Chicago – Not too long ago, Best New Bands discovered the immensely talented Dylan Gardner. The Arizona teenager had become a bit of an internet sensation, sharing his songs and videos on sites like YouTube and Spotify, where his self-recorded album Adventures in Real Time racked up 2.7 million Spotify plays with its lead single “Let’s Get Started.” Gardner soon gained the attention of Warner Bros. Records, and after signing with the label, he re-released the album, which featured irresistible pop songs like “Too Afraid To Love You” and “Invincible.” Back in January of 2015, we chatted with the then 18 year-old singer-songwriter about his debut album Adventures in Real Time, growing up in Chicago, his love for vinyl, and how amazing it was to be living out his dream of being a working musician. In our interview, Dylan Gardner said:
Since I could remember, I always wanted to be a musician, but I never thought it was actually a possible career. People would come to my school and talk about careers during career day, but no one was ever a musician, you know. It’s hard to explain to a kid that it’s really hard [to be a working musician], but I’d say once I started performing in front of people, I realized that was the best feeling that I’d ever got! I said to myself, “I really don’t care how hard it is or how long it takes or how financially rewarding it is or not, it’s the only thing I want to do. There’s no fall back or anything!”
It’s safe to say his dream has been fulfilled and then some because since our 2015 interview, Dylan Gardner has turned 20, toured across the United States, and moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California, where he’s been hard at work on his sophomore album.
Gardner confessed to Best New Bands that he’s “really proud of this [sophomore] album,” which contains “one of [his] favorite songs ever written.” FYI: it’ll be the last track on his not yet titled second LP. He’s also “excited to tour this album.” We too are excited about that, so in anticipation of his upcoming tour and forthcoming album, Best New Bands caught up with Dylan. We discussed the making of his sophomore album, living in California, and of course we talked vinyl.
Man, we haven’t spoken since the start of 2015, which seems like forever ago. What have you been up to the past year and a half?
Since I put out my first album, Adventures in Real Time, I went on – I must’ve played a hundred shows with my brother and my friend on bass. We toured the country, and I got to see so much. When we got back, I started working on my second album, which I just finished.
Let’s talk about that second album! Is there anything in particular that inspired it? Is there a theme?
Well, I never really stopped writing since finishing the first album, and what I realized about this second album is I was growing more in touch with myself and my feelings and what I was going through; and then putting that into song, to the point where I’d be scared or embarrassed about lines because they’re so revealing. I feel really good about that, and I’d say looking at this album – well, I think the theme of whatever album I make will center around whatever I’m going through at the time – but I think this album, to me themes [surround] the last years of being a teenager, eighteen and nineteen. I just turned twenty. I think this album is about the last hoorah of being a teenager and dealing with that, the change of growing; I’d say a lot of the songs are about that world and my dreams and aspirations.
I was wondering that because I knew it’s been some time and was thinking you were probably in your twenties by now. And are you living in California or in Arizona?
I’m in California now! I actually moved to California in 2014, when the album came out, to be near everybody and where the action is.
How has living in California affected you and this album?
There were many moments in making this album I was really happy I lived in California… The people here are incredible. I really have a lot of great friends here, and everyone here that I know is such a great a musician! They have opened my eyes and taught me a lot about music and where to go with certain chords. I’m inspired living out here. And really, just the quality of life is really great! The food and the records! If I’m moving to a town, the food and the records have to be A++! It’s pretty fantastic. Although, over the summer, I’ve been going back to Arizona to see my friends. I just had a blast there. I really have several homes. [laughs]
Your debut album was mostly written and recorded in your bedroom. Are you still working in your DIY home studio or have you fully graduated to a bigger space, for your sophomore album?
We did a blend. I’d say Adventures in Real Time is leaning heavier on me doing stuff in my bedroom. On this album, I’m working with a co-producer named Matt Radosevich, aka Matt Rad. Matt has a studio in Atwater… we track a bunch of stuff there, but kind of like my first album, we would take a bunch of stuff home, and I would literally throw everything I could on it. As years have passed, I’ve learned more about EQ and compression and just really how to plug stuff in and get what I want. I’d get better tones… I’d take those in, and we’d work on those. Then I’d take them home and work on them again. I think my home [studio] was used more as a tool to be free and creative more than it was for recording… but there’s still a ton of home on this record, for sure! [laughs]
I did see on Facebook that you were at Sunset Sound, with a string ensemble, which got me very excited! What’s going on with that?
Oh man! I’m so glad you asked about that because that’s one of the best moments of my life – that could be the best day of my life! Getting to make this album and being on Warner Bros. while making this album, has been great. This album doesn’t exactly have a shoestring budget like the first one did. In my insane, creative head, I wanted to make the album that I wanted to make, and on two songs, I heard live strings. I love strings so much! I really got into strings from George Martin’s arrangements on Beatles songs. I thought these songs would be fantastic to have string arrangements, and Warner Bros. was like, “A-okay!” I was like, “Awesome, this is the best day of my life!” It really has been a dream of mine to have a string arrangement play on something I do, and fulfilling another childhood dream of mine, we got to have Roger Joseph Manning Jr. from the band Jellyfish – which is a really awesome band – do string arrangements on two songs. He just knocked it out of the park! It’s so beautiful! I was sitting there in Sunset Sound, which has so much history – you know, The Beach Boys, Prince, The Rolling Stones – and I’m just sitting there watching these string arrangements with tears in my eyes. I loved it so much!
I can’t wait to hear them! It’s funny you mention The Beatles because as I was checking that out, I remembered you are such a big fan of The Beatles, and it had to be pulling from there a little bit.
You’re a lover a vinyl, so I must ask if you’re planning to release your sophomore album on vinyl?
Definitely! I really hope there is no universe in which I do not release this album on vinyl. Obviously, I want to make sure the packaging looks great too because I care about the quality of sound and the pictures. I’m already unbelievably blessed to have two releases out on vinyl: my first album [Adventures in Real Time] and my Record Store Day 45. Just getting to hold those two in my hands – the five year-old in me is just constantly crying. [laughs]
I just saw your Record Store Day performances on YouTube, where you were going around store to store, and it reminded me of our first interview, when I asked you what some of your recent vinyl scores were. So again I am going to ask what some of your recent vinyl purchases are that you absolutely love?
I just went to Rockaway Records – that’s my favorite record store – and I scored a bunch of original U.K. Beatles singles. I got “I Feel Fine,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” – which is my favorite song ever. I got some American singles with some really awesome sleeves: “Paperback Writer” and “Rain,” which is one of my favorite B-sides. Ugh, so great! I got say when it comes to recent scores, I’ve been going on Craigslist. People who are buying and selling in the record section, I actually go their houses and cherry pick for stuff I like. The last one I did that for – well, I’m really obsessed with Brazilian music right now, like Tropicália, a movement from the late 60s and early 70s. There’s this band called Os Mutantes, which is incredible, super fun, and psychedelic. This guy had a CD of the album I’m obsessed with – the first album by the band – signed by the band. Which absolutely blew my band. I’m still ripping over the happiness of scoring that. I never buy CDs actually. That’s one of the only CDs I own. I did pick up this amazing, amazing album by The Soft Boys. It’s a band started by Robyn Hitchcock, who is becoming one of my favorite songwriters. That album was my last obsession record. I was literally going insane because I couldn’t listen to anything else but that! [laughs] The album is Underwater Moonlight.
Stay tuned for more information regarding Dylan Gardner’s sophomore album by following him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you too love vinyl, click HERE to snag your own flipback copy of Adventures in Real Time. The album can also be purchased on iTunes for all you digital dogs.
Photos of Dylan Gardner by Jeri Heiden.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.