A little bit country, 22-year-old Dylan Riddle is a workhorse with a clear vision — to turn his passion into a bountiful career. A student at Western Carolina University, Riddle spends his free time refining his sound and playing any bars, restaurants and venues that will take a listen around Southern Appalachia.
With graduation on the horizon, Riddle is at a pivotal crossroads in his life. After a recent recording session in Nashville, he’s releasing his debut album. And with that next step comes the notion of “What now?” Take to the road with guitar case in hand, or go down a well-worn path of putting your dreams up on the shelf and sitting down in an office?
It’s a question as old as time itself, with Riddle pushing a hard line towards the first option.
Smoky Mountain News: When you pick up your guitar, where do you go?
Dylan Riddle: I guess when I start to play, I just let my fingers take over, and my mind comes in second. If I’m trying to write a new tune, I’ll just sit and play the first thing that comes out of me, and then go back and refine the rhythm. I don’t necessarily think to myself, “Lets write a sad song” or “Let’s write something that will make people dance.” I just let the music flow, and if I like it, I’ll stick with it.
SMN: You recently recorded your debut in Nashville.
DR: I was blessed with the opportunity to link up with some Nashville legends at The Sound Emporium. Names like Tim Smith, Brent Mason and Paul Franklin, all of whom are absolutely the top guys in their profession. The experience was completely humbling. I kept thinking to myself, “Why are these guys playing my simple little songs?” Better yet, “Why are they complimenting them?” or “I hope to God the right people hear this, for the sake of country music.” That one really made me smile.
SMN: What is it about country music that appeals to you?
DR: I’m a simple person. I come from a small town, front pew family. In life, I’ve had my ups and downs, heartbreaks, wild nights, hard days at work, just about everything a country song embodies. Country, real country, is about real life, it’s about my life, and that’s why I love it.
SMN: What do you think when folks say “real country music” doesn’t exist anymore?
DR: What they put on radio right now is, in my opinion, not country music. I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers, but the genre has fallen so far in the past year that I can hardly bring myself to listen to it. With that said, real country is far from dead. Folks should listen to Chris Knight, Pat Green, or Ryan Bingham, and then tell me that real country doesn’t exist.
SMN: When you’re onstage, in the moment, where do you go in your mind?
DR: I always remind myself, as well as the musicians I’m playing with of one thing, “You’re working.” I’m first and foremost on that stage to entertain people. Whether it’s a crowded bar filled to the brim with college kids sloshing beer on your sound system, a backstreet dive with bearded bikers or a hometown restaurant filled with friends and family, my job is to make people happy.
SMN: What does 2014 hold for you?
DR: After five years of college, I’ve finally reached the end of the line. For a while now, my plan has been to go to Nashville and give music a real shot, but I’m not foolish enough to think that my music is anything close to what Nashville has been forcing down our throats these days. I’ll never quit making music. Music is such a part of me now, and walking away is simply not an option.
1: The Carolina Chocolate Drops will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 3, in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University.
2: The Smoky Mountain Rollergirls Roller Derby Team will open their 2014 season at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at the Swain County Recreation Center in Bryson City.
3: “An Evening with Gloria Steinem” will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6, in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at Western North Carolina.
4: Brushfire Stankgrass will perform at 9 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill in Waynesville.
5: The Harlem Ambassadors will play a basketball game against the Franklin Dribblers at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, at Franklin High School.