Before getting to those, the recordings, a few words about my musical childhood and adolescence. My parents (I have several of them) were and are interested in music and exposed me to a variety of artists and albums that remain favorites: Sonny Rollins, Joni Mitchell, Al Green, lots of stuff. I started collecting 45s of radio hits when I was seven. Some of my early favorites were middle-of-the-road acts, often piano-driven, such as Barry Manilow and Billy Joel. I guess that made me a natural for piano lessons, and I took about a year of them as a preadolescent. I more or less enjoyed playing the piano, played without resentment or passion, in other words, and learned basic fingering and the rudiments of reading music, but I wasn’t a disciplined and certainly not a prodigious student. A family move interrupted those lessons; it’s not a fascinating story, but our piano didn’t follow us to Minneapolis. A few years later I learned some chords on my stepdad’s acoustic guitar and started writing songs, novelty songs for the most part. Some of that juvenilia survives, in a way, on my first cassette, mentioned near the end of this page.
Okay, the recordings. Because I’m most invested in my current music, I’ll work backwards. Descriptions of the more recent albums were mostly written as the albums were being released, and some of the language overlaps with self-penned press releases written almost simultaneously. I’ve done some editing and retrospection, but not much. The retrospection has introduced abrupt tense shifts. I haven’t smoothed those out.
A few recording projects are in the works and slated for release in 2024. These are described on the “News” page. As of this writing, my latest album, and my first with Small Screens, is Airport Sparrows, released in the fall of 2022. The group is Christopher Thomson, saxophones, clarinet, synthesizer; Michelle Kinney, cello; Zacc Harris, guitars; Charlie Lincoln, bass; Peter Hennig, drums, banjo; and me on vocals, pianos, acoustic guitar, and fleeting synthesizer. The album is something of a departure for me but not an about-face. It’s a pop album, and I hope it will be memorable melodically, lyrically, and so on, but there’s a bit more room for improvisation on this album than on my others, and the songs, whose lyrics and structures are in some cases less formally traditional than my previous songs, are frequently long. The title track is a ten-minute instrumental “about” birds. For the most part, we learned and collectively arranged the songs in the studio–I mean, I had distributed charts and demos, and we had prepared privately in advance, but the starting arrangements were for the most part flexible. I liked working out the songs together in this way. Everyone’s a wonderful player and thinker, and all contributed ideas that surprised and delighted me. We allowed some overdubs and corrections, but most everything was tracked “live,” including vocals. I suspect this will become my preferred approach. The takes are a bit rougher, but I would rather document a full-group performance, and more often than not I find it tedious to sing multiple takes and create a composite vocal. A few of the songs were never performed in public; I guess those were the songs I liked less, but I’m not sure yet if I don’t like them at all. Anyway, I love this group and am proud of the album, and some of it points to sort of hybridic pop-jazz-literary forms I’d like to explore further. Miles Hanson engineered at Creation Audio, except for a things I overdubbed at home, and John Fields mixed. The album is a touch too long for vinyl, but, in a move that proved financially unsound, I pressed a 12″ 45 RPM single of the album’s songs. Both a single, then, and an album sampler, and the 12″ 45 format tends to be the ultimate for vinyl fidelity. Most likely, that will be my last vinyl release. You can order either format and the rest of the music I’ve made over the past decade or more on Bandcamp.
My previous album, Accidental Birds, was recorded between November of 2020 and February of ’21, partly at home an in remote sessions, partly in two short, masked sessions at a conventional studio. About half the songs were written during the recording period, either at the piano or by shuttling between piano and laptop. The others were written earlier in 2020, and one, “Devil Blush,” is a revision of a song originally intended for the musical that gave rise to 2020’s Munson-Hicks Party Supplies. The new album was performed in strict alphabetical order by Jake Baldwin, JT Bates, Liz Draper, Kevin Gastonguay, Zacc Harris, Peter Hennig, [Dylan Hicks], Michelle Kinney, Adam Levy, Charlie Lincoln, John Munson, Christopher Thomson, Janey Winterbauer, and Jeremy Ylvisaker. To put it vaguely, I think the album includes good examples of the three or four veins I was tapping at the time, with a few variations. It includes my first use of programmed elements since the late ’90s. The album was too long to press on a single LP, and I couldn’t justify making a short, expensive double. Music hasn’t by and large been therapeutic for me, but making that album kind of was, and it led to the formation of Small Screens, which I hope will have a long life. I’m not sure if each of the album’s song justifies itself, but I have warm feelings about this one. Some of it offers more compact pop pleasures than my other recent music.
The aforementioned Munson-Hicks Party Supplies album is a set of my songs mostly and beautifully sung by John Munson. The album’s core quartet has John and me on bass and piano respectively, guitarist Zacc Harris, and drummer Richard Medek. We’re joined by enough guests to field a softball team, including the singers Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor. The Bandcamp page lists the full credits, as does the LP and the limited edition CD (now sold out). The album, inspired by far-flung collaborations between interpretive singers and less spotlit writers, has been issued once again by the criminal and underfunded Soft Launch Records. Three of the album’s songs originated in various drafts of Princess Pam, an unproduced musical in which the heir to the British throne flees the palace, goes incognito, and forms a rock band in Minneapolis. I doubt these origins will be apparent. I think we did a really good job on this, and it was fun for me to play a different role. I have several favorites from the album but particularly like “Only Smoke,” “Landline,” and “Where You’re Going.” For my part, a good set of lyrics, I think. A few of the songs began as pastiche or tribute and, in retrospect, I fear one or two of them might’ve ended there, too, though as pastiche they’re fairly adroit and, I think, add a few angles. But since then I’ve shied away from writing deliberately in the style of another artist. Recorded, before the pandemic, by by Steve Kaul, Miles Hanson, and John Munson, and mixed by Jason Orris. Carolyn Swiszcz did the art.
My fifth album, Ad Out, was produced by John, recorded by Steve Kaul and John, mixed by Jason Orris, and mastered by Greg Reierson. Jacob Allers-Hatlie did the art and hand-lettering, and Karl Raschke designed the LP and CD packages. The band is me on vocals, piano, and few bars of guitar; John on bass, vocals, and assorted instruments; Adam Levy on guitar; and Richard Medek on drums. It also features (in alphabetical order) Ken Chastain, Terry Eason, Matthew Hanzelka, Sten Johnson, Doug Little, Dean Magraw, Joe Savage, Brian Tighe, and Janey Winterbauer. Of my records, this one is probably the most indebted to the singer-songwriter modes of the seventies and maybe the best of my records that might reasonably be called a rock record, I don’t know. John worked very hard on this (and the subsequent album) and prodded me toward increased professionalism and to be more openly expressive.
Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, released in 2012, was a companion to my first novel. The album’s brief notes to some extent try to proceed as if Bolling were a nonfictional country singer, though not to the point of giving him songwriting credit in the fine print, which isn’t really that fine. Despite the album’s title, only five of the album’s songs are, to my mind, covers of songs by this secondary character in my novel, and even these are somewhat free interpretations, with a few anachronisms and perhaps two or three lines that Greene wouldn’t have entertained or tolerated. The remaining songs derive from the novel’s narrative in other ways, or borrow some of its phrases, images, or themes. Conceptually, it doesn’t entirely cohere, but, you know, kind of it does, and the premise inspired the writing. This took several more days to record than my most recent studio albums, which have been three-to-four-day jobs, but I was pretty rusty, having set aside music for most of my thirties in order to help raise our son, make more money, and ultimately pursue my literary period. I’ve since made some advances as a pianist and would approach some of these songs differently now, partly by getting out of the way more. But I like the album quite a lot, especially Side A and the closing song. The great core band was Terry Eason on guitar; James Everest on bass; Erik Mathison on drums; and me on piano.
I keep insisting that Bolling Greene is fictional, but the brilliant Jon Hunt found one of his old LPs at an estate sale (cover shown below, right).
My earlier recordings are for the most part out of print, though you can buy digital versions of some of them on various sites, and the CDs seem to show up used with some frequency, at prices that smile on the bargain hunter.
It’s psychologically convenient to think one is constantly improving and producing one’s best work, which of course is often not the case, but I do think the songs I’ve been writing in midlife are by and large more distinctive than the ones I wrote in youth or relative youth, and I probably sing more reliably in tune these days and play better. That said, I did get to play with some outstanding musicians and friends in my twenties, and there are some highlights on the earlier albums. I was a bit more of a rock ‘n’ roller then and was willing at times to scream. My first album, Won, was recorded with Golf Ball-Sized Boogie: Terry Eason, John Guion, and Mark Herr, and several guests. My favorites on that one are “Police State,” “Governor of Fun,” and “Hal Blaine.” Poughkeepsie (original title: Midwestern Singer-Songwriter Buys Sampler) was recorded with that band and with other players in various professional and home studios over a longer period. A lot of people worked on the engineering and production aspects, including Andy Bryant, Jason Heinrichs, Jason Orris, Bryan Hanna, and me. People who know the earlier albums seem to like that one best; it wasn’t a great period for me personally, and my memory of the album is to some extent colored by that. I still play “$100 Bill” and a few other Poughkeepsie songs and sometimes get requests for ones I’ve forgotten. Someday I’ll relearn them! By the time of Alive with Pleasure, I was writing mostly on piano and moving closer to the stuff I’ve done lately, but also hanging it up for a while to go back to school and try some other things. It contains “City Lights,” which was somewhere called a “regional hit,” a stretcher but nice to hear.
My jocular and somewhat punky forty-fives and cassettes were mainly recorded with Dylan Hicks + 3 Pesos, which in its longest-lived configuration was Al Lehman on guitar, Steve Parker on bass, Pat O’Brien on drums, and me on vocals and rhythm guitar. Terry Eason played guitar for the earliest gigs and on the first cassette. I was unpolished, but we were a pretty fun band. Vision Web, funny in spots, was made on my own in a weekend (a caveat, not a boast).
Here’s s a partial discography, poorly researched:
- 2024, [Forthcoming, projected] Therapeutic Massage Cassette [collaborative instrumental group]; Dylan Hicks & Small Screens, Modern Flora
- 2023, “The Weather on Your Side” 12″ single, contains three songs from Airport Sparrows (Soft Launch Records)
- 2022, Airport Sparrows (to be released in September), CD, digital (Soft Launch Records)
- 2021, Accidental Birds, CD and download (Soft Launch Records)
- 2020, Munson-Hicks Party Supplies [with Munson-Hicks Party Supplies], LP, CD, and download (Soft Launch Records)
- 2017, Ad Out, LP, CD, and download (Soft Launch Records)
- 2012, Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, CD, LP, and download (Two Deuces)
- 2001, Alive with Pleasure, CD (No Alternative Records)
- 1998, Poughkeepsie, CD (No Alternative Records)
- 1997 (?), Vision Web (as dylan davis), cassette (self-released)
- 1996, Won, CD (No Alternative Records)
- 1994 (?), “Time Capsule,” forty-five RPM single (Prospective Records)
- 1992 (?), “Chump Remover,” forty-five RPM single EP (Prospective Records)
- 1990, The New Dylan, cassette (self-released)