Monday shows can be a tough draw, so it’s lucky there’s still a few places around town that take their chances booking them. They’re some of the best places to discover new artists before everyone else hears about them. Take PEI songwriter Dylan Menzie, for example. Though he’s had some recognition, reaching the finals in CBC’s Searchlight competition this year and drawing praise from Ron Sexsmith, to most listeners he’s a new kid. Menzie’s hitting in the road in support of his second album Adolescent Nature, and on Monday June 13 he’s in town to play at Live! On Elgin. It’ll be worth going out on a Monday to check it out.
I took music lessons, I tried hockey, I tried gymnastics, I tried you name it and music is what I landed on and it really stuck.
Adolescent Nature is a coming of age record centered around hearty partying, looking back and finding your way. Over the course of the album’s seven tracks Menzie captures what it’s like to be young: all the recklessness, restlessness, and how real everything all feels all the time. Even the dreamy cover of Led Zeppelin’s “That’s the Way”, with its trippy existential lyrics fits right in. The overall sound is bright and expansive with rollicking, up-tempo rhythms and strong melodic hooks. The shiny production and richly layered arrangements comes thanks to the guiding hand of Juno-nominated and ECMA-winning producer Daniel Ledwell. The early summer release date was a wise choice as these are great songs for summer, from the road-trip-ready single “Kenya” to its counterpart for the way home, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”
Adolescent Nature busts out of the gate with “Talk to Me”, a can’t-help-singing-along-to piece of pop rock nostalgia for days of starting fights, acting tough and getting loaded in fields. “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” is Menzie’s ode to the gentle island and one of the best coming home songs around. His voice soars over the driving, train-like rhythm in a rush to get there. “Looking Back” is the slow burner in the mix, Menzie is more exposed, singing wistfully against swells of ghostly choral vocals before the song shifts into an unexpected world beat to end on a brighter note.
Even the album’s breakup song, “Surviving Just On Coffee” is sunny, with its uptempo folky jangle and Plaskett-esque wordplay in lines like “She said I was a loser, I was feeling looser.” “Julia” is all fast and loose rock ‘n’ roll, driven on by insistent piano chords celebrating the joy of losing yourself in the crowd and noise of a live show. It’s the kind of song you want to blast and shout along to, especially when the line “let your mind go M.I.A.” comes around.
I caught up with Dylan to talk about his new album, his secret for getting a big sound out of a small band and what he’s listening to these days. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.
Apt613: I notice you play a tenor guitar? Is that your main instrument?
Dylan Menzie: Yeah, it is for the most part. I also play 12-string guitar a lot. I like playing guitars that suit open tunings because we play with a three-piece so it’s hard to do rhythm and lead guitar when it’s in a standard tuning so I like to use open tunings. Another one of my influences is Joel Plaskett. He plays tenor as well. Especially starting on fiddle it’s kind of played like a fiddle a little bit, like the fingerings and how everything works. After I bought one I just loved it.
Those opening tunings really give an expansiveness to your sound. It’s funny how open tunings are so underrated.
I think so too. I’ve had that stigma to them as well when I first started playing like ah, open tunings it means you can’t really play. I don’t think so now. It makes everything sound so full. Especially nowadays it’s so expensive to tour with a big band and if you want to have a larger sound it’s an easy decision to make to write in an open tuning and it’s just a lot of fun too to write those parts that can be lead and rhythm all in one.
I wanted to ask about how your vocal sound. You really sing out, almost like a busker out to prove something and be heard over the din. Where does that comes from?
I guess it would be because growing up at family get togethers we would always jam out songs and covers and stuff and somebody had to do vocals but we had no amp so you’re trying to sing over piano, drums, electric guitar so it trains you to be loud enough to be heard.
How does the writing process work for you? Do you write often?
Yeah, I try to write everyday, at least something. I like to meditate a lot too. When I just sit and do nothing and sit in silence I always seem to get something out of it, a melody, a phrase or what a song should be about.
When did you start doing that?
Maybe about a year ago and I found it really started to help writer’s block and also getting out of your element and writing something that you wouldn’t normally go to. I find sometimes when you’re writing and you’re playing with just chording structures unless you’re a virtuoso you can be limited by how good of a guitar player you are so if you meditate you can go places you wouldn’t normally end up going.
I hear a similarity to Joel Plaskett with some of your guitar riffs and the way you use colloquial phrases in your lyrics. How do you feel about those kinds of comparisons?
I love it. Plaskett on the East Coast is such an icon even just in Canadian music so I don’t mind that. I always say everybody’s going to compare you to something. It doesn’t mean that it’s exactly the same. It’s just you remind them of something they like and I always welcome that. I’ve gotten Lumineers a few times, just the way the live shows are played ‘cause it’s a three piece and there’s a lot of acoustic guitar. I’ve gotten Fleet Foxes. I love all those bands so to me it’s a huge compliment.
Where did the song “Kenya” come from?
I was really into Paul Simon at the time when I wrote that song and I was listening to Graceland a lot. I was just writing and Kenya came out. As the song progressed and I wrote more lyrics for it I started to realized, oh, this song is about people who need to get away they’re not happy where they are. For example in PEI, there’s a lot of people that move out West for jobs and to make money out there because there’s no jobs here for a lot of the year. And there’s also that thing now where in the past 30-40 years they say 30 is the new 20 and you need to find yourself before settling down . It used to be you’d get married in your early twenties if not sooner and there’s a lot of people that have regrets in doing that. It’s kind of about that new thing to find yourself and to be something more than what your parents were.
What are you listening to these days? Anything you think deserves a shout out?
Dylan: My favourite artist right now is Leon Bridges. He’s amazing. His debut album Comin’ Home was my top pick for albums this past year. It sounds like Sam Cook, Otis Redding, old Southern soul.
At the end of the day why do you make music?
Dylan: When it gets really tough sometimes, it’s the fans telling you that you should be doing it and the love that people have of the music that really keeps you going and also I just can’t see myself doing anything else. I’ve tried a lot of things in my life. I was very fortunate to have really supportive parents who let me do whatever I wanted. I took music lessons, I tried hockey, I tried gymnastics, I tried you name it and music is what I landed on and it really stuck. Even being on stage, I’m really not good at one-on-one conversation but when there’s a crowd of people there and I’m on stage I feel I can be more myself than the majority of places.
Dylan Menzie plays Live! On Elgin on Monday June 13. Ottawa’s Taylor Angus opens. Cover is $7 a the door. For more information, see the Facebook event page. You can also find Menzie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.