Sloan Struble, a.k.a. Dayglow, doesn’t so much march to the beat of his own drum as he glides and grooves and gets down to the beat of his own drum machine.
When the Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter and producer started playing shows following the release of his breakout debut album Fuzzybrain in 2018, he wasn’t quite old enough to patronize many of the venues where he performed. “That was the greatest part of turning 21,” Struble recently told me over the phone, teasing himself. “I don’t drink too much, but finally I can get into my own shows.”
Alas, Struble turned 21 in the middle of a pandemic, which made for a pretty underwhelming milestone. Instead of touring in support of another album, as planned, he decided to push the album release and spend more time reworking its eleven tracks. “I finished pretty much the whole album before I knew what Covid was,” he explains, “but lockdown gave me a lot of time to mix and rethink the album and reshape some of the songs.”
Struble conceived of the final product, Harmony House—out May 21—as a “false nostalgia”-fueled soundtrack to an imaginary sitcom. But don’t be fooled by that fictional conceit—he says that it’s actually more personal than the fare on Fuzzybrain. It’s also more polished, though it shares Fuzzybrain’s DIY spirit, as Struble recorded and mixed all the tracks himself.
With Harmony House, Dayglow has officially graduated from scrappy, boyish bedroom pop practitioner to full-blown indie pop phenom. The album is full of glistening, disco-hewed synth-pop that charts the simultaneously mundane and surreal experience of getting older—while adjusting to viral fame. Each day I’m growing up like ivy, the Aledo, Texas native sings in the chiming, contemplative closing track, “Like Ivy.” I’m learning to grow.
Struble spoke to American Songwriter about the early days of Dayglow, one of his favorite Paul McCartney songs (hint: it’s Christmas-related), and the ’70s and ’80s influences that shaped Harmony House. Read the full interview and check out Dayglow’s latest singles and videos below.
American Songwriter: I know you were making music before you went by Dayglow. When did you actually start using that moniker?
Sloan Struble: It’s crazy looking back and thinking I was making music, because I still feel so young and I still feel like I’m still figuring out what I’m doing. Around senior year of high school I started making music under the name Dayglow and it was this focused project where I wanted to make music for a five-piece band to play live, because originally I’d been writing and making a lot of songs that would be impossible to play, whether that was too many layers or whatnot. It was too electronic, and with Dayglow the focus was to find a band eventually and then play live.
AS: So the music came before the other players?
SS: Yeah, I hadn’t found a band until the album was doing pretty well. So that was an anxiety-inducing thing for a while—people were like, “Play shows!” and I was like, “I literally can’t!”
AS: Did you go to high school in the Austin area?
SS: I’m from a small town called Aledo. It’s in Texas, but it’s like thirty minutes west of Fort Worth, so there wasn’t really a scene around me of any sort of people I could put in a band.
AS: When you started performing, I imagine you were playing in bars and venues where you weren’t even of age?
SS: Definitely. There were a fair share of times at SXSW [in 2019] when people wouldn’t let me in—maybe three or four times I had to call the person running the event. That was the greatest part of turning 21. I don’t drink too much, but finally I can get into my own shows.
AS: Around the release of your last album, you said, “I wrote and produced the album myself, so it’s kind of just a compilation of thoughts and feelings of isolationism. That sounds sad, but a lot of the songs come from that and from being ready to be in Austin and having change on the horizon.” That was long before we were actually forced into isolation. When did you craft the songs on Harmony House? Did COVID-induced isolation look or feel any different than your self-induced isolation?
SS: There’s always crossover. Mostly what I’m trying to write about and figure out is how to deal with change. With Fuzzybrain I was just waiting for change to happen—getting out of this town I was in and meeting new people. And with Harmony House, all the songs are directed towards change that I experienced so quickly and having this career happen so quickly. It’s dealing with growing up really fast, which is kind of ironic because Fuzzybrain is just waiting to grow up, and Harmony House is like, “I don’t want to grow up, but I have to.”
I finished pretty much the whole album before I knew what Covid was, but lockdown gave me a lot of time to mix and rethink the album and reshape some of the songs. It’s kind of ironic, ‘cause for three months before Covid happened and there was a lockdown, I was pretty much in quarantine just trying to finish my album. I was supposed to be on the road all year and I wanted to try to finish it. So I’ve had three months more than everybody else in lockdown. I’m the ultimate veteran here.
AS: Did the idea of soundtracking an imaginary sitcom come before or after the music?
SS: It’s kind of a blur, to be honest. I think before. I’ve been really interested in the idea of false nostalgia. Our generation of people, who are growing up in the middle of social media and just an immense amount of media noise, we watch old shows and everybody quotes and listens to old music, stuff from before we were even born. People say, “Oh, this makes me feel so nostalgic,” when they’re watching Friends, but, like…
AS: We were infants!
SS: Yeah, or not even born! It’s this weird, trippy thing where we reach for this time where there was less stuff going on. Because I’d been listening to a lot of ’70s and ’80s pop, I wanted to make this album that translated that feeling of nostalgia, so I was watching a bunch of Cheers and ’80s sitcoms and listening to all that music, so I wanted to make a little imaginary soundtrack.
AS: You’ve said before, about your songwriting, “I’ll take a simple experience I had, and then write fiction around it. Kinda like a movie that’s based on a true story.” Does that writing approach extend to Harmony House as well, this blend of personal and imagined parts?
SS: Being an artist is such a complex thing and I’m totally figuring out what it means. To me and the people that are really personally in my life, I’m just a normal person… but I have this new, viral, quick change of attention on me and it’s really strange just coping with that. In a way, I feel like I’m playing a character when I’m Dayglow. I internalized a lot of Harmony House. A lot of it is really personal — a lot more personal than Fuzzybrain, but not all of it is completely nonfiction. It crosses over a lot.
AS: Are there any songs you’re especially proud of from a writing perspective?
SS: I mean, every song serves its own purpose. I really try to not have any songs I would hate to have to play live or am like, “This is just a filler song.” So really each song I put a lot of different energy into, but there’s a song on the record called “December” which I’m really proud of. I think when I look back at this stage in my life, I’ll think, “That was 21-year-old Sloan.”
AS: What about that song compels you or excites you?
SS: It just draws a lot of inspiration from other artists that I love, lots of little tiny things. The synth lead in it is my closest copy of “Wonderful Christmastime,” Paul McCartney’s Christmas song. I just love the synth keys in that so I tried to replicate it with one of mine. There’s also this band called The Blue Nile that I like a lot. It crosses over a lot of my favorite influences right now, sonically, but also the lyrics are just really personal to me.
AS: There are some sad and surreal moments sprinkled throughout these songs. What are some other emotions you hear when you listen to the album now?
SS: Music has always been really therapeutic for me, and as I grow up, I think the therapy gets better. I never really had any songs on Fuzzybrain—well, “Dear Friend,” kind of—where I was like, “I’m really going through something personally, and I need to write a song to feel better.” And there’s a couple songs on Harmony House that I can attach to things going on in my life. I remember when finishing them there was a huge relief and weight off my shoulder. I try to view it with optimism now. Like, I don’t listen to them again and think, “Oh, this sucks, I remember what this was like,” but I’m looking back at how I’ve grown from them.
AS: You said you were listening to some ’70s and ’80s pop when this album came together. Do any artists or records stand out in particular?
SS: There’s this James Talyor record That’s Why I’m Here, which is one of my favorite albums. It was maybe my junior year of high school when I got it at Goodwill or something on vinyl, and I just fell in love with it. That kind of got me into the whole yacht rock genre of music. I was listening to a lot of The Carpenters, which is just like the epitome of sad music. And then a lot of Paul Simon, Jim Croce, all of that warm, good stuff. A little bit of disco here and there, but a lot of James Taylor. James Taylor specifically because my dad loves James Taylor. I grew up hearing it a lot and it reminds me of my dad and this sense of growing up into a man, like an older man or something. I always was like, “Oh, that’s dumb, my dad listens to it, I need to listen to Skrillex or something.”
AS: It can’t be cool if your dad listens to it.
SS: Right, right. But I came back to it, and now James Taylor is one of my favorite artists.
AS: What’s your recording setup look like right now?
SS: Now that I’m moving houses it’s really strange. I had a studio at this house I was renting in Austin, and it was just in an extra, spare bedroom. I mixed the whole record there, and recorded a lot of the stuff there. It was kind of pre-recorded. I use all of my own gear. Some of it’s vintage. I do a lot of stuff with plugins. I don’t have any crazy mics—a lot on the album is just a Shure SM7B, just an entry-level microphone. I need to get a nice microphone. I’m building a studio at this house I’m at now, so I’m really excited about that. Album three will maybe have some better gear.
AS: You’ve had this arc towards more polished production over the last few years.
SS: The interesting thing is, it’s still fully DIY, I just feel like I’m learning a little bit more about what I’m doing and how to achieve what I want to make, but I still want to be as personal and DIY as possible.
AS: Is there anything else you want to share about this record?
SS: I’m really proud of it. It’s a definite change of direction from Fuzzybrain, but it’s not necessarily me trying to make a new statement — it’s a stepping stone of me growing up. And I think starting Dayglow so young and already having an audience from the first album, it’s gonna be really interesting to see fans stick along and see me grow and change. As an artist I’m doing that, but literally just as a human being, I’m growing up. My tastes are going to change.
AS: And you’re documenting that in real time.
SS: It can be nerve-wracking!
AS: Are there any moments where that theme of growing up comes through in a powerful way?
SS: I love a good, cohesive album. I like to listen to albums from start to finish, so the album really progressively is intended to show me growing up, and there’s this melody that goes throughout the whole album, which is kind of like the theme, reaching back to the TV show theme. In the first song, “Something,” it just repeats, It’s taking time, it’s taking time, and it’s this really sporadic, under-two-minute song. Then on the last song, “Like Ivy,” it just kind of breaks down and I say, with a deep breath, It’s taken time to realize that I might be someone else inside your mind. I won’t say all the lyrics, but [that song] is sort of a testament… That’s what I realized. That’s what I’ve been trying to say the whole time on the album.
Photo by Pooneh Ghana