WORDS RACHEL EDWARDS - PHOTOGRAPHY EVA PENTEL
Dylan Fraser is the Scottish singer songwriter balancing underground beats with vulnerable vocals. With the release of his new EP ‘The World Isn't Big When You Know How It Works’ (and a list of tour dates longer than Rishi Sunak’s expenses) the world is on the 20 year old’s doorstep. And at the moment his doorstep is in his family home in Bathgate - a small town with a slow pace that keeps him grounded and gave him the space to develop his style.
His easy-going nature is juxtaposed with an insatiable drive and whilst most 3 year olds are picking their nose in the playground, Dylan was already adamant that he’d be a musician - something that he hasn't questioned since. Dropping out of school after feeling like a misfit, starting his own social media business and taking a leap of faith into the world of music whilst kipping on friends’ couches in London, his life has Hollywood movie written all over it. We caught up with the singer to talk folk-music, face tattoos and the launch of his new EP!
Rachel Edwards: Hi Dylan! Thanks for chatting to me this morning - are you a morning person?
Dylan Fraser: (Laughs) You know what, if I have something to do in the schedule then I’m a morning person! I’m definitely late to stuff and I’m always usually on time...
R.E: (Laughs) Always usually! I love that. Congratulations on your new EP! What can fans expect when it’s released?
D.F: I think it’s definitely different sonics and sounds from my first EP but I’ve grown so much since my first project. On the first EP I was figuring everything out and experimenting and this time we didn’t go in with a plan but it still feels cohesive and we made sure we were choosing exactly what we wanted. There are more chilled, stripped back moments that we haven’t really done yet.
R.E: I was listening to your previous single Gucci Sweater which is a lot more stripped back, with a lot of emotion. What’s that one about?
D.F: So that one’s about materialism, inspired by someone that I used to know who got a little bit more successful in their career and started posting flashy shit on Instagram. It just felt a bit pretentious. The song is about society as a whole and how we idolise luxury and wealth as if it makes one person better than another - if someone has more money or Instagram followers then they’re on a level up. It’s so far from the truth - that’s why I wrote the lyric ‘you can still cry in that Gucci Sweater’.
R.E: It’s true - I think there will be a massive backlash in ten years time against social media and designer clothes as a ‘status symbol’.
D.F: Yes! We’ll all have to wear the same clothes, same colour...
R.E: (Laughs) A ‘universal uniform’! That could be your next song… So you actually dropped out of college and decided to do your own thing - tell me about this.
D.F: Yeah, I left school when I was 15 because I just wasn’t very good at it. I was good at art, music and english but I just didn’t have loads of friends at school or find people I connected with so it wasn’t the place for me. So I decided to leave and I studied music at college in Edinburgh. I grew up with loads of friends on the internet, I had loads of friends online and I had different instagram pages. I remember when I was 12 I had this edits page on Instagram with 10,000 followers and I was like wow this is so cool!
R.E: Hold on, edits of what? Of pictures?
D.F: Yeah so I was really into photography and fine art photography and I always loved people on Instagram who’d make these surreal worlds using photos of themselves so I started to go out and take these photos of myself in fields and shit and edit them. And I think to be honest that’s where my inspiration comes from. I always loved to make art and artwork and you can see that today. I was in college and I’d started my own marketing social media company…
R.E: Wow you started your own company?
D.F: That’s why I dropped out of college! My main goal was to get into music and even when I was doing my social media marketing stuff my main goal was to be in music. My family couldn’t afford to send me down to London and do it that way so once I was 16 and I was making money I dropped out and used that money to get down to London to start making music.
R.E: Would you come to London with any kind of plan or would you just turn up and try to meet people?
D.F: Yeah I would come down for a few days and I started meeting people. Then I started crashing on people’s couches because basically one of the first times I went down I didn't realise you had to be 18 to stay in a hotel. I got refused from a hotel and it was like 10pm and I didn’t really know anyone in London… I knew one producer who lives in London with his wife and they very kindly let me stay for my trip so then I started networking and meeting people and friends would let me crash on their couch and I took it from there.
R.E: Wow! Do you believe in luck or fate? Hitting you with the big ones at 11am on a Monday!
D.F: (Laughs) Good question. I definitely believe more in fate than I do in luck. Everyone says you have to have a bit of luck but to be honest is it ever luck or is it just that you’ve worked to that point and that opportunity has come up? Maybe it isn't luck, maybe you just work for it or it was meant to happen. I do believe in fate though because genuinely since I was 3 years old I've always known I wanted to do music as a career and I’ve never had that ‘one week I want to be a fireman and the next week I want to be this…’ I didn’t have that in high school either!
R.E: That's so unusual isn't it? Are your family musical as well?
D.F: My mum is because she used to play in bands with her friends in high school. She had an acoustic guitar that she handed down to me and taught me my first four guitar chords! And her mum and dad used to play in a folk band together with their friends in the local area.
R.E: Talking to you you don’t come across as being young but you did start in the industry at a young age and you’ve done a lot for your age. Do you feel like you ever have to fight to be heard or like you’re treated as being young?
D.F: I’ve definitely had moments and experiences where I’ve been like ‘really…?’. It’s just stuff as if you don’t know what you're doing or talking about but I think I’ve always had a strong vision of what I did want so when I was doing meetings with industry people I just went in and I was like ‘you know what, I’ve not always been confident in my life but I’m very confident in the music that I create and what I want from life’. So to be honest I didn’t let them think ‘oh he's just a young kid’ cos I always had my shit together.
R.E: Yeah when you show this from the start it’s hard for anyone to put you in a box.
D.F: My team has been so supportive of all of my ideas and the crazy shit I want to do so that's been really great as well! They just trust the vision and what I want.
R.E: And you have a lot of control over your music videos don’t you?
D.F: I am heavily involved in all of the visuals! I didn’t co-direct the recent video but I had the initial idea and I gave it to this amazing director Joseph DeLaney and he imagined it and brought it to life. But with all the artwork and visuals I work with my creative director Daisy King and this CGI guy and I just bring all these concepts and ideas and I’m like ‘I wanna be doing this, I want to fall down a black hole in my next video’ and they’re like ‘sure let’s do it’. I could be like ‘I want flying pigs coming out of my nose and they’d be like ‘yep, down’.
R.E: (Laughs) That’s not a bad idea actually, I want to see that! Do you still live in Scotland?
D.F: I do, I’m still in my family home. Recently I’ve been in London a lot more than I’ve been at home. I’m still based here which is nice because as much as I love London it can get very chaotic sometimes and it never stops! Whereas my home town does stop at weekends or at night, it feels like it slows down. It’s nice to have that slower pace.
R.E: I totally get that, London has so many distractions. Just waiting to pull you away from what you’re trying to do! Or you’re just commuting half the time.
D.F: Yeah there’s always a party or a night out so you end up getting sucked down and feeling really tired after.
R.E: Exactly! Do you think being Scottish influences your songwriting?
D.F: I think so! Maybe one thing I always say is coming from a small town and being quite introverted gave me a lot of time to sit with myself so I think that's one thing. Scotland gave me that space that I needed to figure out what it is that I wanted to say. I think there's a long history of folk writing and celtic music in Scotland and I think words and songwriting are a big Scottish thing so I guess there's bits of that that influence my music.
R.E: I was listening to ‘face tattoo’ - would you ever get a face tattoo?
D.F: (Laughs) I don’t think I would!
R.E: This is false advertising!
D.F: I know, I really love them and other people look sick with them - just don't think I’m cool or edgy enough to pull it off.
R.E: And what's one thing you didn't expect before entering the industry?
D.F: I didn't expect to get all of the love and support so quickly from people which has been really really nice, I’m super grateful. And also how fucking long it takes to get music over the line and release it. It takes so long! The songs that I'm releasing now I wrote early 2020 and during the first lockdown so it's been over a year. It takes so long because when I was releasing my first project I was writing my second project so I had to wait to release the first one and then release the second one… and now I've got my third one basically! It takes so long!
R.E: Who do you listen to at the moment?
D.F: In the last 24 hours my most listened to is this band called ‘Lump’ which has Laura Marling and this guy called Mike Lindsay in it. I hadn't heard them before but I just discovered them and I love them! The artists that you will find in my top listened to would be Radiohead, Lorde, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, a bunch of stuff! I also love Tyler the Creator and Kanye West which is the complete opposite… It’s a clusterfuck of different sounds. Really chilled folk to intense electronic.
R.E: Is there anywhere in the world you’d love to play live?
D.F: I think I’d say Madison Square Garden in New York because it's such an iconic venue. It has an energy around it that I can't explain, I’d love to support someone there or play there.
R.E: What song are you most excited about for the new release?
D.F: This changes on a daily basis! I would say ‘Nightmare’ cos it's my favorite one but unreleased would be this song called ‘Mantlepiece’ which is going to be the opener track on the tracklist. It has this explosive moment, the lyrics are very real and raw and emotional and so I’d say that one right now…
R.E: As you progress do you find it easier to sing about your emotions or have you always been in touch with your emotions?
D.F: I’ve not always been super in touch with my emotions and I think that's why I started songwriting. I wasn’t good at showing how I feel to people in my life so I kind of gravitated towards songwriting because it was more comfortable and something I could keep for myself. So I think that's originally what got me into songwriting but now I've grown in the last few years and I’m more open about my struggles with anxiety and depression. My family is really supportive. I’ve had a therapist as of last year - I love therapy, I think it's one of the best things that anyone can do. And I think to be honest the whole conversation around mental health and emotions has changed so much, especially in the last year. I think it's a much safer and more comfortable environment for people to voice how they feel, which I think is really good.
R.E: I agree, I think one of the good things about social media is that it encourages people who maybe wouldn't feel as confident to speak out about in person to at least share something that other people can relate to. So it's really nice that through your lyrics you can inspire a lot of men to see that it's nothing to be ashamed of, things like having panic attacks which you sing about. Only through speaking about mental health can society start to normalise these things.
D.F: For sure, I think it can feel so much better when you can voice your anxieties and stuff to other people as well. Therapy for me is such a release because I can talk to someone and they don't really know me that well and I don't know them that well. And you can just get all this shit out and it feels like such a weight off your shoulders. I hope that it allows more and more people to feel comfortable to voice how they feel. It's such a normal thing and somehow we make it such a taboo.
R.E: When you think of our grandparents generation who didn’t even have words to describe mental health issues, it’s already progressed a lot since then. It’s a very British thing though isn't it? Just suck it up and you'll be fine. Or the Scottish way of just laughing at everything, our coping mechanism is to make jokes all the time.
D.F: (Laughs) Exactly, which is really good but really bad at the same time...
R.E: Yeah! So do you have any big goals for the future?
D.F: In the near future I'm just really excited to be playing live shows. I had my first live show - stripped back set for Holly Humberstone last week which was so sick.
R.E: Were you nervous before?
D.F: I was shitting it! It was so scary. But her fans and her audience were so lovely and welcoming and now I’ve got the bug to keep going! So I'm really excited, I've got a couple of festivals coming up, I’m going on tour with Inhaler later in the year which I'm really excited about! Im very excited to release my third project which is my favourite music I've ever worked on. And hopefully in the near future to do my own headline show!
R.E: I can’t wait to see this! Thanks so much for talking to me!