It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my life and ever will.
It changed everything in my life. I didn’t know who I even was before. [I] really needed a lot of time, safety and no distractions in one place in order for all the stuff that’s [been] buried in me for so long to actually have a chance to come out, and that’s how everything came out. I cleared everything and was able to understand myself better.
The music on Pantychrist is basically the soundtrack of what was happening during that time because I was writing a lot of the songs while I was going through that experience of this pain coming out. I’d be laying on my floor listening to the beats and writing the song. For “Manic Monday,” I was literally on my floor saying those things, just really going through it. I am so grateful that I got to do that and have that experience and healing.
What has disappointed you the most?
I feel extremely limited with the way things are. Even going and doing festivals and playing shows, it’s a lot more complicated now, and all these things come up. There’s a lot that’s still in the way preventing us from thriving and getting back to our normal lives. We’re not there yet.
Another thing that really disappointed me [last] year is that people have become more divided than I could ever fathom or imagine. A lot of people think because my music is very feminist and about female empowerment, that I have my own opinion and I want things to be all one way for women and that I hate men. I’m so not like that. Everybody can have their own opinion, but I think men are just as important and included in the narrative of what I’m talking about in my music, too.
I think men are extremely affected by assault and abuse and deserve a voice as well. They’re silenced in even more ways. I’d really like to see everybody make space for everybody. I think I see the opposite of that happening now, so people have become really divided. That makes me sad.
Do you feel that you’ve learned anything about yourself in 2021?
I’ve learned so much about myself. I think I really didn’t know myself before, I was extremely disconnected from myself physically as well. [I] don’t think I was aware of a lot of things about myself: how I’m feeling, how I’m reacting to things, what my triggers are and when I’m being triggered –I completely understand myself, and I’m always reminding myself how resilient and capable I am, too. I can remind myself what I’ve overcome, what I’ve survived and the strength I have to keep going.
If you could change your name to how you feel about 2021 and going into the next, what would you be called? Dana Vindicated? Dana Accomplished?
I feel like it’s been Diet Dentata. I haven’t been able to go full throttle, so this is the diet version. The Diet Dentata soda!
Now that the album’s out there for everyone to hear, do you feel like you’re surrounded by the right people? Friends and fans who understand what you’ve been through and can truly comprehend what you’re putting out on track?
I had only toxic people in my life before. I’ve only ever had abusive relationships. I did not have any support around me. I’m from Canada. I’ve been in L.A. by myself for the last three years, and the typical thing happened where the wrong people got let into my life.
Now, I have a very safe, stable life with good people around me. I didn’t even have management or anything before the pandemic. [I] didn’t have anybody on my team except the label because I think, as someone that’s had a lot of trauma, it makes a lot of relationships very hard and scary. [I] was always picking the wrong people because all I knew was the wrong people.
Not only did I watch myself change; I changed physically. My therapy changed. I did so much healing, and now I have an amazing team that cares about what I do. It wouldn’t have been able to happen without that. The album is my rare chance to do nothing but pry open my soul and look at myself. And that’s what that album is; it’s my experience.
Have you picked up any hobbies?
I’ve done all kinds of random shit. I have a wooden dresser in my living room that I painted so it looks like stone. I call it Medusa. I’ve been customizing Barbies with my face paint to look like myself, doing all kinds of art with my hands, which is really nice. My inner child loves them, too, so she’s really been able to come out.
If you could go back and talk to yourself on Jan. 1, 2021, what would you tell yourself to help them navigate the year? Or would that change how things turned out?
I think I did a really good job. [I] was expecting not expecting it to go that way at all, I expected to be extremely depressed, lost and sad, but it didn’t happen. I felt peaceful, calm, present and good. I’d just tell myself to keep the faith, keep doing what you’re doing and trust the process.
Which of your hard-hitting, soul-bearing lyrics would accurately describe how 2021 has been for you?
“Own up to your shit, don’t project on me anymore” from “Apology” really encompasses the entire album. I’ve spoken a lot of my truth in things that have happened to me. I’ve spoken about my pain and everything, but there’s nothing more important than accountability for yourself and who you are — only you have control over yourself.
Someone once told me that you have to beat Dana before you can conquer anybody else or anything else. Once they said that to me, that became the most important thing in my world. It was my goal, my mission. I was alone in my apartment, trying to think about how I could face myself. I’m looking in the mirror as I’m writing that song, and it just came to me. I’m yelling at myself to face what I fear and really save myself.
Did you feel you managed to achieve and produce everything in 2021 that you were perhaps held back from in 2020?
I feel like 2021 was just the continuation of 2020. I think actually I’m going to be able to do all of the things for real in 2022. It really seems like one year morphed into two. We still don’t even know when Monday or Friday is anymore. What’s going on? Something you think happened three months ago was actually eight months ago. You’re losing track, and things are still so undefined, and the rules are getting figured out. I still feel like we’re in 2020, so I keep telling myself 2022 is when the lights turn back on and all this shit gets going!
This interview first appeared in issue #401 (the AP yearbook), available here.