He’s not called David and there’s more than just a lyre involved, so who does Paul Dixon think he is? We caught up with the multi-instrumentalist-singer-songwriter-with-an-identity-crisis to find out…
he early 80s were something of a golden age for credible pop. We’re not talking Duran Duran or Wham!, you understand, but rather the polished, intellectually satisfying confections turned out by the likes of The Monochrome Set, The Associates, Scritti Politti and Felt that rode high in the indie charts and even, on occasion, the charts proper.
This presumably had very little influence on Paul Dixon, AKA David’s Lyre, given that he wasn’t actually born until 1989. But if you’re looking for reference points regarding the sound of Pictures Of Our Youth – the album that will be both David’s Lyre’s debut and swansong, but more on that in a moment – the artists mentioned above wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If you need some more contemporary yardsticks, the names ‘Ed Sheeran’ and ‘Magic Numbers’ might also be relevant. Pop, this is; safe, kiddie-friendly Glee-style pap, it certainly is not.
“Alternative pop music, I guess you could call it,” says Paul when asked to describe the sound of David’s Lyre himself. “It’s accessible, but at the same time there’s a certain depth to it. The trouble with pop music at the moment is everything’s so simple: really simple hooks and really simple lyrics as well. I want my songs to have a bit more of an edge to them. Musically, they’re quite wide, lush soundscapes, and I guess at times it’s a little bit glitchy as well… but the emphasis is always on strong songs.
“I’M JUST REALLY HAPPY FOR PEOPLE TO HEAR THE ALBUM”
Now, if you were thinking the name David’s Lyre sounds familiar… it might well be. Paul’s first single under the Bibically-derived David’s Lyre moniker, Tear Them Down, came out on indie label East City back in 2010, and saw him named as ‘new band of the day’ in The Guardian, who dubbed him “a songwriter [who’s] prepared to push the boundaries and suggested he was “Most likely to: sign to a multinational corporation”. Sure enough, a deal with Mercury followed, for whom Paul duly recorded an album; however, corporate restructuring saw him dropped from the label after just one EP, last year’s In Your Arms. Undeterred, he’s now put the album out via Bandcamp, on a ‘pay what you like’ basis.
“We didn’t know what to expect, because ‘pay what you want’ is a pretty untested format, but it’s going okay, I think. About a third of people who’ve downloaded the album have paid for it, which isn’t bad in the current climate where, sad to say, the prevailing mood is that music should be free. People are trying to fight that idea, but the truth is that’s where our culture’s at right now. For me personally, though, I’m just really happy for people to hear the album! I’m pleased as a creative person for people to be… engaging with my art, for want of a better term.”
And Paul doesn’t seem too cut-up that they’re not engaging with it through the agencies of a major label, either. “If anything, getting dropped was something of a relief!” he laughs. “But I’m grateful to them, because they paid for me to make an album, and they let me make the album I wanted to make. Plus, I’d made sure I had good lawyers from the start, and there was a clause in the contract saying that the rights in anything they didn’t choose to release reverted back to me, so getting the rights to release myself wasn’t that much hassle at all, really.”
So now, after a slight delay, you can finally get your hands on Pictures Of Our Youth for yourself. But make the most of it, because at the time of the album’s release, Paul also issued a statement to the effect that this would be his final work under the David’s Lyre name.
The reasons for this somewhat surprising decision can be traced back to Paul’s upbringing. “I was brought up in a musical family, where everyone played the violin. So of course I played violin too, and I hated it! But I also learned piano and trumpet, and by the time I was 10 I was in a youth orchestra that toured Europe. I was totally immersed in that classical music world, but at the same time I loved pop music… just the really obvious stuff that was on kids’ TV, really. Then I got really into Ash, and I got a guitar, and when my older brother saw I was serious about it, he got me a load of CDs for Christmas. Jeff Buckley, Suede, Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill, John Martyn… all sorts, really. That really opened up doors in my head to all kinds of music.”
“I DON’T SIT DOWN AND THINK, I MUST PUT IN A SOUL TOPLINE”
This open-minded approach certainly makes its presence felt on Pictures Of My Youth – “I don’t sit down and think, I must put in a hip-hop groove or a soul topline, but you will find those things in there sometimes because that’s all part of my taste, too,” says Paul – but it’s also the reason he chose to brand himself as David’s Lyre in the first place. “David’s Lyre is a project,” he says. “I mean, it’s me, I write all the songs, I play all the instruments, but it’s not the whole of me, whereas if I put something out under the name Paul Dixon, it would be like that would define the totality of everything I am. And I feel I have a lot more inside of me still to come. I’m always writing for other projects.”
Ah yes… songwriting, which of course is what this website is all about! So we asked Paul to talk us through the songwriting process.
“I don’t have any set way of writing,” he says. “And I certainly don’t sit down and say, right, today I’m going to write three songs, or anything like that. If it’s not working for me on a given day, then it’s not working – I can’t force myself to do it, that would be damaging to my psychological state! Generally I’ll just sit there, strumming chords on a guitar or messing about with beats, and then sometimes you just hit something and you get that ‘wow’ moment.”
“Then you can take that idea and develop it, and add other ideas, and there you go, you’ve got a song. Mostly the rhythm and basic melody will come first, and the toplines later and the lyrics last of all. I always write the lyrics to go with the music: it’s not like I’ve got a notebook full of poems to fit to music. I do write poetry, but that’s something completely separate from my music.”
So what’s next for Paul and his music? “Well, I’ve already got most of a new album written… it’s a little different from David’s Lyre for sure, but it’s still me, and it’ll be coming out later this year under a new name. I’m not saying what that name is yet, though – you’ll just have to wait and see!”
Keep up with Paul’s musical adventures at www.davidslyre.co.uk
Interview by Russell Deeks