Dylan St. John
[quote]Follow Dylan St. John on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud and be sure to check out Bison Sound this April 16th to experience Dylan St. John live.[/quote] A rising star in New York City R&B and Rap scenes, Dylan St. John has been featured on music blogs such as GoodMusicAllDay and DJ Booth, and now Campus Vinyl. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dylan St. John to talk inspiration, sacrifice, and his upcoming project.
St. John doesn’t want to be confined to one genre of music and often mixes techniques from many different genres to produce the track that is in his mind. Born and raised in Westchester New York, St. John says that music has always been a major part of his life;
[quote]I have basically been surrounded by music since I was 5 years old, playing piano with my grandma or writing songs — whatever it was. That’s kind of me. You know there’s music all over the family, since, like forever. That’s kind of how I got started. They’re all about it not so much hip hop, though.[/quote]
St. John dropped out of traditional school to pursue his music and now lives in New York City. For seven months, he was learning to be a studio engineer in the Bronx “learning the ins and outs of the behind-thescenes work” and took a 6 month course at an electronic music and DJ school called DubSpot so he could start making his own beats. He was able to take this knowledge back to his studio at home and begin recording himself.
CV: Do you feel like it was a logical next step for you to start producing your own music? Where did you begin?
DSJ: It really just started with interest. From the engineering thing, that got started because I was recording in this studio called Green Studio in New York City. The head guy Rocco was kind of like a mentor to me, he just took a liking to me and asked me, you know, “do you want to learn how to mix?” So I would get in and mix and get my recording hours for free. So I’d get in to record my songs from 12 to 3am after we had mixed all day. Then I, honestly, just started getting curious, and I felt like I was getting better and better at mixing and it was kind of like — what else can I do to know more, or enhance my sound, or work with other people. You know how to write, you know how to mix, you do your own vocals — learn how to produce. It was kind of like it was all a natural sequence I guess.
CV: What production software do you use?
DSJ: Ableton and Logic. I started on Logic because I started with the songwriting voice engineering type stuff, I just wanted to make my sound — I wanted to have complete control.
CV: Was there a learning curve for the software?
DSJ: The learning curve wasn’t that crazy because I was really interested and even though I technically went back to school, it didn’t feel like school and when I work — when I’m mixing other people’s records it’s not work but it’s actually art. It sounds corny, but that’s where I find my happiness. The learning curve is what it is. It’s all about how bad do you want it? — you know — how good do you want to get at it? and how much you’re willing to work and sacrifice to get there. CV: Would you consider yourself a poet? DSJ: I don't want to… I do consider… A poet… I don’t want to be saying I’m a poet. Some of my love songs did start as poetry.
CV: Do you usually write the lyrics before the beats?
DSJ: It depends, to be honest. I can create a concept, whatever it may be. I have this song “Sipping Merlot” and it was created because in one of my relationships the girl was always drinking wine and then the beat came. As soon as I had the beat and the concept it just started flowing out of me. I don't try — the more you press the less you get in music. So I just try and stay relaxed — if it comes to me in a passing I definitely take out the iPhone and make a note of it.
CV: Do you tend to model your songs off of real experiences and people?
DSJ: They’re not fictional. I would say, there’s some exaggeration here and there but they’re mostly based off of feelings and emotions, people I’ve met, places I’ve been. I mean, everyone writes about what they’re going through or experiencing. “Momentum” I wrote when I felt like I was really going at a slow pace and I was upset. I don’t know why, but almost subconsciously I wrote this song, like: “I’ve got momentum/nothing can stop me” and it’s almost like a vibe.
CV: How much do you have to rehearse for a concert?
DSJ: It depends, if I’m going into a show with a 30-45 minute set, where I’m going 810 tracks, I’m going to rehearse once or twice; I’m going to get an hour in. Rehearsing is just like anything: when you play baseball and you do batting practice, it’s going to make you better. If I had unlimited funds in the spot I’d be rehearsing right now because it’s, honestly, fun. Whether there are 100 or 200 people in crowd or I’m just singing to a wall, I find joy in it. Plus you find out your mistakes. I usually try to take videos so I can pick out what I can do better, it helps with presence, I can hear songs that aren’t meshing together the way they should.
CV: Do you ever get nervous performing?
DSJ: No, I really don’t. It’s funny, I started performing in the city and one of my first shows, it was probably my hardest show, because it was like five people. It was like a rainy city night, a Tuesday, some Chinese place. And honestly, performing in front of 5 people is probably the most nervous I’ve been. Because you really have to keep those 5 people entertained, they’re really watching you. But nerves, no, it’s kind of like adrenaline. I used to play ball, football and baseball, I tried basketball — I was no “white Iverson” and I compare it to game day, to be honest with you, you’ve got to go out and do everything you worked on to excel.
CV: Do you have a game day routine or any good luck charms?
DSJ: Honestly, I just stay lose, I chill. Normally what I’ll do is I’ll take a walk, I’ll put my ‘phones in and I’ll take a walk around the city and listen to my set a few times. You know, I’ll do a little singing here and there and I’ll just chill. It’s really like the night before that I’m stressing, if anything, it’s like alright, we’ve got a show. I’ll make sure I’ve got some clothes that look dope. Luckily I’ve got a girl who’s kind into fashion, you could call her a stylist, she pulls clothes for me — which is kind of nice. And one thing I’ve recently started doing is working with brands which has been really fucking dope, a bunch of different clothing brands, stuff like that, it’s nice to get some free gear here and there. I might get a haircut too, you know, pamper myself a little.
CV: How old were you when you first performed?
DSJ: My first-first show was in New Hampshire when I was like 17 maybe -- I don’t even know the venue or anything.
CV: Did you have to give anything up to live this life?
DSJ: I mean, yeah, what you give up is kind of like — I’m not swimming in money currently, but at the same time, you can’t really put a price on happiness. I don’t really see myself giving up anything, because you know I really believe in the dream. So it’s not really a question of “When will this happen” but more “When will all of this be fulfilled” and it’s slow, it’s a process, you know but I don’t really look at it like a sacrifice. You see people get, and in music it can happen too, people gaining success like that or they want to make it seem like they gained success quickly. Instead of maybe getting a little bit bigger of a paycheck at the moment I’d rather just stay doing what I love and maintaining until we start all thriving, which is, in my eyes, only a matter of time.
CV: Do you ever get frustrated with your music? Writer’s block?
DSJ: No, for me, it’s kind of the opposite. I’m kind of prolific with writing songs, my problem is deciphering what I want to do with them and what I want to put out. So my frustration isn’t with writing it’s with what do I want to give the world, what do I want my message to be perceived as? It’s almost just as stressful because I appreciate every song I write but then it’s like: some songs just don’t have the purpose of getting out and that’s just something you’ve got to just kind of swallow and move on to the next one.
CV: Do you put those songs on your Soundcloud or do you keep them for yourself?
DSJ: Nope. My Soundcloud is very very small for what my library is right now and that is the hardest part. I probably have 150 songs in my catalog right now, unreleased. But pretty soon I’ll be dropping this project which will be 1012 tracks which have been very carefully picked. I also have a team of people behind me being like “nope.” I want to be the guy putting a song out a day on Soundcloud, but they’re like “nope. this is how you attack the game, this is what we have to do.” That’s where the frustration comes, but as you move forward you realize that being precise with your movements and being smart with your hard-ass work does pay off, you just have to be patient.
CV: Is that your advice for someone trying to break into the industry?
DSJ: Yeah, but I feel bad saying it because I’m not even that good at following it. That is my advice but it’s tough to follow. This is the first time I have spent so much time devoted to one project. I had dropped a few projects and they’ve gotten taken down. But those projects, I was just with my “street team” I guess you could say, so I’d be at the mall passing out my mixtapes. It’s a lot different once you try and really start connecting lives. Connecting with blogs, with people like you, and that’s how you get your content really heard, that’s how you get that traction, and once you get that you run with it, take your momentum, do what you’ve got to do. Not to quote my own song. It’s true.
CV: Do you have any musical influences that got you into music or that you feel drive you now?
DSJ: Yeah, hell yeah. Like I would definitely say one of the biggest ones that got me into music was Kid Cudi, I grew up on 112, DMX, that kind of thing, and then obviously Drake is definitely an influence of mine — he kills it, Kanye kills it. More recently, Tori Lane, Bryson Taylor had a dope album. I’m into that newschool R&B type vibe.
CV: So, who are you listening to right now, is it kind of the same crowd?
DSJ: Right now, I’ve been listening to, I’m always kind of listening to a lot — not to sound like that guy, but — a lot of me. But right now I’ve been listening to this Future project Purple Rain a little bit and that Tori Lane project, I like that.
CV: If you could jam with anyone who would you choose?
DSJ: I’d probably want to jam with Travis Scott. I feel like that would probably be the most turnt up session of my life. You know, that’s hopefully in the cards though.
CV: So you have been hinting at this project you’re about to drop…
DSJ: (laughs) Yeah, for now, it’s untitled, but just wait on it. I have a few titles that I’m thinking of but I don’t really know. We’re trying to drop it by March. So it’s 8-10 tracks. and what I’m really trying to do is create a story with these songs that kind of takes you through what I’ve gone through for the last six months to a year which includes trials and tribulations of love and growing pains and not even in a bad way, just growing pains in life. Like I have this song called "Perspective" that’s really just a little bit about my shortcomings, what I’m trying to do to get through the mistakes I’ve made, my perspective on the last year. The goal is really to 1. enjoy the fuck out of it 2. relate to it on some R&B love shit 3. be able to party to it and 4. hopefully two or three of the tracks hit them with some deeper more conscious stuff. So it’s a really well-balanced project. and I kind of like that because a lot of people want you to create a project that’s really one lane, stay the same; if you’re singing just sing, if you’re going to rap — if you rap about weed: rap about weed, you know for me, I really don’t like to make myself one genre that’s really just not me. I like doing it all, I like doing some shit that’s more trap beat, I like doing some shit that’s more throwback, I like doing some shit that’s DJ Mustard. You know, whatever it may be, I generally love all of those different genres so for me to be able to incorporate all of that into one project is dope. and it just goes against a lot of what a lot of people have said and I just think it’s stupid to narrow your music into one lane. I think it’s been proven that you don’t have to do that at this point 2016 where everything is so unpredictable.
CV: Will we be hearing all new tracks?
DSJ: I believe "Penelope Cruz" and "Momentum" will be on it, but other than that it’s all brand new music. I’m excited. I have nothing out yet which is my own production behind it, but on the upcoming project there will be some, so I’m excited about that.
CV: Do you have anything to say to Bucknellians or to your fans?
DSJ: Yeah — you know, keep listening, keep sharing the music, and keep fucking turning up in college, life’s too short.
Image Source: Dylan St. John