Written for the release of his debut EP in April 2013.
West Londoner Freddie Dickson employs a mass of complementary contradictions to mesmerising effect on his debut EP Shut Us Down. It’s dreamily ethereal – see The End which twangs like Twin Peaks transported to suburban London – yet the hooks immediately exert a control over the subconscious. Programmed beats heighten the emotional intensity of his vocals which swell effortlessly from a sumptuous, soulful croon to the wounded howl that pushes the title track to another agonised dimension.
Dickson’s poetic presence ensures that his tales of faded romance are ingrained with a voyeuristic intimacy, whether that comes from blunt honesty (“I would find a way to never have to give you up”) or lyrical turns of phrase (“We had a fine opportunity to breathe-walk, sleep-talk and live in perfect unity”). Throughout, Dickson’s masculine fragility feels like a fresh counterpoint to Lana Del Rey’s cinematic seduction.
Eighteen months ago, Dickson left Manchester where he’d made inroads on the local folk scene and headed back to the capital to pursue his musical endeavours. That move coincided with the end of a relationship which heralded a subsequent change in direction. “Previously I felt I was hiding too much behind clichés and metaphors,” he explains softly, sweeping back a thick lock of brown hair that momentarily obscures his alabaster features. “The musicians who I really liked would put their feelings out there and not care. If people don’t emphasise with what you’re saying, they’re going to find it hard to connect with the song.”
Dickson grew up on a steady diet of classic singer-songwriters as dictated by the musical interests of his parents. He particularly remembers Bob Dylan holding a god-like status in his home and of being fascinated by a video of Neil Young performing Helpless acoustically. Dickson’s parents would often spend time travelling around France searching for items for their antiques shop with him in tow. Street performers, beatniks and family friends would influence his broadening outlook. “Their friends included lots of old French hippies who would play harmonica and guitar and sing after dinner, and smoke about fifty fags in ten minutes,” he reminisces. “It was really raw and had feeling to it.”
Back home, Dickson delved deeper into the sounds he already admired, such as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Animals and Van Morrison, and he soon became enamoured with the romanticism of Ryan Adams and the style and attitude of The Strokes. By contrast, his teenage peers embraced Eminem. “I didn’t get it. It didn’t do anything for me,” he says of the rapper who he has grown to admire. “I definitely had a set idea of what I liked, but as I grew as a songwriter I began to love a lot of other stuff. So I took aspects from all of these different songwriters and picked out the bits I liked.”
After spending a summer in Florence learning Italian and busking, Dickson’s next move took him to Manchester when he started performing more regularly and also diversified his musical interests to include the likes of The xx and Portishead and, a little later, The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky. His thoughts turned more and more towards investing his energy in his music. “I’d never really thought about it as a career, but now I don’t want to do anything else,” he states, with the sharp focus of his eyes underlining his words.
His subsequent life in London, however, called for a huge amount of dedication to his craft. Dickson lives with his guitarist in a house awash with guitars and amps, and in which the living room has become a writing and rehearsal space. His days are regimented. Writing commences at 9am sharp and continues until 3pm – the hours in which his creativity yields the largest return. There are no shortcuts and no quick fixes; just the knowledge that every moment is a stepping stone to where he wants to be.
And as the Shut Us Down EP demonstrates, Dickson’s desire to master his art is reaping rafts of rewards. “I want to be an artist who can write anything and have a lot of strings to my bow,” he concludes, citing Radiohead as a standard to which to aspire to. “I don’t think anyone wants just another young guy with a guitar.” There’s a long way to go yet, but Freddie Dickson’s brand of doom-pop could well engage those who who possess a similar heart of darkness.