Interview: Xavier Dunn talks songwriting, his musical family, and touring
The Australian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is celebrating the release of his new EP Isic Tutor, out now.
Even if you're not aware of the name Xavier Dunn, you probably know a few of his songs. In addition to his own work, the Australian musician has been behind-the-scenes of some of Australia's biggest recent releases, from Jack River's incredible trio of singles in Fool's Gold, Ballroom and Fault Line and CXLOE's brooding pop epic Monster, to bangers with Carmada, Nina Las Vegas and SUPER CRUEL - amongst many others. His talents as a songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist have seen him become somewhat of a heavyweight in the Australian indie/electronic worlds, talents which he has compounded and highlighted across his impressive new five-track EP Isic Tutor - out now through 1825 Records/Warner Music Australia.
Across the EP's five tracks, Xavier Dunn has room to breathe and experiment with different tones and sounds. Singles like the EP-opening Well and Warming are soft and intricate, piecing together folk-infused melodies with electronic subtleties that bridge the gap between organic and synthetic instrumentation - one of the many 'themes' that encompass Isic Tutor and its many sounds. On the other hand, singles like the lead title-track are noticeably more pop-centric and refined, focusing more on Dunn's already-showcased ability at writing radio-friendly singles that shimmer with this warm, familiar feeling. It's a great release, and to better understand the themes and processes behind the release and Xavier Dunn's journey thus far, we had a quick chat to him about his songwriting experiences and how his upbringing in a musical family led to the sounds that we hear today. Stream the EP below, and dive into everything else under that.
Hey Xavier – first up I want to talk about how you started. Many people first came across you from your acoustic covers on Spotify, how did these covers set you up for what the Xavier Dunn project is now?
They set-up a platform and helped me create a strong team around the project to move it forward when my original music came out. When I was creating the covers, I was just procrastinating from life and trying to figure out new and interesting recording techniques.
This then turned into you producing and writing your own music (as well as music for other people). How did that transition from covers to more traditional songwriting happen? Did it feel like a natural progression for you?
I had been writing songs long before doing the covers. Sitting down and jumping in the creative seat for both covers and originals felt the same to me. I had a job to create something that wasn’t there before. Like doing the covers in a way that hadn’t been heard before, that shone a different light on the same lyrics... And for the originals, it was about finding a solid ground to establish a connection with random people I’d never meet.
You come from a background full of musicians – from music teacher parents to musician brothers. Do you believe that you wouldn’t be in the position you’re in now if it wasn’t for being so surrounded by music growing up?
100%. I def wouldn’t be where I am without being surrounded by music in all its facets. I used to hate piano lessons, and when I was in year 6, I chucked a tantrum and was like “I don’t wanna learn shitty Mozart” to my dad, who was teaching me piano at the time. I soon realised I had a knack for it, a feel that it came easily to me... So when I was in year 7, I would always do things that would benefit my ‘soon-to-be’ music career.
One fine day in year 7, I was asked to build a hydroponics system for an assessment. I was adamant I wasn’t going to build it. I told the teacher, it’s a waste of my time because I wasn’t going to grow up and become a farmer. I was going to be a musician. He told my dad, who was also a teacher at the same school, and he got involved and it inflated pretty quickly. I was stubborn, and failed that subject. But I was true to myself. I never learned how to make a hydroponics system, which I now know would’ve saved me a lot of money...
Isic Tutor, your new EP, has you in complete control. You wrote each song, played each instrument on the EP, and created every sound. To you, why is it important to have complete control over your work? What are the benefits of doing it this way?
I love having control over what I do. That saying “dying on your own sword” is my tang. I love being able to have an idea and being able to execute it... Because you are only relying on yourself - you have no one else to blame, but yourself.
Your name is listed as a writer, producer and/or vocalist for many of Australia’s most popular songs across the past few years – Jack River, Carmada, Nina Las Vegas and more have all worked with you on their own work. Do you have a different approach writing music for another artist as you would writing music for yourself? How does the process differ, if at all?
I think the writing and creating process is similar for every single artist in a first-world country. We are all subjected to the same music, so the sounds we are coming up with are not dissimilar to what we have heard; hence having a symmetrical pattern of lyrics and only sticking between a Major and Minor key, because that’s what our brains are used to. Where we draw our inspiration and emotions can differ because we all have had different experiences that no one else has had - making some things we say and how we say them unique.
The EP is built from a lot of different influences and genres – there are parts in there that feel like something a composer would write, while there’s also elements folk, pop, electronic and heavy experimentation in there. How do you gather all these genres and the processes that come with each one and bring them all together for one song?
I tried to stick with only using my OP-1 (synth), Roland Gaia (synth), Piano, Acoustic Guitar and ma voice. I set this limitation of instruments to create a colour and see how many shades I could pull out of it.
Are there any plans to tour the EP? If so, what vision do you have in mind for a Xavier Dunn live show?
Sooo many visions. Right now I’m a one-man band, but I have plans to maybe add my brothers into the live show once I figure out their schedule :) Looking forward to getting this on the road!
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