A telltale sign of importance is repetition and throughout my Zoom call with artist Kyle Dion one word stood out to me: free. He uses it to describe the headspace he’s in, a state of inner peace not burdened with the expectations of others. I would say he’s a free spirit but it’s hard to describe the complexities of his identity in a few words. Dion embodies the energy of a rockstar like Lenny Kravitz, the relaxed nature of Snoop Dogg, and the androgynous style of Prince. His visual identity is fluid, walking the line between masculine and feminine to create a persona that’s a bit of both for his last album Sassy. The album name is also a middle finger to gender associations—often used to describe girls—capturing the exaggerated character of Dion that represents the era he’s currently in.
To him, labels and judgment don’t matter but self-confidence and self-expression do. His albums are like tattoos—time stamps of the world and who he was at that point in time—forever imprinted on his internet identity and ready to fade into the background when a new album is added. If there’s one thing you can expect from Dion it’s the unexpected. From his 2016 EP Painting Sounds and his 2019 debut album Suga to his 2021 album Sassy, he’s proven he can do smooth R&B, soul, funk, pop, and everything in between. But Dion doesn’t use the blueprint of the past for the future, throwing his regimented routine for releases to the wind; he recently put out his single “Hazy” with no expectations, just the belief that it’s a great song he wanted to share. Music is in his blood, hailing from a family of musicians, his dad was a rapper from Connecticut, and his grandfather on his mom’s side was a Portuguese singer. He’s already a trailblazer in his family’s lineage, constantly trying new things because surprising people (and himself) is one of his greatest pleasures.
Below, we chat about the genres Dion wants to dive deeper into, the creation of Sassy, what vulnerability means to him, and what fans can expect from his Sassy tour (stopping in Toronto on March 7th at Adelaide Hall, tickets are available here).
What is your favourite memory of music from your childhood?
I remember being 6 years old in the back of a car with my dad—his friend was driving us—and I don’t know what song was playing it was some rap song and my dad looked at me and [said] “go like this *nods head* and nod your head like that.” I looked at him and I was nodding my head. That’s an early memory I have of the first time I was introduced to the feeling of music.
How would you describe your visual identity and where do you find inspiration?
My visual identity is very fluid in the sense of me presenting myself however I feel [during] the day [and] whenever I want. The inspiration from that is self-confidence, where [I] can present myself how I want and don’t care about judgment. Because everyone judges, you shouldn’t but it is what it is internally and it doesn’t matter just like how everyone has an asshole [laughs]. Do whatever you want, if you love it then that’s how you feel and that’s how you want to present yourself. It’s [from] the self-confidence that was instilled in me by mom growing up [and] my friends are very self-expressive and free so I’m surrounded by a community of free human beings.
Each album you’ve released has had a character associated with the album. Are you still in your ‘Sassy’ era? What character is next?
It’s a bit different but I’m still in that era of my life. You know that crazy [and] boisterous just wanting to have fun, go out, [and] live my life. The next character I don’t know who I will be when I start making my next album or who I will not be because sometimes I make it off an imaginary thing like Suga was a made-up character. Sassy was a character that’s me but a bit [bigger] and more out there than I am so more entertainment in a sense.
How did your single “Hazy” come together and what inspired the distorted sounds in the production?
Me, Tkay, and Aabo produced it. We all were in a session throwing out melodies. We would have the melodies come out of the speaker and it was recording. So on one of the takes, we had this feedback that happened and that’s what you hear with the “errr uhh” sound. We were like “oh this is really cool” so we chopped it up and made it part of the song.
You’ve previously said there’s no such thing as perfection, you have to put your stuff out there and let people consume it. Is there anything you’ve learned from past releases?
100% bringing [it] back [to] “Hazy” with this release I’m just flowing and free. I’ve come to the sense of not everything is [pauses] it’s not that serious. Usually, with my releases, I’m freaking out, everything has to be [a certain] way and I’m stressed. For this, I don’t give a fuck I think it’s a great song. I’m more free with putting shit out there and seeing if anything sticks, if anyone really loves something, or if it goes really big but not even expecting that. It’s making what I love and putting it out there.
Is there any genre you haven’t experimented with yet that you want to?
I want to go into more of a house vibe [and] collab with a great electronic dance producer. I think that would be cool. I really want to hone in on my rock side too and make some kind of project whether it’s an EP or an album. I give my fans a hint of the rock vibe and I intertwine it with R&B and soul but really going in and defining that rock sound.
Tell me about something you tried that you ended up loving or hating?
With the creation of Sassy, I tried not going into an album with such a precise conception. I’ve never worked like that, everything was always perfect and very like this is it—real drums, real this, real that. It’s this something that’s not even [from] my time more the ‘70s [and] ‘90s when music was in a different time and less saturated. I was always trying to fight for that feeling of wanting to be that iconic figure so I have to do it this way and I have to do it like this. [With Sassy] I was like nah it’s a new era, people move different, we have the internet. So moving in [a] sense of adapting to where the industry is and when I realized that I was like “let’s just make whatever we want, throw shit against the wall, be free with it” and that’s how Sassy came about. And did I love it? Yeah I did, I like working like that it’s less stressful [and] more fun.
What does vulnerability mean to you as an artist?
Vulnerability is being able to not be afraid to say what’s on your mind, [being] authentic in your art, and not [caring] about the repercussions. Be real because you can say anything in your art and people can spin it [and] take it the wrong way [or it can] change someone’s life. There’s a bunch of different things that happen when people consume your shit but I don’t think artists should fixate on that, they should fixate on what the message they want to give to the world [is] and focus on themselves.
How would you describe your relationship with social media?
Love/hate, I love that I can connect with fans whenever I want but it’s also mentally draining. There is a sense of am I not posting enough? Do people remember that I exist if I don’t post for a few days? Shit like that, less now because I’ve had such an inner peace as of lately and been so happy but that’s something that it brings. Social media can kind of be a bad thing but that’s with anything—anything can be bad if you’re addicted to it—you gotta balance it.
What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming tour?
It’s been two years. I’m so excited, I’m looking forward to seeing all the fans, getting to connect with them, and seeing them sing the new music. I love to perform and I feel like if anything I’ll always be a performer for my whole life. I’m really looking forward to seeing different places—I’ve never been to Montréal—I had a show in Toronto [on] my last tour and I didn’t get to stay there much. I’m super grateful we get to be on the road, be able to sing, and see different places—it’s a blessing.
How are you bringing your ‘Sassy’ persona to life on tour?
We’re going to do a lot with the set, music, and visuals as far as what I’m wearing. I’m excited too because we did one show in New York with Sassy and that’s the first show I’ve ever done with the album. It was a smaller set than we have now but it was fun to see everyone jumping, dancing, and going crazy because before that it [was] very sultry, R&B, and chill. Even though we would still be dancing because that’s just how I am at heart but this one is like people are jumping, having a good time, dancing with each other [and] we even have a song people can mosh to so it’ll be crazy.
I do with my own styling with my friend Luca [for] this whole era because I need that insight of the early 2000s. He’s a sneakerhead so he’s always putting me in good footwear, balancing that masculinity and femininity and he’s a good balance with the masculine side.
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