By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Synth-driven and chockfull of melodious hooks heard in instant classics like “Shine,” Sylas Dean’s debut EP ‘American Dreeming’ has done enough to establish him as hyper pop’s new “it” boy.
The relative newcomer has already nudged himself into the same conversation as artists like Charli XCX and Slayyyter, while possessing a glam rock-influenced, Ziggy Stardust-esque style to make anybody feel like they’re on a downtown Los Angeles club floor as soon as they press “play.”
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with the small-town songwriter about ‘American Dreeming’ and more.
Music Bugle – What was it like making your debut EP ‘American Dreeming’?
Sylas Dean – It was a longer process than most, I’m sure. The EP started as more of a demo concept where I could store some of my favorite songs I’d written on and shop things around, but it ultimately became this sort of collection of some of my favorite music I’d chipped away at over the years. There’s some music on ‘American Dreeming’ that’s been years in the making and then, there’s some that I finished recording not even a month ago that made it onto the record, but the bulk of music that I chose came from just this last year alone. I wrote over 100 songs leading up to the release. 2020 was by far the most tumultuous and creative year of writing on a project like this. Now, it’s at a point where I’m just feeling the adrenaline of putting out the music and marking my debut. I feel total release now that this music is finally finished.
Music Bugle – What is something that you wish happened more in today’s music industry?
Sylas Dean – Transparency. I’m a pop fiend and I obsess over all of the spectacle and the fantasy of the music and I lean into it myself with my own music, but what I’ve always felt attracted to with artists that I’ve admired is the drive going on behind the music. I romanticize the story of the come-up as much as I do the actual music. I love to hear about the industry through the lens of the artist and how they see the landscape of music in a business sense or a marketing sense. I can appreciate that glimpse behind the curtain. I think when we really dissect what’s fascinating about artists or even fame culture, it’s not that the fame itself is the end-all, the meat is in the backstory. What happens in that in-between during that rise from total obscurity to creating a pop star? There’s a whole narrative in there and I think that’s what listeners crave and latch onto, rather than to view artists as these two-dimensional characters.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Sylas Dean – Social media is a double-edged sword to me. In some ways, I think it allows for closer connections to fans and it gives a deeper sense of creative control over your messaging, but I can also appreciate that social media exists in different ways for different types of artists and it can backfire if you’re careless or misguided, but for the most part, I think social media is by far the most accessible tool we have for reaching audiences in a meaningful way.
Music Bugle – What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
Sylas Dean – That’s a hard one to boil down into one moment, but whenever I’m asked this question, I always go back to the same exact words I was told in college. To cut the context short, someone told me point blank about my art, “You know what your problem is? I’ve never seen you feel before” and I remember the instantaneous impact that had on me in the moment. I remember getting hot and my eyes welling up. You couldn’t quite say it was direct “advice,” but I took it as such, because I knew in that moment, it was impactful for me, because it was completely true. It totally reoriented my mindset about giving over control to share your heart in what you do and it made me a better artist in every way. That’s something I’ll never forget and I carry that with me when I work. There’s nothing inherently interesting in watching control, it’s so much more engaging to see someone feel something in a way that’s uninhibited.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sylas Dean – This year has brought about a lot of change for me. My family was personally affected by COVID-19 and back in April, I actually dropped everything, lost my job and then went home to be close to everyone through the worst of it. I spent a lot of that time in grief, but I also saw this last year as a turning point to do what makes me happy and ask for what I want out of life. ‘American Dreeming’ is this small piece of such a massive year of love and immense grief and hard work crafted into music that made me so happy as I wrote it.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?
Sylas Dean – Time has always felt like a challenge to me and I usually have this gnawing fear that I’ll never have enough of it to do everything I want to. As of late, that feeling keeps creeping up on me, so I keep pushing harder and harder to give as much as I can into every current project I’m passionate about, but I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t something that stays on my mind.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Sylas Dean – “Shine” was probably the longest process, mostly because of criticism and rewrites. When I first cut the demo and shopped it around, it was a unanimous failure. Not a single person liked the song. I got told by multiple people I should drop the song altogether or pass it to someone else to record, but I knew there was something seriously special about that hook in my head, so I went back maybe three times on it and re-wrote and eventually re-recorded it in the studio with Ivan. When that version made its way around, it became the go-to favorite of everyone who heard it and I knew it would be the lead single off ‘American Dreeming.’ To me, it’s the most classic style of any feel-good pop song you could imagine. It’s just ironic that a song that was made to feel so easy on the ears had one of the more arduous backstories to the writing process.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Sylas Dean – I’ve been on a deep dive with hyper pop and even though I’ve been listening to them for over a year now, I’m still hooked on Slayyyter and Dorian Electra. To me, they’re the most fascinating and polar figures in this underground hyper-pop scene and I’m so latched onto their every move. I personally think they’re reshaping the come-up of what mainstream pop might look like in the coming year. Now, you’re seeing bigger names like Rebecca Black adopt the genre and it’s creeping its way up Billboard.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for from the rest of 2021?
Sylas Dean – I’m feeling so positive in 2021 and with putting out ‘American Dreeming,’ I don’t see a reason to let time slip away from myself. I hope this year is filled with a release of joy and passionate energy that we’ve been hoping for. I think everyone is sort of waiting on the edge of their seat for that moment of release, that moment when we can finally put a hard year behind us and just allow ourselves to feel good for a minute. This music has felt like my release to a volatile year and I’m grateful to finally have it out.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for from the future of today’s pop music culture?
Sylas Dean – Variety. If there’s one thing the industry is missing at the top level, it feels like a mix of different voices in pop. I’m interested to see new artists come up with totally different sounds and perspectives in the next year. The carbon copy effect is one of these detrimental symptoms to how the industry has responded to a number of things like social media, streaming, or how the industry generates money in general. None of the majors are willing to put their money on anything other than a safe bet, which makes sense on paper, but it makes for a pretty dry era in music. I’m waiting to see when the next disrupter will come up and re-shape the next era in pop music. That’s the remarkable thing about pop. It never fully plateaus, so you can always anticipate something new right around the corner.