Gregory Dillon has the very specific ability to correctly V-step in crowded Bushwick backrooms. That’s because his mother once taught ’80s cardio step in New Hampshire, and he attended her classes in his formative years. At his show at Gold Sounds last Friday, he held the room: he has a rich, controlled baritone, and a radiating joy. The kind that pairs well with revitalized synth-pop, quirky time-capsule video projections (teased hair and silvery nylon two-pieces?), and nerdy, bygone dance moves.
Dillon is relatively new to the Brooklyn music scene, but he’s an undeniable talent. His songs have a retro-dreamy, synth-heavy vibe, and an infectiously warming pop feel that wouldn’t be out of place in mid-summer 1984. He was trained, vocally, in a musical theater program in college, but didn’t really find this sound until recently: it was only a year and a half ago that he released his first single, and discovered, in the process of experimenting in the studio, how softly powerful his voice could be. He’s now made enough music to comprise an EP, but he’s building to the eventual release of a full-length album, Send Me Letters. It’s a look back on a recently-ended, very intense relationship.
He isn’t synesthetic, although he lied convincingly about that once, in the sixth grade. He’s long organized his thoughts prismatically, and each of the singles released so far has a color assigned to it. Lyrically, in contrast with his sound, Dillon’s references are often unmistakably modern: “Screenshots,” a single he debuted acoustically on Friday, is about being glued to your phone, reliving past relationships through what you can’t delete. Which is extremely thematically right. Even when they’re firmly situated in 2019, these songs pulse with a yearning to look backward.
The music video for “Where We’re Going,” out today, is orange-drenched—all summery sunsets, Elton-John-ish tinted glasses on a ferris wheel, and the shimmer of elevated subway lights at a certain angle, at a certain time of day. It’s consistent with the rest of his output: a sweetly evocative collision of decades, emotions, and references, one that manages contemplative nostalgia for an adolescent kind of bliss. Almost like Lana Del Rey, who Dillon cites as an influence, except less dour. And gay, male, and decidedly Brooklyn. The song makes you want to hold hands with someone, or go for a midnight drive, or—when you realize you can’t go for a midnight drive, because you live in New York—hop a turnstile, and go anywhere.
I sat down with Dillon in his Williamsburg apartment, where he wore all-orange accessories, served fresh fruit, and showed me some old family Polaroids—undeletable screenshots of another era. Our conversation is condensed below.
I wanted this album to be about nostalgia. I come from a divorced family, so I don’t really know the relationship my parents once had. I became really fascinated with their young romantic life, which happened to be in the ’80s, and I got obsessed with all the photos they have of one another [from that time]. I collected them. I guess I was trying to narrate [their young life], put words to it.
I was finding a lot of myself [in my parents’ story]. I had this very, very deep relationship…with complex challenges, and I was trying to relate back to my parents. Like, where did they find meaning? The whole Send Me Letters thing is like, what are they trying to say to me?
A: Sonically, a lot of indie bands. And at the same time, Kim Petras, Allie X…really girly, gay, mall pop. I’m interested in both of those things. Lana Del Rey was the first artist I saw use the nostalgia vibe in a really big way, and that was like, woah. That’s exactly what I’m all about. I love ’80s imagery, the videos, all the footage.
The ’60s space race is another major influence on me. I have such an obsession with space, astronauts…there’s something so technological and advanced, the idea of leaving this planet, nature, Earth entirely. That lonesome journey—what would be the things that you would find the most sentimental? I keep finding I slam nostalgia with modernism.
We went for a film test day out in Astoria, and came across a carnival. We felt…this has to be it. It was this tiny carnival, I bought tickets and just went on as many rides as possible, with the demo [on my phone]. I believe, sometimes, that fate throws something at you, and you have to take advantage. The song is about dealing with the present moment, not knowing what lies in the future…let’s go to the rooftop, let’s not think, let’s just be here. So when I stumbled upon the carnival, it felt so on brand—it hits you when you least expect it, and then it’s so fun, summery, and light-hearted. There’s also something about the color orange that makes me feel really confident.
The best piece of advice I ever got from my mentor was: your limits are gonna be the most important thing to your art. I find it really helpful to be like, You need a rule, a border…What can you now do within that? And there’s something in the social experiment of wearing one color for long periods of time. I kind of believe in chakras, so orange—wearing a lot of it, lately, makes me really feel cool, confident, and grounded. Something I haven’t experienced from other colors before. I felt pristine and ethereal and transformed in yellow, which I wore for that first era. It was a very spiritual color for me. Then I moved into blue, which obviously was sad, and allowed me to be really sensitive. Pink was very flirtatious, innocent. And green was very much about heart.
I know this album is drawing largely on one relationship. Each single, and the color assigned to it, is clearly evocative for you—I’m wondering if it’s hard, delving so deeply back into those feelings?
It’s definitely hard, at times. [In this relationship], I was going back and forth, trying to give love to someone who forever loved me, and also hide this doubt, that I had rushed something I didn’t know how to handle. I could never leave, it took a long time, and I was still very in love when I finally left. So the music sometimes really overwhelms me. Like, wow, I had something. Or like, wow, I let something go.
“Nostalgia” is definitely a safe word, a very infinite thing. I don’t think there’s anything bad in these memories. They’re very pure to me. Nostalgia is in these photographs…when I look at my mom, I see potential, I see beauty. She told me she wasn’t very confident at that time, and yet I just see her radiating. Life at its most beautiful. Or when I look back at [my high school self], who was very shy, insecure, I’m like, Wow. Your life had so much meaning and purpose. And maybe that’s the idea…when you look back at your past, even the most dark things make sense.