Nashville-based singer/songwriter Mike Dunton’s dream-like piece “Hotel Lobby” explores what it is like to pine over a partner’s friend.
Stream: “Hotel Lobby” – M. Dunton
Feeling like you are in a wistful fantasy, M. Dunton’s single “Hotel Lobby” is a release filled with vivid imagery that immediately puts you in the song’s world.
Born Mike Dunton but performing under an initial, the Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s warm and emotive vocals caress delicately as he sings of a forbidden thirst and desire. Adding to that deep yearning voice is a backdrop that can only be described as being swept up in a daydream. Pondering on what he wishes could be, he sings the mesmerizing lines, “Wish I wasn’t taken by your friend, dancing to a lonely heartbeat.” A lot of us know what it is like to long for something that is just out of our grasp. He speaks to all our inner temptations.
Dunton is an artist with a knack for detailed storytelling and a lush melodic tone. His captivating music blends folk, rock n roll and alternative to craft a style that is stunning and poignant. “Hotel Lobby” is the opening track off his self-titled debut album and is an elegant narration of lusting after a partner’s friend. Atwood Magazine spoke with Dunton about his ethereal new track, the journey to his sound, and more.
A CONVERSATION WITH M. DUNTON
Atwood Magazine: What inspired you to choose your first initial and then last name as your artist name?
M. Dunton: It was operating as a pseudo band name. I feel like just seeing my name, my first name as the artist’s name, felt like it was subconsciously restricting me. I felt too much like myself with my name that was in my elementary school yearbook as the same name I’m putting music out under. I think, while there’s definitely pride in that, it gave me a little more in the flexibility to remove myself. It is a chance to build something greater than myself. I was making merch last year for the Lonely NeighborsEP that I put out. I wasn’t sure of the space thing. I was arranging the t-shirt design and I just used it as a placeholder. Then I was showing the merch ideas to my friend, Steven Cooper, whose taste I really trust and value. He immediately stopped and he said… “that’s it, that should be your artist’s name.”
Your delicate, wistful music takes listeners on a profound journey evoking vibes of Radiohead and Arcade Fire. How did you develop your deep sound?
Dunton: I definitely grew up listening to very alternative music. When I was about 18, I discovered Dawes and became a massive Taylor Goldsmith fan. Then because he’s so steeped in songwriting that pulled me into the country world. Especially moving to Nashville, which I’ve moved primarily to be a guitar player, but still steeped in country music and songwriting. The song first and then attention to every detail. I got really focused on building perfect songs. Then I discovered a band called Indianola. Who is a project led by Owen Beverly. That really opened my world up of what more I could do with my music. It pulled me from the more traditional folk back to the alternative world of no boundaries. I actually worked with Owen Beverly and Steven Cooper of Indianola on my EP Lonely Neighbors. They really helped, especially my headspace with singing, and finding the best aspects of my voice as well as using the microphone to evoke emotion. I’m singing and not just singing the words. I think that’s the biggest difference between country music and indie, but I feel like in country oftentimes you write the words and then are using them. Working with Owen Beverly really helped me sink into each song and use my voice to emote. Each individual song demands an individual approach. I think it’s important as an artist to treat each song individually and not just with a blanket artist approach.
Your ethereal track “Hotel Lobby” displays quirky, eccentric soundscapes that make you feel as if you are lost in a dream. What led to the song’s unique sonic style?
Dunton: I wrote on the piano with that, very light John Lennon piano part. Then that one to five minor, which is a very evocative progression. I had that riff and I was so excited about it. I built it in my room on logic, built a demo, and cut and pasted the arrangement of the entire song. I didn’t have any lyrics for it, which can be really daunting. If you really are excited about the instrumental track, you don’t want to ruin it with bad lyrics. That can sometimes keep you from writing lyrics ever. So I had this track built, and then I grabbed a microphone, turned all the lights off, and recorded a path for me just improvising, where there were a few lines that really stood out to me. I was able to come back and maybe figure out what the song might be about. It can be hard to decide what a song is going to be about and then sit down and write it. Sometimes you have to close your eyes and get out of your own way. To let the lyrics just kind of flow, even if they don’t make sense in the moment then piece them together. I think it’s so important for the lyrics to match the vibe of the instrumental. You have to approach each song individually. There’s no formula for making the lyrics match the instrumental. You just have to sit with the instrumental and get out of your own way.
There is an unexpected instrument used in the piece, can you tell us more about that?
Dunton: On the first day of recording the song with Erich Schaefer, who is the producer, we got the whole track down. We spent hours and hours just tinkering and trying to discover all these quirky sounds. We recorded it with the upright piano, and it worked, but it wasn’t quite signature enough. So we put a pin in it and decided to circle back. The next day when he walked back into his house his toddler was clutching at her toy piano. He said that could be the sound. It fit perfectly. It was quirky. At first I was not sure how much I would like it. Then once we mixed it in and listened back, I heard how much it complimented the track. It accentuates that tiptoed riff that builds tension throughout the track.
The offering details a tricky liaison and the temptation of a partner’s friend. How did the idea come about?
Dunton: It didn’t really come about, that’s the funny thing. I was just improvising lyrics. One of the lyrics that just came out without thinking was, wish “I wasn’t taken by your friend”. I thought, that’s kind of interesting. I wonder where we could go with that. Then tying that together. It’s not directly autobiographical, but using this plot that I landed on, to immerse myself in a situation like that. I was drawing influences from past experiences, life experiences to bring a unique song for life.
The release begins with the lyrics, “Sitting with my head inside my hands. Hiding in the hotel lobby. Wish I wasn't taken by your friend. Dancing to a lonely heartbeat.” What is the significance of titling the track after that opening line?
Dunton: I think it can be hard to title a track and I definitely struggle with it. In Nashville, it seems like people just name the track the hook. They think of what’s the line repeated and name the song after that. It originally came when I made that demo, and I only had a couple of lines flushed out. One of those lines was the hotel lobby line. So I just named the audio final hotel lobby. I noticed that it popped out to me in the files on my computer. I figured hotel lobby would be a smart, unique title for it.
Sometimes a desire is so intense it can override logic. That is what this single focuses on. What advice would you give to a person in a similar situation to the character you describe?
Dunton: I think the definitive line in the song is walk away. No matter what the temptation is, maybe it is love, maybe it’s money, maybe it’s any desire to obtain something you don’t have. Time will always take care of it. Maybe not in a day or a week or month. But if you remove yourself from the situation, time will eventually do the trick. So sometimes I think part of aging and maturing and not securing your life, as you get older, is understanding I need to unplug from the situation and let time do its thing.
Your masterful music melds folk, rock n roll, alternative and indie. How has being born and raised in Idaho and now living in Nashville played a role in your sound?
Dunton: I was raised in Idaho and I was a rafting guide in high school in Montana. I was constantly surrounded by the beauty of nature. That longing for connection to nature is something that has really grown within me since living in Nashville. I heard this quote, “don’t offend the nature”. The context was like when you’re playing music outside it’s so easy to write, when you’re in nature, if you just think don’t offend the nature just fit the scene. So many times when I am writing and I’m struggling for inspiration, I close my eyes and imagine that I’m back on the Clark Fork River or back in the Sawtooth Mountains or somewhere in in the Northwest that feels like home to me. The sounds kind of naturally tend to unfold from there.
Your forthcoming self-titled debut album was produced by Aaron Shafer-Haiss. What was the collaboration like?
Dunton: Working with him was incredible. He’s a percussionist, but also an amazing producer and multi instrumentalist. So we did the entire record, just the two of us aside from pedal steel. We brought a friend in to play pedal steel. He really served as a mentor going into this project for me because this is my debut full-length record, and I had so many songs in the can. Falling under the alternative category, I was struggling with genre placement and what direction I really wanted to go. Luckily, with Aaron, that’s his favorite kind of music. So we’re able to sit down with this list of songs and whittle down the eight. . We tracked every song just about the same. He would get the drum set and I would get in the mood for the acoustic guitar microphone. Then he would hit record from his phone, controlling logic. Then we would record three or four tapes live just the two of us. After we would pick the tape that we love, step back from it, and then kind of start adding instruments based on keys. I don’t think either of us said no to anything the entire time, we just kept experimenting and finding new sounds. We would find new ways to create old sounds you might hear. I don’t think we necessarily reinvented the wheel on anything, but being able to allow the possibility for anything to happen.
Finally, are there any artist or bands you are currently digging you could recommend to our readers?
Dunton: Indianola, who I mentioned earlier with Owen Beverley, and his project. There’s this girl Molly Martin in Nashville. She’s incredible. I play guitar with Paul McDonald. He’s just an absolute rockstar. He’s had a really interesting career. He’s doing really cool stuff, not just with music, but with the independent musician community in Nashville. Ross Cooper is an incredible songwriter, who is a former rodeo cowboy, but with influence in indie rock.
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