Insight Interview: City Of Dawn

City of Dawn is a young ambient producer from Texas, United States. We caught up with him recently about music, family and living with autism. Here’s what he had to say…

Hey City of Dawn, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. Where are you based at present? Do you tend to travel a lot, or are you firmly rooted at home?

Hey there! I’m recently living in McAllen, way down in the deep south of Texes. I am mostly firmly rooted at home for now, I sometimes travel inside of Texas for mini-vacations (non-music related). But most of all I’m just rooted at home for now.

Can you recall your first real exposure to music?

I grew up living with my parents who are both big music fans. My father in particular is a musician and used to be a guitarist in bands before I was born and when I was little. I remember when I was around 4 years old my father introduced me to some music such as Disturbed and many other different types of music. I remember just jamming along with the music and just going crazy with it, but I know I was having a great time!

So it was definitely my father who introduced me to music.

When I was around 8 years old I started getting interested in wanting to learn a musical instrument and of course what came to my mind was the guitar. My father introduced me to the guitar, the chords and tunings. For the next few years I kind of lost touch with the guitar and needed to focus on my personal life with school and such, but then when I was 14 years old I started getting interested in the guitar again when I saw my father perform at a reunion show back in 2012. I remember telling myself that I really wanted to be like my father and how much I adore music and wanted to create amazing sounds. So I took up the guitar again and around that time I taught myself about chord progressions simply by covering one of my favorite songs.

And here I am at 19 years old, writing and recording music!

How and when did you first begin writing and creating electronic music?

I began writing and creating music when I was around 16 years old. Once I had enough experience, I would make music on my guitar. I usually recorded some melodic chords with my iPad and then would just play them or loop them, adding more melodies and leads as I went on. At that time I was going through a lot in my personal life and was coping with living life on the autism spectrum (which unfortunately brought with it some depression, anxiety and insomnia). I know I had in mind that I wanted to create atmospheric music – music that was simple but melodic, which conveys meaning. I wanted to become an example of autism, to show that we can do unique things and can express things. A friend of mine introduced me to this ambient musical project called “Hammock” and I quickly fell in love with the project and knew it was the sound I was looking to create. I never looked back once I discovered ambient music – I began to go down that route and began composing ambient sounds.

Can you describe your music for us?

I can describe my music as a “space of slow movement”.

It’s the peace you’re able to find behind the noise, so it’s like finding a peaceful sound, one of stillness and serenity. Like for example – I could be sitting outside of a coffee shop with a friend, just having a conversation, and we can hear cars soaring by, the wind blowing, the leaves moving along the street. It could be a hot sunny day and then, suddenly, there could be rain. I had a day like that recently. My friend commented that the layers of audio began to resemble musical tones, which sometimes were like static and reminded him of my music. Ambient music is sometimes mistaken for background or spa-style music, and sometimes people just doesn’t understand the purpose of ambient. The main purpose of ambient music is the idea of music that allows you any listening position in relation to it, whether you’re just reading a book along with the music, thinking, taking the time to slow down or just visualise it (like making a personal music video in your mind). I mostly describe it as “Earth Music” because it’s something you hear everywhere whenever you go outside like I mention above – cars soaring by, leaves rattling across the street. The sounds of nature. Everywhere is music if you can learn truly to listen.

Have you ever played live? Would you like to in future? Any upcoming shows?

I have played a couple of live shows, I played one recently at my favorite local coffee place “Luna Coffee House” where I performed and celebrated my new album “Recovery II”.

And of course I will have a couple of future upcoming shows here where I live and somewhere up north in Texas – perhaps in Austin or Dallas.

What have been your biggest influences?

My biggest influences have come from my personal experiences and my life with autism. I know I have tons of influences (both music and non-music related) but my own experiences have to be my biggest influences. I always wanted to share my story through my sounds and by making concept stories in albums about my life with autism, dreams I’ve had, people I have met that meant the world to me and many more.

Do you think producing electronic music requires technical or creative skill? Or both?

I would say both, but to me it is more a creative skill. I think creating a musical piece with thousands of complicated beats is brilliant – don’t get me wrong – but it can sometimes lose the art form, sometimes there’s so much happening that it just doesn’t catch you in the same way, you don’t get a chance really to explore the song.

Would you say you find the creative process cathartic or therapeutic at all? Has creating music helped you cope with difficult periods in your life?

Yes definitely! Music is a form of personal sound diary. I have written music whenever I feel the need to create during my more melancholy times, drawing inspiration from friends and family, and of course life as well. My music is my way of truly expressing myself. It definitely took a different direction when I released the album “Recovery” back in 2015 and the EP “Nobody / Nowhere”. Those were created when at times when I was experiencing a huge amount.

Any other genres you’d like to explore in future?

I will definitely stick with ambient music, but I’ve also really wanted to do an album that contains some cello and viola players to create a dramatic minimalist orchestral music piece. Something like “Stars of the Lid” mixed with Hammock’s latest album “Oblivion Hymns”.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of underground musical styles? Do you think the scene will evolve further?

I’m pretty sure ambient music will stay underground and stay true to its art rather than moving to the mainstream. Which can lead to its own complications. It’s just me, but I really hope ambient music can find a way to evolve further and reach a wider audience while staying true to itself.

Your latest album is a profoundly personal experience in which you tell the story of living with autism. Please tell us about how you have sought to express your experiences through your music.

For the Recovery II album, I wanted to create an album that deals with autism awareness and acceptance, and to share stories through music about my experience with autism.

Being autistic, sometimes we can hear certain sounds that some people can barely hear and can see or relate to the world differently to others. For example, when sitting in a coffee shop I will itemize the cacophony of the cafe, the tools clanking behind the counter. I will recall a time when an environment of commotion such as this would have caused me discomfort. It’s those sharp sounds that can invade or stab our ears like swords and can lead to irritation and anxiety. People with autism can experience this sensory issue. But for the last few months, I have found solace performing during the cafe’s open mic nights and tend to frequent the place multiple times a week.

Once I decided I wanted to convey my experiences in this way, I began to look into whether any ambient albums existed that had something to do with autism or were designed to help calm the senses, but I couldn’t find any particular album for that. So I decided to create a concept album. I wanted people to know that autism is NOT a disability, it’s a different ability. We are different, NOT less. Autism is NOT a Disease; we don’t want people to try to cure us, we want them to understand us. We are waiting for anyone who is willing to look through our eyes and be part of our colorful adventure. I see right now that we need more awareness, acceptance, love and understanding about autism.

Can we expect any City of Dawn collaborations in future? Any specific artists you’d like to work with?

For City Of Dawn there will be somewhere between 4 and 5 collaborations in the near future. I am working on a split album right now. No release date yet, but details will soon be posted on my Facebook page. In terms of specific artists I want to work with: Hotel Neon (ambient trio from Pennsylvania), Lowercase Noises (Andy Othling’s ambient project and one of my biggest inspirations) and Hammock (two guys from Nashville Tennessee). Honestly, though, I’d like to work with anyone who is willing to collaborate.

Do you have a favourite track / song of all time? Favourite artist?

My all time favorite artists are Hammock, Lowercase Noises, and Hotel Neon. I was listening to Hammock right before I discovered Lowercase Noises and Hotel Neon. My personal favourites include Raising Your Voice, Trying To Stop an Echo, Departure Songs, and Oblivion Hymns. I really hope I can collaborate with them very soon since Hammock are like my Number One inspiration!

It’s been said that a life in music can be a hard one. Would you agree with that? Have you ever thought of swapping this life for a different one? Would you have any words of advice for young producers who might be nervous about putting their music out there?

Actually yes! Life in music can be a hard one, it’s just like everything else. Life is a rollercoaster, there will be ups and downs but you know you have a choice as to whether you get back up or choose to stay down and run away. With me I cope with anxiety and depression almost everyday, it’s overwhelming yes but it doesn’t stop me from reaching for success and I wouldn’t think of swapping my life for anything really. I have loved the majority of everything I have done or experienced – including my autism and spreading my message everywhere I can to give hope and light to parents of autistic children who need to know that those children can do unique things and can express themselves in whatever form they like, whether it’s poetry, music, painting or anything else. The fact is that I taught myself guitar, sound design and production, working with pedals – everything really!

My advice for young producers who might be nervous or hesitant about putting their music out there is to be yourself and create something you like to do. Don’t try to copy someone else’s style, try to create your own voice and put your music out there as you never know what it might bring you in the future. Look at me, I used to be on the same road before but then as I slowly released my albums on Bandcamp and Soundcloud I began to receive really positive feedback and messages from labels that wanted to release my albums on Cassette or CD. Don’t be afraid to spread your music around, it’s your form of art. You can do whatever you want with it. Of course don’t be surprised if you get some negative feedback because you are always going to get those who are not happy or just want to be rude online. Just focus more on the positive feedback from fans and listeners, and continue to make music.

Any other City of Dawn projects on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?

There’s a couple of my tracks that are unreleased or in demo form that will be released in the near future. Plus more EPs, full-length releases and possible collaboration albums and also more performances in the future in the Austin and Dallas areas! I also want to do a living room show at some point. More than anything I want to continue to inspire others.

And finally – anyone you’d like to give a ‘shout out’ to?

I wanted to give a special thanks to my parents, to my friends for being there in my personal life and supporting whatever I do, and also a special thanks to the owners of Luna Coffee House for their awesome friendship and for letting me use their space for that amazing album release event! It was really tons of fun to perform in front of a full house. Finally, a very big thank you to a special friend who means the world to me and makes my life brighter, who gives me the inspiration for my music and for life itself. I don’t want to mention a name here but as a hint her name starts with an “M” and she will appear on my upcoming album.

Thanks so much City of Dawn. Best of luck with all your new projects!

Thank you!

City of Dawn’s album ‘Recovery II’ and the rest of his back-catalogue is available here (including ‘Through Our Eyes Vol 1‘, a compilation album which City of Dawn created to benefit local autism awareness causes).

If you would like to know more about autism awareness, you can read about it here.