David Dixon is a guitarist/singer-songwriter from Greenville, NC who studied guitar performance and songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA and at East Carolina University. His rock band, "The David Dixon Trio" is currently touring the southeast and he recently released a self titled album "David Dixon" which is filled with amazing Blues, Rock and Soul inspired songs. We caught up with David to find out how he got his start in music, how his self titled album came about and much more.
How did you get your start playing guitar and singing?
I was fortunate to have music in my life from an early age. My mom is a Suzuki Method violin instructor. She literally had me learning violin on a tiny instrument when I was two years old. That little violin is in a frame at my parent's house now. Suzuki is a Japanese method of learning music by ear first, before learning how to read music. It basically teaches you how to memorize music and how to play what you hear on your instrument. I am so lucky to have been exposed to this method of teaching (involuntarily at that). It caused me to develop a strong ear and to be able to quickly figure out musical lines when I hear them. By the 5th Grade the orchestra needed an upright bass player, I was selected, mainly because I was tall enough to hold the instrument. One of the first things I learned to play on the bass was a Temptations song. I was hooked on the feel and the groove from that point on. By the 7th Grade I had switched to playing guitar and it has been my favorite thing ever since.
I started singing out of necessity. I had a high school band of some pretty talented guys, nobody wanted to sing. I knew having a vocalist would be something that would help us get more fans so I starting singing on a few songs. I always thought of myself as a guitarist first, until I really started getting serious about songwriting, after college. Nowadays, I consider myself a vocalist, a guitarist, and a songwriter.
What are your thoughts about the independent music scene in North Carolina?
I think NC has a lot to offer as far as the indy scene goes. There are hot spots in the state that have a ton of talent and support for independent artist. I moved to Wilmington a few years ago for that reason, specifically. Having beaches nearby didn't exactly make it a hard decision. Wilmington has a lot of great open mics, clubs, performing arts centers (the BAC and Cape Fear's new venue) and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. There is also a impressive amount of musical talent and songwriters. I attend a songwriter's night every month that features several artists per event. Its great to see original music supported when a lot of venues only want cover bands. No disrespect to cover bands, its just nice not to be limited to only that if you want to play regular shows.
The Triangle is awesome as far as talent and venues as well. My band (the David Dixon Trio) has performed regularly at the Raleigh Wild Wing as well as Tir Na Nog downtown. We were bummed when that venue closed as it was a local favorite spot downtown. Also, the Pour House and Lincoln Theatre regularly bring in great bands. Several of my friends in Wilmington bands play the Pour House regularly.
Asheville is also one of the cities in NC that stand out in my opinion. There are a ton of musicians, artist, creative people and outlets to showcase that. I think basically every college town in NC has some good stuff going on, musically. My hometown of Greenville is also making some strides to bring in more good music. We always love coming home and playing events for ECU like Freeboot Friday, and having shows at Crossbones Tavern. We did an album release party there. Crossbones does a good job of showcasing a lot of up-and-coming NC-based bands as well as some well-known, regional acts.
Describe your experience performing for the US Military in South Korea; how did it come about?
I played in a Raleigh-based band several years ago that played Soul, R&B, and Beach Music called "The Embers". They have been around since the 50s and I was the third generation of the band. They have been regionally famous for decades. When their guitarist of several years left the band, my name came up in their search and I ended up joining the band and playing with them for three years. It was my first taste of having a road crew, riding a tour bus, and playing to thousands of people at times. We were a favorite of Raleigh's "North Hills Thursday Concert Series" in the spring and summer.
We were asked by a US Army General who was friends with the band leader if we would be interested in touring several US Military bases around the holidays in December and performing a series of shows for the troops. We did, two years in a row and it was an amazing experience. Those troops, especially the ground troops near the N. Korea border (the DMZ) don't get to spend time with their family and loved ones over the holidays. It was so rewarding to bring them a taste of the States and play music that made them happy. We were all given medals from a general at each base we performed. I have them all in a shadow box on my coffee table. It was a great experience.
Also, some of my former band mates and I went to the Red Light District a couple of times and found this bar in Seoul that had an open mic. The bar was called "Woodstock" and had pictures of American musicians on the wall. We went in there and played a set of Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone (among others). They went crazy. The Korean bar owner had his calendar out trying to book us for the following weekend. It was so cool to bring American music to people who admired it so much. Such a great experience.
How would you say your education/exposure at Berklee and East Carolina have prepared you as an artist?
My time at ECU and at Berklee really helped to shape me as a professional musician. My college experience was a lot different than most people's in that, I already knew exactly what I wanted to do since childhood, so it was time to get serious right away. Most people take some time to decide what they want to study. My decision after my freshman year was to either drop out of school and move to Austin or New Orleans and be a street musician, or attend a top-notch music college that focused on contemporary music. When I knew I wanted to go to Berklee I met with the Dean of the School of Music at ECU. I talked him into letting me take all music classes (mostly jazz and theory) in preparation for me transferring to Berklee. He allowed it and luckily, I had some pretty good preparation going into how intense Berklee was. Not to say I didn't party in college, I do love to have a good time, but the workload I signed up for was so intense it demanded most of my time and energy. I spent my last two years at Berklee grinding about as hard as I ever have. I came back much better, both at singing, guitar and having a much better overall understanding of music, both recording and performing.
Tell us about your self titled album David Dixon; how did you select which songs appeared on it? How long did it take to record?
I have always listened to a lot of different musical styles. I was raised playing classical violin, majored in jazz performance, grew up playing the blues on guitar, and love rock, soul, R&B and reggae music. I also really love acoustic-based, singer-songwriter styles as well. I wanted to showcase these styles on my record and have always had a hard time writing in one style. That makes it hard to describe yourself in one word or genre, but I didn't want to have limits on what was coming out in my writing. I think we did a good job of connecting so many different styles without the album sounding too schizophrenic in end, although I am trying to make my next body of work more cohesive and to have more of an overall connected vibe. I've always loved that about artists who make a great album thats all connected and vibes well. The Alabama Shakes did that on "Sound and Color" and just won a bunch of Grammys for that album.
I want to make music that people of many demographics enjoy. So I have that going for me on my album in the way that, if you don't like rock and skip the first track, the second track has a more soul/R&B vibe, the 4th track is pop, the 5th track is acoustic and so on. Thats a big advantage of being influenced by a lot of different styles of music. The tricky part is connecting those styles on a record and not making it sound all over the place.
I emailed song ideas to the musicians I hired for the record. The drummer was in LA, the keys player in New Orleans, everyone was in a different city. I basically sent them charts of the chord changes and demo recordings, and then trusted them to come in and put their own flavor on my songs. I also had the help of my Berklee colleague and producer, Dave Wolfe join me on this album. He and I went back and forth from Richmond and Wilmington working on all the different phases of the record, from pre-production to when we both flew out to LA and got it mixed and mastered. Overall, the album took just under a year. Having a full length album under my belt not only helped me develop and evolve as a songwriter, but it has opened a lot of doors for me musically. I have gotten FM radio airplay in several markets as well which is very exciting. I spend most of my time now writing music and booking shows and promoting. Its more than a full time job even before you get to the actual gigs.
I couldn't have recorded and released my album without the help of my fans via a successful Kickstarter campaign. We raised about $4,000 and I also spend a lot of my own money to complete the project. It ALWAYS costs more than you think it will which is why having label support can be a huge help. There's something to be said for doing it all yourself, independently though. It was a proud moment for me to release my album as an Indy. It was also amazing to have a multiple Grammy-winner do the Mastering. I literally googled "well-known Mastering engineers" and found Brain Lucey (the Black Keys, Ray Lamontagne, Beck). I sent him an email to see if I could afford him and he was really nice and said he always looks out for Indy Artists. He made it affordable for me and now I have a Grammy winner in the album credits. That was a really special part of the project for me as well as a great lesson to Indy Artists. Try for the best and you never know what will happen if you ask. Thanks for the support. It means the world to me. My album is available for sale on iTunes and Amazon, and you can also free stream songs on Spotify and Soundcloud.