A few thousand kilometres from his home province of PEI, Dylan Menzie, 22, arrives in Edmonton to play his largest Folk Music Festival to date. “The energy at this festival is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I’ve heard on the Sunday night finale, when all the candles come out and thousands singing along together, I’m excited to see that. I’ve never played to that many people before,” he reveals before continuing, “it is such a relaxing environment even though there is thousands of people.”
Dylan’s upbringing was steeped in musical exposure and access to experimentation on instruments: “I started playing music at eight or nine years old. I started on violin just doing jigs and reels, fiddle kitchen party tunes as you do on the East Coast. I moved onto piano, trumpet, drums, by the time I was 16, I played 8-9 instruments, and now more than that… It was always something I was interested in. I have my older brothers that played music and when I was growing up they were teaching me bands and songs. It stems from that. It was always around the house… I took music in school and in Grade 12, I decided to go into the school talent show. I wrote a song the night before and I went up and I played it. I got a standing ovation from the school. So I thought: OK, I’ll try [and pursue music]. I can always go back to whatever nine to five I would have had in my life whenever I want so I might as well go for this. I haven’t looked back since.”
He shares that he doesn’t feel a pressure to sound a particular way. “I write whatever emotion I feel at that point, whether it has a traditional [music] aspect to it or not, I roll with whatever is happening. I do whatever comes, I don’t fight it,” he states in a calm tone. Dylan further elaborates on his process: “You never know where it’s going to come from or what’s going to spark. I may be driving home from a tour and it sparks a concept for an album. I recently just changed the way I am writing. Before I used to just completely go [and start writing]. Although I am going with the flow, I am still consciously thinking of what I’m saying, which I didn’t used to do. I’ll come up with a melody or spark that comes to my brain.”
Dylan then reveals one of his favourite pastimes to do in his creative process, “I like driving. Usually I get ideas when I’m just driving home somewhere. You get into that state and your brain goes off into these tangents. If I have an idea like a melody line or subject matter, I’ll go home and write a song for that. Once the song lyrics are done, I’ll play it on the piano as slow as I possibly can with the simplest chords. If the melody and lyrics can hold up in that raw, basic state then I take it one step further. At that point, I can speed it up, I show it to the band and we can work out drums and bass. And then I take out the piano and guitar and do just drums, bass, and melody. That’s your foundation: the rhythm section and melody. If it sounds great with just those three things, then everything else is going to sound good on top of it, all the textures and whatever you want to add later. It’s a house. You have to build your foundation before you do anything else.”
It is not surprise that a challenge any musician faces is the balance between constant travel in order to share their work while maintaining a home base. Dylan notes that there is a supportive community back on the East Coast that creates showcase opportunities. Events like East Coast Music Awards or Showcase PEI brings audiences in to share the work of musicians in the area. From the way Dylan describes his creative process, he benefits from silence in his environment. This allows his mind to do music meditation, which he describes as a process where he has time to internally replay melodic fragments that are still in its creation stage. Thus, he notes the importance of PEI remaining his home where he can use those quiet periods to refine his work, “I love doing music meditation. Sometimes when I’m playing, I get lost in what I’m playing on the piano and the guitar. I forget about what I should be writing. Sometimes I love to just sit in silence, sometimes in the dark, and be with my own thoughts, filter those, and be with them in my own head. [Living in] PEI is key for that. Silence is so helpful.”
Dylan is working on content for his next record. He is approaching his upcoming album differently than those in the past since, this time, he has a theme for the project: feeling connected. He even created his own word for it. He defines the word as “letting go of your inner self and being a part of something bigger. That is the centre point for the whole record. It felt really good to have an idea for an entire record.” Dylan is clear that is doesn’t wish to rush the process. “There’s just something to be said with being with songs for a long time. They can change a lot. From the original idea to what I have know and I imagine it will change by the time we record them. If you look at it like a sculpture, you keep chipping away until you finally have the sculpture. You have the outline and you keep adding detail. It just keeps getting more intricate. You need time to do that.”
As Dylan muses about the future, he reveals some of his communicative intent through his music: “I love to have messages in specific records and songs. With this [upcoming] record, it is being connected and a part of something bigger than yourself, letting go of your ego and self doubt. And feeling connected to everything: people and inanimate objects. For example. my guitar, I’ll say it has a soul, even though it’s just wood and string but it feels like it has a soul. We feel connected to that. Everything that you are a part of in your life is based on what you connect to in your life: your clothes, music that you listen to, your friends. You can boil every part of yourself down to the question: Do I connect with it or not?”
Speaking with an eloquence and a self-reflective clarity about his musical work, Dylan is only in the beginning stages of further honing his artistic voice. The question he is asking, matters, and it it is evident his upcoming record will continue to connect with listeners.