Time changes everything, except something within us which is always surprised by change, as a young Thomas Hardy put it. Time can change your whole world, your whole style, even your personality - Dominique Dillon de Byington, aka electro-pop artist Dillon, could make a strong case for all three.
The Brazilian-born singer based in Germany is currently on tour, after releasing her live album entitled Live at Haus der Berliner Festspiele in September, where she was accompanied for the first time by singers. Originally for a one-off performance, she explains quite simply why singers were important to her: “For this performance, I thought, ‘what do you want to do that you didn’t have the means to do before’, and I thought, I’m fed up of feeling alone onstage. I thought a choir would really help me with that.”
When asked whether the image of her performing backed by an all-female vocal group should be taken as a sign of unity in these times, her answer is immediate: “Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s the only way we can survive these days.”
“I think art is the easiest way to do this, you can always find artistic ways to express yourself, and you don’t have to be literal about everything. It’s already a statement to be standing there with 14 women, I don’t have to write a sentence about feminism; those who get it, get it, those who don’t, I think never will.”
The choir in question is Hackney’s Deep Throat Choir, but they are far from the only vocal ensemble Dillon has worked with. “It’s very intense during the day, because I’ve been working with a different choir for every performance. I’ve been in touch with them for months already, and every time there’s a show I arrive one day earlier, and we meet and rehearse, but until then everything has been rehearsed separately.”
Despite the effort and stress, there’s much that singers can bring, not only to the audience, but the performer herself. “Well of course every choir has a different sound to them. I have a clear vision of how I want it to sound, but at the same time, I let everyone bring themselves into it.”
Watching previous interviews, listening to tentative early performances, Dillon seemed a true introvert – she’s admitted to shutting down when losing her nerves in public situations. It reflected in the music also, almost like there was some kind of barrier between singer and listener, despite often utilising sparse textures. Here, however, she’s eager to engage and to set the record straight.
Love changes everything, as a young, saccharine Michael Ball once put it. Dillon speaks almost ruefully of her writing process on albums one and two, describing second album The Unknown as “hopefully the most depressing album I ever write”. She details the struggles she had to find that place to start, that urge to write something. On the other side, though, and in preparation for the third album, everything feels rosier, and certainly different.
“Right now, I’m chill. The new record is only love songs. I didn’t think that was going to happen this time, but it feels like a natural progression. I think all you can do is not be too harsh on oneself, I can only try to be kind to myself. The more kind I am, the warmer I can be, also in music.” The human element also returns on album three: “We’re in production right now, and there’s brass in the new album, which I love right now. There’s no choir on this record, it’s still my voice, my words and electronics, but there’s brass on a lot of the album, which is close to recapturing the human element.”
Responding to the question of how her relationship with her audience has also changed, Dillon is slow and considered: “I don’t feel like I have to protect myself any more. For the longest time, I thought that every thought I had, I had to say it out loud, to explain so that somebody understands me, so I’d explain and explain and explain and I’d get so tired and not necessarily receive more understanding.”
“I was forced to realise that I needed to be quiet, and people didn’t disappear just because of that. So I understood there are people who just appreciate me for what I do, and I didn’t have to justify anything, so I trust my audience.”
The Internet changes everything, as an altogether less young Bill Gates apparently put it. The art of sharing, and stealing, music is a world away from what came a decade or two ago, evolving just how every other form of sharing or stealing has evolved. Dillon, unsurprisingly, has first-hand experience of this – her biggest song to date, the stirring 'Thirteen Thirty Five', was originally sung directly over a recording of Jens Lekman’s song 'Pocketful of Money' in a simple YouTube video; 'Pocketful of Money' itself heavily sampled Beat Happening’s 'Gravedigger Blues', taking the main lyrical hook and moving it forward.
Now crafted into its own track, Dillon reveals the elements of chance that allowed 'Thirteen Thirty Five' to happen. “It was actually just a mere coincidence, because I was writing that poem, and I think I had a new laptop at the time; the only song I had on my iTunes library was 'Pocketful of Money', and I didn’t even know Jens. So I was writing the poem to the rhythm of the song, and I never realised, until I tried to write the music, and every time I sat at the piano I was frustrated.”
“So I sent Jens an email, saying ‘I’m working on this, and I don’t know what to do, I don’t even know if this is legal’. That original video I just uploaded to YouTube just to send to him, and he replied saying ‘Actually this is very beautiful’.”
When asked if she’d be interested in someone else doing the same to her song, Dillon says “I don’t know, maybe if someone takes it and turns it into something else, as long as no one is stealing, that’s great, I love recycling.”
“But I feel like people aren’t even interested in that, like I see people comment on the video, saying ‘You stole his song’, and it’s okay, I don’t respond to those comments. I think what’s happening with the song is super exciting, but a lot of people don’t seem to care that much. I want them to Google it, see that it’s a build-up of a build-up, but people really don’t seem to know that I will read what they write.”
In fact, if people only did a small amount of research, they would find an artist that has evolved beyond all recognition, by means of interaction and musicianship. After working with a choir, and moulding her own music from the blueprints of another, the art of collaboration, interaction, and the power of sharing, seems to have changed absolutely everything for Dillon.