We’ve been covering the musical escapades of London-based singer-songwriter Dexy since the earliest days of Joyzine when he was leaping about the stage as the bassist in Corporation:Blend. Since then he’s released music with a variety of different projects, graced the stage of numerous Joyzine events and even turned out in goal for the short-lived Joyzine football team. Most recently he’s been recording and performing under his own name, releasing his debut album of bright country-punk tinged indie tunes Tear It All Down in 2017.
With the release of his second solo album Sleeping Through Summer due for release next month and a new single ‘I Don’t Think I Turned Out Right’ freshly unveiled, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up and look back, so we asked Dexy to share ten songs that helped shape his music.
1) What is your earliest music-related memory? What do you remember being played at home when you were a child?
The first music I actively remember hearing that connected with me was a cassette compilation of The Drifters that my dad had called Saturday Night At The Club. I really vividly remember the sleeve and how cool it looked and how the music didn’t sound like anything I would hear on the radio as a child (it was a pretty old cassette even then). Even now if I hear those old Drifters songs they have such a unique sound and immediately transport me back to being a kid wondering how they could sing so beautifully. I remember stealing the tape from my dad’s car and playing it in my room until it almost wore out.
Track Choice: The Drifters ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’
2) What was the first record that you ever bought? Where did you get it and do you have any recollection of the experience?
Someone I was immediately obsessed with the moment I saw him on TV when I was a kid was Prince. My parents were a little dubious about him being someone a child should be listening to so I had to wait a few years until I actually started buying his records. But seeing the video for ‘Kiss’ blew my tiny mind. I’d never seen anyone look or move or sound like that before. I still haven’t.
Track Choice: Prince ‘Kiss’
3) When did you really start to develop a passion for listening to music? How did that come about and what were you into at the time?
I think from that first Drifters track I was immediately completely spellbound by music. Getting the first Queen Greatest Hits record was the first time I heard how many different things could be done under the umbrella of rock music whilst still being something a child could sing along to. But the moment I saw the ‘London Calling’ video I knew I needed to make music. The Clash were the coolest, sharpest and most energetic band I’d ever seen or heard and I spent a good portion of my teenage years and early twenties just hoping someone would think I was anything like Paul Simonon.
Track Choice: The Clash ‘London Calling’
4) What was the first gig that you went to? Where was it and what was it like?
Blur at Bournemouth International Centre. It was incredible because I was maybe 14 or 15 and just hearing stuff like ‘This Is A Low’ being played right in front of me was another of those times where I knew I had to try and play music. If I could ever get on a stage and do something that made someone feel the way that hearing that made me feel – that’d be something pretty special.
Track Choice: Blur ‘This Is A Low’
5) What are your memories of starting out making music? What was the first song that you learned to play?
The day my dad took me to buy my first guitar, ever the contrarian, I came home with a bass. I largely just made a loud noise on it until my parents found a bass teacher who lived nearby. After me failing miserably to understand scales and the fundamentals he just asked me what songs I liked and to put a CD on. I put on ‘Kung Fu’ by Ash and he worked it out and taught me how to play it. I cannot describe how happy that made me and to this day if I’m ever talking to someone who wants to learn an instrument but doesn’t know where to start my first question is “what songs do you like?”
Track Choice: Ash ‘Kung Fu’
6) What was your first band? What music was influencing you at that time? What are your memories of playing your first gig and are there any recordings out there?
My first ever band was your standard terrible college pub covers thing. My first ever gig I got really drunk (I was 16) and sang a Supergrass song. I don’t think I sang a single note in key. I was so drunk that I thought people were cheering but they were actually laughing. Which I guess sounds really bleak. But that happening – and me then seeing the video of it (sorry, long gone) – made me go “Well, that’s probably about the worst thing that can happen to a singer and I’m fine”. So from that point on, while I do get nervous before a show, it’s never fear of ridicule. Because that’s nothing to be scared of.
Track Choice: Adam & The Ants ‘Prince Charming’
7) What are your memories of starting out as a solo artist? What was your first release and what do you think now when you listen back to it?
I literally only started because the band I was in had crumbled and I was terrified of not being out there playing music to people. So the first songs I wrote all came pretty much within a week of each other just to make a set. This seemed to kick start something in my brain and before I knew it I had written over fifty songs in around a year. I must have had a lot of stuff to get out of my head. Most of them were obviously terrible but learning to just get the ideas out and not feeling bad if they sucked was a huge lesson. Another was that a song can have as many lives as you want it to. ‘Barlights’, from my first album, actually came out on a compilation a bunch of years before as a different recording with a totally different group of musicians and I was never really happy with it. So when I recorded the first album I was determined to finally make sure it had the wallop and energy to it that I’d always imagined.
Track Choice: Dexy ‘Barlights’
8) Which band/artist do you think has had the biggest influence on your music over the years? What is it about them that inspires you?
It’s really hard to single out one artist because there’s been so many for so many different reasons. But I think when I started writing songs I was really taking a lot from how Elliott Smith songs moved and trying to work out how he was able to tie really uncomfortable lyrics to the prettiest melodies imaginable. Also you always know an Elliott Smith song. Even if you’ve never heard it before, it doesn’t even take waiting for the vocals to start to know it was him. Sonically it feels like Elliott’s music exists completely alone in it’s very own space.
Track Choice: Elliott Smith ‘King’s Crossing’
9) Who are some of your favourite current artists? What do you like about them?
The stuff I’ve listened to the most this year has been the new records by Fightmilk, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Kacey Musgraves, Turnstile, Every Time I Die, Charley Crockett, Lucero and Joy Crookes. Plus the recent Katie Malco, Flo Milli and Dua Lipa records still get played a lot. I think let’s pick my favourite track off the new Fightmilk record as Lily and Nick are both on my new album, plus we play together in Captain Handsome. This track really showcases what an amazing writer and vocalist Lily is. I’m always simultaneously super proud of my friend but also incredibly jealous of wherever she is keeping this stockpile of amazing hooks and melodies.
Track Choice: Fightmilk ‘Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun’
10) You have a new album coming out soon, how has your approach to making music changed since you started out, and how has your sound developed over that time? Is there a particular song on the record that epitomises what you’re aiming to achieve or that is particularly special to you for any reason?
I think it’s just an incredibly cathartic and positive experience. I feel like you need to work with people who want the best for you and believe in you as that will always come out in the final recordings. I’ve worked in the past in less than positive environments and I feel like that was reflected in the results. But working with Adrian Hall, plus doing the ‘Drop Your Hand’ single last year with Steve Horry, was just so much fun as they both encourage and let you get the ideas out of your head and see what works and what doesn’t – and above all have fun with the process.
With regards to my favourite song on the album it would have to be ‘The Bitterest End’, which is the closing track. I feel like, if you told me I had time to sing one more song before the end of my life, it’s that one. But since we probably want to end this on a high note let’s also pick ‘I Don’t Think I Turned Out Right’ because it’s the most fun track I’ve ever written. I wrote it in about an hour whilst really sick with a fever and had no idea if it was any good. But, from the first time I played it live, it’s always been one that seemed to connect with people. Rick Steff’s piano solos on it are even better than I could have ever asked for and the video that we shot for it with Shaun Grimsley really captured the energy and feeling of the song so let’s go with that one.
Track Choice: Dexy ‘I Don’t Think I Turned Out Right’
Dexy’s new single ‘I Don’t Think I Turned Out Right’ is available now as a digital download via Bandcamp. His new album, Sleeping Through Summer is due for release on 28th January through 3 Minute Records.
Interview by Paul Maps