Face the Artist: Q & A with LA Singer – Songwriter Dane Ferguson

Written by Vicki Quintero

At Face the Music, we like to paint a realistic picture of addiction, the music industry, and recovery – we share the good, the bad, and the ugly in hopes of educating, preventing, erasing stigma, and getting those who struggle the help they need. We know that the music world can be a breeding ground for addiction, but we also know that recovery is alive and well in this space and needs to be brought into the spotlight. There are numerous artists who are living clean and sober and Face the Music features these musicians to show the world that addiction can affect anyone, recovery is possible, and music can truly heal us. Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Dane Ferguson celebrated four years of sobriety this month and we were fortunate enough to get an exclusive interview with him about his recovery, career, and life in general.

Dane is based out of Los Angeles and writes music inspired by his humble roots in Halifax County, Virginia, past struggles with alcohol addiction, and sobriety. Both his parents were musicians who taught him how to play piano and drums, igniting his passion for making music at just four years old. That fire he had for playing and writing music was fueled throughout his adolescence, but Dane’s flame was facing extinction come early adulthood – alcohol addiction took a hold of him and began to seep into every aspect of his life, especially his musical abilities. Once it was made clear to him that his drinking was a problem, he made the decision to stop abusing alcohol and take back his life.

Music was a major factor in not only Dane’s decision to get sober, but also in his healing process; listening to as well as creating music brought him peace and fulfillment in that ever so vulnerable and desolate period of early recovery. He is actively building his music career both as a solo and contributing artist. Dane is a founding member of the band Built to Fade which released their debut album in 2013 and is currently putting the finishing touches on their second record.  In May of this year, Dane released his second EP, Cicada, which begins with the sounds of the album-titled insects layered over a background of ethereal synth tones, bringing us back to summer nights in Virginia. His voice seemingly beckons us to follow him through a moonlit forest path lined with questions of the human condition. Every song on the EP evokes those vivid mental images, leaving us yearning for a past that might not even be our own and pushing us to look inward to reevaluate our current relationships with ourselves and others.

Face the Music recently had an opportunity to catch up with Dane for a candid and in-depth discussion about music, recovery and life.

Can you discuss your personal history with addiction?

I see my addiction in many places. I’m addicted to coffee. I’m addicted to sugar. I’m addicted to physical excursion, which is why I ride a bicycle everywhere I go. Some things just speak to me on a deeper level, and I do them to the extreme. I also always seemed to enjoy being in an altered state of consciousness. From about 14, I had already started smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and occasionally smoking pot. It was usually within social situations and was never really used as a crutch. In my early 20s, I suffered 3 separate physical traumas that were the inevitable catalysts for a darker version of my addiction. I always enjoyed drinking, but now drinking made something scary momentarily disappear. Time passed and my habits continued. Alcohol, my greatest vice. All the while, I was working, writing and recording music, playing shows. It took a long time for me to begin to see the negative impact that drinking was having in my life.

When and what was the “bottom” that brought you to recovery?

I have not consumed alcohol since July 10th, 2014. There were many events that led me to the realization that I had reached a bottom, but that is the day that I put my foot down. I could see, years prior, that I had become a different person. I knew what I was doing. Drinking made me able to function, or so I thought. At every show I played, I was consuming enough alcohol for 5 people. I would drink when I was alone in my apartment. I recognized that my behavior was negatively affecting me and the people around me, but it didn’t matter. I’ll never forget it, one time my dad pulled out this CD with a recording of a live performance that I did in NYC. I was drunk. I was cursing, slurring, fumbling through my songs. It was embarrassing to say the least. Being able to go back [and] listen to yourself in a moment that usually slips away in time was an eye opener. It made me start to think about what I was projecting out into the universe. I knew that I wanted to bring positivity to people’s lives, and I was failing at that.

What did you do in order to get and stay sober?

I put the energy elsewhere. I began writing a lot, making art, riding my bike, working at my day job a lot. There is definitely a hole that exists when you stop, and it is important to focus on filling it with positive things. The key for me was taking each day one step at a time. I counted single days of sobriety for over a year. Every new minute was a tiny victory, and honestly, I think I got addicted to that feeling. I recognized that the power actually was in my hands, and it was no one’s decision but my own if I drank or didn’t drink. That realization of accountability for myself was critical. I knew who I wanted to be, and I started marching towards it.

What does a typical day look like for you lately?

Lately I’ve been working a lot. I manage a breakfast place in Venice Beach, California. Each day looks fairly similar. I wake up at about 4:30am, cycle 6 miles to Union Station, ride the train to Santa Monica, cycle another 3 miles to my job. I work my shift, then I usually walk over to the beach and surf for a few hours. Then begins the 2-hour commute back home! On days off, I’m usually locked away in my home studio making music. I like to stay busy. The most difficult moments are the ones where things seem to stagnate. I am always on the move.

When and how did your music career begin?

I’ve made music my entire life. I started playing piano and drums when I was 4. I started writing songs in middle school. I released my first EP my freshman year of college. I recorded it in my dorm room, physically drew the album art on every CD, and sat outside with my guitar selling them. I’ve been making and releasing music ever since.

You’re living in LA now, but VA born and raised. How’s that transition been?

The transition has been enlightening. I have learned so much about myself, and most importantly, about others. Los Angeles is an incredible city, filled with so many different kinds of people. Being immersed in various cultures has been my favorite part of living here. On the flip side, I often miss home. I speak to my family regularly, but nothing can replace a good hug from the ones you love. All in all, I believe this is where I should be in this moment.

I can definitely hear the Old Dominion in your music. How has folk music influenced your songwriting? What other genres and artists influence your music?

Well I grew up with folk music being played at every little festival or get together that I attended. My mom played Motown in the car on the way to school every day. My dad was always blasting rock and blues records in the house. As I got older, I started to find my way into the songwriter world. Ryan Adams, Rob Thomas, Edwin McCain, John Mayer. If I saw an acoustic guitar on the album cover, I was checking it out. That was who I wanted to be. Recently, Jason Isbell has been my go-to. His story [hit] me deep, and his songs ring so true for me. He’s definitely been a major influence lately.

What do you write songs about and from where do you draw inspiration?

I write songs in an attempt to capture intangible moments and allow people to revisit them. It could be anything. I draw inspiration from everything around me. I just want my music to mean something to someone. I have been so deeply affected by music, I want to share that feeling with others.

The music industry doesn’t always provide the safest environment for those of us who choose to be sober. How do you maintain your recovery in a profession where drugs and alcohol are often glorified?

That was definitely a difficult hurdle to overcome. When you’re playing 3 nights a week in the local bar scene, alcohol can be hard to get away from. I think initially I conquered those situations with sheer determination. Challenging myself to get through those shows sober. The other side of those nights always felt like such an accomplishment. It eventually transformed into habit within everyday situations. Peer pressure was never the issue for me. I don’t care what someone else is doing or wants me to do. The challenge is feeling isolated in a room full of people seemingly having the best time of their lives! I just always remind myself that I’m on a personal mission and do my best to stay the course.

How does music, in general as well as making your own, help with your recovery?

Music is my outlet. It’s the place where I can channel energy, ideas, and sounds into something productive. It is an escape, a momentary reprieve from the incessant daily noise that surrounds us all. It is empowering to hear of others sharing in your struggle. I can’t put into words what the music of others has done for me, and I only hope to be able to do the same with my music.

Do you believe your music can/does help others in recovery? How?

It isn’t necessarily intentional, but my struggles with sobriety, substance abuse, and self-awareness leak out into my music. Trying to convince myself that I am stronger than I believe is an everyday tactic that I use to keep going. Those words emerge in my songs. For me, it’s all about realizing that we’re all still learning, we all make mistakes, and we all can make a change in our lives. When I write songs, I’m doing it for me. It heals me. But what I have learned is that the words I write to help heal me can sometimes help others heal. If I can reach just one person struggling with the same things I’ve struggled with, and help them, I’m happy.

Any words of encouragement to people who may be struggling?

You got it. It sounds so simple, but that’s the bottom line. The power lies with you. You just have to know it, believe it, and act on it. We all fall down, but what’s most important is how we get back up. We’re all so much more capable than we believe ourselves to be. Keep pushing.

Ca you tell FTM what you’re working on and what more we can expect from Dane Ferguson?

At this moment I’m just working on getting this EP in front of as many people as I can. After releasing it, I received a handful of messages letting me know that the record had affected people going through tough times. I realized that this album may actually be able to help someone. So I decided to really push it. I’m still writing all the time and fleshing out new ideas. I’m always tinkering and creating. I’ve been working with a live looping setup recently, so expect to see some new live performance videos very soon! Also, I am in a group called Built to Fade, and we’re on the verge of releasing our second record, so be on the lookout for that!

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