Let’s get it out of the way up front. Pablo Dylan is the grandson of Bob Dylan, but like anyone living under a long shadow, he’s determined to make a distinct name for himself—one that will eventually make invocations of his relative unnecessary. After an earlier foray into the hip-hop space, Pablo is back with an entirely new guitar-centric sound that puts a fresh spin on the folksy spoken word genre that his family has owned for decades.
Dylan’s EP, The Finest Somersault, debuted in early February, and it conveys the thought and attention the artist has put into his craft over the years since making beats in the studio. PRØHBTD got on the phone with Pablo to get some insights into his journey, influences and how he navigates the professional and familial ties to his grandfather.
Given your lineage, was music something you were naturally drawn to, or did you initially resist it?
When you’re a musician, you do it just because you have to. It’s something so deep inside you. I never really had any choice, as it was just what I was supposed to do. I’ve been drawn to all these different genres, and I got to work in some of the highest echelons of hip-hop, pop and R&B music. Now I’m doing what I’m doing now. It’s just something that naturally happens, and I try to be open when it does.
When did you give yourself that designation of musician? What was the gestation period like?
It sort of just crept up on me. All of a sudden, I was making six beats a day and started selling some of those beats, and it just sort of happened. I was young enough that I wasn’t even conscious of what the decision I was making was.
What are your thoughts on your rap era? Are there any moments that make you cringe?
I was 16 years old, and that’s the project most people make when they’re 16 years old—not really thought through or put together. I didn’t know any better, and I don’t necessarily know that I was supposed to know any better. The thing that I really hate about that time period was that I gave a lot of people who wanted to destroy hip-hop for whatever reason an outlet to channel their aggression toward it. I consider hip-hop to be a high art form, and I would never want to position myself in a way where I could help people detract from that.
Can you expand on that? People had a chance to destroy hip-hop with your help?
Of course they could never destroy it. You can’t kill music. You can’t kill gods. It’s impossible. It was more like some people felt a sort of rock n’ roll supremacy toward hip-hop already, and they were able to say, “Oh, this guy sucks. This is how bad rap music is.” They were able to use me as a metaphor for what was wrong with it, and it’s absolutely despicable. Hip-hop is the greatest stuff ever made, and I apologize for any hurt I caused anyone.
Is that why you switched sounds, or were you drawn away for other reasons?
No, it was just playing more with a guitar in my hands. It just happened. It just spoke to me more. There was never any sort of political calculation like, “Oh, I’m gonna make rock music now.” It just sort of fit my thought process better by playing guitar.
The funny thing is that, for my entire life, I’ve listened to every genre of music. I was a little kid listening to Eminem and the Clash, and I never saw a difference between the forms. It was the feelings that mattered.
Are there other genres and sounds you could see yourself experimenting with the future?
I’ve played a lot of genres, but I’ve never played classical records, although I love Beethoven. I find Beethoven and Kanye to be very similar.
I’m always interested in new things, but I think I’ll have a guitar in my hands for the rest of my life, or maybe a piano, but definitely an instrument. What didn’t sit well with me about being a rapper—I still produce for other people—is that I’m writing to a beat that’s already made. With the guitar, I can dictate the course of both the melody and the guitar at the same time while I’m working on the records. If I want to change a chord, BOOM, I change that chord. The guitar just fits very well in my hands. It speaks to me. It’s like an old friend.
When did you first start playing?
I’ve been playing my whole life, but I didn’t really start writing songs on it and performing until about two years ago, perhaps. Maybe a little bit less than that. I realized if I was going to be a guitar player, I had to do some form of what the Beatles did in Hamburg, or what Robert Johnson did in the graveyard. I have a band I play with, and we just play in bars every night. Sometimes we just show up, all across California. Sometimes they let us play, and if they didn’t, we’d just play right outside the bar until 4 or 5 in the morning sometimes.
How do you personally define artistic integrity?
It’s absolutely indefinable. That’s the weight of the term you just used. It’s about sticking true to where it leads you. It’s about walking with destiny.
What are you most critical about with your own work?
All of it. I spend hours working out every single detail. I’m very hard on myself. That’s one thing that sort of irked me when I was a producer. Oftentimes, people don’t have the same work ethic, or the same intention of where they want it to go. You spend so much time figuring things out, and some guy’s just there for the record label to make sure it’s just a marketable song. It makes you cringe.
Do you have any festival or collaboration or other professional goals for the year?
I’ll be out there talking to people every day, doing my best to keep trying to take it to the next level and be better. My work will never be defined by a Grammy or how many records I sell. It’s about being the next Shakespeare.
Which artists, shows, websites or other things are most inspiring your work lately?
I’ve been listening to the old blues stuff, like Charley Patton, [and reading] Edgar Allan Poe. I was listening to [Kanye West's] My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the other day, which is truly an incredible record. A masterpiece.
What role does cannabis play in the creation of your music?
I am inspired by all the young creatives all over the country putting their mark on the business. It is incredible to watch such a boom.
You’re obviously looking to blaze your own trail and make it clear you’re not your grandfather, but you also invoke him to a degree in your music and press photos and surely doors have opened to you in part because of it. So where do you draw the line for when and when not to flex that?
I try not to flex it at all. Obviously people are going to always know that he’s my grandfather, and I love my grandfather endlessly, as a grandson loves a grandfather, and he’s done nothing but the most noble of consequential work, but I’m being exactly what I think is right with no opinion on what he’s done at all.