“I Needed To Build Up To My Debut Album” Dylan John Thomas Interviewed

Scottish songwriter in conversation...

Dylan John Thomas speaks truth to the people. The Glasgow songwriter’s unvarnished truths transform each song, each statement into a bona fide anthem, and his music is breaking through. A feverish winter tour saw the singer pack out shows across the land, and he enters 2024 with no small degree of confidence.

With his cheeky grin onstage and Bolan-esque mop of curls, Dylan John Thomas has the feeling of your best mate opening up, bearing his soul in the process. On the surface, it’s all darting melody and acoustic effervescence, but if you listen to the lyrics then there’s a huge amount going on – growing up in foster care and dealing with an ADHD diagnosis, Dylan offers tales that aren’t often heard by the mainstream.

Releasing his debut album this week, Dylan John Thomas is packing his bags for a quickfire tour of intimate venues, before launching into his breakthrough year. Clash caught up with the Scottish talent for a quick Q&A.

Your debut album is finally here, does it feel real?

Now a few singles have come out, it feels like it’s getting out there. When the whole thing comes out, it’ll feel like a body of work.

It’s such a crucial step, isn’t it?

I grew up loving albums as a whole, listening all the way through. I was always intrigued something else, rather than just the singles. I wanted to see if there was anything else – I had this curiosity, that if I heard a good song I’d want to hear everything. The album, for me, is a space for me to put songs out that I might not normally do. Songs that might not get played on radio. It’s nice to venture into that area of creativity.

It must be really important to challenge yourself.

Fingerpicking on guitar has always been the main thing for me. I look to Paul Simon and Lindsey Buckingham as my main influences. But to go into the studio is incredible for me. We’re very much a live act, and when we’re writing and recording it’s geared towards the live show. For instance, there isn’t overboard production on the record. We were conscious of that. 

Now, you can use all kinds of technology. But me and the band, we’ve been playing music, busking, playing live since we were children. So when it came to the album, we wanted to stay true to the live set. You can get caught up in that, though, so it was nice to throw in a few different types of songs while still feeling connected.

What did producer Rich Turvey add to the recording process?

I’ve known him for a few years. The way we work together is very easy. We don’t clash too much. We don’t work against each other. 

I’d write the songs, and record my own demos for the songs… with all the ideas in place. Both good and bad ideas! I’d have my own vision of the record, and where it would head. Then we’d head to Liverpool with Rich, and he’d take it from a home demo – like, on my phone – to a full recording. He helps us find a balance. Rich is a great producer, but he’s also a great engineer.

It’s all about energy isn’t it? A song like ‘Fever’ definitely has that concert bounce to it.

It’s funny, I remember recording the rhythm section for the chorus… and Rich really shone there. The drums and bass lock together, and he helped get it really tight. And that compliments how easy it is for the melody to flow over that. It’s a bit easier when you’re working with great people.

You’ve got a few EPs under your belt, did those projects give you a lot of confidence?

I needed to build up to my debut album. We needed to understand how everything works, building our way up to an album. I’ve got a great team around me. We’re very much a live act. It was always a process of write, record, and then go and play live. We drip-fed with a few singles, and built it up slowly. At this point now, we’re confident in the songs, the songs work, and we chose the right songs for the album.

It’s been a slow come-up but you’ve had so many incredible moments, haven’t you?

Oh, so many amazing moments. Touring with Gerry when we were young. Touring with Ocean Colour Scene. When we were kids, we’d go to see The Specials – and Steve Cradock from Ocean Colour Scene was on guitar. To tour with him, meet Steve, and for him to become a big supporter of me and the music… that was incredible.

Your music is very honest – some of the lyrics on the album are incredibly raw. Where does that sense of honesty come from?

All the main influences I had growing up were all writers. Paul Simon, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen… you can tell their life stories through their songs. I almost see Leonard Cohen as a father figure – he’s been through it all, and it’s how you navigate it.

For me, I just talk about things I went through growing up. Foster care. There’s a form of cathartic release going through that… it’s good for the soul. You see the damage it does to people growing up, who keep it all in. It really affects them. I get messages from people who have gone through similar things, and that makes it all worth while. I’m lucky, I’m able to play guitar. I have ADHD, so if I’m doing something I enjoy then nothing else matters. But a lot of people don’t have that release. So to put down those feelings in songs, and for people to know they aren’t alone… that made it worthwhile.

What advice do you give people who reach out to you?

You need an outlet. Some people are lucky enough to do something everything that they love. It doesn’t have to be music. I have friends who love cars, who wake up every day and love being a mechanic. It’s just speaking to people, trying to understand the world a wee bit better. For me, it was music, and if people can relate to it then that’s amazing.

You’re playing a run of intimate shows, and it follows your winter tour in Scotland, which contained some of your biggest ever concerts. Do you approach these shows differently?

It’ll be good to play some smaller shows again. We’re in a nice play, touring-wise. We played basements for years, so that makes it worth it… when you get to Academy-sized venues. It’s always nice to play a bit closer to the crowd.

What do you think you learned from making this album – about yourself, or just music generally – that you hadn’t realised before?

The more often you attempt to write, the better you’re going to get. I remember Leonard Cohen saying something like: that particular emotion only comes now and then, and you can only grab it if your tools are sharp, and you’re writing constantly. Throughout the process of making this album, I just kept writing and writing. I feel like that was the way forward for me, in terms of tapping into better ideas. Put in the graft and you’ll get the rewards.

Dylan John Thomas’ debut album is out now.

Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Lawrence Watson

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