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Interview: DENA on "Royals," Taking Risks and Bulgarian Tennis




DENA talks debut album, Lorde Comparisons and Bulgarian Tennis Star Grigor Dimitrov

DENA released her debut album, Flash, earlier this month via !K7. She's an unusual artist—kinda spoken-word electro-hip-pop—with a Bulgarian accent uncommon in English-speaking music; when I posted news of her LP, some guy commented, "This is absolutely horrible music." Fuck that though! I think it's fun. In that spirit, for our Skype interview, every question was free-associated based on the album's track titles, which led to some unexpected revelations about her acting background and tennis-loving family.

Stream: DENA's Flash LP

"Thin Rope”—What stresses you out the most? I don’t know, I guess living life. Suddenly realizing you’re broke. Not noticing how you live and then at some point, like, “What the fuck!?” I don’t really get the flow of money.

"Jet Lag”—You grew up in Bulgaria and now live in Berlin. What was your home country like? It’s kind of counted as Eastern Europe, even though it’s a bit more southern. I’m from the border where Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria meet. It’s a bit different than Berlin. I grew up in the moment of post-communism, just a very crazy social environment, because there was basically no system. It was a little bit of anarchy after the whole communistic system fell down. At some point, I moved to Berlin, and then Europe began to get a little bit smaller. There’s Easyjet now, and I can fly super-cheap to Bulgaria. Meanwhile, Bulgaria joined the European Union, so it feels a little more connected. I’ve been in Berlin for 10 years now, but it’s definitely a place I love coming back to.

"Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools”—Do you feel that Lorde owes you a little something, after you’d pioneered rejecting wealth via a hip-hop-influenced pop song? It took me a long time to listen to “Royals.” Friends of mine had mentioned similarities, but I was like, how could it be? When I listened, I understood that it’s a similar topic, somehow. It’s actually cool—I totally can identify, and I think it’s a very well-written song. I’m kind of honored for those songs to be compared, and I don’t think that I invented anything with my song, but it’s actually a cool thing that there’s a similar vibe. Considering the fact that her song went straight to #1 and she’s like—she made it to the swimming pools, whereas I probably made it out of the flea market. It’s cool.

"Total Ignore”—Who’s an artist you’d love to not be ignored by? I don’t really have a clue who I’m ignored by or appreciated by. Like, Jay Z.

"Bad Timing”—You do a call-and-response on this song, and others too. Do you had a background with acting? That’s so crazy, because I actually did. The thing I’ve done in my whole teenage years, and one of my first dreams ever, was to become a theater actress. That's probably somehow connected to the fact that I’m always writing those responses, like on “Guest List,” too. I realized that to write dialogues, and to bring it into songs with pop-inspired strategies, it has to be done really precise so it’s understandable that it’s a dialogue.

"You Wish”—What do you wish for right now? I wish I was a little bit taller, hahaaa, no. I actually wish to write more, play, tour, release music. That’s what I wish for.

"Dice”—What’s a big risk you’ve taken? Sometimes being an artist is like, the ultimate risk. It’s so crazy, because stuff isn’t really rolling in a programmed or secure way. It’s a risky job, not only in terms of a constant monetary situation, but in terms of inspiration and the way your brain is working. You never know, and that’s the challenge. It’s not predictable, and it’s not following boring patterns, even though I know some artists who are bored.

"Flashed”—This song features Erlend Øye, from Kings of Convenience and The Whitest Boy Alive. He was also in the “Diamond Rings” video. How did you meet? His bandmates and he were kind of the first people I met when I moved to Berlin. One of the first things I did was start a band with a friend of mine from Toronto, this punky/DIY band. I met his bandmates first, and they were like my best friends and family. It’s just like my crew. I had the honor to be asked by Erlend to sing response vocals on their album. He’s super awesome. Sometimes he proofreads my stuff and says like, "Switch the lines in the hook right here." For the “Cash, Diamond Rings” video, it was such a coincidence. He called me to say what’s up, and I was like, “I’m shooting this video, I can’t talk,” and he’s like, “Where are you shooting?” I said, “Oh, this flea market.” “Can I come over!?” When we were filming and dancing around, he just totally stepped into the frame.

"Games”—Were you an athletic kid? Did you play sports? I grew up playing tennis as a fucking freak because my father like, organized tennis tournaments in Bulgaria. When I was 6 or something, he was like, “You need to play tennis.” I played in the tennis club of my hometown, and the son of my coach is now this crazy superstar. He made it into the top 20 in the world. My father was getting up at five in the morning the other day to watch him play on TV because it was like, our kid.

"Front Row Girl”—Where do you get the clothes in your videos?“Cash Diamond Rings” was my own wardrobe, and I had to find the craziest pieces that I had. But then after wearing everything I had in that video, I was like, “I need some new sweaters.” I met this Bulgarian guy in Italy who’s a stylist, and he organized some things, like this reflective sweater I found on the internet. Everything was a little bit more upgraded.


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Interview: DENA on "Royals," Taking Risks and Bulgarian Tennis