I’d like to address the stigma around giving up. Why the bad rap? Really, what’s so wrong with letting go of that mounting pressure that’s saddled with all that pursuit of hopes and dreams. Ridding yourself of the self aspersions that come with a life of comparing yourself to your icons. It is with this sound rationale, courtesy of course of the Laurel Canyon tinged new single “How Can I Tell You” by DYLLAN, that I make my impassioned plea to fellow creatives… let’s give up! Let’s give up together!
“Yes, writing this song was very cathartic (and ironic) in the sense that I was lamenting not being able to write a song, but there I was, doing it.”-DYLLAN
So as not to resign completely from one’s zealous request, DYLLAN did in fact give up… for a time. She stopped writing, lost her singing voice and forgot how to play guitar. But after enough time away and a healthy regiment of apathy, DYLLAN started to rebel against the critic in her own head. She would start experimenting with music again for an audience of none. And so DYLLAN relearned the oft forgotten mantra to all things worthy of creation… ‘it’s supposed to be fun’.
Judging from the mature sense of melody and distinctive chordal arrangements, DYLLAN is a fast re-learner. “How Can I Tell You” is the kind of song that renders vulnerability like a good conversation. It’s sparseness is its strength and all that space leaves us hanging on every word. Her singing is rich with designation, like the songstress selected each note as carefully as a florist selects each Peony for the bouquet.
In spite of one’s best efforts, it’s damn impossible not to be inspired to be “good again”. We caught up with DYLLAN to thank her for her lack of finality in her resignation and to learn about what got her back on the good foot…
“How Can I Tell You” speaks to a time where you felt the only intuitive option was to give up. Did you feel writing this song helped empower you through the catharsis of letting go of being an artist or does singing it ping the heart in the way singing about lost love does?
Yes, writing this song was very cathartic (and ironic) in the sense that I was lamenting not being able to write a song, but there I was, doing it. It was just a voice memo on my phone for a long time, and then one day I decided to perform it, thinking nothing of it. I literally called it a “throw away song.” But several people approached me and said that it was their favorite one in the set. To this day every single time I perform it someone comes up to me and says that it resonated with them. So through writing this, two things became solidified – I write to work through my emotions, and to connect with others. Music is meant to be shared. It does really depend on how I’m feeling when I sing it, because thoughts of quitting have crept back in quarantine. Sometimes I do want to say, “I was once good at this,” but right now I don’t feel so good at it. I’ve just learned that it’s okay to feel this way, and that I’ll get through it.
You mention Bushwick in this tune. Assuming it is the area of Brooklyn, can you describe your time there and how it’s different from any time you’ve spent in LA?
New York was a vibrant, exciting place, but it was also draining, thankless, exhausting. I wrote a lot of songs when I was there because I had a lot of material. I lived in Bed Stuy and Bushwick after graduating college but after a few years I realized I was only there because I was scared if I left I’d be “missing out,” on something. I was convinced that was the place to be for music, and that mindset really held me back. When I got to LA, I felt a much greater sense of community, people actually being interested and wanting to help. The flip side of this is that old adage, “wherever you go, there you are.” LA is much more laid back day to day, of course, but I’ve still had to hustle working multiple jobs, still dealt with the same music industry that feels impossible to tap into, and I struggle with the same insecurities here as I did in New York. It’s really just about finding the quality of life and the people you want to be around.
Do you feel the two cities inspire different sides of your music?
Yes, totally. My very first influence was Joni Mitchell, and I think I have a bit of that Laurel Canyon folk aspect to my songs and songwriting. There’s also something gritty about my songs whether it be my voice, the subject matter, or the instrumentation. That’s the Brooklyn/New York side coming out for sure. I think my music would be very different if I’d never left LA and experienced true city life.
You mentioned that some soul searching helped bring you back to creating music. Was there any one significant experience or moment that you remember that helped turn the tide?
There have been a few moments, because it’s a process I feel I’m always going through. When it first happened, I was like a bottle of soda that’s been shaken up and pressurized, about to explode. I scrutinized every single note I sang, every word I came up with, I just felt like everything sucked and wouldn’t let it happen naturally. I couldn’t allow myself to write something bad. I realized after taking a few months off that it didn’t matter all that much. Who was going to hear my mistakes? And who was going to decide they were mistakes? I realized music wasn’t even fun anymore, and that was a turning point. When I came back to it, I promised myself that I’d have to noodle, play, and experiment, and for no particular audience. That has been the absolutely biggest lesson throughout this. You need to write bad stuff to get to good stuff, and you need to play! Music should be fun! If it isn’t, then stop, and come back to it later. In quarantine I’ve started writing EDM songs, a complete departure from what I normally do, but that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t just mess around.
The attention to vocal delivery and the unique choice of notes is exquisite! What shaped your singing? Any singers in particular you emulated in learning your own voice?
Thank you so much for saying that! I definitely feel I’ve been refining it over the years and with this song in particular, because I performed it live so much before I recorded it, I really got to sink in and be picky about my delivery. My first vocalist influences were people like Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, and Jeff Buckley. I loved how all their voices were so wild and uncontrolled and perfect in their own ways.
You say in your song you’re afraid that if you stop you’ll be ‘distilled’. Can you elaborate on that line a little? What would a distilled existence look like for you?
I come across very differently through my songwriting and as an artist than I come across in person. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people. I’m dorky and awkward, I get nervous and stumble over words. But on stage and through my music I’m able to be confident, and say what I mean to say. I’m able to tell off people who’ve hurt me, I’m able to dance. Having an artistic persona actually allows me to show another side of myself. And I’m a creator in the sense that even if I don’t have music, I have to make something, whether it’s drawings, embroidery, clothing, a pie. If I’m not creating something I’m not living. If I didn’t have an outlet, my life would be distilled down, I wouldn’t have the grit and spice and dirt that music gives me. I wouldn’t have what feeds me and fuels me.
Quarantine and the great pause makes everyone contemplative. Do you have any tips for other artists in quarantine on ways to maintain a healthy creative output?
Yes! I’ve learned that if one thing you are working on is bogging you down, try something else. A few weeks back I was struggling a lot to make music, and getting down on myself for not doing it (my constant struggle), so instead I took one of my old shirts and some fabric paint and went to town. I felt so inspired and light making something, and even though it wasn’t music, I felt accomplished afterwards. It also opened up another outlet of creativity. I suggest gardening, baking, organizing your closet, or learning something new (YouTube is an oracle of info). Whatever it is you do, do something adjacent, and then come back to it.
Has there been an artist that has kept you inspired during this time? If you could ask them one thing, what would it be?
For the past several months I’ve just kept coming back to Caroline Polachek. She’s inspiring to me because she’s been in the business for a long time but has now really honed her unique voice and style. I actually saw her perform as Charlift back when I lived in Brooklyn and even then was captivated by her presence and energy, and her voice is incredible. I’d ask her if she has a creative routine – does she treat it like a job, or does she let it come naturally?
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photos / Weslee Kate & Julia Torchine
story / Chris Hess