Rather than letting his emotions get the best of him, Dylan Dunn writes about them – carefully cutting around the edges of each, then unfolding them like a string of paper dolls on his debut EP, Blue Like You, independently released on December 10.
“I’m dead in the head/Living on the outside/I’ve got lemonade in my eyes,” he sings, shuffling across a foamy, bluesy undercurrent on standout track “Lemonade Eyes.” The song serves as a salve for feelings of “not being alright,” written with a keen awareness of and reliance on emotion rather than specific details. “I thought a good way of tackling the problem would be trying to understand my raw emotions,” says Dunn.
Fortunately, as sad as he is on the record, he doesn’t feel this way often. “When I am feeling that way I like to approach it as something that connects me to others,” he tells Audiofemme. “I want that feeling to be something that makes it possible for me to relate to others, rather than something that isolates me from them.”
Later, “Wave Catcher” stands in sharp contrast, a more languid setpiece that gives even Dunn room to breathe. “Waiting for the one big thing to shock me awake, real or fake/Drowning in a river made of tears now,” he sings, watching said tears turn into “a sea of self-doubt” at his feet.
The muted guitar number encompasses Dunn’s deep self-reflection, and excises emotions that he “used to struggle with a lot more than I do today,” he says. “The song started to come together when I began being more honest with myself about these feelings and wanting to let them out in some way.”
Moments later, the Nashville-born, Memphis-based musician switches gears yet again; “Beautiful Disaster” is a dream, almost a full-on lullaby, swaddled in a lilting folk arrangement. Naturally, his lyrics remain as heart-splitting as ever. “You’re a sheep in wolf’s attire/You keep an x-ray of your heart close by,” he sings in a faint whisper.
It’s hard to imagine another production choice than the enchanted execution of this one, effective as it is in accentuating Dunn’s narrative. The juxtaposition is vital to the magic; at least Dunn thinks so. “The song tells the story of feeling like you failed someone and hoping you can give them closure,” he says. “But to counter this, I wanted the music to be soft and relaxing to create a balance.”
Dunn keeps connective musical tissues throbbing throughout the EP. The five songs feel connected, but only loosely so. Opening track “Such a Freak,” for example, unwraps with tenderness before an EDM-style drop shocks your nervous system. Then, “Hopeless Romantic” feels like a genre-blurring Ed Sheeran b-side. This musical diversity “happened for a reason,” Dunn explains. “Each song describes something different, and they revolve around the feeling of not being okay. Each song approaches it in different ways, so I think it’s only natural that the music would mirror the emotion of each one.”
Dunn’s musical explorations began when he was just four years old, messing around with his mother’s guitar. “When I was little kid, I thought that guitarists strummed with their knuckles; I found out I was wrong. Very wrong,” he recalls. “But once I discovered what a pick was, I’d spend hours playing short songs for fun – and while I’m sure they sounded like random noise to any listeners, I could hear them clearly in my head.”
Obsessed with artists like Queen and Electric Light Orchestra, especially “the way their music swells and subsides,” Dunn brings a similar “rising and falling instrumentality” to his own work. As far as influential guitar grooves and chords go, he’s always been transfixed by Doc Watson’s acoustic plucking style. “When playing blues, I really like to let it flow naturally, and even though my music isn’t blues by nature, I feel that it carries over into my writing from time to time,” Dunn says.
In high school, he performed in several bands and wrote much of the music. “But I never felt like I truly resonated with what I was writing,” he admits. “So I took a step back from the band stuff. I started writing for me, as opposed to writing for others, and that’s when I started writing what would become Blue Like You.”
Produced by Adam Castilla of The Colourist, Blue Like You comes with an ambient afterglow, as Dunn moves from the rhythmic uprooting of “Lemonade Eyes” into the pluckier “Hopeless Romantic.” Or as he crashes from “Wave Catcher” into the startling fragility inside “Beautiful Disaster.” There’s a strength to his melodies; that’s a facet of songwriting where he says he’s shown the most growth “by learning what sounds good and what doesn’t.” He adds, “The past year has been really interesting, and it’s opened me up to quite a few new sounds.”
Blue Like You doesn’t just plant his proverbial flag on the pop scene – it has also served to move him forward as a human being. “[It’s] helped me learn how important self-expression is to me and how it’s okay to take things at your own pace when necessary,” he says.
Follow Dylan Dunn on Instagram for ongoing updates.