NME Radar: Breakout

Dylan Fraser: Bathgate boy fuses a love of Nine Inch Nails and Joni Mitchell

The 20-year-old singer-songwriter's second EP leans into the "darker, deeper, more emotional" side of his jagged, industrial alt-pop

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

On the eve of 20-year-old singer-songwriter Dylan Fraser’s first festival back as a performer, Neighbourhood Weekender earlier this month, he was battling a chest infection. Typical. Life seems to operate almost entirely on sod’s law nowadays and for Fraser, the prospect of being unwell for his back-to-live debut must come as a damning blow. To make matters worse, his performance at the festival was the first of a run of gigs to plug tracks from his upcoming EP, ‘The World Isn’t Big When You Know How It Works’.

But there’s no way that Fraser would allow sickness to stop his moment. He dug deep, pulled himself out of the pit of despair and faced up to what he now says was a “terrifying” experience. He was ready to start reaping the rewards of a fanbase, no matter the fear or, indeed, the Manchester rain. A fitting moment given that the new EP is an exploration full of tentative first steps, the singer figuring out the world as he is “thrown into it”.

Pulling inspiration from all sorts of genres and artists, like Nine Inch Nails (“I love what Trent Reznor does”), Radiohead and Joni Mitchell, the body of work is one that matches its creator’s mindset. The songs are often dark and brooding, with euphoric rock choruses and Thom Yorke-aping electronic squeaks, but also packed with mellifluous vocals and lyrics that ruminate upon the inner-workings of the Bathgate-born Fraser’s head. He says that the early stages of his career have been lonely; it’s an isolating, often mentally arduous task being an artist who writes from a place of honesty, after all.

And it was during the pandemic that Fraser’s career started to take off, growing his online fanbase as the lockdowns went by. But as music returns to the stage and fans become more than just Instagram profiles and statistics, it’s all starting to come together for Fraser. He just had to get over that chest infection first.

Prior to the release of ‘The World Isn’t Big When You Know How It Works’, Dylan Fraser sits down with NME to talk his new EP, career anxieties, and finding his feet as an artist during the pandemic.

Tapping into who you are is at the heart of what you create. How is your new EP autobiographical?

“I’m just looking at my own headspace a lot. I get pretty bad anxiety and it really can be a super heavy thing on my life. When a situation’s presented to me, I don’t just think of one scenario; I think I’m too hyper-aware in that I analyse everything, and sometimes things can be very overwhelming. I just think we’re thrown into this world and at some point, you lose your naiveness – so I think this project is me trying to make sense of it all.”

Why do you think it’s important to write from a place of honesty?

“I think it’s the only way I know how to do it. They’re the songs that I connect to. I like darker, deeper, more emotional stuff because I can relate to it. I don’t listen to happy music. Weirdly, the darker, sad stuff is what makes me happy and gives me that release.”

How has growing up in Bathgate informed the music you write?

“I am a bit of an introvert, so I didn’t have loads of friends growing up. I just stayed in my room and had lots of friends on the internet instead – it was kind of sad. I don’t know how much of my sound relates to Bathgate because I grew up online – and that’s how I discovered Tyler, the Creator when I was young and a lot of American rap. So I don’t know if Bathgate has shaped how my sound sounds, but I think it’s given me a lot of space to discover different sounds that I wouldn’t have.”

Is it easy for you to see how far you have come as a musician?

“No. I’m very self-critical, and I find it hard to focus on the wins and a lot of the time I end up focussing on stuff that isn’t happening yet or what I think I need to be doing. I’m ambitious, but at the same time, I need to get better at being like, ‘No good stuff is happening’

“I just feel really grateful to be doing what I’m doing, but I don’t know if it’s fully sunk in yet. I think that when I start doing more live stuff it will feel a bit more real, because that’s the part that I feel I’m missing right now – it’s all just statistics and numbers online. I know that they’re real people, but it’s just a completely different experience once you see that face-to-face.”

Dylan Fraser artist 2021
Credit: Rory Griffin

You gained so much traction during the pandemic. How did it feel building a fanbase without being able to interact with fans?

“It’s been weird because it feels very real and very not real at the same time. I think the thing that has kept me going is that I really love having conversations with the people who support me and my music. I have a WhatsApp group with a bunch of cool people who like my stuff and we all just have conversations about mental health, and sometimes the most random, funny shit as well. I think that’s what’s kept me sane through it all is being like, ‘Oh, I have a bunch of new friends and we can all relate to the same kind of music’.”

Has the gradual re-opening of the live sector over recent months been daunting for you as people were about to get their first proper glimpse of you as an artist?

“No, it’s fucking terrifying – you’re spot on with it. I’d done my first show back, and it was more of a stripped back set, and it was fucking terrifying. But once I was out there, I realised that everyone in that room was just there for the same thing: to enjoy music, and it wasn’t a place of judgement.”

Why is now the right time for people to listen to Dylan Fraser?

“I think right now is the right time because I’m trying to be as honest as I can and break down situations about the world and mental health. I’m just having fun with [my music] and taking inspiration from a bunch of different places. I don’t know if there’s a reason that you should listen to me, but please do. Because I’ve put a lot of work into this and I’m just trying to make cool, interesting stuff.”

Is the new EP exactly what you want to put out as a musician, or do you feel like you’re still finding your feet as an artist?

“There’s so much that I’ve still not done that I still want to do. But I think right now this is like a good place for my music to be.”

Dylan Fraser’s new EP, ‘The World Isn’t Big When You Know How It Works’, is out September 17 via Asylum/Atlantic