Interview With Canadian Singer-Songwriter Dylan Menzie
In a telephone conversation, I talked to Dylan Menzie about his fresh approach to songwriting, unique vocal range, and agile guitar playing abilities.
One early influence on Dylan’s choice to take the musical path was the Roald Dahl story James and the Giant Peach. He says, "The grasshopper in that story played the violin which inspired me to pick up the violin first at a young age. I did that for a few years and as I got older I got more into playing drums.
"At my house," he continues, "there were instruments all over the place so you could try anything that you wanted to pick up. After that, I got into playing the trumpet and piano. I just thought to myself one day that I want to love what I do with my life, so I decided that music was what I wanted to do."
He pulls much of his material from direct personal experience. In his view, this creates a richer story in his songs. Dylan writes about everything from social changes that he observes to a party he might have attended. He also says, "I'm starting to write about more esoteric subjects and talk about collective experiences rather than just my personal experiences."
Dylan's song-writing process starts with ideas sparking off in his mind. He says, "I'll churn out as many lyrics as I can while that inspiration is there and go back to it later. I often hear the full production in my head while I'm writing the song. I try to hear what the whole production will sound like after it’s done."
He has developed a unique way to work on his songs. Dylan elaborates, "First of all I write the lyrics. After that, I take everything that I've written to the piano and slow the tempo right down. I'll sing it out as slow as the tempo can go and see if the lyrics hold up in that state. There's basically no instrumentation, it's just the melody and the lyrics. If the song holds up at that point, I'll take it to the band and see if we can take it further from there. It can also stay like a ballad if that's how it works out."
He adds, "We build the song piece by piece. We'll do drums and the bass and then a melody. I'll take the guitar or the piano right out of it and see if it holds up as a vocal melody with just the drums and the bass. If it works, we can add all the textures and synth parts on top of that."
The main challenge that Dylan has faced in his career is overcoming his own introspective nature. He says. "Like any other business, it's all about connections. In the beginning, it was a daunting task to go up to industry people and talk to them. I got the feeling that they didn't want to talk to some 18 year old who was just starting out. It's still a challenge because I'm kind of a shut-in person when I'm offstage. I'm not the social type so it's definitely a challenge for me to branch out and be open."
The independent music scene is something for which he has a great deal of praise. Dylan says, "Everyone is so supportive. It's a healthy community and people like to help each other and participate in events and shows. There's not a whole lot of people that I've met on the road or at conferences who I don't like. It's been really fun to get to know all of these different people."
The theme of Dylan's sophomore album Adolescent Nature emerged after he’d written the songs and taken them into the studio. He points out, "At the end of the recording process,I was looking through the songs and thinking about what linked all of them together. All of the songs were rooted around adolescent life. They’re about trying to figure out who you are, where you want to go and the change in society's attitude about that process."
He continues, "A lot of people now wait for their mid-30's to start having kids whereas 40 years ago, they'd start having kids in their early 20s. The song Kenya, for example, is about finding yourself before you start to settle down."
His future career path is something to which Dylan is quite open. He says, "I’m pretty open to where my career is going. Ideally I'd love to play huge festivals around the world. It's so much fun to be able to travel the world and do what I love. I want to do more of that."
Finding inspiration isn't something for which he has to struggle. Dylan says, "For example, I was toying with the idea of objects having souls and I just so happened to be listening to a podcast on the Shinto religion and the concept of animism in it. I think my next album will explore the fact that we know these things don't have souls but it feels like they do."
Ultimately he says, "It's hard to nail down a direct inspiration or a direct influence because it does come from anywhere or anything. You never really know when the inspiration will come, it just does!"