The annual Made In America Festival is taking place in Philadelphia this weekend and the lineup is jam packed. Bad Bunny, Tyler The Creator, Burna Boy, Snoh Aalegra, Jazmine Sullivan and more are set to take the stage at the Roc Nation led music festival during Labor Day weekend.
The name DIXSON may be unfamiliar to some, but his work in the music industry precedes him. He’s worked with some of your favorites including Beyonce, Chance the Rapper and Yebba. His most notable work is his collaboration with the Queen Bey herself for her song “Be Alive,” written specially for the Venus and Serena Williams biopic King Richard which follows their journey to success with the help of their father and coach Richard Williams.
The song also earned him his first Oscar and Golden Globe nomination this year for Best Original Song. While receiving these accolades so early in his career is the ultimate goal for artists everywhere, DIXSON doesn’t shy away from being transparent about his journey to get to where he is now.
“If I were doing this for just the press or the look, it would invalidate the art in a way. It’s really important to fight for your visions, fight for your goals, fight for having the right team around you. That’s super vital,” says the R&B artist.
We spoke with the singer-songwriter 48 hours before making his solo debut at Made In America and he spilled on working with Beyoncé and Chance The Rapper, his desire to get back in to acting and how artists should strive to create regardless of life’s obstacles.
I believe this is your first Made in America, how are you feeling about it?
It’s my first time performing as a solo artist. I performed in 2017 as a background artist. I feel good. I think I’ve been silently praying for this opportunity, to get in front of an audience. This is my first outdoor festival.
Spending years as a background singer, I played a bunch off festivals and I imagined being able to take one of the larger stages and this is really exciting for me at this point in my career.
One thing that really stuck out to me about you is that you play 11 different instruments. How did that journey start?
My parents made a conscious effort to let me explore the things I was interested in. So, my first instrument that I started playing was the drums and then I picked up the piano pretty quickly because my father was a pastor and he needed musicians. I learned how to play everything by ear, and as I got older my parents let me explore everything I was interested in. We always had instruments around the house.
So, it really just started with a home environment. When I was doing other things, I had an instrument in my hand. It was a desire. I really just wanted to know how these instruments works and how I can make them sound how I wanted them to sound.
Which instrument is your favorite to incorporate in music?
Lately my favorite is playing bass. It varies, it depends what I’m working on. But, right not I’m excited to get really good at playing the bass and I’m playing a lot of it on this upcoming project too.
DIXSON is set to release not one but two new albums this year. The first of the two-part project is 004DAISY and is dropping on September 16. His recent single “Cherry Sorbet” featuring Sevyn Streeter is a part of it and features a Beatles sample. The project also features appearances from Tinashe, Vic Mensa and LA-based band frontman Stolen Nova.
In the 70’s inspired music video, DIXSON and Sevyn are seen flirtatiously playing the cat and mouse game while singing about wanting to give in to their sexual chemistry.
As a songwriter, you’ve written for films, like King Richard and albums like Chance The Rapper’s The Big Day and Beyoncé’s Renaissance. Is there a difference in the writing process when working on a song for a film versus an album? Is it easier to convey a message due to the visuals already existing, versus a song where you have to paint a visual with lyrics and your voice?
I don’t make one more difficult than the other. I try to approach every project with the same energy and passion. For King Richard, There’s not only visuals for the film but there’s also a mental picture. You go back and think of times you’ve seen Serena or Venus play on TV, or watch that many accomplishments happen in real time and you link those stories back to your own life and experiences, the experience of the artist that’s going to be delivering the song. There’s a lot of representation there.
Chance is an extremely visual person. So, as we work on songs he’s painting a picture for us as well. He’s telling us what he’s thinking, what he’s looking for. He is giving us his potential visual ideas so we had a lot to play with. I’ve been very fortunate to work with artists who have incredible visual sensibilities. I do too, I’m the same way. So, it works well for me that the people I collaborate with are also very visual thinkers, too.
When you’re writing for an artist other than yourself, how do you balance how much of yourself and your experiences to incorporate without going overboard?
I don’t limit myself in that way. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you’re working with, whether it’s Bey or another artist I’m realizing more and more that the human experience is the collective experience. Obviously, there are variables. There are very wealthy humans, and very sad humans, very happy humans but it’s all a human experience. I don’t try to limit what I write based on who I’m with.
On your social media, you’re always talking about the importance of versatility. Are there any other creative ventures you’d like to engage in? You were a theater kid growing up and we see musical artists transition from the studio to a movie or TV set in their careers a lot. Are there any other creative ventures you would like to branch out to? Would you consider acting?
I just auditioned for a role not too long ago for a TV show. So, I’m getting back in to it and just trying to make a soft re-entry back in to it. I haven’t been on a stage in a theater as an actor in a while. I have so much respect for actors and also just the workers in theater, television and film that I want to make sure that return in to that space is welcomed and not forced just because I’m having a rise on the music side of things. I respect all of these art forms deeply.
What advice would you give to independent music artists who are struggling with life’s limitations but are still passionate about creating?
One, you have to change how you speak about your work. Secondly, change your view of your experience as an artist. We could be struggling to pay pills, we could be struggling to manage family expectations, but if you have a gift and art that you’re making, as long as you’re not struggling to get those ideas out of your head and on paper, or whatever you record on.
It took me a long time to be interviewed let alone perform at Made In America. It took a lot of financial struggles and hardships to get to this space but you must stay in it. You have to stay in it because to not honor your gift is to not honor the giver and I think that’s the biggest mistake you can make as an artist.
If you stay in it, it’s bound to work. Your work will only get better and your audience will only get bigger.