Dylan Saunders of Team StarKid spoke to Hypable about his upcoming solo album Confluence – and he gave us a brand new track to premiere! Read our exclusive interview with Dylan and hear his new song below.
Dylan Saunders is a performer with many strings to his bow. He’s toured internationally as a vocal performer with critically acclaimed rapper George Watsky, starred in multiple web series and traditional theatre productions, and, last year, made his network TV debut in NBC’s Chicago Fire. Of course, he’s best beloved as a founding member of Team StarKid and does much of their heavy lifting – you’ll know him as our beloved Dumbledore, the sweet and ridiculous Tootsie Noodles and, most recently, as the misunderstood Jafar – but now, he’s leaving the theatrics behind for a little while and re-introducing you to himself on Confluence, his first studio album as a solo artist.
Confluence, to be released on September 30, is the product of over 18 months hard work. In April 2013, Dylan launched a Kickstarter for the project, which quickly overshot its funding goal, raising a total of over $50,000. Dylan’s ongoing aim with Confluence was to bring together a variety of musicians to create an album driven not only by powerful vocals and a distinctive soul backbone, but by a sense of collaboration and community rarely seen – or at least openly discussed and appreciated- in the work of someone who is nominally releasing a solo album.
We spoke to Dylan about his upcoming debut – and, no big deal or anything, he also granted us the chance to hear the record and premiere an unheard track in advance of next week’s release date.
What does ‘Confluence’ mean to you?
Dylan Saunders: A confluence is the place where several bodies of water join to become one. That was the main inspiration for the entire project. I always wanted my first record to focus on collaboration. I work better when I’m inspired by other artists rather than just sitting alone by myself. I come from a vocal background, so that idea of “coming together” was not only important to me but necessary, and really reflective of how I wanted to execute the record.
The word “confluence” also means a meeting or gathering place. As soon as we decided to finance the project through Kickstarter, that idea of having many pieces flowing together became even clearer. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my collaborators and supporters. My entire life since college has been shaped by these relationships, so to be able to bring them together into one massive music project seemed like an amazing way to harness everyone’s creativity. The more I dreamed about it, the more I was able to tell stories that were important to me.
Tell us about the writing process with all your collaborators. Did you have writing sessions with all of them? Which songs have the most you in them?
DS: The writing process was a massive collaboration. My lead producer Tomek Miernowski had a hand in every song on the record. To say Tomek is multi-talented doesn’t begin to cover it. It was easy to place my trust in him because aside from his fluency and understanding of all aspects of music, we were on the same page about what we wanted the record to feel like from the beginning, and the kinds of stories we wanted to tell. He is a brother — I saw Tomek more this past year than my actual family. He has an undeniable energy and talent, and I hope I get to keep working with him.
One of the first songs we completed last year was “No Pressure,” which started with an idea that Joey Dosik (another University of Michigan graduate, I’ve been a fan of his music ever since I finished school) had about going back in time. If you had the ability to go back to your youth, and knowing what you know now, what lessons would you want to tell your past self? That was a springboard for a lot of what exists on the album now. Tomek and I spent ten days writing in New York with Theo Katzman, another huge musical inspiration. We met with Aaron Lee Tasjan and James Williams, whose styles greatly influenced the final product, and who guided the record in an amazing way.
Aaron and I spent a few days writing “No Easy Way,” which was a song inspired by the death of a childhood friend. It was very cathartic. I got to explore artistically in a way I’ve never been able to before. The energy in the room was beautiful. Everyone banded together to make something really great. I didn’t experience any airs that I’m sometimes used to seeing in my work as an actor, the focus was just on creating. Clark Baxtresser brought so much heart and soul with “Nothing Better.” Clark is another renaissance man, and I’m so grateful for what he brought as a writer, musician, and friend. The song is so insanely cool. Jonah Smith helped write “Shining Bright,” which to me is the spine of the project in more ways than one.
We first heard about ‘Confluence’ about 18 months ago when you launched the Kickstarter for making a solo album, which raised over $50,000 from fans. What has that experience been like?
DS: The record wouldn’t exist without the devotion of the Kickstarter backers, many of whom I got to know over the course of the past year. The process of crowd-funding is daunting, since you never really know what the response is going to be. But harnessing all that support meant that we were able to make something that was uniquely ours.
I’ve contributed to multiple Kickstarter campaigns, and I always find it really fun to be a small part of a project’s success and evolution. One of the most beautiful moments of the past year was going through the list of backers, and seeing so many familiar names — people who I’ve known forever, and people who I’ve only gotten to know recently. It’s a wild feeling seeing that kind of support. I feel so insanely grateful. It’s indescribable to have that much love come your way, solely for the purposes of making art.
The album mostly has the pop/soul vibe that you initially stated was your aim, but it also has a lot of variety in terms of genre – everything from a little bit country to coffee-house acoustic to a sort of music hall knees-up round the piano tune… Did any particular track take you by surprise in terms of how it ended up turning out?
DS: I think “Nothing to Do Here But Live” was one of the most fun songs to watch evolve. I originally saw it as pretty mellow acoustic track that built and built, but Brian Mitchell’s piano and electrone playing gave it a suped up Paul McCartney feel. As soon as we found that energy, we kept wanting to explore it further. The process was very organic, so I felt fine allowing the genres that I was initially drawn to to shift slowly. I didn’t want to marry myself to one style, or one way of working.
On page 2: Hear about Dylan’s recording process and future tour plans, and we’ve got the exclusive first play of a new ‘Confluence’ song!
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