Songs in the dark: Oklahoma singer-songwriter Dylan Stewart bringing new album 'The Scarecrow Sessions' to Norman Music Festival
Dylan Stewart does some of his best work in the depths of the night.
Or in the depths of unspeakable grief.
The Oklahoma singer-songwriter recorded his latest project, “The Scarecrow Sessions,” in both.
His fourth album was the last recorded in Ryan Houck’s North Broadway Studio in Hydro before the project’s co-producer, engineer and musician closed it.
“In was a moment in time when we made this record,” Stewart said. “I like to start at like 7 p.m. and work until the sun comes up. That’s just when I can cover the most ground creatively. ... We’d work through the night, so I could walk out of the studio and we’d be on Main Street of Hydro, which would be a complete ghost town. It was really cool.”
Downtown Norman won’t be a ghost town when he plays one of the last sets on the schedule for Day 2 of the three-day Norman Music Festival. The Ringling native will perform songs from “The Scarecrow Sessions” at 1 a.m. April 27 at the Bluebonnet Bar.
Free indie music
Stewart is one of about 300 acts on the lineup for the free, independent festival, set for Thursday through April 27 at several indoor and outdoor venues. This year’s headliners include Beach Fossils, Black Milk with Nat Turner, The Garden, Mega Ran, Soccer Mommy, Night Beats, Omar Apollo and Oklahoma expatriates Skating Polly, an “ugly pop” sibling trio originally from Edmond and now based in Tacoma, Washington.
“Oklahoma’s got some really great festivals, and I love ’em all. Norman Music Festival’s got its own thing … because you have the opportunity for no charge to explore all these bands over a couple of days for free right there in downtown Norman. For music discovery, it’s the festival for that,” Stewart said.
Stewart penned the songs for “The Scarecrow Sessions” three and a half years ago, about the time his father, Danny Wayne Stewart, died, just months after the death of his musical mentor, Tom Skinner.
“I feel like this is the best collection of songs I have put together. ... It was songs from the hardest time of my life, really, emotionally, and I was dealing with it kind of on my own and self-destructively a little bit. And it really comes through with the music,” he said. “After that, I think I just started cutting ties to everything in my life.”
He broke up with his girlfriend, quit playing with his band and walked out on his day job. His cousin Sonny Stewart told him he was sometimes a “scarecrow version” of himself, inadvertently inspiring the songsmith's new album title and the swampy opening track “Scarecrowed.”
“It’s a hollowed-out version of yourself, it’s a version of yourself that is not in good shape and is struggling, but is almost like numbingly proud of it. … He was trying to say, ‘Hey man, are you OK? You don’t look so good.’ … But when he said it, a lightbulb goes ‘ding’ and I go, ‘wow,’ and then I wrote the song — completely disregarding what he was really trying to say,” he said.
“These songs are special to me because they really got me through. I remember sometimes when it would be just really dark ... all of the sudden, here comes a song."
So, how does he perform a song like "Jeremiah," written the day after his father was buried, on a random Friday night in Norman?
“With everything you’ve got. With all the passion and the pain — and to feel every bit of it. ... I don’t emotionally break down, but if you watch me play that song, I’ll probably have my eyes closed,” he said. “Without these songs, I don’t think I would have made it. They helped me make sense of a lot of things … and maybe it will help somebody else that needs it.”
What: 12th Annual Norman Music Festival
When: Thursday-April 27.
Where: Various venues in downtown Norman.
MORE TO COME
This is the first of a series of feature stories about Oklahoma artists bringing new music to Norman Music Festival.