Updated: Sep 13
Magician, World Traveler, and a Pillar in the Architecture of Music.
I came up with a story about Dylan Charbeneau before I met him. I knew three things about him, and it made him sound like the world's karmic answer for Rodrigo y Gabriela. (Ask me what I know about Rodrigo y Gabriela.)
The three things I knew about Dylan Charbeneau:
Born in Texas
Lives in Barcelona, Spain
I told him the story that I came up with, and he liked it, so I'll tell you real quick.
Born a poor Texan, Dylan's one real superpower was in the strength and speed of his fingers. The pacifist nature of his personality and the fact that he looked terrible in a Stetson from an early age prevented him from turning his power to the obvious career path for a young Texan with quick hands: a gunslinger of no small repute. Music seemed to be his only option. Only an accident suffered during a rare Texas ice storm left his chin completely smooth. He would never hold a fiddle in place again. Then a basic error in perspective meant that he assumed a guitar and fiddle were the same kind of instrument. So he never even bothered with one of those.
It Left Him Only One Course of Action: the Piano.
The piano. An instrument never embraced by Texas. Still, young Dylan, showing no small skill with the black and white keys, persevered. With his standing piano strapped to his back, he trudged his way through the Texas blizzards. He hiked from one square dance to the next. There he attempted to accompany the chirpy honky-tonk sounds with his dulcet melodies. He almost always attracted the jeers--friendly, but no less cutting--of the kind, if unsatisfied, Texans.
Discouraged, but never broken, Dylan left. He strapped his standing piano onto his back and left Texas. He headed west, seeking the warmer climes of Seattle, Washington, where he heard that the hipsters seek the stranger experiences. But when he arrived there, alas, he met with the lingering spirit of Kurt Cobain and the grunge scene. They had no place for keyboards.
From there, he heard stories of the homeland of Yo-Yo Ma. Surely, in the vast continent of Asia he would find an appreciation for the piano music that would not stay contained in his soul.
Dylan bartered for passage for himself and his piano on a crab vessel on its way back to Alaska. From there, he stowed away on an oil trawler, disguising his trusty piano as a crate of cocaine to throw off the Siberian sailors. After weeks at sea, he landed on the frosty coast of Vladivostok. Realizing his mistake too late, he set his hat and piano on the side of the road. There he played for the Rubles of the passing Russians, for days, until he had enough for a ticket on the Trans Siberian Railway.
On his epic journey across the Siberian tundra, he would get out and play piano in the pubs for the locals.
Word of His Prowess With the Ivory Keys Spread Across the Land.
He was like Tommy if The Who had written a rock opera about a keyboard wizard instead.
His reputation began to reach the ears of booking agents from Tokyo to the Isle of White. Sensing the satisfyingly opposite nature of his origin story, they wanted Dylan to open for Rodrigo y Gabriela's flamenco metal guitar shows. Alas, due to a standing pinochle appointment on alternating Thursdays still in place because of a bet Rodrigo lost in Vera Cruz, the concert was never to be.
Ten thousand miles of travel across land, and longer in his old soul, later, Dylan finally disembarked in Moscow. His trusty piano much abused but still with life left in its old strings strapped to his back. Once there, in the north of Europe (more or less) it only made sense to meander his way across Belarus and Poland. From there to the birthplace of modern rock and roll: Hamburg. There he learned the true heart of music. There he found peace.
Since it's too damn cold in the north of Europe for the fine motor skills needed to play piano long term, Dylan chased the sun. He eventually found his way to Barcelona. In Spain he made his home, a country famous for its horse culture, warm climate, and for having pretty good beaches. Once there, Dylan said, "Ain't Texas...close enough, though." And decided to finally take his piano off his back for the last time.
That was last week.
The End of a Story About Dylan Charbeneau
True story. It is a story about Dylan Charbeneau. It doesn't have any facts in it and it hasn't got anything to do with reality, but it's a true Story.
I told Dylan this origin story, and he said it's more interesting than his "real" origin story. I disagree, but I understand the feeling.
You ever come across figures in history who feel like the embodiment of something? Of an ideology or a school of thought, maybe. Napoleon Bonaparte was the most perfect example of the French Enlightenment, for example. Or Robert Johnson was the exemplar Louisiana blues singer and guitar player. There's another example. Or how you can't imagine Frank Zappa having any hobbies aside from music producing. He just lived that life completely.
I feel like it's rare to meet people like that.
That's the feeling I got talking to Dylan Charbeneau, though.
He started playing keyboard practically before he could talk, it sounds like. He won his first keyboard composition contest at five. (Take that Mozart--coming up with Twinkle Twinkle at six? Psh! Slacker.)
And That Kind of Set Him on a Road That Kept Him in the Central Nexus of Music Ever Since.
He studied a method called Suzuki. Suzuki aims to make musical analysis a full-bodied experience, so you can compose with your full range of senses, I guess. At ten, he started to learn improvisational jazz.
When he was high school age, he had educational studio time where he started to learn how to produce and mix music. Apparently he was producing at a college level during his high school years. He had a head start when he did get to college. He decided on New England Conservatory. He earned a degree there in contemporary improv. He's basically the Colin Mochrie of piano now.
He moved to Los Angeles where he hustled for a while. In about '06 or '07, he started to play keyboard for Colbie Caillat. She became a pop sensation for a few minutes, probably partly because of Dylan's backing, since he apparently played some pretty sick tunes. They toured with Lighthouse and the GooGoo Dolls. He was about twenty-fiveish, and he was touring the world with artists recognized everywhere.
Pretty Sweet Gig, Right? Major Rock Star at Twenty-Five. Living the Dream.
Whose dream, though? That's what I want to know.
When I was talking to Dylan, the, I don't know, largeness of the story to this point didn't really land with me. Not because it didn't sound like a grand adventure. Not because it didn't sound like Dylan had worked his ass off to get this far. It sounded like it was. It sounded like it had. Dylan told the story about becoming an artist on a record that went Platinum in a subdued way. It almost sounded like he just needed to get through the key points of his resume. When he had done he could tell me what he really cared about. The pride was there, but it was the pride of a workman who had something bigger to say.
Because at that point, when Dylan was a twenty-fiveish musician Platinum record and his name in Rolling Stone, he searched his soul a little. He asked himself what he found important.
He Looked Ahead and Saw Two Possible Roads.
On one road, he remained a touring musician. He performed in huge shows, and he stayed on the road, playing music forever. Pretty sweet gig, right? A life full of thrills and excitement forever and ever more.
Depends who you are.
On the other road, he saw greater challenges. Because down the other road, he saw music. His own music.
He says he realized something. He says he realized that playing the same six pieces of music every night for the rest of his life wouldn't work. He told me that he realized he needed to get back to writing and producing.
He had a meandering adventure with setbacks and rises after that. By 2010 or '11 he was collaborating with some dudes called Graham Fink and Jordan Passman and starting to compose music for video games. Then he started composing music for movie trailers and commercials, and just generally building his business.
He Ended up in Spain Because of a Job.
He was supposed to be there for six months, but then he and his wife just stayed. Funny how that works.
Music's bigger and deeper than the instrument you play. Because it is, after getting to Spain Dylan found that the scene there was more heavy on the club side. He decided to start learning the insides of an array of electronic genres. From a world of precision and volume with the instruments he already knew how to play, he found another world. A world of precision and volume with new instruments about as far from his jazz improv roots as he can get. That's cool, though, because music don't care what it's played with.
Dylan still performs gigs sometimes. He backs up a few musicians around Barcelona and keeps his cunning hands spry. If you ever see one of his gigs, you'll probably never hear about the Platinum records. But you'll probably get some chill shit out of the evening.
Otherwise, he makes his living composing music and producing albums from his studio space in Barcelona. He's making a living as one of the pillars breathing life in the world of music. He's doing it because it seems to be his purpose.
That is a story about Dylan Charbeneau.
That's About As Much Rock and Roll One Life Can Hold, If You Ask Me.
Watch Dylan Charbeneau play live in the next Front Page News Barcelona Amazing Keyboard Player, Band Mate and good friend to Liam Cloud. They are amazing together. The energy with Bryan (Drums) and Joseph (Bass)-- a wonderful one to watch if you like live band music - Liam Cloud & Jezebel Lies don't play live as a band as much as we would like. Hope you don't miss this one.