If you're wondering why the name Dylan Montayne sounds familiar, it's because the Santa Fe-born, Los-Angeles-based MC shot to online popularity in 2016 when he posted a YouTube clip of himself rapping while working as an Uber driver in Denver. It caught the attention of pretty much the entire internet, and Montayne says he was sure it would be his big break.
"But when the dust settled," he tells SFR, "I was reflecting on just how little that did for my career."
As of this writing, the video is approaching 10 million views, and Montayne says the following days were a blitz of media and celebrity attention. Ultimately, however, it wasn't what he wanted to be known for, and those who approached him afterwards were looking to create a monetary niche; the rapping Uber driver genre is indeed rife with pigeon-holed musicians on YouTube, though the chances they'll ever do anything more or better are slim to non-existent.
Still, Montayne's performance in the video is straight fire. A musician since he took up the drums at 8 years old, Montayne started freestyling with his El Dorado Elementary school friends following the release of the Eminem movie 8 Mile in 2002. They were, he says, obsessed.
"That continued throughout high school, but I was the only one who was taking it more seriously, and when I went to college in 2009 [at Notre Dame]," Montayne recalls, "I met this dude who had recording equipment in his dorm, and he heard through the grapevine I could freestyle, so we started recording stuff."
Montayne was at Notre Dame for business, but he began creating music in earnest around that time. After school, he moved to Denver because, he says, it was a "medium-sized town with a big music scene." The six or seven years between then and the YouTube clip were full of hustle, rejection, development, small wins and failures. But they were valuable, and if Montayne learned anything from his struggles and viral fame, it was that he wasn't ready.
"I wasn't prepared. I didn't have the resume or body of work for people to latch onto," he explains. "It came off as 'Viral guy raps!' but there was nothing really for people to [engage with]."
Cue the hermit years. Montayne worked in relative isolation from 2016 to 2018 on his debut album Rebecca Lane.
The album was inspired by Montayne's Santa Fe youth; of parties in the woods, chasing after girls and rap battles by bonfire. The title single does have a sort of youthful exuberance, and Montayne's cadence is like butter during a few high points. But Montayne says that, while he's proud of the work he put into the album, there was plenty of room to grow.
"Coming out of that period, I realized that in making Rebecca Lane, I didn't have anyone to bounce ideas off, or celebrate the victories and share the defeats with," he says. "This led into Mudhouse, the new album."
Inspired both by the adobe architecture of Santa Fe and the idea of erecting something from nothing, Montayne assembled a live band in Denver to flesh out the songs. At six tracks, it's really more of an EP, but Montayne says Mudhouse is more about experimentation, collaboration and message than setting restrictions for oneself. When compared to Rebecca Lane, this is obvious. Hip-hop and jazzy elements are still present, but with a live band in tow, Montayne has infused a Latin influence in places, a little bit of flamenco and even travels into contempo alterna-rock territory on songs like "Someday, Someday" his personal favorite and a song that took a mere four hours to write and record. It's not recognizable as Montayne for anyone following along since 2016, but it does prove he can actually sing in addition to emcee duties. That doesn't save the song from feeling tepid compared to his hip-hop offerings, but if the goal is to stretch out his wings, Montayne is doing just that.
"I'm diversifying," he says. "The rap thing is always in my wheelhouse, but as I get into this career, I don't want to just be the guy who freestyled in the Uber."
He also wants to maintain creative control. Rightly, Montayne has concerns that major label assistance might lead him away from his own ideas. He says he's not opposed to going major, but that he first wants to build up enough of a presence as an indie artist.
"It's definitely harder, but you have to get as big as you can independently," he says. "If it gets to a point where labels are calling my name, but I can continue creating my own brand, then I'm all for it."
That brand, he says, is semi-political, a reflection of the pain and frustration he observes in America today. Montayne laments that most rappers and musicians are focused on dollar signs and fancy cars, and that this is damaging for youths who ingest such albums and social media. Mudhouse is instead meant to inspire, and Montayne is purportedly inspired by the rock of the '60s and '70s, by Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin.
"Fleetwood Mac is one of my biggest inspirations," he tells SFR, "and I don't think you'll find another rapper out there who'll say that."
True enough, and there are nods to throwback rock on Mudhouse among the light Latin elements. As a sophomore effort, it's interesting to see where the young musician is trying to go. At times, he gets there, too, such as on closer "My Dream," wherein Montayne openly and vulnerably discusses his fears and hopes for his life and career, as well as a social media exodus. At others times, the album errs too mainstream, especially from an artist who has existed on the fringes for so long. Rebecca Lane had a rawness listeners could feel, almost viscerally, whereas Mudhouse runs the risk of sounding less focused, like a compilation of songs without a thread. Those differences between tracks are kind of the point, however, according to Montayne—"it has something for everyone," he says—but whatever he releases next will probably be something to really write home about.
Because he's learning all the time, and coming incredibly close to greatness with a punctuated regularity. For now, catch Montayne with the hometown advantage at Meow Wolf this week.
Dylan Montayne with Dylan Huling and Outstanding Citizens Collective
8 pm Friday August 23
1352 Rufina Circle, 395-6369