While he's been compared to Ben Gibbard and Jamie Walters, Dion Roy manages to make his own mark on the music scene. I chatted with the bassist turned singer-songwriter after catching his set at Highline Ballroom where he opened for Ryan Cabrera.
Roy filled me in on his transition to frontman, what it's like having his song featured in a national ad campaign and his songwriting process. "That’s why I write music. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy giving people, even if it’s three or four minutes, a way to feel better or a way to relate." Read on to find out more about Dion Roy and be sure to visit him on MySpace.
You originally played bass in another band. What made you decide to switch roles and become a singer? Was it a big transition for you?
I played in bands and I was a bass player. As time went on I was becoming less and less of a bass player and began writing melodies on bass that could have been the vocal line. I started to write more of the songs. I always played a little bit of guitar. At a certain point, when I wasn’t getting credit for writing songs it became annoying dealing with the band situation. I said, “You know what? I think I have a decent voice and I know how to play guitar. I’m going to give it a shot. Why the hell not?” That was about a year and a half ago and I’ve been at it since June. We’ve played a lot of shows since June and it moved pretty quickly after that.
You recorded your first solo album in June. How was that experience?
It was really tough. There were 10 songs on there that were widdled down from 25 or 26 and it was more of an undertaking than I thought it would be because I played bass and most of the guitar, I even sequenced some of the drums on it. Half of that album was me in my home studio and the other half, the ones with live drums; I did in a studio in New York. The mixing and mastering is insane with how much money and time has to go into it for me to be happy with it and feel that it’s presentable enough for the masses. I learned to become a songwriter on that album.
Since then, I’ve grown as a songwriter significantly. The new EP that I’m working on is going to be four or five songs, maybe six. Four full ones and two acoustics. I’m doing half the amount of songs because I want to spend double the time on them. Not having a five piece band makes the process a little bit longer, but it’s coming along. It should be done in a couple months.
What can fans expect from it?
One of the songs that are going to be on the new EP was one of the first things I wrote, it just got developed a little bit more. In general, it’s going to be a little less ballad-y. It’s going to be more upbeat. The tempos on all the songs are quite a bit higher than some of the stuff off the first album. The first album was very personal. A lot of the content of it had to do with my own life and situations that I’d been going through for a long time. I feel like I got that out of the way and I’m writing about new ideas and other stories. That’s what you can expect.
Pete joined the band in June right after the album came out and his influence is going to be on it too. He sings a lot of backup harmonies. We’re integrating that to give it a Guster-esque sound on the vocals. We’re really getting into the harmonies and making them more a part of the song.
I wanted to ask you about “Wants It.” I know it’s been featured in some films.
“Wants It” is the song everybody likes. It’s also the song we’ve played the most. We’ve played it on the TV shows and it genuinely attracts the widest audience. Actually, “Reconsider,” has the most name brand association. It’s been featured on a Huggies Pull-Ups commercial. “Wants It” was used for a couple indie films.
How did that come about?
It just got picked. It was unmixed, unfinished and it was just a concept and I uploaded it to one of the music placement companies and they randomly picked it, which I was really surprised about. One of the few ways we can still make money as a musician. People are not making money from album sales anymore; they’re making it all on merch and shows. I read somewhere that six percent of a major label artist’s income comes from album sales. The rest comes from touring and merch.
It’s really a harsh environment when you’re indie. I do it because I love it, but even some of the more successful bands out there are still broke. They don’t tour with a full band because there’s not enough money to pay a drummer or tour bus. Something has to change soon. I think you’re seeing that a little bit now when online radio stations are starting to pay for streaming music. There is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
Being a musician is a constant struggle. What motivates you to wake up every day and continue making music?
People relate to my stuff. I get at least a couple emails a day saying, “I get it. I get ‘Wants It.’ I get ‘You Can’t Take.’ It really moves me.” That’s why I write music. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy giving people, even if it’s three or four minutes, a way to feel better or a way to relate. Every interaction you have, people want to relate to something or feel part of something. I enjoy letting people feel like they’re part of something. I take a big interest in my fans too. I try to answer every single Twitter, Facebook, MySpace message. It’s getting a little out of control now. I spend about an hour-in-a-half a day just responding to stuff. I think that’s a good part of it. People are buying tickets for shows and they’re not even coming. They’ll be on the West Coast, but they’ll buy a ticket anyway. It’s kind of cool. People tend to give back if you treat them well and that’s what I plan to do.
What’s your songwriting process like?
There are a couple different ways it happens. Sometimes I’ll think of a really cool lyric and I’ll email it to myself. Sometimes I’ll write an entire song based around that. “Gray,” which is on the new album, I liked “She’s made of gray.” I liked the way that color associated with someone I knew and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to write a song about that.” If I have a guitar in my hands for 30 minutes I’ll write at least one or two melodies. I have more ideas recorded on my phone than I can count right now. I’d love a chance to finish all of them. I usually wind up picking one out of five and developing it because I’m so picky. I don’t want to put out a million songs that are pretty good. I’d rather put out six or seven that are undeniably catchy.
I use my BlackBerry voice recorder. That’s usually the first step if I’m just noodling around on guitar. In my home studio I’ll lay down guitar and lay down vocals, put in a synthesized drum beat if it needs it, lay some bass or synth parts and get the skeleton of a song together and listen to it for a couple of days and see if I like it. If it lasts that long, then I start gigging and playing the song to see how people react to it. And, if people really like it then it gets recorded.
I read that you don’t like to tell the stories behind your songs.
I’m a pretty private guy. I don’t like to reveal specific things about me. I think it ruins it for people if they know exactly what it’s about. People can listen to a song like “You Can’t Take.” I’ll tell you it’s a very specific situation for me. But, anybody that’s been pissed off at somebody or wronged by somebody is going to be able to relate to that. I prefer them to draw their own conclusions. When people see art they take away different things. I like to be a little vague to keep it interesting.
Is there a certain song you’ve written that means more to you than others?
“You Can’t Take” I accomplished something for myself with that song. That was a situation that was super hard for me to deal with. Just not having control. Most people think it’s a romantic situation, but it’s actually not at all for me personally. I feel like I got it off my chest. It’s there and resolves certain things for me. “You Can’t Take” and “Wants It.”
“Wants It” is actually a collection of different relationships I’ve been in. It sounds at first glance that I’m heartbroken. If you listen or read the rest of the lyrics it shows how I was heartbroken but when she decided to come back into your life it was like, “See you later.” Those are pretty personal and are closest to me and songs I’ll definitely be playing throughout my career.
When you introduced one of your songs, you said that it’s about a girl and how most of your songs are. Are you ever afraid to reveal too much in your songwriting because maybe that girl will hear it?
Knock on wood, I haven’t had too much drama over the past couple years. They are all old situations based on things I went through and I’ve moved past. Getting specific with them now is almost like talking about something that happened in grade school. It seems silly to get specific with it now. The new EP is going to be very, very specific and much more current. I don’t know if it’s going to be like Songs About Jane by Maroon 5 where they were very clear about someone in particular. But, it’s going to be a little more specific. Rather than encompassing years of my life into an album, it will be more current and things I’ve experienced in the past year or less. I might get a little bit more revealing. We’ll see.
Would you rather someone hear you first on your CD or see you perform live?
I would say the CD just because … you saw me at Highline Ballroom and the sound is amazing there so I could hear my instruments and nothing was feeding back and I was in a good spot. That’s a good show and people connect live with things more. They can see emotion. They can see the human aspect of it a little more. Would I take a crappy sound system live versus a CD? I’d go with a CD any day. For the right room with the right crowd is great. A noisy sports bar where people are watching the game eating buffalo wings, then maybe not. I’d like to know that from my fans. I should ask them. I’d be curious to know.