Making it in the music business is one part talent, two parts stubbornness and three parts outrageous dreams of fame and fortune, or so VH1’s Driven series would have me believe. I met Dylan Rice almost nine years ago, when we were fresh-faced desert rats marooned at a Midwestern college, and have had a front-row seat to watch him grow from a shy singer into a sexy, shamelessly confident frontman. Now, as he releases his stellar first album, Wandering Eyes (Deep Tissue Records), a soaring rocker that sounds like the musical love child of Sheryl Crow and Bono, I was determined to play my last “Before They Were Rockstars” card and land an exclusive one-on-one. He gave up an hour of a Sunday afternoon, and I asked him all about the perks of local fame, certified signs of imminent stardom, and why gay men and straight men are destined for each other.
You’ve gotten really good local coverage – you were one of Chicago Magazine‘s “Top 20 Singles” and Windy City Times called you “Voice of the Year.” But I feel like I have an unfair advantage over those writers. Since we’re playing famous, can we pretend we’re just having a conversation for Interview magazine?
Sure. I love Interview!
Me too. One thing I learned about you from reading those articles was how your on-and-off-again bandmate, Matt Neuroth, was the one who really pushed you into performing.
I’ve been performing for a long time. I was in church choir as a very little kid, and then I got into theater. But I was never performing my own stuff. I was singing and dancing and acting because I felt like it was easier. It was an escape from my closeted-gay-boy non-Mormon Utah life. Singing my own songs was too personal, too much of myself. I was sort of in awe of Matt’s shamelessness about it.
Are you looking forward to the day when your publicist’s assistant hands you the phone and says, “Rolling Stone wants five minutes, is now OK?”
I am, actually. It definitely plays into all these pop star fantasies I had as a kid.
People are always saying, after they’ve hit it big, that they never cared about being famous. True or false?
I think that that’s pretty disingenuous. You have to be promoting yourself all the time, if you’re going to be making a living. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, know that you’re going to be in the public eye. I think people do really want it, but when they get it, then they’re scared. They just retreat.
Are you worried you’ll get famous and do the same?
I won’t be able to avoid people, like Billy Corgan or Tom Waits. I love parties, I love being in the scene. It’s too much fun not to be. I love anonymity so much and going to the coffeehouse and staring at people and being an observer. When I do start selling lots of copies, that will be something that I’m going to have to give up. Unless I wear baseball caps and sunglasses like Brad Pitt. Or I could grow a beard.
In order to determine whether you are truly on the verge of being a rockstar, PopGurls has conducted a scientific study on the signs of success. I’m going to name a few classic indicators, and you tell me if you’ve experienced them yet.
Have you ever asked someone to bring you a drink during a gig, fully intending not to pay for it?
Had someone buy you a drink during a gig and pass it onstage, or buy it for you right after?
Gotten drunk onstage and sung a verse twice?
Was it a good verse, at least?
I cannot remember the song. It could have been.
Ever been asked to introduce a fan to one of your bandmates? I remember how girls who knew there was “a gay one” in your band were always so excited to find out that Matt was straight.
Yeah. Now people are always stalking my drummer. All these girls are like, “Oh my god, who is your drummer, what is his story?” I introduce them. I have to share the love. That’s why my straight friends need me. That’s one of my roles in life.
I’m telling you, that is how gay men and straight men are going to create a new brotherhood – help each other date people. More and more, my straight male friends are like, “I don’t meet any cute girls, bring your girlfriends along to a show.” I have a lot of sensitive male straight friends. Artsy, sensitive types. I guess they’d have to be.
Ever been asked to sign an autograph?
Been asked to sign an autograph on a body part?
No, I have not. Oh my God, I hope I can someday.
Which body part would you most like to sign?
Bellies are really cute. Butts are nice. But, a nice furry belly, mmm. If I’m drunk enough, I’ll sign anything. I might even sign a boob.
Have you ever been asked for free passes to somewhere you were performing?
Often. It’s always, “Can you get me on the guest list?” Half the time I do.
Ever been groped by a stranger after a gig?
No. Well, I’ve been inappropriately hugged. Someone who doesn’t know you who puts their arm around you. Hugs are something I usually initiate. I guess someone has to start it, though.
Ever been offered sex by someone after a gig?
Umm. Yeah, but I’m trying to remember if it was someone I already knew I was going to have sex with or an impulsive thing. I’ve never had anyone come up to me one night, and say, “You are so hot, do you want to fuck me tonight?” I’ve had straight women be like, “Too bad you’re gay, I’d let you have your way with me tonight.”
Ever had someone think a song you wrote was about them?
Not about them, but they think it’s about someone else they know. They’re usually wrong.
Had someone ask you to sing his favorite song while having sex?
Yeah. I think it was “Drama Queen.”
Was it weird the next time you performed it?
Not really. I sing that song so much.
Ever had someone ask you to write a song about them?
When I write about people, they don’t know I’m doing it until later, maybe. I did write a song for my sister and her husband when they got married.
Ever had someone come up to you on the street in the middle of the day, recognize you and want to talk?
Yeah, several times. I think it’s a Chicago thing. It’s a small town. It’s never happened to me in another city.
Ever given an interview where you knowingly lied or concealed the truth about something?
I’m lying right now, Shana. No, I’m not! Am I lying right now? [laughs] I think I’ve probably misguided someone by being overly general in order to avoid specifics.
Ever flirted with an interviewer in hopes you’d get a better review of your album?
Oh yeah. But I’m always flirting. It’s a given. Part of the job is to flirt with everyone. A more Episcopalian way to say it is “charm.” As much as I like to think that I’m a pretty spiritual, non-denominational person, I’m still an Episcopalian at heart – be nice to everyone, say thank you to the hostess.
You’re very polite!
I feel like there should be ringing bells or something. You scored very highly! You, Dylan Rice, are a rockstar on the verge!
I’m so glad.
Are you worried that you’ll get reduced to a stereotype? Carson Daly once mentioned that he’d considered becoming a priest and suddenly that was the hook about him in every article. Are you worried you’ll become the gay choirboy from Utah?
It’s funny, people have called me the gay Chris Isaak. I’m just like, why can’t he be the straight Dylan Rice? That’s a joke. But people really want to spin things and pigeonhole people because it’s easier to sell someone that way. It’s not like anyone says, “There’s this city arts festival planner who’s interested in being a popstar.” If me being gay gets someone’s attention, gets my foot in the door…
I’m 28, from Utah, gay, baby face – I don’t know. What is it that’s going to get them to even put my CD in their CD player? The rock world is still a little bit uncomfortable with the gay issue. You can make dance music or lesbian folk music, or you can be someone like Rufus Wainwright, who can just be himself and do whatever the hell he wants.
If you could choose the stereotype, what you want it would it be?
There are worse things than being the gay choirboy from Utah. It makes me sound boyish, and younger is sexier, right? I guess the choir thing makes it sound like I can do harmonies, like I have a classical background.
We bonded over getting in trouble in our youth in the middle of the desert, where there’s not much else to do. How do you get in trouble now? What rock star excess are you looking forward to?
Oh boy. [laughing] Probably some drunk and inappropriate groping at a bar. Men and women. The sad thing is that I don’t really get into trouble now. I’m really well behaved. Kind of anti-rockstar-like. I’m, um, very scatterbrained? I’m very disorganized!
The most trouble I’ve gotten myself into was having two boys that I was casually dating show up at the same gig – and they both thought they were going to hang out with me after the gig. And neither was particularly invited to come, they just each overheard me telling someone else about it. They both thought that I really wanted them to come. The good thing is that they met each other and got along swimmingly. I just went home, I was so freaked out.
Did they start dating each other?
Not that I know. That would have been the perfect ending, wouldn’t it? Who knows, maybe they exchanged numbers during the show.
You have a wicked sense of humor for such a nice guy. Funny songs are a staple of the folksy singer-songwriter, but are less common on rock albums.
I really do love that ironic sense of humor, like The Smiths, and especially Morrissey. I like how you can express humor that way without being silly. I’m writing a song right now about a girl and the apocalypse is coming and all she wants is to dance around in her underwear and drink wine. Is that funny? I don’t know.
If someone offered you a multi-album contract but told you you’d never again be allowed to sing my favorite of your silly songs, “Speedwalker” – about a suburban mom with neon pink trainers – would you still say yes?
That song’s going to haunt me. People still request that. I think “Speedwalker” is going to have to become a hidden track or some New Zealand import single B-side. I could bury it somewhere.
What is the most true and honest lyric on Wandering Eyes? Which is the biggest lie, the least close to how you personally feel about something?
Wow. Hmm. “Barely Knew You” is probably the least true song right now – pining over someone you just hooked up with and you don’t know why you miss them, because you know you’re never going to see them again. I say, “I’m not your trick and you’re not my lover” – but now I’m looking for stability. I’m not looking for casual. I don’t think a 21-year-old boy would captivate me in the same way. But who knows.
As for a truer one, the first track, “Distant Planet.” It’s about ambition. It’s the nagging voice in your head – “Do it if you want to.” Right now my life is all about work. Working the day job, and when I get home, I work some more. Because I have e-mails to write, press kits to put together, posters and postcards to put up around town. But I’m always like, I just want to go to sleep, I don’t like this anymore. But the little voice says, don’t you want it?
What’s your ideal tour? Who opens for you? What’s on your rider?
I love these questions! All the people that I would want to open for me are people who I completely admire, who I would never be able to ask something like that. But… Sheryl Crow could open for me. I would come out and do the final song with her. Except there’s just no conceivable way she could open for anyone. As for a rider, Gorgonzola cheese fondue. Australian Shiraz. What about amenities? Can I have a full-body massage?
It’s your tour, man.
And gummy candies. Gummy worms. Gummy bears. Gummy sours. Oh, and lots of California rolls, with lots of wasabi. Sarah McLachlan released a cookbook after Lilith Fair, which an ex-boyfriend of mine owns. I love it.
That can be your first piece of merchandising.
Can we add a question? Who would your personal tour chef be?
Sure. Who would your personal tour chef be?
Ina Garten, from The Barefoot Contessa. She has this lilting, motherly voice that would calm me down. I know that she’s probably got a really busy schedule, so she couldn’t be at every show. She could be on half the tour, and my mom could be on the other half.
Quickly, now. Wandering Eyes is full of different types of guys. Do these types turn you on or off:
Drama queens:Turn on.
Liars: Turn off.
Jealous lovers: Turn off.
Vapid twinks: Turn off.
Choir boys: Turn on – but not choir twinks.
Gym bunnies: Hmm. Half? Turn off. Could do without them. No, wait, turn on. Because they’re usually hot. But I wouldn’t ever want to have a relationship with them.
Roadies: Definitely turn on, because we need them.
Would you sleep with a guy to get him to hang your lights? Yes, hell yes. Please find me a gay roadie. That’s a serious straight boys club.
Mama’s boys: Turn on. I relate to them. I am one.
Deadbeat dads: Turn off.
Adrenaline junkies: Turn on.
Exhibitionists: Uhhh. Ehh. I think subtlety is sexier, so turn off.
Straight guys: [laughs] Turn on.
Poets: Turn on.
Aliens: Turn off. Most aliens in popular culture are not hot.
Cheating boyfriends: Turn off.
Heartbreakers: As long as it’s not my heart, turn on.
Well, I’ll let you get back to the hard work of being a rockstar on the verge.
I have to tell you this real quick – I’m at my friend Rob’s house right now, and he just got out of the shower and mooned me. [pause] He’s actually got a nice butt.
Do you want me to put that in the interview?
Sure, he won’t mind. He’s one of my sensitive straight male friends.
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