Dylan Dunlap swerved from his norm in all the coolest ways with his latest, Soldier On.
Dunlap had previously written songs that were a lot more serious. During the lockdown and disruption caused by COVID, he used the time during quarantine to hone in on the more lighthearted side of writing and it paid off.
The Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist developed a love for music at a very young age. At 6, he taught himself piano to partake in a grade school talent show; at 11, he picked up a copy of Pro Tools and crafted instrumental compositions, and as a teen, he left the prestigious Berklee College of Music to get a head start on his music career and started busking in his hometown.
With the release of this new adventure, he addressed the reasons for his writing shift.
“I used to go to the movies every few days for an escape and really struggled for a bit when everything shut down back in March (of 2020),” he said. “I thought that the best way to cope with a pandemic was to write about anything other than a pandemic, so I decided to write about one of my favorite movies instead: Finding Nemo.
“I don’t know if it’s because I was 7 or because Thomas Newman is one of the best film composers of all time, but that movie holds such a special place in my heart and there are so many lessons in it. I resonate so much with the message of learning to let go of somebody, but also never giving up on them. Because I’m human, I often think that I can solve other people’s problems for them. Sometimes I get so carried away about thinking how I can help that I forget I can only truly take care of myself. I’m also the absolute worst at taking my own advice. It’s important to remind myself that I can be there for others, but I can’t make their decisions for them, nor can they for me. We’re all going to make mistakes along the way and it’s up to us to encourage one another to at least try our best than to give up so quickly.”
With Soldier On releasing today (check it out digitally), Dunlap wanted to offer readers of American Songwriter a peak behind the curtain about how the songs came together.
‘Seriously’ was without a doubt the most challenging to write. For three weeks straight, I word vomited what felt like a novel in my Notes app about what I would want to tell myself if I was on my deathbed. Sounds serious, but that’s the irony as my one ‘takeaway’ would be that I probably took things too seriously. My writing process can be so unpredictable sometimes, but that’s the beauty in choosing to believe that the words will come out when they’re ready to. Pieces really started being put together as I took breaks from writing to work out the “oh” vocal chant. It goes no higher than an Ab with the sole intention of welcoming everyone to sing in that register in a stadium. That’s usually where my head’s at when it comes to my releases. How can I get you and all your friends to sing along without even realizing it?
WHAT WE HAD
WWH is a story about growing up with my father. With it, I’m choosing to open up the conversation about his alcoholism, my mental health, and the problem with toxic masculinity. This is finally my opportunity to shed light on my perseverance into adulthood and the crippling fear of turning into him. “I try so hard to think I’m not my father, I forget about what makes me who I am” sums that up in the pre. I’m proud to talk so openly about something that has been so hard to talk about in the past.
Holidays are difficult for me as I don’t have a close relationship with my family. Christmas 2019 was definitely the loneliest one yet, but it at least offered up an amazing opportunity to enjoy time to myself and reflect. We often forget how heavy this time can be for others and I would just love to use my platform to make them feel seen and heard during it. My lyrics always maintain an uplifting agenda, which is what makes this one that much more special. It isn’t optimistic. Sometimes people need to hear that it’s okay to be upset, angry, confused, and depressed. I’ve come to find that a lot of my life has been made up of growing through grieving and that’s exactly the kind of environment I want to welcome my listeners into with this. I hope it can be heard by those that need to hear it and look forward to reminding myself that I’m the only one hurting during the holiday season.
FOLLOW MY ECHO
I used to go to the movies every few days for an escape and really struggled when everything shut down back in March 2020. I thought that the best way to cope with a pandemic was to write about anything other than the pandemic, so I decided write about one of my favorite movies instead: Finding Nemo. I don’t know if it’s because I was 7 or because Thomas Newman is one of the best film composers of all time, but that movie holds such a special place in my heart and there are so many lessons in it. I resonate so much with the message of learning to let go of somebody, but also never giving up on them. Because I’m human, I often think that I can solve other people’s problems for them. Sometimes I get so carried away about thinking how I can help that I forget I can only truly take care of myself. I’m also the absolute worst at taking my own advice. It’s important to remind myself that I can be there for others, but I can’t make their decisions for them, nor can they for me. We’re all going to make mistakes along the way and it’s up to us to encourage one another to at least try our best than to give up so quickly.
‘Soldier On’ used to be a song called ‘You’ that my bandmates and I tried to write a couple years ago in Phoenix. The pre was originally sung, “But with you, I always lose.” It just hadn’t felt right ever since, so I took advantage of being quarantined in my girlfriend’s closet and FaceTimed Kirk to start over. That section turned into, “But with you, how could I lose?” and really helped me coordinate the new direction I wanted to take with ‘Soldier On’. My anxiety heightened a lot when Los Angeles went on lockdown back in March and my biggest fear centered on the fear of Marisa falling out of love with me. Our relationship, alongside many others, fast-forwarded months into the future as we decided to quarantine together. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how much we grew while under the same roof. She witnessed every side of me and loved me through every breakdown. While the song is a wake-up call to not just live my life to survive, it’s also a declaration of love that shares one single feeling. If I am with her, then I could never truly be without. I am willing to soldier on and fight the voices in my head telling me I’m not enough because I know that somebody loves me, my heart, and even my mind.
IF THAT’S ALRIGHT
If you told me that one of my indie/folk songs about learning how to love myself would surpass 23 million streams on Spotify by the time the EP came out, I wouldn’t have believed you. One year later and I’m still in complete shock that this many people took the time to listen. ‘If That’s Alright’ serves as a necessary reminder for me that less will always be more. I spent a lot of my early days trying to crack the perfect production & mix that sometimes I forgot the importance of stripping it all down and seeing if I even liked what I was playing. In the end, nothing could really capture the magic and intimacy of the demo, so that’s what I ended up releasing. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I managed to overcome my insecurities and practice self care, so here’s what I want to say about that. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing most of the time and that’s more than okay. Loving myself is a daily practice and one that I look forward to taking part in for the rest of my life. I’m so thankful to have this little time capsule of a song to remind me of my worth when I’m feeling lost.