WHAT: Making Music – Dylan Hicks
WHERE: The Whole Music Club, Coffman Union
WHEN: 8 p.m., Thursday
After 10 years out of the public eye, writer and musician Dylan Hicks is stepping back into the local scene with his debut novel “Boarded Windows” and a new album. He has been playing shows and holding readings around the Twin Cities, including a stop by the University of Minnesota’s “Making Music” conversation series.
Hicks, 41, gained a following in Minneapolis during the ’90s, releasing three albums of precocious indie pop. But with a new millennium and his 30s approaching, Hicks left music behind to take up writing full-time.
“I felt kind of disillusioned playing music. I wasn’t having a lot of fun doing it, and I was going through sort of a crisis of purpose or something,” he said. “At the time it seemed kind of self-defeating. I felt like I needed a break from it.”
Hicks attended the University but left a few credits shy of graduating to work at City Pages, where he worked as a contributing writer and eventually senior arts editor until 2006, when he left to pursue freelance writing and editing.
Inspired by a hazy memory of being taken to a Waylon Jennings concert as a boy, Hick’s wrote “Boarded Windows.” The novel follows a nameless narrator living in the Twin Cities in the ’90s who faces questions about his own paternity when Wade Salem, a wayward, deadbeat father figure from his youth, pays him a visit.
“Boarded Windows” moves between the 1970s and the 1990s as the narrator attempts to understand his origins. Hicks references fictional musicians, authors and brands alongside existing ones to keep the reader questioning the reliability of the narrator. The most notable of these is Bolling Greene, a fictional second-tier country singer implicated in the narrator’s search for his real parents.
Hick’s new album “Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene” is being released in May concurrently with “Boarded Windows.” The album serves to further confuse the real and fictional culture that surrounds Hicks’ narrator.
“There are layers of artifice in this book,” Hicks said. “So I guess that making the record kind of made this Bolling Greene character semi-real. I wanted to blur that to create a world that was very much like our own but in some ways different, so that it would be kind of dream-like.”
Five of the tracks on “Sings Bolling Greene” are “covers” of Greene songs mentioned in the book. The others are related to the text in different ways, providing narration or thematic resonance.
“It wasn’t part of the original plan,” Hicks said. “It came about because I had made up titles and a kind of false discography for this Bolling Greene character. Eventually, when I was having some trouble knowing what to do next with the book, I thought, maybe I could take some of those fragments and titles and turn them into playable songs.”
Picking up music again also helped Hicks maintain focus because he writes songs quickly with little revision, which offered a break from his laborious writing style. Hicks’ confidence in his writing and 10-year break from music have, in turn, made him a more genuine performer.
“In the ’90s my singing was a little more affected, a little less my own. I would go into kind of a nerdy, ingratiating tone,” he said. “I feel [now] like my singing is more of an extension of my own voice than it was.”
Hicks is embarking on a small book tour in the coming weeks and has a couple of concerts lined up around the Twin Cities. He plans to continue writing novels and is in the early stages of writing a new book.
Although he’s excited about putting himself back into the public eye in a big way, Hicks said he sometimes worries about selling himself as a product.
“I’ve gone on a self-Googling moratorium,” he said, laughing. “That’s become a violation of my sobriety now.”
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