The place above the Lululemon on Newbury Street is a an affectionately cozy setting-a vibrant neon attic that feels communal by its sheer intimacy. For an outsider like me still learning the cracks and crevices of every borough in Boston, it’s a pleasantly quirky discovery atop a well-known chain that sells athletic yoga wear and other accessories you’d find at a local gym during rush hour. On a typically brisk New England night though, a floor above the Lululemon is where you’ll find singers, rappers, saxophone players, drummers, trumpeters, and so many more talented locals gathering for a deserved celebration of a blossoming scene. Amidst this gleaming breadth of musicality is 20-year-old composer, pianist, and jazz-inspired producer Shane Dylan.
Dylan, who grew up in Brookline with an extensive interest in jazz music, was hosting a pre-release show for his debut album A Star or a Lonely Dreamer-an independently produced project that features an amalgam of talented Boston singers, rappers, poets and producers. Recorded over the course of a few years, the album features a who’s who of creatives; from Kofi Lost, Erika Ingrid, SeeFour, Naledi Masilo, Tashawn Taylor, Evan Wright, Amanda Shea, Johan Lenox, Jolee Gordon, Red Shaydez, Rayel, Fallxback; heck, even Dylan’s sister.
The event, which also featured memorably engaging performances from multi-faceted mainstays MonaVeli and Notebook P, offered snapshots of the album’s universal elements. Elements of love, loneliness, and many other human emotions that manifest into the idea of coming to terms with one’s individuality in a world that seems to always be moving at a rapid pace. The title’s dichotomy, which Dylan explains to me in a Zoom interview days after the Lululemon performance, mirrors the warmly-lit venue juxtaposed against the cold, windless night outside.
There’s moments of mediation, jubilation and desolation atop Dylan’s compositions, many of which feel meticulously snug and ponderous. Every artist offers a slice of their own life to the project, whether it be a thought, a feeling, a small anecdote-and the result is a cohesively meditative experience felt in both a live setting and through the headphones. Lost and Ingrid embrace the complexities of love and individuality on the ruminative opener “Wouldn’t Know.” Taylor, Shea, and Wright turn the thought of love into the most rewarding experience ever on “In My Solitude.” SeeFour, Shaydez, and Gordon capture a rocky place in a relationship with candid energy on “Around Me.” There are countless other great vignettes sprinkled throughout the project, as well.
At the center of it all is Dylan, the young orchestrator who describes himself as a perfectionist. Over a fruitful conversation on Zoom, the composer spoke to Boston Hassle about the album’s lengthy process, what the project means to him, the blossoming Massachusetts scene, and much more. A Star or a Lonely Dreamer is now out on all platforms.
Boston Hassle: First of all man, how does it feel to release this album to the world?
Shane Dylan: It’s a crazy feeling-it’s definitely been a long time coming. I started working on this project way back, like before the pandemic, in 2019, and now I just feel like it’s at a whole other life in itself just putting it together. I definitely took my time with it just to get every detail perfect and the way I wanted it. I feel really good about it.
It was definitely crazy being able to actually listen to everything all in a row. For so long, I’ve been working on each song individually, and thinking about all the things that need to be fixed and worked on-so just the feeling of seeing it all come together as one project, like kind of the way I envisioned it way back, it’s super special.
BH: Even with all of these collaborators, every theme on the album comes together cohesively. I wanted to ask what the process was like recording with everyone?
SD: To your first point, I definitely appreciate you saying that because that was one thing that I was super conscious about throughout the whole project. Despite having so many different people, artists, and vocalists on the album-one thing that was super high priority for me was just making sure that it really felt like one actual cohesive project. I still wanted it to feel like an album that you could listen too all in a row or in one sitting, like one digestible thing. And kind of using each featured artist on each song is kind of like a way to illustrate a piece of a emotional message that I wanted to convey to the listener.
In terms of working with the different artists, damn it was a cool experience for me, especially with the rappers because they were writing their own verses and everything. But just getting to see how everyone’s work flow and process is a little bit different, that’s always interesting to me. Some people write super quickly and write a million different drafts of things, and some people like really take their time to really get every detail and every word exactly the way it should be in their head.I’m definitely a perfectionist and take my time with stuff. But yeah, just seeing the people record their verses and what they’re like in the studio…it was a really cool experience.
BH: Before delving into the album, I wanted to ask what your upbringing was like growing up in Boston?
SD: I grew up in Brookline right outside of Boston, and I’ve been here pretty much my whole life. Honestly, because of that, it makes it really cool to have this album because so many different Boston artists are on it. It’s like a tribute to my city.
My parents started me with piano lessons when I was a little kid, and it kind of all grew from there. I feel like growing up I was always really drawn to music. I think from a very early age I was fortunate enough to know it was what I wanted to pursue, and I was fortunate enough to spend really a lot of time on it, just like honing my skills and stuff like that.
BH: Because there are so many genres present on this album, I was wondering what inspired you musically growing up, as well?
SD: When I grew up playing a lot of piano, I was definitely playing a lot of jazz-mostly instrumental music. I kind of got into that pretty young. My parents were definitely encouraging of me. My dad, he was a big appreciator of jazz, and a big record collector. They really pushed me as a kid.
I was definitely playing jazz for a while, and then I would say a few years ago, I started to meet some different rappers and other people in the Boston hip hop community just by going to shows, trying to connect with people. It kind of just merged from there, until I was actually able to work with people that really inspire me. Something that’s cool about the project, in terms of the music and the people that are a part of it-it has people from the hip hop community and then also people from the jazz scene or people that play live instrumentation. So just being able to bring people from different musical communities together was really cool to me.
BH: The album title is “A Star or a Lonely Dreamer.” It’s an interesting dichotomy. I was kind of wondering if you could tell me what that title means to you personally?
SD: For sure. It really gets into me talking about the experiences and emotions we as artists go through all the time, both when we are creating and performing and also in just in our time as regular people. It really touches on a lot of emotions that I was experiencing over the past couple of years as I was putting this album together. The title itself, it kind of applies this contrast between these two things that make up a person who is an artist. Both in the moments they may internally or externally feel like a star, or a lonely dreamer who is trying to do something but who is just scheming.
[The album] is kind of about coming to terms with that and finding peace with both pieces that are totally valid and they both essential to who you are as a person and an artist. A lot of emotions are reflected in that, feelings of confidence and things like insecurity and self-doubt; things that inevitably cross your mind. Finding a balance between the two things and finding peace with who you are was a big thing for me.
BH: There’s moments on this album that feel intimate and cozy but you do deal with a lot of universal themes on the project, and kind of embracing certain vulnerabilities. Was is difficult to lay it out on the line like that?
SD: I think definitely my music has always been very honest and emotional. Like, a lot of songs are even confessional in a way. What was really cool about it was most of the songs that have featured artists on it-it was like we were writing it together. All of the choruses and all of the pieces sung with different singers on the album are pieces that I wrote. And then all the verses from the rappers they obviously wrote themselves. What’s cool about that is each song to me has a theme, but with different people writing on it, it’s kind of like two different perspectives on a big topic. I thought it was cool because it touches on the idea of universal human emotions and what they mean to each person specifically.
BH: How was it recording during COVID-19?
SD: It’s definitely been a little weird for sure. This album took such a long time, and it started before the pandemic had even started. What was kind of nice was, before the pandemic had even hit in the spring of 2020, we had been working on it for a few months at that point, and I felt like there was enough that we had to carry momentum into the last couple of years. Whereas, if we had just been at very early starting point, it might not have continued to the same extent that it was fortunate enough to be at now.
I also definitely did not anticipate it taking this long when I started to do the project. It kind of built on itself a lot, and once I was hearing it, there was a bunch of little pieces that I wanted to add to it. There was a lot of different textures that I added to the songs. Definitely the pandemic did kind of slow the whole process down. But I think, one, it might’ve been better this way of having been able to take some extra time to get it all together. And also, at this point of my life, I feel a little more prepared…I feel like it’s the right time, and I think having the last couple of years to reflect on the album and life-I think it’s kind of prepared me for this moment to share it with the world.
BH: On the Moon Girl Interlude at the end of the album, there’s a line that says “I often feel like there will never be enough time to fully absorb the world we’re living in.” I was wondering if you wanted to speak on that portion of the album.
SD: For sure. That’s actually my younger sister narrating that. I thought it was cool because having someone in my family do it really visually puts up the introspective vibe of the whole thing, where it’s really about becoming an artist, while also dealing with the place they grew up in. I think it really breaks down the whole big theme about finding peace with oneself. What she talks a lot about is the feeling of how it’s important for us, both as artists, and just people in general, to find the time we need to reflect on life and reflect on our emotions.
Just as artists particularly, it takes a lot of time making art. We need a lot of time by ourselves, both for the purposes of working on stuff, but also just to reflect on what we want to talk about. It is sometimes necessary to spend some time alone internally contemplating. You kind of have to find the balance between that and the quest to be part of a community and get your name out there. While the album is about that for me, it’s also something I’ve been trying to figure out over the past couple of years myself.
BH: The final song “Sometimes it Snows in April,” is another highlight for me. There’s a lyric, “sometimes I wish that life was never-ending.” I was wondering if you could speak on that song’s meaning, and do you feel like your racing against time at certain moments?
SD: Yeah, without a doubt. As people, moments can oftentimes feel fleeting, so something I’ve been really trying to work on is being more present. That song is actually inspired by a Prince song. It’s a fairly obscure Prince song that I kind of rearranged and wrote some other parts too and brought the rappers into. I had never heard of it before, and then a friend showed it to me, and it was really inspiring to me. And I felt like it would be a good piece to close the album.
BH: I know it’s probably hard to pick one, but what are a few favorite tracks of yours on the album?
SD: It’s been so long, for a while I thought it was just whatever I was working on at the moment. It’s hard because I feel like each one with different people on it has such different personalities. It definitely changes all the time for me, but a couple that really touched me-one was “Around Me.” Red Shaydez verse on that we actually finished a while back, and that was one we got finished before the pandemic. I remember holding onto it for super long time, and I was super hyped for having it in the vault, and then eventually putting it out.
“Wouldn’t Know,” which is the first track on the album that features Kofi Lost-that one for me is I feel some of my most honest, meaningful writing on the album, where it’s talking about a narrative thinking about relationships, and love and life, and just wondering if certain things are meant for them, or just like experiencing certain insecurities about that. It channels the way I feel, because I feel like I’m in my head about certain things a lot recently, and just big picture. I’m proud of that.
There’s one that’s an interlude on the album, it’s called “08.16”-it features Johan Lenox. He’s actually out in Los Angeles now, but he’s originally from Boston, and he’s a big industry producer who sings as well obviously, but he’s worked with big artists. I was able to connect with him fairly recently. I sent him the project, and he was into it I guess, and he offered to do a little interlude on it. It was cool because that was a last minute addition to it. That, as well as the other interludes, closed everything pretty well and made it all fit together.
BH: As someone who’s so connected, how do you feel the Massachusetts scene has been represented recently?
SD: It’s definitely blossomed a lot within the last few years, which is really amazing. That was really when I started meeting a lot of people, like three years ago. I feel like even with the pandemic, so many people have been doing really inspiring shit, and having some time to spend has been really helpful for some people. I think it’s definitely really cool to see so many people, and the fact that so many people are doing everything themselves when it comes to writing music, producing-whether it’s them or with people they know-doing all their visuals and promotion themselves, and creating their own brand. It’s really cool to see.
BH: It’s an exciting time. How did it feel performing in that setting at the Lululemon?
SD: It was a crazy feeling. I felt like it was a long time coming in that aspect. I remember way back when I started the project and getting all these people together, I was like, ‘wow, it would be so crazy to do a big show that had all these people a part of it.’ Part of me thought it would never actually happen because there’s so many different people to get together, but then to actually to be able to do it-I was just super happy and impressed with how it all turned out.
I thought it was cool to premier it in a live setting, which is something I’m always passionate about as a performer. Obviously it’s important to spend time with the actual studio versions of our tracks and getting it perfect. But there’s something about a live setting where you’re just so in the moment and interacting with the audience. It’s just a one-time performance that will never be exactly the same twice. So, that’s always been very special to me-I was excited to have the chance to premier the music in the live setting.
BH; Lastly, I wanted to ask you what the future holds now that the album is officially out?
SD: I’m definitely excited just to have it out in the world, and I’m excited to hear what it means to different people. In terms of working with people, I think it’s really cool that I’ve been able to make a bunch of connections just through the making of this album-both with the people that are featured on it and also a bunch of people I met at the same time. I definitely see myself maybe not jumping into a another big album like this right away, but maybe staying active and working on smaller projects with a bunch of people. Definitely in the future, I will make more albums of big magnitude.
But definitely, I want to do some small EPs with people, and singles, and stuff like that, as well as performing obviously-and just connecting with people, both inside and outside of Boston. There are a lot of artists that really inspire me that I would love the opportunity to work with. I hope this album is able to get my name out there a little bit.