Here's my interview with Dylan Steele of Smoking Cola
How'd you get started in music?
My entire life I have pretty much been surrounded by music. My parents are/were both singers and musicians of various levels of success and, for most of my life, my dad was a radio DJ - in fact, I like to say I literally grew up in radio stations. As far as playing music, I started playing bass in high school, which led to a few bands in my 20s and early 30s, where I branched out to guitar and vocals. Then life went in a few different directions, kids and such entered the picture, and now I am basically restarting in my late 40s with a completely different sound.
Who are your inspirations or influences?
My influences are crazy diverse - literally everything from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan (who I am actually named after) to The Clash to Psychedelic Furs to Run D.M.C. to Metallica to Pearl Jam to The Roots to St. Vincent. I could sit here all day listing musicians and bands and still miss half of them, so let's just say everything from Anthrax to Robert Zimmerman. I like to think that, if anything sets me apart, it is that I am not afraid to use any of these influences for inspiration, so even a simple acoustic song might have a bit of a metal riff, a little groove or verse that makes you bob your head, and something weird and experimental in it.
My other big influences are my kids - when you have people who love you so unconditionally, it's easy to stop caring what other people think. Also, singing bedtime songs every night for several years is a great way to incorporate some vocal practice into your life, haha.
What advice would you offer aspiring performers?
I can really only offer what has worked for me, so I would say learn how to practice and know who you are. As far as practice goes, you should, of course, practice your instrument or your voice, but you should also practice performing. Either way, make sure you are practicing the right way for what you are trying to accomplish. For example, if I am practicing guitar, my goals are being smooth and accurate, so I practice extremely slowly, with a metronome, and focus on building muscle memory and things like that. But if I am practicing performing, I am setting up a small live rig and focusing on playing each song all the way through, playing through mistakes (no stopping mid-song during a performance!), and anything else that might come up during a gig. It sounds like a sports cliche, but you play how you practice, so always keep that in mind. Oh, and record everything so you can listen back later - that is seriously crucial.
The other part is knowing who you are - I spent years dealing with crippling doubt about whether I was good enough or what my goals were, much less if I was going to achieve them. It took many years of work to get to a point where I felt comfortable enough to play the music I wanted to play, not what I thought people wanted me to play. Once I made that change in my mindset, everything started feeling more creative and honest and, somewhat surprisingly, the feedback has followed. People seem to like my weird, honest music more than the stuff I used to make trying to be popular.
How do you set yourselves apart from other bands or singers?
I think I answered part of this when I was talking about my influences, but I don't honestly worry about it too much - I guess I trust in my own weirdness and individuality. I do think I am unafraid to take chances and combine genres. Another factor there is that I'm, like, 98% self-taught in everything from performing, songwriting, singing, and producing, so there is a lot of rule breaking involved, whether or not it's a conscious decision. Basically I am just trying to play the music I hear in my head, so I just trust that it will sound like me eventually. Everyone is different, so just be yourself and you'll always be different, right?
Any new gigs or albums in the future?
I have big plans for 2023! I have a self-produced single that should be ready to release in the next month or so, but my main goal for this year is to recruit some other musicians and record a good 4-6 song E.P. in a studio. I have recorded in studios with my past bands, but it was never to record MY music, so that is something I would really like to do this year. I love the DIY ethos, but when you play every instrument it is hard to keep everything from sounding the same. I miss the magic moments that happen when you play with other musicians.
I would like to start playing live this year in my local area (I am based outside of Baltimore, which has a BANGIN' punk scene, by the way), even if that is just a few opening slots later in the year. I would also like to start doing some live performances online, probably on my YouTube channel ( https://www.youtube.com/@
smokincolamusic ). Of course, everything I do is very DIY and each song involves also creating artwork, merch, and a video when possible, so it is a lot of work. Follow me on Twitter (@smokincola) to keep up with everything!
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