Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Lisa Dank photo by Blush Photo

As the final days of 2009 are approaching, music writers are regularly asked for their predictions of the upcoming year. Right now, the artist in Seattle who excites me the most and I believe has the most potential for an explosive 2010 is Lisa Dank. She is the closest thing to a legitimate pop star from the Northwest, but still maintains something of a DIY aesthetic. That she is able to combine the two seemingly mutually exclusive ideas and has a knack for putting together catchy pop songs is part of what makes her so interesting and exciting to me.

Lisa Dank is actually Juliane Popelka, a dancer and singer who began doing both dancing and singing at an early age. After moving here from South America, it was in Seattle, though, where she found her biggest encouragement, making friends with several key members of the hip hop scene as well as impressing people at open mic nights at Café Racer in Ravenna. After her first performance there, she said she was asked by the host to return each week with a new song, according to what she told me in an interview over drinks and sushi at a popular Capitol Hill bar. She was also briefly the singer in a rock band called The Horde and the Harem.

Dank is finishing up recording her debut album, which she hopes to have out in the spring and is, she said, about two-thirds finished with recording. She called it a “pop album for girls who used to listen to N’SYNC and now smoke weed.” It’ll be released by the Seattle independent label Analog Arkives, who also have local, neo-goth rockers Romance on their roster and have distribution through Red Eye, which also puts out the music of other larger independent labels like Luaka Bop, Yep Rock and Dap Tone. Of landing with Analog Arkives, she said, “This [guy from a] record label saw me dancing one night and I thought I’d never hear from him again but he hit me up within a week. I showed up to the interview with him…he said ‘I don’t know who you are but I believe in you’ and signed me on the spot.”

Her live shows feature a DJ, backup dancers, matching costumes and her own “hype man” to sing backup underneath of her harmonies. They are a wild time with a carefully choreographed numbers and overtly sexual themes (even if her lyrics are less so), bringing to mind a Truth or Dare-era Madonna. If Madonna ever had to worry about getting her own flyers printed and put up by her and available and willing friends.

She has built a lot of friendships and partnerships who have given her beats for free or very inexpensively, betting on her potential and establishing a rapport and friendship with a lot of talented producers. The most well-known song in her catalogue right now is called “Lazer Dome”, a catchy, just-under-3 minute song full of overt innuendo that has Dank pining for an absent and distant lover. It has a big hook in the chorus and gets stuck in your head easily. Right now, she says, that is the likely title track of her forthcoming album.

Photo by Blush Photo

She also quit a steady day job working as an accountant to focus exclusively on her music. It’s a risky choice, especially in this economic reality – but she hasn’t looked back, telling me, “this is going to sound corny, but I read this journal it had some inspiration quotes and one of them was ‘leap and the net will appear’. At the time, a band found me on MySpace and wanted to take me on tour with them. I decided ‘I’m going to do that’ and I leapt. It changed everything. It took me into a really uncomfortable place, but it was awesome. I’m experiencing a lot more now.” The band that took her on tour was a Seattle electronic band called Wunderbugg. Next year, Dank hopes to bring her own dancers (who are called The White Widow Dancers) and DJ on tour with her.

Although she’s grateful for friends who have been generous with their support and talent, especially pointing out that making pop music in a city with a historically prominent rock scene and a fast-rising hip hop community can be difficult, she’s still forging ahead fearlessly, telling me, “I’m going to make music I like. Fuck the bullshit if it doesn’t fit into a certain genre. I’m just going to do it and fit into weird little bills with hip hop people because that’s my community. I’m going to keep doing it and mixing it up.”

As Dank’s profile rises, she is beginning to headline higher profile shows, with her first major test being this Thursday (December 17) at Nectar. When asked how this show will be different from her previous efforts, she said, “It’ll be different because I’m getting better and I’m creating more. For most of the past year I was using other people’s crowds or having other people help me out. This is the first time that I’m doing it by myself… I’m making myself known as my own spectacle and I’m not a cohort of someone else; I’m not a just minor degree from Mad Rad, I’m not just that girl who’s always dancing at Champagne Champagne shows. I’m Lisa Dank and I put on a dope show.”

{Lisa Dank photos by Blush Photo.}