Introducing Dylan… the rising pop star with the heart of a rock guitarist
Having racked up more than one million monthly listeners on Spotify and shared stages with Ed Sheeran, Yungblud and Bastille, 22-year-old songwriter Dylan claims she hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.
“The way that I’ve been describing it,” says Dylan, “is that I’m a wannabe rockstar stuck in a pop star’s body.” She couldn’t have phrased it better. Unwaveringly certain of who she is and what she wants to achieve, it’s no surprise that an abundance of opportunities have already come her way.
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Real name Natasha Woods, Dylan released her debut EP Purple in 2019. Since then, the Suffolk-based musician’s rise has been swift. She has more than one million monthly listeners on Spotify, has toured in support of pop sensation Ed Sheeran, and was recently named by Fender as part of its Fender Next 2022 artist-development programme, which highlights global artists “expanding the world of guitar”.
Now, with the launch of Dylan’s recent Player Plus Session, the 22-year-old artist tells us why she’s so fiercely devoted to the brand and how she first discovered the guitar.
“When I first started, I was terrified of the guitar. I didn’t use it to write because I was scared that I wasn’t good enough,” she says. “To help me get over that fear, I learnt three impressive riffs, which were Lenny by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Thunderstruck/by AC/DC and Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix. [They] were so inspiring as a kid. It unleashed that side of me that is completely unavoidable. Now, I’m using a guitar in everything and not afraid of just using four chords.”
In her Player Plus Session, Dylan not only showcases some of her most successful tracks to date, including the pop-punk-inspired Someone Else and charismatic You’re Not Harry Styles, but also details her love of Fender as a whole.
“I’m currently playing [a HSS Player Stratocaster] on tour because it’s so much thicker,” says Dylan, adding that Fender’s online Player Plus Series helped her pinpoint her desired sound. “The sound of a humbucker on a Strat is revolutionary for me, because it sounds like all of the people I was influenced by growing up. It’s a guitar that’s light enough that it isn’t gonna break my shoulder, it’s easy to play, it’s gorgeous, and it sounds fat.”
Dylan’s discovery of the humbucker, however, only came recently. For most of her young career, Dylan has played a traditional single-coil Stratocaster. Her devotion to the Strat, she says, comes down to its versatility, as well as its subtle, sleek appearance.
“The Strat is easy – it looks good and it has the right sound for my music at the moment,” she says. “I also love Teles – like, a lot! One day I might make that switch but, for now and for what I’m doing now, the Strat is perfect. It’s just more versatile and you can achieve so many different sounds.”
Dylan’s on-stage expression comes not just through sound. She also hand-paints her guitars to communicate her mindset.
“I’m guitar-obsessed. I should be a better player for the amount of guitars I have,” she says. “I used to buy broken guitars at car-boot sales, and have them because I was [just excited to have a] guitar collection. I started taking those apart and painting them. It just means that my guitars are all one-of-a-kind.”
This decision was inspired by her mother, who works as an artist. While playing guitar helps her channel her most vulnerable feelings, Dylan says, by painting her instruments, she finds moments of clarity and reflection.
“I don’t wind down ever. My downtime is when I’m allowed to write by myself,” she explains. “Painting the guitars just gives me a moment to not think about everything and just focus on whether it looks good. Before, [I would paint] whatever I was feeling at the time, but I’m getting more in-thought about it now.”
Just four years into her career, Dylan has already received critical acclaim from one of the biggest brands in music. She also made waves by sharing the stage with Ed Sheeran on his most recent UK tour.
“It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “Although that first show we did was terrifying. I think what [Ed] taught me is just to roll with the punches and not get too caught up in the small things. Being on that tour has taught me how to talk to a crowd that might not be your demographic. Ed [speaks to] everyone. That is what’s so incredible about him, he can literally impact anyone with his music.”
Dylan has learnt from these lessons, and is putting her learnings into practice for an upcoming release – just don’t expect a full-length… yet.
“It’s not time for an album. I’m not there in my career yet. However, there is a mix tape coming out towards the end of the year. Eight songs and I’m completely head over heels in love with the project,” she says.
“On a mixtape, there’s room for me to have more vulnerable moments, to have songs that push the boundaries of my sonics, that might not be a single.” Fans might even be caught off guard by her new sound. “There will be a lot of experimenting,” Dylan adds. “I think you’ve gotta be brave in this industry. If you don’t take risks, you’re never going anywhere.”
Both unable to comprehend the extremity of her success and eager to prove that she hasn’t even come close to reaching her full potential, Dylan almost seems trapped in a juxtaposition.
“Fender is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to collab on, so the Player Plus sessions are mental. It’s letting me build the artistry that I wanna build,” she says. “I have no shame about the way I play – I don’t hold my pick necessarily the right way. Everyone might be going, ‘Who do they think they are?’ But I’m having the time of my life.
“I don’t think I’m at my full potential but there’s no rush to get to a certain point. I only wanna put out an album when people understand [me and will] listen to it from start to finish, not just three songs. I want it to be appreciated.”
Dylan’s Player Plus Session in collaboration with Fender is out now. Watch the full session on Fender’s YouTube channel.