You’ll remember ‘Notice Me’ the way you remember your fav films; no stunts, no overproduction, just honesty. It’s a bold move for Dylan, an artist most at ease switching musical modes and demonstrating the breadth of his talent, which is exactly why it works. A blue-eyed soul ballad that already feels lovingly well-worn, it’s spare and direct writing is adorned only by the melodic firepower of Dylan’s former superstar tourmate, Ruel. A duet of Australia’s strongest new voices, saying it straight. They don’t make songs like this much anymore.
Dylan initially made his name as a rapper, but if you ask him, he’s always wanted to spend more time belting out hooks.That meant putting in the work, including enrolling in a relentless, military style vocal training boot camp – “Man it was crazy, you had to commit upfront to ten weeks before they’d even consider letting you in” – which resulted in a newfound understanding of the dynamism and flex in his voice. After thrashing his vocal cords silly in an effort to impress his instructor, Dylan quickly realised he’d been hiding a voice of gold behind those rapid-fire verses.
Shortening his stage name to Dylan J, he decided to start writing songs to showcase his singing, rather than leave it languishing in the background. “To be honest I never really had the confidence in my voice,” he chuckles. “Whenever I’d be on the road with other rappers they’d always ask me to sing, so I decided I wanted to focus on it more.”
Another change that’s been creeping into Dylan’s work over the past few years has been his approach to songwriting. “I’ve been sitting out on the porch with only a guitar, playing the same riff over and over again”. That minimalist, heartfelt approach is stamped all over ‘Notice Me’, which Dylan says was ultimately written in an hour. “For me, if it doesn’t sound good on just one instrument, it’s not a good song”.
Dylan’s co-writer and harmonic foil on ‘Notice Me’ certainly isn’t a dial-in collab; he’s known Ruel since the latter was 11 years old. A duet has been on the cards for the boys for years, but only with this number did they finally make it a reality. “We had this two day session at this fancy studio,” Dylan remisces, “And we just got nothing out. No ideas. We were really bummed about it. Afterwards, we went back to Ruel’s Mum’s house and she said ‘Why don’t you go to the music room and just see what you come up with?’ And we wrote it on this crappy old acoustic. It just spilled out.”
In between putting out singles, Dylan’s been writing with the next crop of Australian singer-songwriters including Alex Lahey, Gretta Ray, Oscar Dawson, Elliot, Jack Gray & Japanese Wallpaper. He says the sessions, which end up being largely therapeutic, inspire him to write more directly, which is definitely the case on ‘Notice Me’. “Honestly, rapping can be summed up in a line but we manage to fill three and a half minutes,” he laughs. “You can often hide a lot in rap verses, but I’m not afraid of bearing my soul anymore, especially on stage. In fact, I can’t wait to do more of it!”