“I think the idea of sexiness or being calm and collected is a pretty stifling thing as a musician,” Dijon explains to Apple Music. “I've wrestled with why you're supposed to make music if you're going to do it, and I think just the longer I've been trying, I've gotten pretty disenchanted with sort of the casualness and the informality.” This is the existential question at the heart of Absolutely, his debut album. If the prior EPs—2019's Sci Fi 1 and 2020's How Do You Feel About Getting Married?—were for figuring out who he was as an artist through collages of ideas, then this is about figuring out who he can be, with regard to the expectations leveled at him from outsiders and those he has for himself. Of course, to hear him tell it, the process of creating this music wasn't nearly as deep.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he visited a friend in Wyoming, where he began tinkering with bits and pieces of demos. He returned to Los Angeles, his home since he relocated from Maryland in 2016, and wrote one song, “Scratching,” and didn’t make anything else for months. That is, until he met fellow singer-songwriter Mk.gee (Michael Gordon) at a studio session. “He and I developed a bizarre language together that sort of spilled into the rest of the record,” he says. “With the pandemic, I just wasn't sure if I was going to make a record, how long it would take, or if it was even useful to make music. The records that we made together just sprang out of boredom and out of this kind of conversation—it was just a conversational way to exist.”
Absolutely is Dijon’s most collaborative release to date, an exercise in surrendering to his own creative impulses as he also makes room for others’. Out of that comes an album that highlights the intimacy of candor, of offering oneself without dressing the parts up. In many of the songs, there’s ambient room noise—people laughing, talking, and reacting to the music—that positions the listener as a kind of fly on the wall for a private jam session. It’s raw and untouched in a way that runs counter to conventional ideas of what a debut album often is or should be. Life that feels as though it's coming apart requires music that is the same—the process of deconstruction and rebuilding animated through sound. Which brings us back to his original question. Over the better part of a decade, he's earned fans and a profile, and just as that means other people are asking things of him, he's asking new things of himself. Absolutely is some version of an answer that reimagines his artistry at a time that required he reimagine his life. “It just seems strange that the moment you get a little platform, people start to tidy up a little bit and they start to perfect their lane,” he says. “I just kind of wanted to destroy it and build a new one.” Below, he explains how each of the songs came to be.
“Big Mike’s” “‘Big Mike's’ is the first song that Mk.gee and I made together. He came to the house, I had a drum loop playing, I had a couple of friends milling about. We'd met a few times but we didn't really talk, and he picked up a guitar and he played a little, and it was so natural for us to build the track together. It was a complete freestyle, lyrically and melodically, and we sort of wrapped everything harmonically around it. I played some bass way after that I'm pretty sure it's not the same key as what Mike was playing. And we just listened back, and we just felt like if this is on an album, I'd want to hear this first because I can decide if I want to be here or not. We wanted it to be hypnotic, and I wanted to be as confrontational as possible.”
“Scratching” “‘Scratching’ was the first song I actually ever made for the record, and it was a product of me trying to learn piano. I just played a couple of things and wrote a song around a midi piano part that I was just working on. It was super simple. I thought that there was this Springsteen-y thing to it that was an accident, so I was just like, well, how do I kind of pay homage in that way? Everything to me is post-realization—I never really know what I'm doing when I'm doing it.”
“Many Times” “‘Many Times’ was the first time I'd ever not controlled or been engineering my own session. I went with a very good friend, somebody I respect a lot named Andrew Sarlo—he works with some people I really love. Andrew has a patented recording technique or an exercise that I won't reveal, but we were just trying to get over a hump and trying to be productive. A lot of my records are nocturnal, and this was a bright coffee thing. We just wanted to make something that we thought was quite fun—everything is sort of operating with a little bit of humor, and Mike's solo exists relative to the intensity and the mania of the song as potentially a little hat tip.”
“Annie” “I left to go upstate [New York] and brought a few friends, and a person I've collaborated with a lot, Jack Karaszewski, ended up being there. We tried for a few nights just to hang out and make music around this table, and ‘Annie’ ended up being this pretty manic campfire thing. I picked up an acoustic guitar, and it was tuned in some really crazy way. I was just kind of sitting at the table and started mumbling and humming a little thing. Then Mike slotted in, picked up a bass, and we just made the song. The Band was always in the back of everybody's head. I had never really heard of them until I went to upstate New York and got extremely obsessed. I was trying to make some sort of demented version of a The Band song or something, and it happened really quickly.”
“Noah’s Highlight Reel” “This is my favorite song on the record. We were sitting at this long dining room table, and our buddy Noah who's from Wyoming was there with us. He's played slide and occasional guitar on a couple of the songs and he's helped with the general vibe and thrown a couple lyrics in on this record. But Mike and I were cranking through super fast, a bunch of ideas per day, when we were in upstate New York. Things calmed down, we had a few beers, and I believe it was Mike's idea—he said, ‘Noah, you should write a song.’ I started playing a guitar part, some chords, and Mike slotted in with some bass and some other things, and my buddy Noah actually wrote a song and we asked him to sing it. We sang backup for him. I also lost the file, so that's the only version of the song that exists.”
“The Dress” “I borrowed a drum machine and just laid down this thing, and a friend of mine named John Keek played some chords. He has a very sort of gospelly touch, and it started off as kind of a little gag, but obviously the chords he played were quite inspiring. I was experimenting a lot with noise on this album, and ‘The Dress’ was a way for me to kind of internally be like, can you actually just write a song? Because I didn't know if I could. And yeah, there's a little bit of an homage to Bonnie Raitt, but it was really an exercise in me trying to push myself out of a comfort zone. You can get really comfortable around like a wall of sonic trickery and fuzz.”
“God in Wilson” “‘God in Wilson’ is a tough one, because that was a pretty early one. When I was in Wyoming—it's referencing Wilson, Wyoming—there was this attempt to kind of explore guilt and shame, and it was an interesting idea that I had. It was a pretty early demo idea that I never really fleshed out and just thought it could provide some sort of contrast on the record, I guess. I was really fascinated with priests and kind of thought about, I don't know, a little priest guy. But yeah, it's just an exploration, lyrically, of guilt and shame, and I kept it on there just because I thought it sounded pretty.”
“Did You See It?” “It's a modular, like, Eurorack experiment that I was doing, and I wanted to see if I could write a song around it. It's about aliens.”
“Talk Down” “On hip-hop records, you can kind of quote—like JAY-Z quotes Biggie all the time and stuff like that. I never really understood how to do that in more of a singer-songwriter thing, but ‘Talk Down’ was part two of ‘Annie.’ Same day, same table, same people. I was listening to a lot of Gillian Welch—I think I said her name wrong on the record—but a lot of the imagery that floated around the record was really based on the three-day drive from LA to New York. There's tension, there's excitement, there's anger. There's also monotony, it's a lot of boredom. I heard a chord that my friend John played. And I started freestyling this thing, and I just kept quoting ‘Look at Miss Ohio,’ and that became the basis of the song. It was me listing off songs I was listening to while driving and trying to contrast a little bit. I wanted to do a little homage to Baltimore club. I tried to do a few Baltimore club songs that failed, and this is the closest that we got.”
“Rodeo Clown” “I was just kind of playing some chords and we were a little burned out after making ‘Big Mike's,’ just me, Mike, and Noah. But in effort of stretching what the performer is supposed to sound like, I just wanted to explore R&B melodic stuff. It's part of my DNA, but I just wanted to present it in a way that isn't clean. I get very frustrated by how cool everybody is, and I wanted to just see what happens if you try to make a song that's very earnest. I sort of blacked out a little bit and let it go and then listened back to it the next day, and I was like, 'Yeah, that sounds pretty good.' I feel like it's very boring to think that just because you have a guitar, that you can't try to reinterpret how you're supposed to perform. I don't know if it was a successful experiment, but yeah.”
“End of Record” “In an effort of making a debut record, you toss and turn a lot of ideas of how you're supposed to make it perfect, and ‘End of Record’ was a personal message to myself. It was done in upstate New York, around the table with a lot of people. I think it was on Halloween of . That song specifically—it's for me and the people on the record, like a little postcard from a time and all the emotion that was around that house at the time.”
“Credits!” “I think that I have the tendency to sort of give off this impression that I'm hyper-serious all the time and the music is emotionally weighty to people, but there's a lot of jokes that I think I've been trying to get a little bit more effective at displaying on my music. And ‘Credits!’ is also just kind of another thing for me on there. I thought it was kind of fun. After you hear a lot of these ups and downs on this record, I couldn't think of a funnier and I think more obnoxious way to kind of put a bow on all of this weight. There were a lot of different variations of that energy, and ‘Credits!’ just sounded silly enough to be the one.”