Prior to the release of his brand new album The Past (Romanticized), we were gifted the opportunity to talk in depth with long-time songwriter and artist D.K. Lyons. We discuss the new project, his journey so far as a musician, developing guitar skills, the effects of the pandemic, and plenty more. Here’s how it went.
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Hi D.K – thanks for the interview! How have you been keeping this lock-down?
Thanks for having me! Hope you’re staying healthy and safe where you are. So, I’m very much a Type A person, which means I prefer to stay as busy as possible! I’m lucky to have kept my day job, but have been spending the rest of my time consumed in various music-related projects. Developing music videos, turning my mom’s garage into a rehearsal space while I’m away from my Brooklyn apartment, and working on demos. Really grateful to be quarantining with my mom and sister, so lots of amazing family time too.
What can you tell us about the new album – how long has this been in the making, and what does the project mean to you personally?
This album is really the culmination of years of work as most first albums are. I’ve been writing songs in some form or another since I was 5 years old, but it was only in my 20s that I had written enough bad songs to figure out how to write songs to be proud of. And after years of recording in my bedroom, it was in 2018 that I linked up with Steve, my producer, and I recorded 2 songs properly at his studio for the first time, and I was instantly addicted.
I ended up recording an EP that I put out that year, and before I even put it out, started work on my album. So it’s been a long journey, sneaking out of work early every week for 14 months, lots of self-doubt, but I’m really proud of the album that came from it.
What does the term The Past (Romanticized) represent?
I feel like for any artists’ first album, it’s usually a culmination of songs/stories that have been in the works for years. There are songs I wrote when I was 20, and a song or two I wrote in the weeks before recording, but they all sort of had this theme of the past, but the way I write tends to really romanticize these moments. And there’s a line in Long Way Home that goes “Running from a past that I romanticize in my head”, so it really just felt so natural to pluck that moment for the title as it really represents every song on the album.
Your music has something of an Americana or pop rock aura to it – live guitar and drum sound, clean-cut vocals and catchy melodies. Who or what would you say has been your greatest influence creatively?
My greatest influence certainly comes from one of the best, if not the best Americana/pop rock artist in my opinion, Tom Petty. My dad was a massive fan, some of my earliest memories are of riding in his car to the airport he ran, listening to all of Tom’s records. I love his biggest albums like Full Moon Fever and Damn the Torpedoes just as much as lesser ones like Echo and She’s the One, any everything in between. But I also love bands like The 1975, Third Eye Blind and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, so that all kind of plays in to the pop-rock style.
When did you first start writing songs, and in what way does your approach differ on this album to your previous work?
Like I said, I literally started writing song titles down when I was 5 years old and would just sing new words each time I sang them. That progressed to lyrics, and then eventually I taught myself to play guitar and use garage band. I’ve written over 1,500 songs in my life, but I like to say I learned 1,400 ways how to not write a good song. It’s just been about constantly learning, soaking in other artists and how they write, and continuing to refine my approach. And persistence certainly, I remember being 18 and feeling really good about a song that I now cringe at, so getting the opportunity to properly recording my first album now after a lot of additional time honing my craft vs then seems like a blessing in disguise!
The guitar sound is beautiful, particularly on songs like Dance Like Shadows. Is guitar your primary instrument, and are you self-taught?
Thank you! Yup, 100% self-taught. I actually tried and failed to take guitar lessons 3 times before I ended up teaching myself. And while it certainly limits my technical abilities, I really love the kind of guitar sounds I made on this record. It’s cliché to say, but it ultimately just feels like me more than anything else.
What can listeners expect from a live show in the future – full band set-up, solo acoustic?
Well, before this terrible pandemic began, my manager had booked me my first electric gigs in NYC, which were meant to be starting up in June. So I was actually in the studio back in March building backing tracks with the intent of it being myself, a lead guitarist, and then an audio tech. But obviously that’s on pause for the time being for good reason. I really hope that once it’s safe, I’ll be able to bring people together with a live show. And if anything, this quarantine has allowed me to really practice as much as I can and focus on being the best and most engaging live performer I can be once the time comes.
What would be your dream venue or event to perform at, and why?
Great question! Obviously we all want to be playing places like MSG or Fenway Park or the Forum, but honestly, I want to play at the House of Blues in Boston before it’s all said and done. It’s the city I grew up going to the most and a venue that I saw so many great bands at in my teens and college. While I certainly have massive aspirations for my career on one hand and the sobering reality that nothing is guaranteed on the other, House of Blues Boston has always had a special place in my heart.
Which of the songs on this album would you recommend to a new listener who only has time for one, and why?
Another great question…and it kind of depends on the listener. I think there’s a lot of variety on this album, and that’s certainly intentional. In terms of the average music fan, you can’t go wrong with Danger or Shades of Amber for their pop sensibility. But I think Long Way Home is my favorite because the lyrics are certainly my most proud moment of the album.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be, and why?
I think a lot of the power has been taken back by indie bands over the last decade, but I would push for even more diversification. You can always tell when a big label has control over an artist or a product, and to me, no matter how catchy or good the song or artist is, it’s kind of tainted with the smell of orchestrated big business. I’d like to see more artistic control and more genuine collaboration.
The album is beautiful throughout, reminiscent for me of Goo Goo Dolls in many ways. Aside from the familiar traits though, are there any unexpected influences or genres that have impacted your life? Any styles you’d like to experiment with in the future?
Thank you! Their early sound has always been an influence on me for sure. But over the past 5 years or so, The 1975 have become a massive influence on me, and you can certainly hear that influence in Sleep with the Lights On and Danger. And I really respect them because Matty and George have this incredible power to put together an album that touches a dozen genres, none of which you could imagine fitting together, but they make it sound cohesive with Matty’s writing and George’s production. And I aspire for the same. So this album dips the toe in that water where you jump from pop-country to synth pop to bluegrass influenced tracks, but I already plan to push myself to broaden that variety even more with my next record.
What is it about song writing that draws such passion from you?
I’ve always been a writer (influenced by the fact that my mom is a poet/novelist/children’s author). And I’ve started novels and short stories and I work in video production and produced narrative-based ski films in college, but songwriting has always been where I’ve felt the strongest in terms of my voice. And it’s not really a choice either, I can’t shut it off. Since I was 5 years old I’ve felt compelled to write songs, and that drive and passion has only increased in the last few years as I’ve honed the writing, recording, and performing crafts.
If you could sit down to lunch with anyone at all, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
So tough to choose because there are so many, but if he were still alive, it would be Tom Petty, no doubt. Not to get too into detail, but he was actually the most impactful father figure I’ve ever had in my life. I not only idolized him as a musician, but as a person as well, and I learned so much from him about music, life, and the world, even at a fans-distance. And of course, I would want to talk his ear off about his life and music, but mainly I would just want to say thank you for being a north star my entire life.
What can you tell us about the single and video release?
Yes! Danger has already been released as a single with a video and Feels Like Flying has been out since February as a “Teaser” video of sorts, but Shades of Amber just came out on May 15 and the video is out May 22. And we’ve got a video for Sleep with the Lights on that we’ll likely put out around when the album drops on June 26th. I’m just so excited to finally start putting these songs out, promoting them, and hoping people connect with them the way I have.
What’s next for you after the album comes out?
Like I said, I work in video production, and I’ve always loved telling stories from behind the camera, so obviously I love bringing these two worlds together. I actually put out a music video for each of the 5 songs on my 2018 EP, so once I started to plan the music videos for my album, I thought “Fuck it, let’s do the same thing.” So the plan is to release a new music video for each song every month. I’d be making videos for these songs anyways, and it’ll be an interesting way to elongate the promotion once the albums out with new content. And I’m developing a full on visual version of the album, where next year I’ll put out a 50 min movie with all of the music videos in order and then short interlude videos to bridge the gaps between them to hopefully tell a cohesive story. And I know that’s not the typical way music or music content is consumed, but I still love longer form storytelling, so even if it’s just for me, I’m excited to work on bringing it to life.
Is there anything else we should know?
Not for the moment, but I really appreciate all of the thoughtful questions and I’m so glad you enjoyed the album. Again, I’m just excited to put it out, do what I can to promote it, and hope to form a connection with the people who listen.
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