A Conversation with Dylan Rockoff

Dylan Rockoff is a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee. His Summer 2021 tour highlighted tracks from his new album, Semicolon & Parentheses. Since the end of his tour, Dylan has released a new EP, Crooked Records. His love for guitar has led him on a musical journey through many genres, from classic rock, to hip hop, to indie rock.

Thanks for meeting me, Dylan! So I guess just to start, what got you into music?

Yeah. So my mom made me and all my siblings take piano lessons when we were really young, so I was kind of forced into it when I was young. I never really connected with the piano when I was a kid. It was very traditional and out-of-the-book music theory. In hindsight, I am super, super grateful to have started that way, but it wasn’t until I picked up guitar when I was like, 12 or 13 years old and I was really, really taken by the instrument.

And also, honestly, Guitar Hero, the video game, got me into play guitar. That was a really good introduction to a lot of the music that I really came to love. Like, at that point in my life, the classics like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, and a lot of Brit rock. That’s how I really got into guitar music, and then what I’ve done in music has transformed over time. We were a very musical family. My older brother was a dancer and a singer, so I would go around and watch him perform all the time. We all played piano, my mom was always singing around the house, and I was always just kind of around it. But I just needed that one spark, one thing to really connect to music, and that was guitar for me.

So you said your inspiration has changed over time. So what were you first inspired by and what are you inspired by today?

It’s always transforming. I was super into sports when I was a kid, so music wasn’t really my thing. But when I first started really getting into music, it was a lot of punk rock, like Blink-182 and Green Day. I had an emo phase when I loved My Chemical Romance. And then after that, I started really getting classic rock, like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who, and others like that. Then I started getting to Indie rock towards the end of high school, like Grizzly Bear, Minus the Bear and stuff like that. I also started playing a lot of jazz in high school, like Miles Davis and John Coletrane and Pat Metheny. Because I started studying guitar really hard, I got into acoustic fingerstyle guitar players like Andy McKee and Don Ross. In college, I discovered pop music because I started writing my own songs after listening to John Mayer, who really changed my musical trajectory. I had respect for his guitar skills, but also his ability to write these incredibly hooky, memorable pop songs. I thought that was a really cool template for something I could do well.

So then I got into Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and Jason Mraz, kind of singer-songwriter and guitar-driven stuff. At the end of high school, I got really into hip hop, which has always been something that I’ve come back to and really appreciated over time. I then moved to Nashville, where Americana and country is really big, so my style is morphed by that. So I would say that’s kind of like how my music taste as developed over time.

I noticed one of your big songs on your last album was a cover from the musical Grease. Are you thinking of writing more covers like that?

I grew up covering stuff, and I love the 50s, like Elvis and Grease, which I know was made in the 80s, but it’s all 50s stuff, and old school rock and roll. I’m really focusing on writing my own stuff right now, but we always pepper a couple of covers in, especially in the last album. I’m so happy with the way that people have taken to our version of that song. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s cool that people think that it’s really great. The song was a collaboration with Caroline Kole, who just released an album on September 6th.

A lot of my audience are college students and are musicians, so do you have any recommendations for college students who want to enter the music industry?

I was a business student in school, and I just kind of did my music thing as I was doing classes and everything. I think the biggest thing that I got from college was the networking, the people that you meet and staying in touch with all those people. This social aspect of college is a big part of building a career. Obviously, you want to do well in class and take class seriously and get your degree and do well in school. But I think the networking aspect, especially for music, is a big, big part of success. Whether you’re in school for music or something else, the people that you meet are going to be really formative at that point of your life. So whether you decide you want to go into business after you’re done with school or you decide you want to go into music, maintaining those relationships and staying in touch with people who are in the field that you want to go into is really important, no matter what you’re doing.

Are you still in touch with people that you went to college with?

Absolutely. So actually, we’re playing in Boston tomorrow, and on Friday, one of my best friends from college is getting married. So I am taking a day off of the tour to go to this wedding with a bunch of my friends from college.

It sounds like you’re doing a lot of traveling now. The pandemic isn’t officially over, but things are starting to open up. Are you excited to get back on stage?

Things are starting to come back, which makes me super, super happy. I’m Super stoked to see live music come back because, don’t get me wrong, I love being in studio, I love writing, and I love recording. But for me, ever since I picked up a guitar, my favorite thing to do is to get on stage and play and sing, There’s nothing like having an audience there. It’s like the live feedback loop of seeing the way that people are reacting to the stuff that you’re playing.

So, yeah, it’s great to be back. I’m really, really happy to play tonight and play tomorrow and be on the road. We left Nashville at six in the morning and we got to DC just a couple of hours ago. Being on the road is tiring, but it’s all worth it. At the end of the day, you get to do this to play music for other people.

So, as a singer-songwriter, what was the past year like with the pandemic?

It was an adjustment for me, because live music was such a big part of what I do and what I love to do. I had to focus more on songwriting and I can’t write in the same room as other people. I had to adjust to Zoom writing and try to figure out how to do the technical side of this. It helped me develop some production skills because I had to be able to record my own vocals, record my own guitar parts, and send them to my producers to mix. I’m grateful for the skills that I was able to acquire, but during the pandemic I definitely focused more on songwriting and enhancing my production skills, as opposed to performing live.

And obviously TikTok is massive right now. I was a little late to the game on that, but I have TikTok now. Better late than never. So anybody who’s listening, go follow me! I’m just finding my lane with that, because TikTok is a really huge platform with a massive audience. I haven’t quite cracked the code yet. I have a couple that have been moderately successful, but I’m still working on that. But it’s a really important tool for artists right now to connect with their audience.

I don’t know if you experienced any roadblocks while creating songs this past year, but do you have any recommendations for people who maybe have writer’s block during the pandemic, especially without a live audience?

I’ve been reading this book called The Secrets of Songwriting, and there’s a writer in there who says that writer’s block doesn’t exist. I didn’t believe that because I really felt like I’ve had writer’s block a lot of the time, but I think more than anything, you shouldn’t chase inspiration and instead just let it come to you. If it’s not coming to you, be honest with yourself about it, step away from your work, and don’t force it. I think it’s important to save creative space and give yourself half an hour or an hour to sit down and say, I’m going to give myself some time and see what comes out. If nothing comes out, that’s okay, too. But giving yourself the space to create and let inspiration come to you as opposed to going out and looking for it is a huge thing for me that’s been super helpful. Sometimes it’s just about changing you’re setting, too, like going for a walk, going to shoot hoops, or throw a football or baseball around. It’s a great way to kind of just get out of what’s going on in your head and get into everything else that’s going on around you in the world. I would also definitely recommend reading a book. I would have never had this philosophy, had I not picked up The Secrets of Songwriting. It’s been really helpful to me.

Where do you want to go next in your music career? I know this latest album has been pretty experimental with some hip hop influences and covers. Do you see a different direction for your music in the future, or are you thinking of going back to more traditional guitar playing?

I mean, I’m always experimenting with different stuff. I like the evolution of what I do. I don’t think the hip hop influence is going anywhere, it’s already in me. I’m not going to make a purely hip hop album, or purely pop, or purely rock. I think every one of my song is going to have a flavor of different influences. However, I am a big, big fan of Harry Styles’ new album. I would like to create something like that. He does a really great job of peppering in some of the same influences that I have. For example, the British rock really shines through. Some of his songs could have been Beatles songs, which I love. All his songs are also super fun and easy to dance to, which I think is a great template for me.

Do you have any last words for your fans?

I guess the biggest thing is thank you. Thank you for listening and thank you for being supportive. Please keep streaming my music, share it with your friends, and come and see me live for sure. Come sign my guitar, which I bring with me on tour. I really want to meet you face-to-face and say “thank you”. I know it’s crazy times that we’re living in, but keep after it. Keep your head up!

Definitely! Thank you so much, Dylan.

Thank you!

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