Dijon on spontaneity, keeping his music raw, and learning to love life on tour
In the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast, Alex Robert Ross talks to Dijon about his debut album Absolutely.
Dijon on spontaneity, keeping his music raw, and learning to love life on tour Dijon

The FADER Interview is a podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and subscribe to The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.

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In the background to this conversation with Dijon, you'll hear some noise, birds chirping, a helicopter overhead, the artist's dog scratching at his front door. In some sense, that's a happy accident. The Baltimore and Los Angeles raised musician says that his debut album, Absolutely, is for the most part quote, "An abstracted interpretation of what making music feels like to me," end quote. It's an organic record dotted with beautiful imperfections, a combination of rapturous Americana and delicate soul, comprising dozens of small production and songwriting experiments. Those who listened to Dijon's music three years ago, after he split from his close friend and musical partner, Harvey, and went solo for the first time, will recognize the Dijon of Absolutely.

But the guardrails he installed around his work back then, in an apparent attempt to develop his own voice have now been dismantled. His promising, How Do You Feel About Getting Married? EP, released 18 months ago, spotlit an artist ready to collaborate, and in some sense, let go. The process that grew out of that is on clear display in a live video for album opener, "Big Mike's," recorded an in a recreation of his LA living room with a full band, including Mike Gordon, better known as Mk.gee, whose grooves underpin many of the songs here. That recording of "Big Mike's" is like Absolutely itself, lucid and engrossing. I called Dijon to talk about the album a few hours before it was released. As you'll hear, he eventually let his dog run out into the yard.

The FADER: When this podcast comes out, the record will have been out for six days. But as of right now, you've got, what about 12 hours until it comes out? How are you feeling?

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Dijon: Yeah, I feel good. I don't really know what you're supposed to feel, I guess. I think the idea of an album has changed quite a bit. Just trying not to overthink it too much. We live in a very hyper-immediate world. So I think that for me, I've been working, I guess, towards a full length thing, probably my whole life, or since I started making music 14 years ago. So in that way, it's a bit overwhelming. But you get a different experience releasing music in this day and age. So it feels a little bit kind of complicated, I guess.

For better or worse, it's not exactly what you might have imagined 12 years ago. But I suppose 12 years ago, you also thought it might come out on CD or something. But beyond that, there's that difference between the expectation and reality, which it can be a little bit jarring sometimes.

100%. I'm in between a generation where for me, streaming didn't exist for me until maybe 2014, 2015. I just didn't have it and didn't have access to it. So at that time I was pretty deep into trying to make music as a thing. I was still buying CDs or still torrenting full records. So that shift has been both extremely helpful, because you can get to publicly have like a sketchbook of ideas that come out. But at the same time, yeah, it's kind of jarring because I feel like I'm just lucid enough to be like, "Okay, I made a record, but the entire landscape is different." It's getting used to that. Getting the land legs.

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With the album itself, I guess I wanted to start by talking about this video you put up of "Big Mike's," of you performing it live in what appears to be your living room. Is that your living room?

No. I did a lot of the record in my house where I'm at right now and then a big chunk of it in upstate New York. And I took maybe two or three photos while we were making the record. I didn't really consciously know we were doing an album. We had a few photos, my girlfriend had a few photos and we gave this to an amazing crew and we were just like, "Let's just try to remake that living room." We wanted to see if we could start having a new conversation visually because we live in this pretty insane and kind of, to me, really illogical musical landscape, we thought it would be interesting if, as the record was being shaped, how do you also engage visually with some of the themes of the record?

Yeah, it's a ridiculous task to try to recreate the room that I made the record in, but we thought that that was maybe the next logical step of what music and visuals and how those things meet should be. It's like this constant overall. It's like out of time. Especially because if you're a first time listener, you have no clue. And there's probably not really any reason for you to care about the process of the record. So we were just trying to find ways to emphasize, even if it was fabricated, the creation of music, if that makes any sense. Because right now you're hyper-inundated all the time with content to the point where it's so abstracted that I think it's oftentimes forgotten that humans do it, humans are behind it.

I think you used the word overlapping as a way of describing this process. What do you mean by that?

So I have a philosophy with how I make music that I've been working on for quite some time. I'm not much of a refiner. I don't believe in it. I think that it's just not my thing and it's not my specialty. So I had done so much of this music in short bursts with friends, that I'll talk about and shout out as we proceed, but I'd done these things in one takes. And there were a couple of moments of, "Oh, that's kind of crazy, let's pull that down," or something. But these songs are marinating in the philosophy we're developing post music, post song. So when we decided to do this visual, it came from a conversation from suits, and I'm using that term both affectionately and pejoratively. But the suits, immediately, you show them something and they go, "What's it look like? What's the thing look like?" I don't think like that. I just don't think about music like that. I'm personally pretty over performance videos. I'm over people lip-syncing for content. It makes no sense to me.

So we were like, well, we're not going to shoot a video for it, for any song on the record. And I probably won't ever do that. So the overlap idea came from this music's been done. Is there a world where you can reinterpret it and reimagine it, post us digesting these songs for months and sort of engage with it as if you didn't make them yet, as if they were just fledging ideas, like how do you overlap? To me the "Big Mike's" version that everybody's heard now isn't as sensual or spontaneous as the one that's on the record, but I think it might be better.

And I think that we were trying to engage with that where it's like, how do you not treat music so linearly? How do you overlap the processes to the point where I'm giving you two or versions of a record? One was extremely meticulously thought about which is the live one and one was completely random, which is the record version. And just how do you engage with that? I don't have any answers for it, but it's more of just what conversation can this start? Maybe none, I don't know. But that was kind of the goal.

You use that word spontaneity, which the first thing that jumped out, from that video, but also from the album as a whole. You recorded this in a pretty short space of time, the whole project, right? And was the writing process equally short?

No. So when the pandemic hit, I was kind of working on a record. That EP, How Do You Feel About Getting Married?, that I dropped was more in the effort of admittedly just kind of like, well, if it were up to me, I would spend years without making music or whatever. But it's not sustainable. So I put that out. But I was processing a lot of the music for a long time, but I don't do demos or anything like that. I just sit there and I just think about music for as long as I possibly can. So the writing process, if you can call it that, internally was pretty long. I'd say it's over two years. But the actual recording of it was instant. Once we started making music, I started off with the second song on the record scratching.

That was the first thing I did while I was trying to teach myself piano and everything else came out in another month or two, just with some travel. And just a lot of little words or whatever that I would be internalizing over the course of two years. They started coming out in freestyles. And I think the overall sound of the record I've been chipping away at for a very long time, which is just I think contemporary version of a live record. Again, sort of engaging with the idea of the live video, you don't really know what's real happening. I've been working on that idea for a long time where it's like one take things, maybe all the room being recorded at once. That philosophy has been in the working stages since I started making music under this project. Now I'm completely over it.

You said something there, you said you would go years without making music, if that was an option, but it's not sustainable. It's rare to hear a musician talk like that. I suppose the question is why? What would you do if you weren't? Do you find it sort of burdensome to be on that conveyor belt?

I spent a lot of time in school and I spent a lot of time working. The transition that I had from being able to make music full time still hasn't really set in and it's not the most pleasant world to live in for me. I think I would just rather do anything else just because I do think it's quite just personally disrespectful to the craft and to the magic that's music, just to make it. That's just my own personal thing. I know so many people I admire and really look up to and get excited, inspired by who constantly make music. It's an amazing world. It's just not for me. I just think that in service of what I'm trying to do, it just, unfortunately for me, requires a lot time. I'm not like a musician by trade. I'm still learning how to play instruments and all these things. So I think that that data just takes a while to set in and marinate. So I'd rather just have a job or something sometimes.

You've spoken a little bit in the past about really wanting Dijon to be distinctly yours, to sort of put walls up around it. Why did you feel that in the first place and what changed just before the EP?

I think there's a little bit of resentment and some sort of guilt that I had trying to make music in the first place. I think that a lot of people can relate to that. It's just something that feels kind of weird. We live in a really weird zone. I went to school to teach. There's always this resentment. So I always thought that it was supposed to be like, I've earned a thing. So I closed off a lot of stuff. I wanted to make sure it was like, well you earned it. Whatever you do, if it works, it works. And if it does work, you did it. Nobody can take credit for it. And I do think there's a sanctity to being able to make music and I hit a wall, around How Do You Feel About Getting Married? where it just wasn't as fun.

I think I have a really objective take on my music and music in general. That's just like where I came from and it's how I digest music. And I just don't think that my music at that point was fulfilling its potential. And I started to realize, yeah, there's moments where I want to explore that zone and I just don't have the vocabulary for it. So I had to humble myself a little bit and try to open it up a little bit. But it wasn't as conscious. I guess the whole thing was when I met my buddy, Mike, who makes music under Mk. gee, when he showed up, it was a very random coincidence. He showed up and we did "Big Mike's" together pretty much instantly.

That's when I was like, well, he has a language and a vocabulary that I just don't have. And suddenly, the confidence that I felt exploring myself, vocally became a little bit more obvious. It was more like if I'm just doing everything myself, which I was doing for the most part before, you get stuck in almost like a treadmill of your tropes. And the moment somebody else's language is injected in what I was doing, suddenly there was a new door. There was also this weird feedback system where we didn't really know each other that well. So we're kind of almost competing in the room together. And I just realized immediately, not only is this person inspiring a lot of new ideas, but they're pushing out a different edge that I always, in the back of my mind, was like this Dijon project, it can be better than what it is.

And when we started having this competitive edge and constantly trying excite each other in a room, I can still pilot this album. But every single moment, every detail of it doesn't have to be my fingerprint. And suddenly it's just like, also now my brain power isn't wasted on this chord progression right here. I can just freak out or try a new character, try a new thing. And it started to become a little bit more exciting in that way. And that's what happens, I think. And that's why it opened up. It's pretty organic.

I'm also a huge shit talker. I'm a huge like critic of music. So you start to realize you got to put your money where your mouth is and the only way you could expand your ideas is if other people are involved to a degree. It's more like a pride thing. I can't talk shit if I can't back it up. And I can only back it up if more people are involved. And that's the main reason that it kind of expanded. I think that there's still a pretty distinct fingerprint that I have on this record only because of certain choices that I know people wouldn't make or wouldn't want to make. And you get more confident in those choices when other people around you holding certain things down and encouraging that sort of exploration.

I wonder if one of the reasons that you felt more comfortable allowing people in the Dijon project, you said you didn't want your fingerprints, or you didn't feel the need to have your fingerprints all over everything anymore. But maybe to some extent you'd built enough of a vocabulary yourself within this project that it felt like if you invited people in, they wouldn't necessarily alter it, they would just improve it.

Yeah. I think that that's subconsciously somewhere where I was at. I did scratching. I thought there's a really cool world where I haven't heard somebody plot away on a MIDI keyboard trying to make the simplest chord progression of all time. And I was like that's my style. But there were moments where it's like, yeah, maybe my idea or my voice or my cadences that I wanted to explore can only exist with a new language. I'm extremely indebted, especially to Mike. He had amazing opinions and his spirit is all over this record, but there was also this built in trust that made me more confident where he was like, "No, just rock that idea over. But what about this? What if the pocket's different?" And it's like, yeah, sounds good to me.

Something like "Big Mike's," it's like sort of meditative and hypnotic ode to R&B, to me, the end of R&B in my mind. That doesn't exist without his very bizarre phrasing where I could then get a little bit more repetitive and cyclical with how I was singing. And I've been trying to do stuff like that. I didn't have that touch myself and I think it helped open up my world a little bit more for sure. I think that somewhere subconsciously, that was happening and I was engaging with it.

It seems that very much true of like many times as well, which you've got that syncopation, which you can tell with your phrasing at the beginning of that stuff that could split off in any different direction. But it seems like Mike's influence on that was quite strong.

100%. That song was started. His drum pass is what started it. Testament to [Andrew] Sarlo too. We laid down so many crazy things on top of what was already a pretty hectic and manic bed. And I didn't start writing until Sarlo rearranged parts and took things out. And I never trusted anybody with that before in my life. And it opened up so much. And then I was able so quickly and so easily to engage with the world. It came out of me pretty naturally because yeah, there was just a whole new groove that I'd always wanted to rock on. That song is loosely attribute to post-punk stuff, just like throwing in a garbage bin. I've always wanted to engage with like this rambling kind of thing that doesn't really have to have any particular arc or meaning, but never really had the skillset to do it.

I was always kind of making very linear replications of that kind of stuff, like Life Without Buildings and things like that, things that friends have shown me. Always super excited by the looseness, like the nonsequitors. And, but it wasn't until something just clicked, when you hear this insane drum pattern that I would've just never been able to make, just wouldn't have done it. And there's a humility that comes with this too, that I think allowed the music to be a little bit more me when you finally start to humble yourself and stop being so angry all the time. You start to find what excites you, which I think is very key to this album. It's a very selfish album in that way.

I'm interested in your lyrical approach here. You said in an interview a while back, you've talked about wanting to bring some of what you love about short story writing into your music. For a start, who are the short story writers that you particularly admire and that you want to carry with you?

I am pretty limited. I don't have the greatest vocabulary writing, even though that was my focus in school. But the stuff that I always really was obsessed with was Raymond Carver and Annie Proulx. And pretty recently I was really into Tenth of December, George Saunders, very uniquely American kinds of things. But never really in content, more in attitude. I just read Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son. I was reading those short stories and there's this crassness to how they write. There's a simplicity, but also almost a violence to how they write that again, it's less content based, but I just was really obsessed with just the way that their words interact and typically very simple. Very simple, just perfect choices, always. These people, they only write the right thing if that makes any sense.

And that's just something that I've always wanted to take from it. I find it a little bit easier to pull from prose sometimes just because the particular interaction with words that I want doesn't happen often enough in the music I love. But there's some pretty odd ones musically that have really influenced me. The obvious would be Ghostface and Raekwon. They collide words in a way that is very, very provocative to me. And I think about them all the time. Cam'ron did an amazing job with that too. It's not just fun to listen to, but it's just like insane.

But there's other stuff too, like Panda Bear, I actually think has influenced the way I write a lot in its simplicity. You know that song, "Daily Routine" on Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, just little ways of engaging with simple objects in a specific tempo, like a time thing, really evokes mood a lot to me. So I just try to pull from those things. Adrianne Lenker is I think the best living song writer. Joni Mitchell, obviously. And just those things really were just, you only find them pretty rarely. But short stories to me have had a lot of that same engagement just with no rhythm and no melody. But it makes it a little bit easier to find out what you like about it, when you're not distracted by sound.

There's a sense in these songs, lyrically. Obviously the lyrics have to work with the spontaneity of the music to some extent. But there's also, you leave a lot of detail at these songs, but remove I suppose a lot of narrative. So you're keeping in these things that feel quite specific for you, but it feels like you're trying to reach for a sort of universality with your listener. Is that a conscious decision that you want to try and make these stories accessible?

No. It comes more from like, I'm still finding my footing as a writer. I wouldn't be confident writing without music right now. As tender as I think hyper-specificity in like a lyrical world can be for people, especially people who are really good at it, just to me, it's more of like I'm just developing my style and refining my taste. Because if I give you some sort of exposition, I'm just not qualified as a writer to do it in a way that's meaningful. And then I start to waste precious music time to me. So I'm just trying to find ways to incorporate a specific detail that creates an image for me that I can then continue to write. If I start off like some sort of actual world, I just don't think that I would ever get anything done because I'm not accomplished enough as a writer to do that.

And I think my only skillset is recognizing that for me. I can find like a tempo of detail and just know what to omit before the actual song gets very clumsy. I've just been trying to work on that for a while. I'm fascinated with like abstraction too, because it's a little bit easier to gain some sort of some meetings. So in that way, it's supposed to be universal, I guess. But it's mostly just like a crutch. It's mostly a well thought out crutch. Just because it's tough. It's tough to give you a time and a place. I just don't have that skill. Some people can though. Joni Mitchell really could, she can give you a time and place, I can't. Prince couldn't either.

And "God In Wilson" seems to be a pretty good example of this, of these details appearing. They're details, but they're not specific if that makes sense. They're not there as a narrative device as much as an emotional device.

"God In Wilson"'s an interesting one because I wasn't going to put on the record. And in the effort of trying to make a debut record, your brain immediately jumps to like, how do you make the most flawless record? And to me that is the most flawed song on the record because there's a specific theme throughout the album that's kind of just for me. And "God and Wilson" is a bit too on it. When I listened back, I was like, "I don't think I nailed that." But that's what I was trying to do, was trying to engage with a specific theme. There's like a hatred and there's shame, music repression in that song. I kept it on there because I was like, I got to have some sort of landmark for what I want to actually do.

I think "God In Wilson," as a songwriter, is where I'm trying to go, that I haven't quite gotten yet, where the rest of the record is more of a abstracted interpretation of what making music feels like to me. But "God In Wilson" is the flaw. If I could, there would be a perfect version of that song somewhere that I don't think I've tapped into yet. But yeah, that was the only one on the record too, that I think wasn't immediately pulled from some sort of actual person that I know or a moment that I've experienced, which is I think why I'm more sensitive to it. Because it's like you're trying to tell a little story and I don't know if it works. But that was like much like some weird half-assed Flannery O'Connor tribute kind of thing, like this sort of like raving preacher vibe.

I'm still trying to refine that aspect of it. And those were nods to some sort of repression or sexuality or deep shame just through little phrases. And it doesn't have to be about me. That was definitely the one attempt that I had on the record.

One thing that you said, which I was quite surprised by, there was this anger or disappointment or frustration with life on tour. I'm not surprised to hear that because I don't think that people feel that. It seems inevitable that touring would be exhausting and would deplete you. But it's not often you hear people being quite so honest about it. You said recently that you couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. You used, the word hate, that you hated it. But you couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. Are you any closer to pinpointing that?

I've pinpointed a little bit, but it would sound too accusatory if I articulated it, how like I feel about it. I guess it's okay to sound accusatory, it's fine. I just don't understand what people expect when you play a show. I think that my music is quite, flaws and all, is quite personal and it felt like a little absurd to do that over and over again. The performative aspect of it just isn't something that I've wrapped my head around yet. And hopefully I get better at it because there is some sort of joy that I do find in singing, I guess sometimes. But the hatred I felt was more, I don't know, doesn't really feel like there's many stakes. If it doesn't sound bad, it's like, it doesn't really matter.

And I can't quite dig it. I can't quite get down with what are you supposed to engage with when I perform these songs? And if you've heard these songs and I'm super grateful for people who have, what am I supposed to give you? I don't really know. And I guess that's like the confusing thing. So I still haven't quite pinpoint down, but something feels strange about it. And this record is definitely for me, clearly a reaction to the mess that's made musically. And just trying to like close the gap a little bit where it's like, you can make a decision if you enjoy this world at all. And I don't think I was giving people that choice before. I hide behind tucked vocals and some sort of angst that allows like it to feel like more niche, I guess.

And after touring, I was like, well, I guess I have to make a record that's truly exactly how I hear music all the time, warts and all, because maybe it'll clarify when I'm back on tour, why I'm there as opposed to suddenly being plopped on a stage and singing songs that you wrote years before trying to milk some sort of reaction to your music. It's like, well maybe if people actually hear how I am making music, at least at this stage, then I have a human watch in there. My dog is trying to break out of the door.

It's a tough world and I haven't quite figured it out yet. And it might just also be like a weird imposter syndrome thing where it's like, I get so overwhelmed with the idea of playing shows, because it's very difficult to understand when you're so distant from the consumption of the music that you make. It's difficult to understand why people would be there. So there's a graciousness that I think informs the hatred too. I just don't think I know how to react to that yet. It feels unearned in a weird way, but I'm grateful.

It's so rare that people discuss it in that way. When you strip it of the tradition of you make an album and you go out on tour and all that stuff.

Yeah. Well maybe it's because I sound so miserable saying it. I'm really not, but I'm just being honest about what freaks me out about making music. It's a true blessing to be able to do it. I'd be a real asshole if I wasn't questioning it. There's some questions that I have about it that have not been answered yet. I also just love music. I respect it so much. There's a lot of self-deprecation because you watch like D'Angelo perform and you're like, "Man, I'm not there yet. So why would anybody care about what I'm doing?"

Okay. So tell me what your ideal, I guess a five year span, but if you could draw a creative process up as a musician, let's say whatever happens a hundred grand a year is going into your bank account, whatever you pick. Whether you release an EP every week for a year, or if you decide to just go walking in the woods for a while. What would it look like to you?

My ideal layout honestly, would just be the music that I'm trying to make right now for all of its spontaneity and improvisation. I talked to Mike about this a lot because he helped me build this world. It's not an accident. There is just something that I want to hear with music. My ideal world would be a little bit more accessible. So people who are maybe more qualified, like either vocally or rhythmically or lyrically, that they could kind of like open up musically as well. So my ideal world would be I would love to work with other people. I would love to get like Ariana Grande in a room and just set up a room mic and hear her interpretation of what I think we were trying to do is create a new world of truly, the music is just there now.

It just exists. There's a couple of moments where that's not the case, but for the most part it's just there. In the next five years, I would love to just hone this sound a little more and strip some of the linearity from other music that I actually really love. I would love to engage in the pop world with some of the more messy, far out sonic choices. Because I just don't see the difference when I hear like... I think many times was on like New Music Friday, which I guess is the pinnacle of all things now. And sonically, what it was up against was just so insane to me. Same drum pack, same master bus thing. And it's like rendering a lot of these ideas that I think are pretty remarkable in the pop space. It's pretty homogenous.

And that's what I'd like to see in five years is hopefully having some sort of ability to at least take a stab at other things that kind of take me out of my comfort zone, but maybe putting a different spin or a fingerprint or pulling out different versions of songwriting for people. Kanye does it pretty amazingly. It's a huge sort of subconscious influence. But my favorite thing and a lot of people criticize, my favorite thing that Kanye has done post Yeezus, is how he's clearly not finishing songs and they can still engage with a huge audience. He's mumbling on like 90% of the music now, but he understands the efficiency of the mood, if that makes any sense. Dropping really blown out phone recording demos, but on a gigantic scale. That's just the dream.

It's just my trajectory. Continue to make music, hopefully get a space where I can save my project for more personalized ideas. But just engage with other scopes. I just want to get in a room with anybody who would have me, who would be willing to be like, yeah, let's just try for like five days. What happens if it sounds like this? What happens if there is phone recorded pedal steel in the hook or something and what happens if you're not double tracked and you're not Melodyne. It sounds like you're 40 feet away from a microphone, but people feel it and they feel a new side of your music now or a new side of your personality. That's kind of the goal. Trying more wonky shit too. I really want to make rap records, but just make them sound a little bit more minimal and fuzzy. That would be my ideal path, and I would do it for free.

Well Dijon, I've take up an hour of your afternoon, but this was a really great chat.

I appreciate it. I'm a rambler. I appreciate you so much for having me. Honestly, thank you.

Of course. Thanks for doing this and congratulations on the record and have a good Thursday.

Take care.

Dijon on spontaneity, keeping his music raw, and learning to love life on tour