A dancer, singer, actor and DJ, Dena Amy (Kaplan) is a force to be reckoned with. Having first popped up on our radar years ago, Dena has performed on Disney’s musical production, of The Lion King, appeared on Flight Of The Conchords, City Homicide and Dance Academy, as well as blasting her beats at the likes of Coachella, Splendour In The Grass and EDC Las Vegas. With a list of big performances to her name, Dena is paving the way for female artists.
We caught up with Dena as she was boarding a flight to Sydney, to perform a gig in Bondi, NSW. As our music loving selves fangirled internally we held our cool and grabbed 5 to talk all things music, artistry and what’s next for this powerhouse artist.
You’ve been described as a triple threat - dancer, actor, DJ - what is your favourite thing about each creative outlet?
Firstly, thank you – very big compliment.
They all make me feel so powerful and excited; they fill my soul. I’m happiest when I’m performing and creating, so art in any form is rewarding to me. Especially when it takes other people on a positive journey and effects them in some way, that’s the real reward. It’s really what I live for. I know how art and music affect me and if I have the ability to do that to other people that’s such a beautiful feeling. It’s like… no matter how challenging the day might be, the minute I walk on stage, on set or into a studio, it all dissipates. I also think festivals are the closest feeling to a utopian world, everyone’s inner child comes out, we all dance, play and smile and talk to one another and make connections that never happen in the “real” world.
You have described your journey to becoming a successful DJ as one of the easiest career transitions you’ve had. How did it all begin?
‘Easy’ probably isn’t the right word, I guess ‘organic’ is. I slaved away as a dancer my entire life, trained incredibly hard as a singer and worked relentless hours as an actor. Djing felt like a release, an escape and a hobby, I mean I still practise like a maniac and prepare every set as a new one and work really hard... but its never felt like work to me and it all progressed really fast for me. It’s the most fun and meditative thing I do. I also managed to align myself with the most amazing team which isn’t easy in this industry. I’m so grateful for my management, agents and creative collaborators. We’re all just helping each other build each other up, sharing the success and fun.
Production of dance music is presumed relatively easy by most, given all the bedroom producers these days. We know all too well that this isn’t the case and that it’s a constant self-teaching process. Can you tell us about your process and who helped you fine tune your skills?
One side of producing came very naturally to me – the ideas, the referencing, the vocal melodies, harmonies and song writing - my ear has always been strong. However the other side of producing – the mathematical, technical, patient side – has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever learnt. When I DJ it feels like a dance, so the rhythm and beats come naturally and the technique follows. Producing on the other hand, has been like maths to me in some ways (I failed maths in school haha). Sitting in front of a laptop searching and going over the same sound over and over again drove me mad at the start. I was incredibly slow! But luckily I have had some incredible teachers and mentors. I’ve learnt most of what I know about production and music performance from living and working with the amazing RUFUS DU SOL boys. They are the most generous guys in the industry and have empowered and supported my career from day one. Cassian, Hayden James, London Topaz, Saint Clair, The Sevador boys and Benson have also all mentored and helped me along the way. Lucky lady.
What artists inspire you musically and what genres of music do you listen to most frequently?
The list changes daily! I listen to so much music and I have extremely eclectic taste. Day one music inspirations have always been Nicolas Jaar, David August, Black Coffee, Peggy Gou, Black Madonna, Ry X , Weval, Booka Shade, Sza, Jamie XX, Fatima Yamaha, HVOB and Jayda G. I also listen to a lot of disco and random folk music, like Damien Rice for example. Oh and lately I’m just blown away by Billie Eilish, I can’t comprehend how someone that young has a song writing brain like that!
Any outstanding career highlights to date?
I honestly pinch myself at almost every show; I still can’t get over that this is my life and “job”. Festivals such as Coachella, CRSSD, Your Paradise, FOMO and Electric Forest were all insanely amazing, but I think the most exciting part for me is getting to combine all my passions into one. When I can create a song, direct or produce the video, dance and act in it and bring it all together in a brilliant live or cinematic performance… that’s the absolute highlight for me. Oh and when I watch people sing my tracks back to me that blows my mind every single time haha! Sounds corny, but are you working towards a 3-5 year plan? How do you strategise your career when you’re so diverse in your areas of work?
It’s been hard to tour and yet remain actively dancing or auditioning for film and TV. I’ve tried to make an effort to spread my time evenly so I can still continue doing all of the things I love: touring as a DJ, singing with live acts and recording, but still finding time to squeeze in a TV show or film here and there. My long-term goal is to have my own production company so I can continue to do it all, but my way. The minute I stay away from one art form for too long- I miss it too much, so I’ve just surrendered to the fact that I’m going to do it all!
Have you any advice for the youth of today looking to get into the music industry?
Jump in the deep end and be brave, especially women. Don’t be intimidated. Ask for advice, I felt really out of place when I started but slowly I found my feet and gained respect. Practice. Go to gigs to listen to music and respect art, not to party.( this is something I saw when I lived in Berlin; people going out on a weeknight sober to just appreciate and listen to music, it’s doesn’t always have to be about partying, the music should be enough)
Watch and learn. Truly, I learnt so much more from watching boiler rooms and listening to mixes than I did from any teacher.
Also, remember that with any art form there is a business aspect to it, so learn about your brand and who you want to be as an artist, who your audience is and why you’re doing it. My wonderful manager Matt really helped guide me in the right direction, instead of making music or playing sets for the sake of bookings or popularity or pleasing the general crowd, I’ve learnt to being authentic to what I actually love; being a tastemaker. If people don’t get it that’s fine but at least you’re doing you; and the ones who do get it, they become the real fans you want at your shows and it feels authentic.
I would also say the biggest thing about the music industry is making sure your mental and physical health is a priority or it’s completely unsustainable. Touring can be gruelling and isolating, the hours of work put your body out of whack and the temptation to get caught up in everything but the music is always there. I believe it’s really important to make sure you have a strong sense of self and will power before you decide if it’s a lifestyle and career you really want, it has to be for the right reasons for the music! It all looks super fun all the time but it takes discipline and daily routine to maintain being a freelance artist with balance and longevity.
If you could time warp yourself to any point in history, when would it be and who would you hang out with?
Ha, what a brilliant question. I love this.
I’ve always said I wish I could go back in time to the jazz era and hang with George Benson and Ella Fitzgerald! I also really miss when movie musicals were made well. I wish I could have been in movies such as the original West Side Story, Singin’ In The Rain or Chicago! That was such an amazing time in movie/music history. But also, growing up I just wanted to be Britney Spears and JLo, and dance and sing with backup dancers! High school pop rnb was the golden age...haha.
What’s one question you wish people would ask you?
What the difference is between my career and my purpose. I’ve got such big dreams and I can’t wait to share them with the world and give back. They have nothing to do with my career.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS:
New York, Berlin and Byron Bay.
Almond Butter. The addiction is real.
Beach or city life?
Beach baby, always.
One thing you can't live without?
My family and music. Sorry I need both! What's are you listening to right now?
RUFUS DU SOL’S album Solace. It’s the most therapeutic piece of art I’ve ever listened to; I’m the ultimate fan girl. Nils Frahm’s new EP is on repeat and a lot of FOUR TET, The Blaze and Bicep always. Also a bunch of other amazing tunes I add to my Spotify Playlist Daily. Here ya go if you’re interested: