Dexterity: Neil Dexter


Posted 4 months ago in Music Features

Having their first live show also serve as their album launch may intimidate many but former Spiesmaster Neil Dexter is undaunted.

 

Self-admitted music nerd and new father Neil Dexter has to turn off his pesky Slack notifications when one suddenly pings mid interview. As he goes from ‘active’ into ‘busy’ mode, Dexter silences his Slack bot and we get into talking about his relationship with music, his debut record I’ll Be Ready and imminent album launch.

The Ballinteer native grew-up in a musical household where he and his six siblings had free reign. “[My parents] used to let us play guitar and drums in the house until reasonably late and we’d be getting complaints from the neighbours. They just really appreciated that we were doing something creative, which was cool.” His music teacher dad filled the household with classical compositions and Dexter played the double bass and sang in St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir as a child.

Stepping into his teenage years, a subconscious rebellion seeped in and Dexter found himself gravitating to the riffs and melodies of rock and punk. What struck him most was the get-up-and-go attitude of the messier genre. “I had the best of both worlds because I was able to do the classical stuff but then I got to explore punk and rock music by playing in bands. When I think about music I really like, I like things that have a punk approach. Sometimes, there’s a lot of perfectionism which I would have experienced growing up in classical music. I definitely gravitate towards perfectionism but there’s a good part to it and there’s a really bad part to it. One of those parts is that you never finish anything.”

Spies alumnus Dexter fell into making his solo work after the Dublin-based group disbanded in late 2018. “When Spies finished, it was hard because it was such a big part of my life that was suddenly gone. There’s a hole when you finish something you’ve been doing for a decade. Naturally, I opened up Logic and started recording my own stuff. It was a muscle that we’d built up as individuals and as a band. It would have been a shame to not flex that muscle.”

Stepping into the world of music with Spies gave Neil the opportunity to be part of what was happening in Dublin. Now as a solo artist, that community remains. “Automatically, I felt part of that scene, if you want to call it a scene. It was mainly made-up of friends and friends of friends. You’re in that ether and you don’t really leave it. It’s nice to reconnect with people that’ve been around since the Spies days. It’s been nice to pop my head above the water and see people again and also see what’s changed and the new artists that have emerged,” he says.

“My dad’s only advice growing up was ‘never become a musician, never make that your career.’ Maybe that was his sense of humour saying that. Since music was always part of me and my identity, it never felt like it was a question of whether I would do music or not. I didn’t really consider studying music specifically. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy studying it, I just felt that I could study something else or go work in a different industry.”

“I work a day job but I also do music. I’m really happy to not depend on music as my sole source of income, to be honest. We look at Covid and all the people who’ve been affected. I’ve been grateful to have my day job and do music as well in my own time.” The day job remains as a stable source of income which is a very wise choice in this economy. After the devastation of the live scene by the pandemic, cancelled events and concerts showed how fragile a career in music can be. Aside from the lack of income that comes with digital releases, putting on a show can be costly and without money coming in from touring, many musicians were at a loss.

Collaborating with David A. Tapley (Tandem Felix) and Stephen Dunne allowed Dexter to expand on the slivers of ideas that were stored away on his laptop. “This was never meant to be an album at the start. I was just doing bits and bobs. I remember Dave said that they sounded really good. I sent demos to him and he booked the studio. That’s what I mean about the punk approach. Let’s just book the studio and go in and see what happens.”

What emerged between 2018 and 2020 was a routine of Dexter writing, booking a studio and recording then listening back to the mixes. What emerged was the lush and visceral record I’ll Be Ready. Dexter’s debut has track after track of beautifully layered melodies that move between a dance beat and emotional reflection.

Dexter, Tapley and Dunne were always on the same page musically because of a collaborative Spotify playlist. Ideas flourished in the studio and their shared and individual influences seeped into the work. “First time we went to the studio, Dave was on a Beach Boys buzz and one of the songs, I’ll Be With You, definitely has a Beach Boys sound to it. Another huge influence, especially as I was finishing the album, was Westerman. My music sounds quite different but he really gave me confidence to keep going and finish it. Peter Gabriel is a massive influence as well. The songwriting and the directness of his delivery with vocals is something I’m always trying to get towards, connecting with people on the level that he’s able to do.”

For Dexter, it’s the music part that comes naturally. The lyrics can’t be forced out: “When I’m writing songs, nothing really clicks until I am honest or letting it be. I think with the lyrics, it’s just that and a lot of them would have been written as jots in my phone when I was doing something else.” Being sincere and leaving metaphors and imagery to one side leaves the record and individual tracks up for interpretation. I’ll Be With You means one very specific thing but for someone else, it could mean something else. I’ve been exploring that this time round but the next album I could be very descriptive and be talking about the traffic!”

With the record pressed and ready to go, Dexter’s debut show is drawing nearer and nearer. Playing the Workman’s Cellar, his first solo gig will launch I’ll Be Ready and will be accompanied by a specially commissioned light installation. “I don’t know if there’s that many artists who have their first live show as their album launch. Most bands would test the waters and do a few gigs but I’m going straight in. There’s a bit of risk involved but the band is really good. I’m excited to see what the songs are like live. When I’m writing, I am thinking about how it will sound live as well even though it has been a studio project. There might be sections that get extended slightly or continue the dance-y moments a bit.”

Words: Sophia McDonald

Photo: Zoe Ardiff

I’ll Be Ready is out on Friday October 14, via Neil Dexter Music. Neil Dexter launches his debut album in The Workman’s Cellar on October 20, presented by Singular Artists.

neildextermusic.com

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