Bringing music to life from the studio to the stage can be a challenging make-or-break for many an artist. With so much technology now available to fine-tune releases – and even a genre of music, bedroom pop, named after something that’s confined to four walls – there’s often a mild cynicism that the age of showmanship is behind us. The charge is simply that anyone can be a musician these days.
Watching DanDlion perform a gig in Soho, an hour or so after we sat down for an interview, it’s impossible to deny his performative qualities – and the fact he has a musical acumen to match. He’s not just some bedroom artist who took up a new hobby over lockdown. Dan is steeped in music.
Born into a “musical household”, Dan’s dad was a jazz drummer, and the Reading-born youngster was consequently “actively encouraged to make a racket when I was a kid”. By around the age of 10, Dan got his first guitar and – whilst many of us at such an age could barely tie our shoelaces – he joined a band.
He admits to it in part being an opportunity for him “to be that guy” in school and invite mates down to his gigs. “I had an interest in showing off, basically,” he says.
But in truth, this wasn’t all in the name of vanity, and has developed over time into a genuine passion. Sure, Dan’s cool, for want of a better word. He evidently has an eye for fashion, a stylish gap between two of his teeth like a model, and his words flow into each other, not with an American accent per se, but with the cadence of a laid back Californian. Yet he has the genuine musical ability to be more than just a wannabe.
“Over time, it really turned into a passion for writing and creating music,” he explains. “I moved to London when I was about 19 and transitioned from those local bands I was in back in Reading, into being more of a producer and writer.”
“I was working like three jobs, trying to fit in sessions at the same time; it was great because I had so much energy and was thinking the right things were going to work out. Eventually I started getting into the right rooms and meeting different people.”
It’s in this space that Dan worked on perfecting his craft, not for himself, but for others. And not just anyone in fact. His writing and production credits, carried out nowadays mostly from his Hackney studio, includes work with Little Mix, Tom Grennan and Dermot Kennedy.
It wouldn’t be long, however, until Dan’s desire to be the one in the spotlight would rear its performative head once more.
“I liked taking that role [as a writer and producer] on and that happened for a few years until I realised I wanted to be an artist again; I’d kind of left that in the past, thinking writing was my thing. I honed in on that until I realised, ‘Actually, I’m missing something here, I do want to still be performing’.
“Also, because I write music with other people and I write a lot of music on my own, I’d written this collection of songs which I felt were a bit too personal to take into sessions with other artists. So I thought, ‘I’ve got something to say, let’s do some of this’. And that’s where DanDlion came from.”
As part of building this artistic persona, Dan needed a name. And, like me initially, you might be wondering how such a name as he settled with – pronounced dandelion – came about.
“I definitely wanted something with my actual name in it,” he explains. “I was trying to think of what’s going to be memorable but also describe my introverted and extroverted side. Dandelions are quite a fragile weed, and then a lion of course has that courageous thing.
“I try and project a more extroverted side,” he adds. “But really, I spend most of my time in the studio, so I’m actually quite an introvert.”
“I think it’s okay to be both, you don’t have to be one thing the whole time. Everyone goes through their waves, and I think that’s definitely something I resonate with… The name is just a way of mixing those things together.”
It’s encouraging to hear Dan talk about the rough with the smooth in such an open way. As an artist, he’s all the better for it. Take his 2020 track ‘You Might Need Somebody’, which gently ripples through you with its light piano before building into a track of James Blake-esque heartache.
Such tunes dovetail his more upbeat releases, including ‘Give What You Take’ from his 2019 EP BETTERMAN, and his most recent release, ‘Knock Knock’. Both these tunes bear resemblance to one of Dan’s ultimate inspirations: Jamiroquai.
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“If we’re talking energy and vibe wise, for me, my [musical inspiration’s] always been Jamiroquai. It’s not even necessarily the music I take influence from,” he adds, though, “it’s just the energy – and I especially want to bring that to a live show.”
Certainly, later that evening Dan exuded the kind of exhilaration in his onstage performance of Jay Kay, as he ebbed and grooved between each track, with increasing amounts of sweat for his troubles. As with many a strong performance, though, the seeming effortlessness is actually down to an intense amount of work beforehand.
“I basically put the whole show together on my own. Then the band will come in once I’ve got the whole show ready and I’ll teach them all the parts.”
“I mean, they’re usually pretty good,” he says, sounding like a young Prince. “They’ve usually heard the tracks I’ve sent. But it’s a whole process of fine-tuning bits – because, sometimes, something I’ve got on a record doesn’t sound as good in a live format, so it’s just about making sure everything works.
“I’m a bit of a, I don’t know…,” he pauses. “I love F1 so it’s kind of about working like that: like I want to change that bit, then that bit,” he adds, his arms moving like a conductor.
And to extend Dan’s car imagery (not in reference to Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, though) the greatest lap of all came earlier this year, at the much-loved festival held in his hometown of Reading, where he performed on the BBC Music Introducing stage.
“I mean, to be honest, it was one of those full circle moments because Reading Festival was the first festival I’d been to. I used to imagine playing it one day, so it definitely was a moment for me, and I had a bunch of friends and family down.”
Flexing his musical pals, Dan also brought out Griff onstage, to perform the song ‘Black Hole’, which he did a spacious, funk-laden remix of last year.
“Everything kind of came together at the right time. I didn’t know if I was gonna get any of the crowd down because we were playing at the same time as Megan Thee Stallion. But we had a mad crowd, I had an exceptional time.”
As indeed will you, should you catch DanDlion in a live show. Here’s an artist who’s slowly but surely crafting the art of performance.