Artist Spotlight: Lady Dan

    Austin-based singer-songwriter Tyler Dozier, who writes and records under the moniker Lady Dan, grew up in a strict religious household in Dothan, Alabama. Struggling to find a community she felt a strong kinship with, she moved to Birmingham as she was enterig her twenties to attend a Christian ministry school with her then-boyfriend. After getting out of a controlling relationship, questioning the role of the Church, and grappling with the death of her father, Dozier focused her efforts on music, releasing her first EP, Songs for the Soulless, in March 2019. Now, she’s followed it up with her debut album, boldly titled I Am the Prophet, which was recorded at the home studio of Nashville musician Jeremy Clark and sees her expanding her sound with help from musicians including pedal steel guitarist Eddy Dunlap, Juniper Berries’ Josh Stirm, and drummer Aksel Coe. A heartrending document of a period in Dozier’s life filled with doubt and uncertainty, the album’s tone is at once melancholy and assertive, relaying her story through intricate arrangements and personal yet poetic lyricism that’s littered with biblical references. “My kingdom fell apart/ And you just watched it fall,” she sings on ‘No Home’; to listen to I Am the Prophet is to watch her pick up the pieces.

    We caught up with Lady Dan for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her upbringing, her relationship with religion, her debut album, and more.

    What was your experience like growing up in Dothan, Alabama?

    Growing up there, it was kind of all I knew, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. But I think now that I’m older and I’ve lived other places, it definitely wasn’t a great place to try to be an artist of any kind, because there wasn’t and still really isn’t a safe space or any space for artists. At the same time, I grew up in a house out in the country and there are parts of that that I really miss now that I live in the city. I don’t want to say it was dull growing up there, but it was pretty docile, I guess.

    How would you describe yourself as a child?

    When I was really little, I was pretty loud and outgoing, and I played a lot of sports and dabbled in some instruments. I’m the youngest of five siblings, so I really was just hanging out with my siblings all the time. And then as I got a little bit older into high school, I suddenly was really shy and anxious, so I became more of the quiet kid. And I got really involved in church, as I’m sure you’ve read about, and involved in music in that way and started actually committing to guitar and singing. I don’t know – I feel like for the most part, I was just kind of on autopilot for a while growing up, just doing what normal kids do.

    What was it that drew you to music as more of a personal outlet? Or was it more just something you found enjoyment in during that time?

    It was both, really. I mean, I would say certainly an outlet as far as processing my emotions and processing things that happened in my life. I think maybe I had and still have a difficult time talking about my feelings outright, and so I’ll tend to want to turn it into a song as a way to talk about my feelings, but maybe in a more reserved, less vulnerable manner. But I also really do love performing. I love having the outlet to connect music to things like fashion and visual art, so it’s just as much a fun thing as it as a necessary outlet for me.

    That made me think of a line from your song ‘Plagiarist’s Blues’, where you sing, “I don’t want to write my own songs/ I want to sing everybody else’s/ There’s no one that feels quite the way I do.” Could you reflect on the meaning behind that? 

    Yeah, I mean, that line I think will always ring true no matter what, because our problems and our lives are so multifaceted and it’s the same with our personalities, and so, while we can relate with each other on some level, no one is ever going to feel exactly the way or the exact amount of pain or type of pain or pleasure or whatever as you are as an individual person. There’s just too many factors into play, and so when I was writing that that’s kind of what I was saying, that I am the only person that can say exactly how I feel and know exactly how I feel. And as close as Joni Mitchell or Bonnie Raitt may get to that, it’s never gonna be exactly what I’m feeling.

    How much of a shift was it for you after you left Dothan to go to ministry school in Birmingham?

    I was 20 years old when that happened, so it was like my first taste of freedom, and yet still I was in ministry school so there were so many rules and curfews and stuff like that. I guess I was initially very excited to be moving to what I thought was a much bigger city – I quickly learned that Birmingham was just as much a small town as my hometown with maybe just a little bit more progressive people. The shift certainly wasn’t as big as when I left ministry school, but going into it was kind of like a continuation or a growth of the – honestly, the religious trauma that I was already in the middle of that I didn’t even realize was happening until much later.

    Can you talk about when that realization started to happen? Was there a specific moment, or did it happen gradually over time?

    It took time. It took a lot of time. I think initially when I had dropped out, I was just trying to take care of myself mentally, and so I put a lot of space between myself and that school and the church affiliated with it. And the more time that I spent away from it was when I started to slowly come to terms with – I would just have moments where I’d be like, “Oh, I think they were lying to me about that,” or like, “Oh, that’s actually a really weird way to look at things.” So it was a bit of a slow burn, and honestly, I still find myself coming to terms with a lot of things that I had been indoctrinated in. I have a handful of friends that are also in the process of, like, deconstructing their faith, and some of them are early on in that process, some of them are where I’m at, but it’s just interesting to see us all kind of start to recognize the world doesn’t actually work the way that we were told that it works.

    How much a role did music play in that process of figuring things out?

    I started singing in church back in my hometown, and really enjoyed it for the time that it was, and then when I moved to ministry school I didn’t have any musical outlets for about a year until I dropped out. And then I dropped out, I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t working a lot, so I had a lot of free time and started picking up my guitar more and more and having a lot of time to sit with my feelings. And over time, they just started to blend together, and so I started writing songs and writing songs that I was actually proud of and playing them for friends. And then eventually, maybe just a couple of months after I was writing songs, I got up the courage to start doing open mic nights with some friends in Birmingham. So that was when I started to actually perform those for people and get my bearings with performing them at all.

    Were you performing under the name Lady Dan at the time?

    For the open mic nights I just kept my regular name, but I kind of knew the whole time that I was going to end up using Lady Dan. So whenever I started getting actual gigs in Birmingham, I was doing that immediately under the name Lady Dan.

    What was the inspiration for it?

    So, my dad’s name was Dan, and he wanted to name me after him, Danielle, but my mom wouldn’t let him. And so when I got older and he told me, I was kind of pissed, I was like, “I wish my name was Danielle, because I would love it if my name was just Dan.” So it’s kind of my way of being able to have the name that I wanted, you know, I guess like living a double life or something.

    How about adding “Lady” before it?

    That was just a conversation with a friend. I was expressing the same sentiment to him and he was just like, “Oh, if your name is Dan, I would just call you Lady Dan.” And I immediately was like, “Oh, that sounds really good.” So I wrote it down on my phone and was like, “Whenever I start doing music, that is what I’m going to use.”

    I want to return to that later on, but to the extent that you’re comfortable discussing this, could you talk about where your feelings stand now in relation to faith?

    It kind of changes every day – I am still very much trying to sort through how I feel about it. It’s kind of messy, honestly, because I feel like sometimes I’m very much like, “I don’t think that God is necessarily a thing, and if he is I don’t think that he has an active hand in my life.” But I definitely believe in the devil, so it’s very, like, “Wait, what are you thinking?” It’s very confusing. But overall, I’m also not really pressing too hard to find any answers right now. I’m very okay with just not knowing, and I think that’s partially where I’m at, as well as, like, “Damn, there’s so many things that could be real that I just may never know.” And I’m comfortable with that.

    How does that tie into the title of your album, I Am the Prophet? Can you talk about the significance of that?

    It’s a little bit me being spiteful and a little bit not. So, I feel like – you were like asking about my faith and things like that – I think sometimes I like to imagine that I am my own god I have the power over my own future, and if there’s something out there that I want, I most likely can get it for myself. So in that sense, being my own God. And so, I Am the Prophet is kind of me saying that in a roundabout way, but also, I wanted to make a really, really strong statement that could possibly put some people off, just because, again, I can be a little spiteful. And for the church that I used to belong to and the people that I used to know, if ever they did come across my music, I wanted it to be very clear where I stood with them and with everything that had happened.

    When you said that, “I am my own god,” it made me think of another line from the album: “I am my own best man.” And that’s something I wanted to ask you about – obviously, there’s quite a few biblical references and there’s a feminist undercurrent throughout the record, and I find it interesting how all these different stories about men kind of intersect. We talked about the religious side of things, but how did the realization that these experiences are not that different from each other start to solidify?

    Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s been pretty recent, just throughout the last couple of years of coming into my own and being an autonomous adult outside of religion, just navigating, I suppose, womanhood. Because when I first left ministry school, I started to see all of the religious things that were just weird and fucked up that were happening and had happened to me, and I also noticed how most of that was men on total power trips. And then I got into what the Christians would call “the secular world” and I was dating men, and just experiencing that side of the patriarchy and then realizing that it’s all very rooted in misogyny, on both sides. And so, over time, both sides of the coin have taken so much stock in what I’m writing about because it’s an experience that I really can’t escape. None of us can.

    Was the genesis of the album at the height of that process?

    I would even say I’m still at the height of that process. It was something that I was worried about in the beginning, like, becoming a “man-hater”, which is a really strong term, but I was talking to my therapist about it a while ago and I was like, “I don’t want to become this super hateful cold person and then hate all men, that doesn’t seem healthy.” And my therapist was like, “Well, sometimes the only way out of it is through it, so maybe you should just really lean into it.” And I was like, “Okay, if I have permission to lean into this I totally will.” [laughs] So yeah, don’t know if the height of this process will ever end, so long as there is such a deeply rooted patriarchy.

    On that note, I was wondering if that has made you look at the name Lady Dan in a different way.

    It actually has – I’ve been thinking about it a good bit recently here. You know, I already have maybe what you would call a gender neutral name, like my parents named me Tyler, I didn’t name myself that. And it’s caused me to really love gender neutral or just traditionally masculine names for girls. So, having a name like Lady Dan, I think it embodies both the masculine and the feminine. I really love that about it because I think that masculinity and femininity are both incredible things – I don’t know, I don’t want to call them energies, but they are energies, and I think they’re both extremely necessary for each person to know when to use both of those things.

    I don’t know if that’s stretching it too far, but I also saw it as kind of reclaiming a term that can be used in a misogynist way.

    Yeah, that’s a good point too. I think so as well.

    Moving on, I wanted to talk about how the album musically expands on your debut EP, and part of that is collaborating with other musicians as well. What was the process of recording the album like?

    Oh, it was so much fun. I mean, with my first EP, I worked with two different musicians, and really the both of them could just play so many instruments that they pretty much just did most of the instrumentation on the record. But for this full length album, we had an individual for each instrument, I got to, in some ways, meet a lot of new people. I say “in some ways” because we were in a pandemic and there were a lot of recording sessions where the musicians were in a separate room, masked; I never really got to see their faces, I just kind of got to know their names and quickly say hi, which makes me sad. But I got to work with a lot more musicians than before, which was something I was extremely excited about just because I feel like my own music process is very isolated as far as writing and even performing goes.

    Is there a moment on the album that you’ve thought about differently since you first wrote it?

    One thing that comes to mind is on ‘Plagiarist’s Blues’, when I had originally written the song, we completely changed the lyric in the recording process – that really changed a lot of the meaning. So, I believe it’s the second verse where it says, “I’ve got I love now/ He’s a keeper, he’s a Carolina Reaper,” and I used to end it with, like, “Honey, I’m feeling the heat” kind of deal, but we ended up changing that line to “I am the misery of defeat,” so as to say that, like, falling in love in a lot of ways makes me feel defeated as a person. And that’s multifaceted to explain, but it’s similar to ‘Paradox’ of like, “I want to be this strong autonomous alone creature that no one can touch, but at the same time I so badly just want to be loved.” And so then, accepting the love or allowing someone to see your soft side is kind of like a moment of defeat. Not in the worst way; it can be in a good way. But yeah, that song very much changed, and it reflects the way that I feel now because that relationship unfortunately didn’t last, although I did feel very much in love.

    I wanted to bring up ‘Left-Handed Lover’, too, because I think it’s interesting how we started talking about other people’s songs, and then the album ends with a reference to someone singing ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’, I assume the James Taylor song. Is that based on a real experience?

    Yeah, it’s very much something that happened. And it was this moment that I was having with a guy that I was dating, and again, very much in love with, and I had never experienced that much tenderness from someone before, at least not in my adult life, and so it’s just really stuck with me. It was a very healing moment, and definitely one I’ll never forget, especially now that I’ve immortalized it and put it into lyrics.

    Was there a reason you wanted to close the record with that song? Was it more the narrative around it or did it feel like a good fit sonically?

    I would say both. It’s actually one of my favorite songs on the record, sonically, so it was a little bit hard for me to put it at the very end, because I feel like generally the last song is the least listened to song on records. But it felt important to put it as a closing statement, because the narrative of the song is essentially, like, “I don’t know how much time I’m going to have with my life and I feel very much like I could accidentally waste a lot of it or not going to do the things that I want to do.” And part of that was not being able to fully flesh out a life with the person that I’m writing about in the song; not getting to have a future with them. And again, like I said, I wish to be this autonomous, untouchable person, but at the same time I fear being alone sometimes. You know, loneliness can bite you in the ass sometimes. But yeah, with the final phrase of that song being “I’m growing older,” it’s just a moment of like, “I really hope that I get to do the things that I want to do with my time but there’s a really high chance that I won’t and time just moves so quickly it terrifies me.” So it felt good to put that one at the end of the album. I think that was a good final statement which maybe added some closure, but at the same time kind of leaves things a little open-ended.

    To close, I wanted to go back to that line from ‘Plagiarist’s Blues’. Having released the record, do you feel more comfortable expressing your feelings or leaning into that vulnerability through songwriting moving forwards?

    You know, I’ve considered this, and I don’t know if I’ll know until I’m doing it, but releasing this record, even just the three songs that have come out alone, has been such a healing process for me, because I’ve had all these feelings and emotions that not everyone has heard and now a lot of people have. This whole record is basically my diary of the last four years, and I guess making peace with the fact that everyone’s about to know my business has brought me a lot of comfort and I just feel very seen and heard, which is such a great thing, but then I think about releasing music in the future and in my head I’m like, “Am I going to now write with this filter of ‘people are going to hear this’ or am I going to continue to write and just be as honest as possible without really giving a fuck of what people think or not?” So I think I’ll be able to continue to be bold and honest, although I will still be, like, shaking in my boots a little bit. We’ll see, though. Maybe not.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

    Lady Dan’s I Am the Prophet is out now via Earth Libraries.

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