Arriving gloriously, fully formed out of seemingly nowhere, Dylan Stark managed the rare feat of staying under wraps until he was well and truly ready. A musician since his youth, the Portland resident was a pianist from the age of 5 – later going on to shun college in favour of honing his craft. His quiet perseverance was crucially backed by a steadfast level of conviction. “I hated the idea of making mediocre music that I spent all of my time pushing to get people to accept. I wanted to show people only work I was proud of; I wanted my music to be emotional and powerful enough that it didn’t need any explanation or personality attached, that it could stand completely by itself.”
Listening to ‘Heartland’, Stark’s recent debut for the ever eclectic Civil Music, its clear that his patient approach has paid off. Eight tracks in length, the record is built around a vibrant melange of samples, conducted by Stark to render technicolour vistas in glorious widescreen. The emotions – wonder, awe and joy, are universal, although listening closely you can appreciate the odd specificity of Stark’s collection of Ghanian fishermen, growing trees and Hawaiian luaus somehow working in beautiful unity. Showcasing an impressive knack for layering, the methodology on display throughout ‘Heartland’ tantalisingly hints at Stark may have in store for his raft of forthcoming live shows.
Asking for an insight behind the inspirations that fed into ‘Heartland’, Stark came back to us with a special ‘Influences’ mix for Hyp 221 (which includes an exclusive track from his new project alongside Ben Johnson). Catching up with him after receiving the mix, we took a bit of time to learn some more…
Hey Dylan. Tell us about this mix, it’s music that influenced your newly released LP Heartland right?
Thanks so much for asking me to do this, and for the kind words about the record. So for the mix, yeah I decided to put it together with some tracks that have inspired me when I was making ‘Heartland’. I spent a lot of time listening to artists that made music that put you in another world; immersive music that felt like it really had a sense of location. Flying Lotus, Burial and Lone all make music that has so much depth and character that it is immediately recognisable. Their music is intensely cinematic and layered and even in quiet moments conveys so much of their personality.
Most of the artists in this mix primarily use samples to build their songs and I was listening to the songs in this mix on a daily basis as prime examples of creative ways to use samples. There is a very explosive feeling that comes from layering lots and lots of samples that you can really feel in The Avalanches’ ‘A Different Feeling’ or Matthew Dear’s ‘Her Fantasy’. When you have enough samples playing out on top of each other all these tiny little differences in key and mixing start to add up; the sound sort of reminds me of watching a parade. Flying Lotus captures this feeling on a lot of his songs as well, I’m overwhelmed with this sense of joy every time I hear the last ecstatic seconds of ‘Computer Face / Pure Being’.
Because the samples are such a huge part of how I work on music a lot of the music making process for me is just endlessly listening. Some of it happens naturally, I’ll be watching a movie or nature documentary and there will be one amazing sound, like a door slamming or something. Otherwise it’s me watching youtube videos of someone playing drums in their basement and clicking related videos and following the random trail of music related keywords. Most of it is completely unusable but if you spend enough time listening there are these little gems everywhere; It’s like crate-digging on the internet.
You just signed with Surefire for bookings and recently made your SXSW debut – tell us about your live performance.
‘Heartland’ has worked out great live because I really have the ability to go two ways, I can focus on the drum work and make things as pulsing as possible or stay a little closer to the album’s intentions and focus on these huge soundscapes. I’ve spent a lot of time separating out every sample and mapping them out. It’s a complex spider web of little bits and it takes a lot of memorisation but the more I do it the more little bits I can build on top. It makes me very excited to play all these songs, I get to see a new side of each song every time I play.