Musician and writer Dylan Hicks was born in a bohemian sector of Austin, Texas, in 1970, and has lived since 1983 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents and stepparents were discerning music fans and first exposed him to several of his favorite artists, including Sonny Rollins, Waylon Jennings, and Al Green, as well as some of the singer-songwriter-pianists who serve as polestars for Hicks’s work as a musician, including Carole King, Mose Allison, and Randy Newman. With the pedals, he loves to meddle. His forthcoming album, Ad Out, was produced by John Munson (Semisonic, the New Standards) and includes eleven smartly written and arranged songs in lyrical modes ranging from barroom monologues to domestic realism. Hicks has also published two well-received novels and written journalism, essays, word puzzles, and fiction for the Village Voice, the New York Times, the New England Review, Slate, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review Daily, Mpls.-St. Paul, and other publications, many of them now defunct.
On Ad Out and other releases, Hicks and his band employ country motifs, beachy harmonies, blues riffs, and jazz tinctures to arrive at a sound once described, by Hicks himself, as “roadhouse cabaret.” This also seems to be the name of a strip bar in Queens. At other times they explore a sort of second-generation yacht rock from the bow of an inflatable dinghy. In addition to Hicks on piano and Munson on bass and assorted instruments, the new album features guitarist Adam Levy (Honeydogs), drummer Richard Medek, and various guests, including pedal-steel ace Joe Savage, vocalists Janey Winterbauer and Brian Tighe, and a horn section led by Doug Little. The album title harks back to Hicks’s doomed aspirations to tennis stardom, “ad out” being a score called out by the server when, after deuce has been reached, the receiver is one point away from winning the game. Likewise, the album’s characters are often beset but not defeated. References like this keep Hicks from really breaking through with the country-rock crowd.
Hicks started putting out larkish cassettes and performing in clubs in his late teens. Over the nineties and early aughts he released three albums on No Alternative/TRG Records and built up a following in the Twin Cities along with coin pockets of support in other markets. These early musical endeavors were not profitable. In 2002, he shifted his focus to journalism, criticism, and, eventually, fiction and essays. His debut novel, Boarded Windows, was released in 2012. Its companion album, Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, in part of a collection of songs written, in some playful sense, by one of the novel’s secondary characters, earned an A minus from the influential critic Robert Christgau, and was called “glorious” by Jon Hunt in L’étoile. Hicks’s fiction has also been acclaimed. Reviewing Hicks’s 2016 novel, Amateurs, for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Schaub called Hicks a “wonderful, meticulous author,” while the Guardian called the book “sharply observed and very funny.”
Hicks is currently at work on a collection of essays and a few collaborative projects too provisional to discuss. He lives with his wife, Nina Hale, and their son, Jackson.