From Charleston to Brooklyn & Back with Persona La Ave

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    From Charleston to Brooklyn & Back with Persona La Ave
    Published: April 23, 2024

    Photo by Mills Pennebaker.

    Dylan Dawkins of Persona La Ave has known many homes, from his early days in Florence, SC to his current home in Brooklyn, NY, and of course his five-year stint in our hometown of Charleston. This is where Dylan’s story intersects with the story of Extra Chill, and it’s where our story begins today.

    We spoke with Dylan for a full hour about moving to Brooklyn, the challenges of the music industry, and his creative process and mindset as a multi-faceted artist. Exploring various mediums like music, visual art, photography, videography, and more, Dylan is fueled by a desire to create and collaborate with other creative people that is stronger than any challenges thrown at him by life or the music industry.

    Now in Brooklyn almost a full year, Persona La Ave returns to Charleston this Saturday, April 27th for a special, extended “Marathon Boogie” set at the Royal American, with support from Strxct & The Homies. Dylan will be joined by his longtime Charleston band (six-piece band) and some special guests for an excellent night of live local music.

    Despite changing homes and seasons of life, Dylan remains as pure of an artist as ever, and his hunger for creation remains steadfast and admirable. Enjoy our extended interview below, and get to know the artist from his own perspective.

    On Leaving Charleston

    “I like to give a town about five years before I decide to move or stay there,” Dylan explains. “And the Charleston scene, at least most of my friends and homies, ended up, you know, shacking up. North Charleston, buying houses, settling down.”

    While Dylan acknowledges that there are still plenty of people in Charleston making art, he didn’t feel a desire to ever buy a house and settle down in North Charleston, and eventually, it came time to leave.

    “I’d always wanted to move to Brooklyn anyway,” he explains. “When I was younger and never really found a good opportunity to do it.”

    Anybody who has been to New York understands how interesting and alive it feels to be there. This shines though in the city’s artistic scenes, which are vast and varied, including many genres of music that don’t have much of an audience in Charleston.

    “There’s just a lot more of everything, a lot more variety and a lot more different sort of cultural experiences that Charleston doesn’t really have,” he says. “It’s a big slice of life up here.”

    A Slice of Life in Brooklyn

    The very fabric of New York city and it’s five boroughs are woven with these different pockets of experience, from the music scene to the record stores and dance clubs, and beyond.

    “I crave new music and record stores, club-disco sort of atmosphere,” Dylan continues. “And just a different sort of music experience that I’ve been missing out on for a long time. Charleston’s more geared towards jam bands, and the more popular artists in Charleston are geared towards that energy and that vibe. Even as an artist, whenever I moved there, I had to pivot my whole deal. I had to change my genre pretty much.”

    He explains that when he first started playing Persona La Ave shows in Charleston, he was more focused on electronic-based music, with backing tracks and experimental styles.

    “Trying to be more weirdo kind of shit,” he explains. “And then I realized people really like guitars and bands and live jam sessions, which is pretty great. We kind of all discovered that Khruangbin band at the same time in Charleston. So everybody was really digging into that stuff. And I just wanted to be the Khruangbin of Charleston for a couple years.”

    Photo by Mills Pennebaker.

    Music Has to Feel Live

    For Persona La Ave, the act of performing live music aligns closely with the act of writing and creation. Dylan explains how to him, it’s important to maintain that organic feel, both by switching things up on the fly, and by playing with a core group of musicians that he knows and trusts.

    “The PLA tunes, they’re all, you know, songs,” he explains. “There are parts, but then there’s a lot of structure for jamming. It’s organized jamming though. It’s more that we give ourselves limitations and parameters, and I do some band leading live.”

    Band leading, for Persona La Ave, can come in various forms, but it all comes down to the exchange of energy between the performers and the audience.

    “You just kind of feel the energy in the room and feel the energy of the song,” Dylan says. “It might be, we’re going to change the BPM of the song. Like right now, just speed it up or slow it down. And that keeps it loose, keeps it fun.”

    He recalls being in other bands that valued perfection, akin to filling out a score card at the end of each night. It got old quickly, he explains.

    “I just like live music. For me, it needs to feel live. I love watching people mess up and see how they react to it and see how they counter or go into the mess up more, you know, and just live moments on stage. It’s really special.”

    The Persona La Ave Live Band

    When Dylan was in town a few weeks back filming music videos Brave Baby, he set up in the booth at Lofi Brewing for a DJ set, and a large crew of friends and supporters came out to hang. We spoke some during this, and he mentioned how when he arrives in a new city, he has to take some time to gather his people.

    You might think this means that there’s a new Persona La Ave live band forming in New York, but Dylan explains that he doesn’t want to go this route, and would rather keep his band as it is.

    “I believe in the old school definition of a band,” he says. “I’ve been in so many bands where it was a modular setup, where it felt more like a business. People were free to come and go, people would get fired or quit for different reasons.”

    This setup makes sense for a band that operates as a business, as bands need to tour to keep going. If someone can’t make it on a particular tour, the band needs to find someone else. But for Persona La Ave, it’s more about playing music with his friends, and the band that he knows and trusts.

    “We only play like twice a year because, I just want my band,” he says. “I want my core group of people that helped me write these songs. Have helped me develop these songs. I don’t want to get another group of dudes. That would just end up being a whole different thing.”

    Challenges of the Music Industry

    Even living in New York, a city filled with new experiences and opportunities, the outlook for the music industry remains challenging as ever. This makes “keeping the band together” a constant battle against time and circumstance, that causes many mid tier levels of musicians and music industry professionals to pursue a better paying career path elsewhere.

    “The music industry is just tough,” Dylan says. “Especially when you get older, you start having family, kids, then all of a sudden you have to go out on tour more, and you have to be away from the family more. It’s pretty brutal, and at our ‘medium tier’ musicianship level, there’s not a lot of money to be had in the music industry. That creates an atmosphere where people have to stop being in your band so they can go make a living doing something else.”

    For this reason, Dylan is glad to have the Persona La Ave live band, as a fun creative outlet. They don’t have to worry about finding time to hit the road. It becomes more about savoring those moments when they do play together.

    “Instead of trying to get a band together to go on the road for a month, I’m treating it more like a fun reunion with my friends,” he says.

    Photo by Mills Pennebaker.

    TikToks and Instagram Reels

    Keeping with this desire for a grassroots spirit, Dylan & I dove further into the modern music industry and the aspects that leave us wanting more. This is a point that I have really been driving home here on Extra Chill lately and I was glad to discuss it with an artist who feels the same way.

    “There’s so many, so many aspects of the music industry that make it not fun,” he says. “Even just content creation these days, nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to film themselves in their apartment talking about the album they made. You know, that’s what the top tier musicians do now. The labels have them make TikToks and Instagram reels. That’s what people want to see. For me, it’s not really an integral part of the artistic experience. It’s just a necessary part of the music industry now. Nobody signed up for it when they decided to write a song one day.”

    Dylan is not alone in this sentiment, and it has been felt across the board by creatives on all levels, not just in the music industry. Social media algorithms are really messing with artists’ ability to create and feel like they can be heard with their creations. Anyone who’s trying to be creative is being throttled and pressured into paying for ads, pressured into posting five times a day nonstop.

    Meanwhile, mediocre, good-looking talent with a knack for becoming a viral sensation finds its way to the top, while harder-working, genuine artists who spend their time practicing instead of recording reels are snubbed.

    Hope for the Future

    Since this has become a universal experience, not just felt by the ones who are struggling but by people across the board, we have reason to believe there is hope for a brighter future.

    “I think hopefully we’re going to get on the other side of it soon,” Dylan says. “I think with every big sort of paradigm shift, there’s always going to be pushback. There’s always a sort of counter revolution that happens in terms of artistry.”

    The waves of counter revolution are beginning to set in across the music industry. We can feel these waves starting at our local venues, as people start to reconsider the value of connecting off-platform, in real life. There is a slow awakening happening, if you want to feel the pulse, just find your local communities and get involved. These discussions are being had everywhere that artistic expression exists.

    “Anytime I’m at band practice, I’m not thinking about setting my phone up to like go to Instagram live or whatever,” Dylan continues. “I just want to be there, you know, be in the room with them, not with everybody else.”

    As we wait for the seeds of counter revolution to take root and blossom, we can find the people like the “homies” that Dylan describes and cherish our presence with them. We can come together at places like The Royal American, Lofi Brewing, Charleston Pour House, and other creative spaces, to connect with art in the way that it’s meant to be enjoyed — live and in person.

    We’ll see you at The Royal American this Saturday night for Persona La Ave with Stxct & The Homies, prepped with our phones to get plenty of content for TikTok and Instagram.

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