So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star?
It was Dillon O’Brian’s childhood dream. But, after the Baltimore native became a staff songwriter in the 1980s, he “outgrew the need to be adored.”
He still doesn’t hunger for idolatry, but he couldn’t fight the inevitable: He’s a solo artist now, with an vibrant debut album, “Scenes From My Last Confession” (RCA).
“What happened with me is, there came a time when my demos for other artists got good enough that the labels would say, ‘What’s this guy doing as an artist? This guy should be an artist.’
“That kind of put the thought back into my head,” O’Brian says. “I love hearing other people do my tunes, but I got in a situation where I heard a cover of a cover. I heard someone cover a Temptations cover of one of my songs, and it got further away from the source of the tune.”
O’Brian remains a staff writer for Barry Mann and Cythnia Weil. His songs have been recorded by Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker and Paul Young, among others. He also enjoys singing backup for other artists.
Now the focus is on him, at centerstage. With “Scenes,” he wears his heart on his sleeve, bearing his soul on an intensely personal level.
“When I actually got down to doing the record, I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do a record where one song has nothing to do with the next song,’ ” he says. “I really wanted it to have a beginning, a middle and an end.
“It’s kind of a story of how Catholicism and any form of organized religion, in my case growing up Catholic and going to Catholic school, it really made me behave a certain way in my life.
“I had gotten to the point where I didn’t believe in anything, but … then when my wife and I had a kid, I was walking out of my studio one day and he was walking toward me and looked at me. Something happened … I looked at this kid and our eyes connected. Something came over me that made me realize there’s a whole lot more going on here than protoplasm.”
That revelation pulled him out of his fog and fueled heartfelt tracks like “Something Almost Sacred,” “Roots and Wings” and “My Father’s Son.”
O’Brian says he deliberately set out to make a “non-radio album,” making it earthy and intimate. That hasn’t scared away several West Coast stations, which are emphasizing those three tracks.
Through it all, whether he breaks it big or not, O’Brian sticks by his philosophy: “Writers survive, artists come and go.”
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