Interviews

Q&A: Tristan Carter-Jones from Dakota Jones

Dakota Jones, a three piece from New York, are a band who refuse to be defined. Taking influences from different times and types of music, and spearheaded by their shamelessly unrestricted lead singer and songwriter Tristan Carter-Jones, this exciting new collective make music to let loose to, revelling in that honest no-holds-barred attitude. With the launch of their new single, I Did It To Myself this month, Dakota Jones took some time out to chat with us about their incredible new single and upcoming debut album, Black Light.

Hey, Tristan! How’s your summer been so far?

Hello there! It’s been a wonderfully busy summer so far. We’ve had the release of “I Did It To Myself,” and our first show back in New York since everything has opened up again. Plus, we’ve been preparing for the release of Black Light, our debut album, so there’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to get ready for! Your new single, I did it to myself, is an amazing contemporary example of that classic bluesy neo-soul sound.

How did you arrive at this sound and who are your key musical influences?

I think the sound of Dakota Jones is an amalgamation of our influences, with a modern edge to it. We’re rock, soul, the blues, R&B, sometimes hip hop. Most people find it hard to put us in a box. I grew up on Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Chaka Khan, Rakim – classic soul and rock, and a lot of old school rap. Scott grew up on rock and roll and soul music, you can’t get him in a room without mentioning Stevie Wonder at least once. And Steve is an alternative rock and rap kind of guy. Our music blends what we love, and we all come from different musical backgrounds and tastes. So, I think we know we have a solid song when we can all get equally excited about it.

Your debut full-length album, Black Light drops on August 27 – how does your new single fit into the wider project?

We’ve always had a blues rock, soul lean to us, but this album, Black Light, really dives into a place of funk soul and everything that comes with it. “I Did It To Myself” really kicks off that feeling. There’s joy and dancing, sleek guitar licks and funky bass slaps. There’s pain and longing, and there’s the feeling of relief when you come out of that place and find your joy and purpose again.

What does this album mean to the band?

Black Light is my story. The pain of where I’ve been, and the joy of where I’m going. We were honored to have some incredible musicians join us on this record, Randy Jacobs and Michael Toles on guitar, Jon Gilutin on keys, Kudisan Kai on backing vocals. These are powerhouses that have worked with everyone and their mother, and I can’t believe we got to collaborate. Black Light is a celebration of every side of life. There was such joy and love in the room while we were making this record, and I think you can feel it all when you listen.

Tristan, you are a proud black, queer artist who revels in raw and honest song-writing. What were your processes when coming to write your new record and how do you make sure that it’s your true self coming through in the music?

My songwriting process can be a very fickle one, rather my muse is quite fickle. Inspiration strikes when it strikes, and if it’s not there, I don’t force it. I suppose that’s really the best way for me to ensure that it’s my true self coming through, making sure that nothing is forced. I never sit down with the intention of writing, I just get hit with something and follow it. Usually the songs come to me in one whole piece, melody included. So I never spend more than 5-10 minutes writing a song. If I have to toil over the lyrics, it just doesn’t feel genuine. So it’s great to have a song done in 5 minutes, but the flip side of that is that I can’t control when the muse comes.

It feels as though your recent single “I Did It To Myself” is a conversation to a younger self or is sending a message to others who maybe share similar personal experiences – what was the main drive behind making this track?

Definitely, I always hope that the music is connecting to other people that have had similar experiences as I’ve had. That’s really a major goal for me. When I was writing “I Did It To Myself,” I was thinking about all of the times that I’ve taken two steps forward just to take three steps back, and about the complexities of growing up. I’m talking about really growing up into the person that you’re meant to be, and I think that that process takes decades and decades. I’m still learning and growing on a daily basis. And I think that’s an important piece for people to carry with them, and remembering that it’s all a process. There’s a powerful simplicity to the bridge in your new single, where you repeat the line: ‘Everybody, think they know me / Everybody, think they own me’.

How does it feel to be an artist like yourselves, making the music that you do, in the music industry today?

It’s interesting to me because we have a sound that’s quite different from the things that we hear on the radio over here, which is something that can be either daunting or empowering depending on how you look at it. But as independent artists, we just have to continually create and run our own race, and just make what feels good to us. I think that’s what people connect with most with our music, you can feel that there’s real soul there, and a real emotion behind what you get. So we just keep moving forward with that in mind.

The music video for I did it to myself is great and feels like a real refreshing take on the medium. What was the creative approach to the music video for the single and how do you feel it adds to the overall impact of the song?

Thank you! Mainly, I wanted the video to reflect the feel of the song. It’s also a callback to those rare days as a little kid when you get the house to yourself, and feel like you can run around with full reign of the place. At the same time, it’s kind of enforcing the “afraid to leave the house/ scared of not going out” dichotomy that’s mentioned in the second verse. I hope the video serves as a little celebration of the song itself, and just feels fun to watch and experience.

And finally, what’s next for Dakota Jones?

Do you have any personal goals or things you’re looking forward to as we head towards 2022? Well, as August 27 approaches and we’re preparing to drop the album, we’re getting a couple more music videos in line to share with everyone, and many more shows coming up in America. The goal at the moment is to be able to come over to the UK and properly tour the album as soon as everything opens up again – that’s what we’re looking forward to most of all! Beyond that, we’re constantly making new music and just trying to keep pushing forward and honing our craft so that we can continue to connect with new audiences, and fine new people like yourselves.

Check out Dakota Jones’ new single below.


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Q&A: Tristan Carter-Jones from Dakota Jones
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