With three albums and an EP under his belt at the age of 21, most people would say Charlotte's Dylan Gilbert has already had quite a prolific career. Ask Gilbert if he's content with his musical catalog so far, and you easily sense his goals are much higher. When he compares himself to some of his influences and idols, a hint of disappointment comes over his soft-spoken voice.
"I always feel like I'm running out of time," Gilbert says over lunch in Plaza Midwood. "Back in the '60s, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Beach Boys were putting out three albums a year -- not just three albums, but three really great albums. I feel like I'm slacking. It's been a year since The Quiet Life came out. It's been a year, but what do I have?"
Gilbert tried to fill the void after his latest CD by offering nine tracks -- mostly outtakes from The Quiet Life sessions -- as a digital-only release. He figures it could buy him some time while he works on his next album.
It's not like he isn't working on it, either. For 2008's The Quiet Life, Gilbert wrote roughly 100 songs. Since that album was released, he's written another 20, all while performing and taking music classes -- such as music theory, guitar ensemble, etc. -- at CPCC.
"I'd like to get a music-related degree one day, but I'm not in a hurry," he says. Adding with a laugh, "It's a two-year degree, but I could have been a doctor by now."
If degrees were based on talent, Gilbert just might have that doctorate. Instead of going the usual way of a solo artist focusing on a single instrument, Gilbert plays just about everything but the kitchen sink on his albums -- guitars, bass, piano, organ, synthesizer, glockenspiel, chimes, harmonica, percussion and theremin. There's probably more, and if he has his way, he'll add violin and oboe to the mix one day.
"Guitar is always going to be my main instrument," he says. "I play a little bit of piano for writing songs and some bass and drums, but a lot of it is just 'Let's throw that on there cause it might sound cool.' I don't think I'm a virtuoso at any of them. I'd love to learn how to play the oboe or violin, but I don't know that I have the patience for it."
Despite his parents being musicians who performed around Charlotte in bands such as Feed the Farm, Swivel and Jamcake, Gilbert didn't start playing until he was in a punk band in ninth grade. A lot of his education from the music side of the spectrum probably came subliminally from watching his parents, Anna and Greg, who are also multi-instrument performers. They've also been supportive of his interests and helpful in their home studio during the recording processes.
After graduating from high school, instead of letting a solo life limit him, Gilbert decided he would focus on the songwriting and creation of albums and worry about the limitations of playing the songs live later.
"If I feel like a song needs 10 vocal harmonies, I shouldn't not do it because I can't do it live," he says. "Maybe one day, I will be able to do it live. Whenever you go see a band at a show, you want to see a performance and be entertained. That's a focus of my live show. When you put on a CD, you're looking for something you can listen to and enjoy the music. It's different things already, so I kind of exaggerate that."
While Gilbert's onstage appearance -- man with guitar -- may give the quick impression of a typical folk artist, it can also be easily heard that his influences and beginnings are varied. He often uses pedal and effects to create a sonic whirlwind that throws listeners completely off balance from the mellower majority of his set. It's what helps to set him apart on stage and on albums.
He approaches each album as an collective unit, noting that he will change his mind from week to week about whether he wants it to sound more folk, more R&B or something completely different, and it usually ends up as a combination of all of the above. Lyrically, Gilbert tends to write from personal experience, but he also keeps things thinly veiled so they don't sound like diary entries.
He's thought about releasing a live album, or a stripped-down album that is closer to his live shows, but at this point they're all just ideas floating around in his head. They're ideas tangled amongst a plethora of songs waiting to get out, too.
"I've been driving around in my car in silence a lot recently to think about the songs and what needs to be added or changed -- guitar here, effects there, strings over the top," he says. "I've been focusing a little more on each one and giving each one a little more tender loving care and helping each one grow into what they need to be."
He doesn't have a timeline for his next album, but hopes it will be quicker than the last one, which he says was getting "a little Chinese Democracy-esque" after 2006's The Artist & The Scientist. When asked if he puts a lot of pressure on himself, he's quick to answer, "Yes! Can you tell?"
For now, he'll continue to perform and record on his own unless pieces fall into place as far as members of a band or some kind of record contract, etc. He recently joined up with Taxi to shop around his songs commercially and he's slowly building a fan base in other cities on the east coast -- Wilmington, Virginia Beach, Chapel Hill and Athens, among them -- so there's a bright future ahead.
"I like that I can say I'm doing it on my own, but it's kind of hard to say I'll keep doing it that way forever," he says. "If you want to be realistic about trying to make money, you have to explore options. I'm always looking for the next step. You have to keep climbing the ladder."
Dylan Gilbert will perform at 10:30 p.m. at The Evening Muse on March 20. He can be found at a variety of venues around the area from time to time. Check out www.myspace.com/dylangilbert for more shows.