The Toronto rapper who "makes music for junkies" thinks that everything is better in moderation, including moderation.
I can tell he’s trying to keep eye contact with me while we’re talking, but Dillan's eyes keep closing. He sounds like his voice box got ran over by a pickup truck, and his dreadlocks are a disaster but somehow still fall right into place. He’s probably still high off whatever drugs he did last night, or woke up to do this morning. Maybe both.
Dillan Ponders is a mess. The 22 year old Toronto-based rapper has an image that carries so much sedation, that there is now a difference between sober and "Dillan-sober." During his live show, he’s a walking disaster. He slips and falls on stage, and then proceeds to roll his way into the crowd to turn things up. Ponders has released a handful of projects in the last two years, all of which taught his fans a lot about him. His lyrics are a play-by-play of his life, including content that is infused with stories about drugs (duh), sex, and his journey as he floats through life.
With titles like "Dopamine," "Overdose," and "Numb," the music fans have previously seen from Ponders has been all about exposing this messy way of living. It’s been raw material about all the situations he finds himself in while making music, having sex, and being sedated. His music is not pretty, nor is his appearance or performances, but the kid can rap. Somehow, between stumbling on stage and the regular public confession about how high he is, Dillan brings an energy with him that has established an obvious connection between him and the fans that make it out to his shows.
You’d have to be high to do this, but Ponders currently records his music in one of Toronto’s St. Albans Boys and Girls Club community center locations. There are kids running around outside playing tag and finger painting on the first floor while Ponders is recording music about his messy life just one level above them. Ponders has been coming to this location since he was in high school, befriended the staff, and hasn't left. We dragged him out to the studio early in the morning to catch him in the zone and talk about his project in production, The Boy Who Lived.
Noisey: What has changed between people discovering who you are when you open for another artists, to them coming to shows specifically for you?
Dillan Ponders: I think it’s a mix of two things. Obviously I’ve been doing this for a decent amount of time, so the snowball effect works in that kind of sense, but I have more credibility stacked now. My sound and my name is more credible. That has shown through in past shows that I’ve done, like the Mac Miller show I did was a big turning point for me. Even just on social media the response has been so crazy. I have the credibility stacked now that I didn’t have when I first started. I had the sound back then but it wasn’t until I started working with Smashmouth that things started changing. We’ve done some pretty dope ass shows and have a lot more coming up, so people have seen my name on certain posters and they hear my song in a friends car. People see that I’m actually a rapper now, I’m not just a fucking local nothing.
Aside from getting credibility from your sound, what do fans get from watching you on stage?
People don’t typically come to see me when I am opening for people and I know that, so I kind of like to use that to my advantage. I come out with an absurd amount of energy. There’s always that first few minutes, the awkward bridge between you and that audience, like "are we going to fuck with each other or are you not going to fuck with me?" I try to get that down from the first 5 seconds of the show. It’s like “I’m wasted. You are too, it’s just vibes right now." At my shows you can feel my aura. You can just get to see what I’m about in the flesh and I think that really changes your perception of an artist as a fan when you really see them.
Do you think that people find it easy to vibe with you because you go on stage and admit to how high or drunk you are?
I think it really helps. It’s not the sole reason, but I think it really helps. Because let’s say I’m on stage and I trip over a cord and fall, it would be kind of awkward, but if I start off the show saying ‘I’m fucked okay?” So then if I trip over the cord and fall and keep going during my show, telling them how high or drunk I am in the beginning just adds a little cushion for anything I fuck up, not that I plan on fucking up, but if I fall off stage it just makes it a little more acceptable. As much as it makes me as one with the audience it also gives me that cushion to fuck up. I also say my name at the end because you remember like "by the way, if you don’t know who I am I’m Dillan Ponders.”
Not that you plan to fuck up, but do you think that has become part of the Dillan experience and something that people expect now?
Me and my DJs have been doing this with each other for a bit. After you do things for a while you have a certain routine and one of our routines before our show is we get fucking shit faced. People’s expectations of me must be fucking weird. Because whenever they see me and meet me they’re typically caught off guard because in the music I’m laid back and chilled out and in person I’m so lively and at my shows people expect that high-guy shit but I also have some surprises. I’m just genuinely a unique person. I’m fucking weird. In my show you’re going to expect me to be a little to drunk, a little too wavy, but at the same time you can always expect a good fucking show. But the one thing you can expect above all of that is to be entertained and leave wanting to go download one of my songs.
You slipped and fell and then rolled out of the stage into the crowd in your last performance in Toronto.
Yeah it was ridiculous. You can’t stop doing what you’re doing. I remember when I was younger and the biggest fear was being in front of people, I was a really shy mother fucker. I remember when I used to dance in grade 6, I fucked up doing the routine and I just stopped and walked away and it was awkward. So now, even if I fuck up it’s like yeah that just happened, but take it in, I’m not letting that define the show.
When was the last time you performed sober?
Umm, when was the last time I performed sober? I think that answers your question, I have no idea. To be honest with you, I’m always high. I’m typically on something. I don’t think I’ve performed sober ever. I’m always baked. I’ve performed sober in the sense that I haven’t taken a drink, a pill or done a line before a show and just been high off weed, so that is sober in a sense, that is "Dillan-sober." Being on stage like that is just something that I do. People wake up and get their morning coffee, and I get up and do a bump or two and write a song in the studio. My idea of sober is different than the average Joe's.
Lets talk about The Boy Who Lived.
Just even production wise and mixing and my bridges, it’s way more well-constructed. I never went to music school but I know exactly how I want to craft my songs. The beats bang and the sound of this tape is just better and cleaner than anything I’ve done. Before things were kind of muffly and aired out and not mixed fully, which added to the vibe, but there are no slip ups on this next project. You will notice if you hear it from top to bottom it’s just well polished. It’s catered to a bigger audience. I’m trying to give this to more people, not just the junkies. I want to give this to 14-year-old girls who love long boarding.
Since you’re changing the narrative in your next project, what part of the Dillan we already know will be carried over?
I actually really want to talk about this because I made "Hive" and I said I’m not doing anymore MDMA. I didn’t do M for a month, which was such a big accomplishment for me. I said I was slowly trying to get off drugs, and then I went on a trip the week after and I realized that everything should be in moderation, including moderation. I’m not just an idiot abusing drugs, I am a person who knows the difference between killing my body and expanding my mind. So on this album I’m kind of owning the fact that this is what I am, but this is what I can do with it. In "Numb" and "Overdose" I was kind of like wallowing in my filth a bit, but in this album I’m being only myself, including the flaws, I’m not just talking about the flaws, it’s like "yeah all that stuff was fucked up, but I did that and I’m really owning who I am.” Everything in moderation including moderation is my theme for this album. The Boy Who Lived is about me knowing when to go hard and when to not. The confidence has been there since "Numb" but I’m just more proud of myself. And it’s going to open up to a lot of audiences. If you’ve never done blow or if you’ve never done anything, you will then just be able to relate to my blatant level of honesty.
Tania Peralta is high on life and on Twitter