We interviewed singer Dylan Gardner right before his show at Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan recently.
Who was the first person you called or told when you got signed to Warner Bros.?
I was in my living room with my manager and my family celebrating my birthday [when] I got the email with the contract that they wanted to sign me. I was so excited. I've always wanted to be especially with Warner Bros.; it's such a great label. . . . I've been working 18 years for that dream and it was amazing for that to finally happen. I think my old best friend from high school was maybe the first person I called, but I experienced the whole thing with my family, which is good because they're the ones who got me to that point.
Who inspires you?
Musically and in real life my parents are a huge inspiration to me and my manager is a huge inspiration to me. Musically you can't go wrong with the Beatles. They're my gods, my songwriting gods. The way I live my life and everything. Ben Folds, Sam Cooke, Harry Nilsson [are] people I look up to, songwriters that were able to put out lots of records and have a big musical output. I look up to a lot of people.
What do you do before you go onstage?
I sit backstage. I usually watch a video of a band backstage, like Elvis Costello, the Beatles, warming up. Something like that. You can see them, like, nervous. You think, man, if they were nervous and stuff. I just mentally get myself prepared. Then you just kind of like sit there and get ready to go on stage and just put it all out for everyone to see.
Who or what was the inspiration behind "Too Afraid to Love You"?
The funny thing about "Too Afraid to Love You," the way that I write my music is the melody just comes to me first and the lyric sometimes comes with that. That was one of those songs where I got both. And the same thing I was walking around the patio, actually on the phone with my friend. We were talking about pop music, whatever and it was just there. It came to my head. It was one of the weirder moments of me getting a melody in my head and I just like wrote from the first thing in my mind. But I think it's about a lot of things in my life, just my being nervous, really scared to take the next step to a lot of things. I was home schooled at the time so I wasn't seeing any of my friends. So no one specifically.
What do you do in your free time besides singing?
Practice, practice, practice. To be good at anything you always have to practice. So when I'm not singing I like to listen to records or record or just practice guitar, practice scales or anything. When I'm really, really not doing anything I'm watching TV. "House of Cards" or something.
We know you play guitar and drums. Are you self-taught and how many instruments can you play?
I am self-taught. I didn't like the idea of lessons of music as homework. Growing up I didn't like sitting up straight and playing "Frere Jacques" on the piano. So I wanted to learn by myself. So people that were my inspiration really got me into instruments. My brother Bart was playing drums. He's eight years older than me and he's also my drummer. I saw him playing drums. I thought I wanted to be a drummer. So that was the first thing I knew how to play. I saw Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin on a live DVD and I said I want to learn how to play guitar. So I got myself a teach-yourself guitar book and sat there with my fat sausage fingers, awkwardly formed the chords for a couple of weeks and just kept strumming and kept getting it and after a while I knew three chords, and I can play this song and this song. And Ben Folds got me into the piano. If you have an inspiration and a will to practice the instrument you can learn anything. I think if you're forced to study something as a lesson it's not as exciting. I found that with reading too. Books you're assigned in school and books you find yourself.
What have you enjoyed the most about your career?
Getting to write my own songs. I think that's the most important thing to any songwriter is getting to express yourself musically, getting to work on your own music, record it, lease it, get to have your own vision and that's the part I'm most proud of.
What are some challenges you have faced?
Being in any business trying to get yourself out there, there's always lots of challenges. A million things come up each day -- songs that don't work out or songs that are hard to record or tours or dates that fall through and the thing is you have to find time to deal with it. And there's always downs and there's always ups. You just have to learn how to deal with both of those and have a goal in mind. There are some challenges, but you never get discouraged.
What do you like about going on tours?
Well, this is my first tour, so the thing I like the most is getting to go to all these places for the first time and seeing all these great people that I would never get to see living in Los Angeles or Arizona or Illinois. Getting to play a show every night, getting in the band, getting in the groove. That's my favorite par
If you weren't a singer what would you do?
I'd eventually find music because I wasn't meant to do anything else.
How do you feel about playing in the same music hall as Lady Gaga and Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day?
Wow, I didn't know that. My manager plays a huge part in Billie Joe Armstrong's career. So I guess we're carrying the torch. I'm very honored.
What's your upcoming album?
I'm always working on new stuff. I can put out a second album tomorrow, but I wouldn't just yet. So right now I'm promoting my latest album, "Adventures in Real Time," which came out in January.
Do you like it when the audience sings along?
Of course. I say every show audience participation is the best kind of participation. When we play the show live we get people to sing the chorus at the end of it. It's just incredible.
We looked up your dad's band on YouTube. Do you think it's cool to see people dancing to your Dad's band?
Definitely. I love my dad and I love his band too and getting to see people getting into my Dad's music retroactively now is just really great. I know it makes my dad happy and it makes me really happy.
Would you ever have your dad come up and perform with you?
If you could have a duet with anyone who would it be?
Elvis Costello or Paul McCartney.