Settled near open windows in a vegan café, aptly named Avocado Garden, with a piping hot flat white as comfort against the draft, I listen through Scottish singer Dylan Fraser’s upcoming EP The Storm while waiting for his shoot with photographer Bex Aston to wrap. Caught in daydreams, I lose track of time, space and get a slight fright when someone exclaims ‘Hi Hedvig’ from behind. With physical greetings now frowned upon, I commit to a sweet, trusty wave. He responds cheerfully and sits down on the seat in front of me. With an accessible sense of humour, I immediately take a liking to his character. I’ve missed having these conversations in person.
With an unexpected sound that effortlessly transcends genres, the 19-year-old Scot has the future of music figured out. Mixing folk, electronic, R&B, rock and so on, Dylan sports a borderless musical range that colours outside the lines. “I think genre is almost dying out a bit,” he says, content without the restraints of boxes and labels. Soon to be released, The Storm is a mature debut with lyrics tackling social issues and mental health and encouraging self-reflection. Through a collection of songs that recognises and reckons with personal trials, Dylan proves age is just a number. His authentic storytelling is a welcome addition to our lives as we crave someone to relate to after having spared too much time for the storms in our head during lockdown.
In Blackheath, a quaint neighbourhood in South East London, our team meets a burgeoning musician. In a preppy knit vest, Dylan meets autumn’s crisp, wet climate in a carefully curated expression. Stylist Toni Caroline keeps it minimal but never plain. Lingering on the day’s impressions, photographer Bex Aston captures Dylan and his occasionally stormy headspace in moments to remember. Dylan and I dwell on his sound and the journey he took to get there. He reveals a newfound confidence after a prolonged period of uncertainty. We find common ground in overthinking life and worrying about what other people might think. Admittedly, overthinking each and everything is inhibiting, but we conclude that there is value in taking time to mull things over.
Dylan Fraser debut EP The Storm releases 23rd October.
Taking a moment to consider this turbulent year, have you had any positive experiences during this time?
In the beginning, it wasn't super positive. Then in March, literally a couple of days after signing my record, we went into lockdown. I felt a bit down as I was sitting in my bedroom in Scotland. Even though it was a really weird and confusing time for me, it gave me the time to think about things and plan with the team and the label how I wanted everything to look. Lockdown was, in fact, super inspiring. Once I got past the negativity, there was a lot to write about. I appreciated the time I had to collect my thoughts and get ready.
How do you think this time has affected your music and writing?
Like I said before, it gave me a lot of time to think. I've always put much thought into lyrics, but I think even more so now. What do these lyrics mean to me? What is this concept? I've had so much time in my room now because we've been in lockdown for the past however many months. I've been playing my guitar and piano and listening to a lot of music as well. I think I'm going to notice a change in my writing and sound just from all the new music I discovered during lockdown.
You effortlessly blend a lot of different genres. There are hints of R&B, rock, folk, electronic - how did your sound come about?
It took a lot of time to get it to where it is. Between the ages of 15 to 17, I wanted to do pop, and when I turned 17, I wanted to do R&B. Then I started working with my main collaborator, Jonah Summerfield, and we began to explore. He opened me up to a lot of new music as well, and I also showed him music I liked. I think genre is almost dying out a bit, and I never want to box myself into just one. I don't want to be known for doing this or that kind of music. I think there is a song for everyone on the project I have coming out. With the EP, I sought to push the boundaries of what genre can be because of all the different influences I have. I love production and experimenting with different sounds - like writing a folk song and bringing electronic elements into it. I never want to do the expected.
Your EP is dropping in October. What are you hoping to convey with it?
Hoping that people connect with the lyrics and the sound. I talk a lot about social issues. I talk about depression and anxiety and not always feeling your best. I want to be real with people in the way that I speak and convey myself and I want them to feel that I'm being real with them. I'm not trying to sugarcoat anything.
Your first single Vipers, as I understand, is a reflection on an uncertain period in your life. Can you tell me a bit about the experiences that lead you to write this song?
I left school at 15, went to college for a year and then I was like, I need a job so I can control my own hours. I started my own social media company when I was in college and have been making my own money from that. From there, I started coming to London to do sessions and stuff like that, and then some record labels started reaching out. That was the beginning of last year, and these talks with record labels went on for a full year. You think when you go into a label that you get signed on the spot, but that's not how it works. I was running about London doing all these meetings. I didn't have a manager and was doing it all by myself. I was doing these sessions and trying to find my sound. I wrote Vipers in January 2020. It was kind of a reflection on the past year. At the time, I felt that it was time to make the right decision. The next step had to be the right one in order for me to progress further. There were all these labels and I just wasn't sure if I was making the right decision or who was the right person.
What I want people to take away from Vipers is self-reflection - taking the time to consider every decision and making sure it's the right one. Don't do something just for the sake of it. If you don't feel comfortable or you know in your head or your heart that it's not right, don't do it. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture and do what's right for you and not what other people think is right for you.
Your song The Storm - I interpret it as you meeting problems/negative experiences head-on and hopefully making it out the other end. Why did you choose to name the EP The Storm?
Everything up until this point has felt like a storm. All these emotions. I thought it was a good metaphor for how crazy both the world and my head is at the moment. I'm always overthinking everything. There is a storm in my head.
Considering the uncertainty and turmoil that is explored in this EP, where is your head at now?
I'm a lot more confident than I was at the beginning of last year. I'm making music that I genuinely love. Right now, I'm in a good headspace. Corona is still here fucking up my plans a little bit, but I'm enjoying working with my team and getting everything together and ready for the release. And seeing the positive responses from Vipers and Face Tattoo so far is very cool. I have good days and bad days. I definitely suffer from anxiety and tend to overthink everything, which is not good but also great at the same time.
Seems like you've been conquering your overthinking so far.
I knew that if I wanted to do it, I just had to do it. I'm spontaneous with everything that I do. What is the point of holding back? Even when I'm down or whatever, there's something in me that doesn't let me get to that place where I absolutely would have to stop. I definitely have my off days but there's something in me that keeps me going.
How did your parents take it when you dropped out of school?
When I told my mum I was dropping out of school, she went, "No, you're not". My dad said, "Yeah, okay, as long as you go to college". My dad left school when he was 15 and worked his way up in the building industry. He's got a decent job and a building site now. He believes that not everything is about what grade you get as long you put your mind to it and work hard. He was more chilled about it, but my mum was like, "Absolutely, no way". I managed to convince her by going to college, but in the end I told them: ‘mum and dad, I’m dropping out of college’. By that point, they were fine with it because I had already started my own company. I wasn’t relying on them to pay for anything. They are so supportive and always have been.
I really like the visualisers for Vipers and Face Tattoo. Would you be able to tell me the thoughts behind those?
I really wanted to hone in on this storm and all this stuff that I've gone through. I like that the visuals have this weird isolation type feel. It's only me and no one else. I'm sort of taking on the world inside my head. In the visualiser for Vipers, you'll notice there are a lot of glitches into different visuals. That's actually teasers for future stuff to come. The Face Tattoo visualiser is a funny one, actually. Face Tattoo, obviously, isn't about literally getting a tattoo. It's a metaphor for 'fuck it, I'm doing whatever I want’. I have no idea where the idea for the Face Tattoo visualiser came from, but I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere, either a random conference space or in the middle of a field in Scotland. I worked with Daisy King on the artwork and she turned the grass into this pink-y, orange-y colour. She made the sky all fucked up to make it look like a storm is forming or brewing. I'm definitely very hands-on when it comes to visuals, and self-directed the visualisers.
How did growing up in a small Scottish town influence you?
I think it influenced me in the sense that I had a lot of time on my hands. I grew up online and had a lot of time to find all these different artists. I could really sit with the music for a minute. I think that's why my sound is so varied because I grew up on the Internet. There was so much to explore.
We’ve spoken at length about your music, so I’d like to know, who is Dylan?
In this moment in time, Dylan is confident for the first time in his life. I'm making the music that I want to make. I've surrounded myself with good people and friends. My family is supportive. Right now, Dylan is enjoying the process. It's crazy at times, and I'm not going to lie, I have off days where I feel really shit. I’m just taking every day as it goes, to be honest. I'm enjoying it, and just trying to learn as much as possible. I'm confident right now and ready to get going with my career and the music and everything. Everything's falling nicely into place for me.
What makes you happy?
Music, my dog, my cat, my friends, my family and I think myself as well. Being able to spend time with myself makes me happy. Although, I don't always make myself happy, but if we're talking today, I'm very happy.
What upsets you?
Life is so crazy right now. There's so much shit happening in the news. That definitely upsets me. And coronavirus upsets me because I wasn't able to push forward with everything. I get frustrated with myself. I overthink stuff and tend to convince myself that people don't like me before I've even met them. I’m definitely a pessimist, not an optimist. I'm very aware of my negative side and gravitate towards it, so that if I do get let down, I don't feel it as much. If I were to get really excited about something but then get let down, I'd be crushed. I think it's my coping mechanism to stop myself from completely going into that thought space.
If you find yourself in that negative space, how do you deal with that situation?
I feel really overwhelmed, and then all of a sudden, I’m super tired and drained. Like I want to cry. I'm not a crier, so no tears come out. Usually, I just have to watch Netflix and eat chocolate for a few hours. I'll get up again and have subconsciously processed everything. I always find a solution to the problem. I never dwell. That's how I cope with it. And then I think of all the good things in my life right now and think about where my career is heading. I find confidence in that because I know I'm going to do it at some point. I definitely sweat the small stuff because I'm an overthinker, but then after I've settled down, I realise it was stupid.
When I've spoken to musicians in the past about their current projects, I’ve found usually that they're already thinking about their next project. Is that what it is like for you?
I'm working on my second project right now. To be honest, it's nearly done, but we haven't even released the first project. The second project was actually really easy to write in some way; I had a lot of ideas and was kind of rolling with it. I've been pushing the sound even further, so expect the unexpected. It's not quite like the first project, but there are elements of it, for sure. Everything's evolving: the sound, the writing, the concepts, everything. We experimented with different sounds. The label definitely likes that I have more music in the works.
Yes, I'm sure they appreciate productive musicians. What's your writing process like?
It's random and spontaneous. I can't force myself to write songs. I have to feel it and roll with it instantly. If I don't want to write, I won't write. I can go for weeks without writing, but then suddenly go through a burst of creativity. I usually write a full song or half a song or the chorus or the verse or whatever, and then I take it to the studio to present my concept and work on production. I write about what I feel in the moment and take a lot of inspiration subconsciously from conversations, people on the streets and social media.
Besides music, what are you passionate about?
I love photography. I really like fashion and have been really getting more into that as of recently. I've fallen in love with drawing and painting again in the past couple of months during lockdown and done a lot of random drawings. I used to love it when I was younger, in school. I enjoy exercising and sometimes I like going to the gym, but I've kind of been slacking a bit. I've also loved directing my own visuals and would like to direct for other people in the future.
As a 19-year-old, what are your thoughts on the concept of masculinity?
I don't put too much pressure on it. It’s kind of dying out, I think. Everyone’s equal. Just get on with your life, you know? I'm a male but it doesn't make me superior or different. I take everyone I meet at face value. Just because you're a male doesn't mean that you're this alpha and you have to be a super confident person. Do what you want to do. No one is the same anyways. Let other people's opinions take the backseat; focus on what you want to do. Who are you as a person? What do you want from life? Obviously, people's opinions still get to me. They get to everyone.
Where in the world are you most serene?
I probably feel the most serene in my room. It's where I feel safe. I can just shut the outside world out. I love my room. I’ve gone through a lot of shit in that room. I've grown up with that room. I've evolved and grown as a person in that room. I've written songs in that room.
What’s your dream?
I want my music to be as big as it can be. I want it to be up there. That takes a lot of work and time and energy, but that's what I'm focusing on. I have nothing to fall back on. I have to do this.