Dylan Gardner Interview
DK: Hello Dylan! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us today! So, how are you doing?
DK: Awesome! Glad to hear it! Now you just played two shows here in Chicago yesterday, one at the Virgin Hotel for an all ages acoustic show and then an over 21 show at Schubas. How did both of those go for you?
DG: They were both great experiences. The Virgin Hotel show was a low-key fun event the hotel put on for fans and guests to come see a stripped down version of my set as well as Emily’s! The band and I wore Keith Haring shirts we picked up in New York under black blazers; we were dressed to impress! Then the Schubas show was one of my favorite shows of all time. The crowd was beautiful and super responsive. They were dancing and singing along and I felt I had a really fun time on stage and played a great show. I’ve never had a bad show in Chicago, and I’m never going to.
DK: Do you have a preference as to the types of shows you play? (full band vs solo acoustic)
DG: I prefer full band because it allows me to jump off of Mark’s drum set. (I’m half joking). Both shows have their perks actually! Some of my songs are served very well in a stripped down acoustic show and some songs have a very theatric performance when they are full out electric! I always love hearing a drum and bass groove behind me so I prefer full band; but a gig’s a gig, and it’s always a fun time!
DK: Seems like (from your instagram) that you’ve both been having a lot of fun. Having been raised here in IL, did you spend some time in or around your old stomping grounds in Plainfield? Do you have any family still here yet?
DG: Actually I did get a chance to visit Plainfield! I woke up in Merrillville, IN one morning on a day off and I realized I was a little over an hour away from where I grew up! So I seized the opportunity and my band (my brother Mark and our best friend Nick Jozwiak) drove out to Plainfield. We stopped at an ancient late night haunt known as the Great Wall of China, which had an eggroll I’ve been dying to eat since I lived there! We then saw old neighbors and I was standing in the parking lot of Oxford Bank, my first gig. Uncanny! I went fishing in the (street famous) lake near my old street and I was the only one that caught a fish. It was about 2am when we decided to head back to the hotel in Indiana; worth it.
DK: It sounds like you had a great time then! How many tours have you been on so far previous to this and where have been some of the more memorable places you’ve played?
DG: My first tour was March of this year where I toured across the United States with Mark and Nick and it was the time of my life. The more memorable places I’ve played so far include the Troubadour in LA, Beat Kitchen in Chicago, Café 939 in Boston, Schubas, and the Crescent Ballroom in AZ.
DK: How was it packing up and going to Arizona? Was that to be your original (permanent) destination before moving to Los Angeles?
DG: It was uplifting because I was looking forward to a new environment and to be close to my friends out there that I met while making my album “Adventures in Real Time”, which was half recorded in LA. I wouldn’t say it was going to be permanent for ME. I would like to see the world before I’d say anywhere is a permanent destination!
DK: Obviously, you were quite a bit younger while you were here in Illinois, but what are some things you find better in Los Angeles than Illinois and vice versa?
DG: Well, no one’s going to argue with me when I say Mexican cuisine is SO much better in Los Angeles than in the Midwest. On that note, pizza is SO much better in Chicago than it is in LA. That’s about all I can fault for these two places (besides weather). Really I think they have a lot in common: amazing people, music lovers, beautiful city, tons of things to do and great appreciation for art. I’d live in both if I could!
DK: Besides the historical aspect of being signed on to Warner Brothers (congratulations on that, by the way), what have been some other aspects that you’ve been happy with now that you’re a “Warner Brother”?
DG: Just the thought of being called a “Warner Brother” motivates me. I grew up watching the cartoon “Animaniacs” where three escaped cartoons who lived in the Warner Bros. tower and went by the name “the Warner Brothers and our sister Dot”, so I’m essentially a cartoon now as far as I’m concerned, and I’m more than okay with that!
DK: You play drums, piano and guitar, which instrument did you start with first and did your dad personally instruct you with any of the instruments?
DG: I started on drums first, as I wanted to be like Ringo Starr and my brother Mark. With every instrument I learned, I went in my room and shut the door and came out months later and then my parents would notice I was a little bit better when they’d open the door! Everyone in my family showed me the ropes a little bit with each instrument though.
DK: Do you plan on picking up any other instruments at any time in the future?
DG: Yes. I never want to stop learning because that’s a waste of a life on Earth. I want to learn how to play trumpet, viola, cello, become a better bass player, become better at every instrument for that matter, and I’d love to learn how to play sitar.
DK: Ambitious! I wish you the best of luck on that, but somehow I think it is safe to say you won’t need it, you’re quite talented and determined and that equals success in my book! How involved are you with your music videos? Do you get involved in any of the direction of how the video should be?
DG: I’m pretty involved in my music videos as I think a visual representation of an artist’s work should involve the artist’s input at first, but once the director has the vision from the info I’ve given them, I just let them run the camera and work their magic and I do all that I can to help their vision as well!
DK: You’ve got a great mixture of past and present happening in your career and by that I mean, you release your material on vinyl and tie it in with digital downloads too. Added to that is the vintage feel/style that you added to that album; making it look like it was released back in the good old days of many of your inspirations. I really appreciate and admire that. Will you keep that same method happening with future releases?
DG: Definitely. Vinyl records are a magical experience for me. Searching, buying, unwrapping, holding, taking out, playing, flipping over, and listening to a vinyl record is an essential part of life for me. In a selfish way, when I see a record didn’t come out on vinyl I almost think it didn’t come out at all (laughs)
DG: As far as flipback and lamination on my records like 60s UK records, it’s my wish to carry that on always, so let’s hope that’s able to happen.
DK: Oh yes, did you do anything special for Record Store Day for your album?
DG: Yes, but not for “Adventures in Real Time”. I like RSD material that is very exclusive, not a reissue of a common album on colored vinyl or something boring. I want something that’s like your favorite band covering a cool song and only releasing it on that format, to reward fans and record shoppers. So with the help of Rockaway Records in Los Angeles, I created a 45rpm tribute to Modern Lovers singer Jonathan Richman with Rockaway owner Gary Johnson on the other side and we pressed a couple hundred copies on yellow vinyl on our one-off label “Out of Your Element” named from the Big Lebowski. We made a secret run off 100 red vinyls signed by Gary and I that we’ll leak out over time muahaha! I’d love to do stuff like this my whole life.
DK: I am also impressed with you in that for someone who has poured over learning every aspect from the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Sam Cooke and so on, that you’ve been incredibly successful in creating something that is true to the influence but not a copy in any way. Was it difficult in any way in writing your material with all you’ve learned or did it just come naturally?
DG: Wow, that is very sweet thank you!! Well, my songwriting’s gone through many phases, but during the writing period for “Adventures in Real Time” I wasn’t aiming for anything or to try to sound like anyone, it was just me. I feel like I found my musical voice there. I’d write down my thoughts or melodies and demo them and there would be no wall between me and my music.
DK: Speaking very generally here, what do you think of music as a whole, do you think we’ll ever run out of fresh music to play and fresh lyrics to write?
DG: Hell no. There’s always a new chapter around the corner. There’s always going to be a new fresh sound. There’s always going to be a voice of a generation. There’s always going to be musical hope, because we’ve only taken a cup from the ocean of possibility.
DK: What is your personal outlook on life and what kind of messages would you like your fans to think about when seeing a lot of the news headlines? How do you stay positive?
DG: My opinion is that it always seems like it’s more and more dire, but you talk to any adult and they’ll tell you the same about their childhood. The country’s constantly changing, and in my opinion for the better. I feel more love than ever is being spread to the humans that need it the most. I’m always optimistic when it comes to the world, because you should be; after all you have the power to help do something about it.
DK: “Adventures in Real Time” came our in 2014 and I know you’ve got TONS more material already written. What is the (expected) timeline of future releases for you?
DG: In my universe, I’d like a record out every 2 years and maybe an EP every other year or something! I don’t know, it all depends on circumstances and where I am musically or in my life.
DK: Do you plan on doing any live albums anytime soon?
DG: When we get a keyboard player on stage, yes. ;)
DK: After your current tour with Emily Kinney ends on June 24th at the Troubadour, what do you have lined up for the rest of this year?
DG: It’s always up in the air, I mean I learned about this tour during the last couple days of my last tour in March! By the time I got home from the first tour, I already had two months scribbled out on the calendar, maybe it will be like that again!
DK: Taking that further, what is your 5 year and 10 year plan for your career? Do you know at this point what you want to see accomplished in that time?
DG: I just want to make great music until I’m physically unable to. I’d like to play all over the globe, and have as much output and fans as I can reach. There’s nothing I don’t want to do. Just look at what the Beatles did in 7 years…or look what Buddy Holly did in 2.
DK: Is there anything more you’d like to share with our readers today?
DG: I’d like to tell you all that you are awesome, and I’m honored to have words I’ve said be in the sight of their eyes, and I hope they enjoy and spread “Adventures in Real Time” and they can look forward to more fun music in the future!
DK: Thank you so much Dylan for taking the time once again and I really look forward to seeing your career explode even more than it has, you truly are an incredibly talent artist and I see a lot of great things in your future! Keep it up!
“This is War” Tour Dates
05/01 Bay Shore, NY YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts
05/03 Cambridge, MA The Sinclair
05/04 New York, NY The Gramercy Theatre
05/08 Philadelphia, PA MilkBoy
05/09 Vienna, VA Jammin’ Java
05/12 Pittsburgh, PA Club Café
05/13 Covington, KY Madison Live
05/14 Louisville, KY Zanzabar
05/17 Chicago, IL Schubas Tavern
05/19 Nashville, TN The Stone Fox
05/20 Decatur, GA Eddie’s Attic
05/21 Decatur, GA Eddie’s Attic
05/22 Birmingham, AL Saturn
05/26 Indianapolis, IN The Hi-Fi
05/27 St. Louis, MO Duck Room at Blueberry Hill
05/28 Rock Island, IL Rozz Tox
05/29 Dubuque, IA Diamond Jo Casino
05/31 Kansas City, MO The Record Bar
06/01 Des Moines, IA Wooly’s
06/02 Lincoln, NE Bourbon Theatre
06/03 Omaha, NE The Waiting Room
06/05 Denver, CO Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
06/08 Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court Gallery
06/11 Spokane, WA The Bartlett
06/12 Seattle, WA Columbia City Theater
06/14 Portland, OR Doug Fir Lounge
06/16 San Francisco, CA Brick & Mortar Music Hall
06/17 Santa Cruz, CA The Catalyst Atrium
06/18 San Luis Obispo, CA SLO Brewing Company
06/24 West Hollywood, CA The Troubadour
Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Dylan Gardner is the kind of inspired artist who comes along rarely, possessing sophistication well beyond his years. His earliest memory, musical or otherwise, is of playing maracas onstage during a performance of “Hang on Sloopy” at the age of four with his dad’s band. Gangly and bespectacled offstage, Dylan is a self-described “music nerd.” He collects classic ’60s rock albums (The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and The Doors are particular favorites). He owns a thousand vinyl records. He can play every Ben Folds song ever written. Squeeze’s Argybargy was on his recent Christmas wish list. He discovered Howlin’ Wolf at the age of 10. He is prone to saying things like, “I cut my teeth playing blues bars in Illinois” and it’s actually true. Did we mention that Dylan is 18?
So when Dylan Gardner signed to Warner Bros. Records in August 2014, on the strength of his independent album Adventures in Real Time and the 2.7 million Spotify plays its lead-off track “Let’s Get Started” had racked up, it was, for any young musician with a sense of history, a dream come true. “I love Warner Brothers with a burning passion,” he says. “Historically, the Warner family is the greatest American label for the kind of music I listen to, everyone from The Everly Brothers to Prince. Oh my god, then there’s The Kinks, Hendrix, The Ramones, The Rezillos, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper, Paul Simon, Van Morrison … it’s insane.”
Before Dylan made Adventures in Real Time, he studied the greats. “I delved into what made The Beatles’ songs so good,” he says. “I delved into what made Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson so good. I delved into what made Sam Cooke so prolific. It was like, ‘I’m going to dissect everything they do. What’s their philosophy? How do they write?’ I still do it. Right now I’m studying the hell out of Del Shannon.”
These days, young artists have an almost uncanny ability to draw from the past in their music because the past is so freely available through the Internet. In the wrong hands, that knowledge can be abused. However, in the right hands, like Dylan’s, it can be truly inspiring. On Adventures In Real Time, he shows how it’s possible to transcend your influences to create something that’s truly your own. His songs burst with fresh-faced energy — all unbridled passion, high-spirited melodies, and a musical eclecticism borne out of love for his pop-rock predecessors. In a sense, he is fulfilling his destiny. It was unlikely that this kid was going to grow up to be anything other than a musician. “I always wanted to be a musician, I just didn’t think it was possible,” he says. “I remember, when I was nine, telling my friends, ‘Yeah, I’ll probably have to be an architect.’”
Dylan was born in Aurora, Illinois, and raised in Plainfield until his family moved to Arizona in 2010 (They now live in Los Angeles). His father, Mark Gardner, owns a music store in Naperville, Illinois, that sells and rents instruments and provides lessons to locals, and was also the bassist in ’80s power-pop band The Kind. Dylan started out playing drums, like his older brother Mark (who plays drums on Adventures in Real Time), then picked up piano until the whole “‘sitting up straight” thing got boring, and eventually took up guitar because of Jimmy Page. “I had a T-shirt that said ‘Jimmy Page Changed My Life,’” he says. Then when Dylan was 14, he discovered Ben Folds and didn’t get up from the piano stool for a year. (Ask him what his favorite Folds song is if you really want to make his head explode. “I can’t pick just one,” he moans.)
After the family moved to Arizona, Dylan built a studio in his bedroom (laptop, Pro Tools rig, MIDI keyboard, drum programming machine), put all his clothes in his parents’ room, and turned his closet into a vocal booth. He even moved in an upright Baldwin piano that he got at a Goodwill store for $40. “I talked them down from $80,” he says. “Someone had covered the ‘Baldwin’ logo with a sticker, so they didn’t know what they had.”
He wrote 100 songs and handed them over to his manager, who said, “There’s an album in here somewhere.” Dylan kept writing and by September 2012, had demoed the songs that would eventually appear on Adventures in Real Time. Dylan’s manager sent the track “I Think I’m Falling For Something” to John Dragonetti (The Submarines, Jack Drag), who added bass, drums, and additional sonic texture, and sent it back. Impressed, Dylan enlisted Dragonetti to co-produce. (Dylan, not at all surprisingly, pored over the techniques detailed in Brian Kehew’s 500-page tome Recording The Beatles, before the process began.)
The songs on Adventures in Real Time are about Dylan’s dreams, goals, and aspirations — “this big vision of how great life can be,” as he puts it. One thing Dylan always knew was that “Let’s Get Started” had to be the opening track. “It’s me saying ‘Let’s get going, let’s do this. I’ve been writing songs in my bedroom. I’m ready.’ I wanted it to be my first hello to everyone who listens to my music.”
Last year, Dylan put “Let’s Get Started” on Spotify, which included it on a popular playlist called “Smart Is The New Sexy.” Suddenly, the track caught fire. “I was at Panda Express and I decided to check my Spotify,” Dylan recalls. “This was a few weeks after it came out. ‘Let’s Get Started’ had 80,000 plays. I started watching it like a hawk. It was going up 20,000 plays every day. Then it hit a million. Then it hit two million. It’s about to hit three million.”
It’s hard to predict where Dylan’s talent will take him next. (He will hit the road for a West and East Coast tour in early 2015.) In April, he posted a YouTube video of himself performing snippets from every track on Side Two of Abbey Road on different instruments, under the hashtag “DylanBrokeUpTheBeatles,” which attracted a host of positive comments. One woman summed it up perfectly when she said: “This kid has joy in his voice.”