2022 was a year of growth and transformation for Dylan. Over 12 months, the artist born Natasha Woods completed a bucket list many other emerging musicians could only dream of: supporting Ed Sheeran at Wembley, touring Europe with Tate McCrae, and breaking into the Top 20 with her debut mixtape, ‘The Greatest Thing I’ll Never Learn’. The 23-year-old’s nimble and electric breakup tunes have resonated widely with pop fans because Dylan is her audience: young, ambitious and knowingly chaotic, and an expert in embracing her own mess.
Dylan has met these milestones with a mixture of gratitude and astonishment. “I’m not often very proud of myself, but I am really proud of the way I got through last year,” she tells NME today, reflecting on 2022. “I learnt that I am strong enough to do this, and I am happy to be where I am now.”
After a few years of increasingly ambitious EPs – from the low-key electro-pop of 2019’s ‘Purple’ to the inward-looking ‘Red’, released a year later – Dylan finally had an artistic breakthrough with ‘The Greatest Thing I’ll Never Learn’, a collection of crunchy guitar anthems and lyrically astute kiss-offs. The mixtape took Dylan to the main stage at Latitude Festival – the local festival to the small Suffolk village of Bures she grew up in – before she embarked on a trip to the US, which saw her play sold-out headline shows in New York and LA.
Yet amid that whirlwind schedule, Dylan’s creative process never slowed – instead, she levelled up. With a fanatical focus, Dylan began to improve her live shows with her two-piece backing band, and worked on her fitness levels in order to improve her live vocals. After realising she had moved on from her early songs, she removed them from her setlists. She started writing music she really believed in – and it resulted in her biggest year yet.
Dylan’s now set for a huge 2023, one which she kicked off by landing a spot in the NME 100, a bumper list of the most exciting new artists on the planet, and will include a huge headline UK tour featuring two sold-out shows at London’s 2,000-capacity Shepherd’s Bush Empire in February. As she looks ahead to the next year, we sat down with Dylan for the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, to reflect on the lessons she’s learned from the last 12 months, and to discuss her goals for the future.
2022 was a huge year for you, having gone from an artist that existed in an underrated space to being recognised in the mainstream. What has that transition been like?
“Stressful! I’m not sure if I was totally expecting it all to happen. Going from having zero fans to suddenly having quite a large [fan base] was a shock to the system. Obviously, [that change] alters how you have to interpret everything, how you have to present yourself, how strong you have to be and how much you have to do in order to keep everyone happy. It was a shock, but I’m loving it.”
Equally, last year must have been full of pinch me moments. What were some of your highlights?
“Last year, I crossed off a lot on my bucket list – and I was very lucky to do some of the things that I did. The two biggest moments, for me, were obviously playing Wembley – because that’s something that I have dreamed about forever – and then playing on the main stage at Latitude festival. I’ve been going to that festival for years, and no one typically turns up for the first slot of the day, which I played – but there were so many people there! In terms of smaller things, over Christmas, I got recognised while I was in my local chippy, which also felt huge!”
Your experience of playing Wembley was certainly memorable, given that you broke the sound system whilst you were on stage…
“Not many people have played Wembley and have had the entire sound system shut off while they’ve been on stage. I’m not sure if it was [my band] that broke it, although I’d like to think that we did. It was terrifying, I won’t lie. My adrenaline kicked in even more, and I just got everyone to sing [Neil Diamond’s] ‘Sweet Caroline’ for a bit, before we were pulled off the stage. It [broke] during ‘Girl Of Your Dreams’, which I was set to release as a single the following week, so the tension was already high…”
As we look forward to the new year, what lessons from the past 12 months are you taking into 2023?
“I think what I have been ignoring ever since I started making music is that I haven’t ever been very good at looking after myself – that always comes last. I’m 23 now, and I want to make sure that I don’t burn out before the year is over. This year is set to be a big one for me, and if I’m not indestructible, then I could lose everything.”
What routines have you put in place to manage your touring schedule this year?
“I’ve started working out, which I hate so much, but I’m doing it! I’m eating healthily, I’ve got a nutritionist that’s telling me that I’m not looking after myself or my immune system. I’m making sure that I am checking in mentally a lot too, as I’m not very good at saying when I need a break or when I need to stop. It’s a process.”
What are your priorities now that you may not have had when you first started out as a musician?
“I think my perception of what [success] would be is entirely different to how I thought. There’s so much that you have to be able to do in today’s music industry. At first, I thought that I would just write my stupid songs and then go and play them live – but there’s so much more to it than that. You have to be able to do everything, which is scary, but I am acclimatising.”
Why is being a role model for your fans so important to you?
“I absolutely adore [my fans]. They’re so special. When it came to touring in November last year, there was such a sense of community at the shows. I mean, I would take a bullet for that lot; they are brilliant, so funny, so dedicated, and they are always there for me. They’re a support system which I can lean on, which has been important for me, given everything that I’m writing about.”
How have you grown as a live performer in recent months?
“Last year, I felt like there wasn’t ever really a moment where I wasn’t on tour. I think [playing live] is just a lot more natural for me now; I have less of a fear of performing. It doesn’t take me three songs to sort of stop violently shaking, but I still need to pee every time I perform. Otherwise, I think I have a better idea of how I want to build on my live show, and what I can see it looking like by the end of the year. For me, being on stage is the best part of the job.”