This summer, Miguel Dakota was launched from his DIY roots in Colorado to the televisions of millions, eventually reaching the top ranks of America’s Got Talent.
Guest author (and noted Los Angeles-based DJ) Jessica Gonyea spoke with him about everything from EDM and ReverbNation, to performing alongside Lenny Kravitz, and why you’ll never find him covering “Wonderwall” at a college party.
Miguel Dakota sounds surprisingly relaxed when he picks up his home phone in Monument, Colorado. After a whirlwind experience that found him in front of an audience of celebrities and squealing fans, the heartthrob of this season’s AGT is taking a breather and getting back to the reason we know him in the first place — his music.
ReverbNation: So, besides the press and exposure, how has AGT changed your life? How would you have approached your singing career without it, and what outlets and tools did you find most useful as a DIY Artist?
Miguel Dakota: It’s been amazing. Just to be able to perform on huge stages, with amazing Artists like Lenny Kravitz and make connections with a lot of people in the industry has been pretty incredible. I got the opportunity through ReverbNation; they have opportunities all the time where you can submit your profile and get played on certain stations or festivals. America’s Got Talent was one of those opportunities — it was to get a special call time in the open call. I sent my press kit in, they called me back a few weeks later. It was pretty crazy.
RN: As a DIY Artist who’s now been exposed to the television contest and record label approaches in the industry, what do you find to be the main differences?
I definitely think the industry is starting to head in the direction of DIY and indie music more heavily than ever.
[A DIY approach] just allows the Artist to maintain most of their creative liberties, to be able to have a career in music and not worry about signing and not getting the money you should be getting, and the label not really taking a risk on you.
RN: You sound so seasoned now. What originally pointed you toward becoming a musician?
I’m very drawn to lyricism. That’s a huge thing for me, and I feel like I have things I want to say and ways I want to say them. Only I can say them that way, because only I’ve experienced life in that way. I think that’s true with every musician…
RN: Musicians talk about performance as a way to be realer or to explore other identities. How does a performance allow you to be your real self? How does it allow you to experiment without being fake?
With a TV show, you’re performing not only for the audience in front of you, but for the audience at home, too. It does put an added pressure to fit in, both in how people view you and in how the show wants you to be viewed.
You do have a sense of pressure to not be yourself sometimes, to fit in in order to excel. Yet at the same time, you’re an Artist, and you want to maintain your personality.
RN: A lot of music dominating the charts right now is very EDM and pop-heavy. Yet, when you sent me a list of your influences, it read like a tracklisting of an ultimate classic mixtape: Bill Withers, Bob Marley, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Muse, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong era?
[Laughs] No! I think no matter what your musical influence is, there’s an audience to hear it. I believe a lot of music has evolved towards EDM. But in the same right, there are a ton of musicians out there like Adele, Ed Sheeran, Florence and the Machine, who are creating songs beyond the EDM realm. Then there’s people who’ve done both, who have talent and ability but can combine their styles to work with EDM Artists. I think there’s room for every style in the industry. Mine is definitely more rock. You know, performing with Lenny Kravitz was really cool, because he’s someone that, in the 90’s, was throwing it back to the early sounds of the 70’s with elements of funk and all that. I’ve loved him and his music a long time. I feel like I can do the same thing with my music in a sense — as long as it’s true.
People want truth in their music.
RN: Post-AGT, have you had any media training? Do you have any rules of thumb now when you go into an interview?
Not really, I’m a pretty raw person in general. I probably should be more prepared and have more set in terms of when I go into an interview and media stuff, but I don’t know — as long as I’m being honest, it’s all I can do. If I’m trying to be super prepared and lose that sense of self, I lose the reason for doing music in the first place.
RN: That’s refreshing, because so much of the music industry is about careful cultivation of appearances. What makes it worth it for you — exploring music through this route, despite all the parts that can be superficial?
It’s definitely worth it in terms of that huge platform — getting in front of people in general, where they start to recognize you, know your name. You also get to see a lot about the industry behind the scenes on a show like AGT. Obviously it’s a more confined environment, where they have to do certain things and create a TV show. But you get to see a little glimpse of how things work in the entertainment business in general.
RN: The songs you performed on the show were covers. Let’s talk originals.
I got an acoustic-electric Samick Greg Bennett design for my 11th birthday. I started playing in church a little bit, kind of teaching myself. When I was 13, I started writing and singing a little bit. We moved to Colorado from Florida when I was 14, and I just started writing and playing even more. People in high school didn’t even know I played music. I didn’t want to be “that guy…”
RN: You weren’t that guy at the party who grabs a guitar and plays “Wonderwall”?
Exactly. That was never really what I wanted to do. A lot of people didn’t even know I played music — I was an athlete. I did it at home, playing a lot, stayed home on the weekends, I didn’t really party much…
RN: Like you had a secret identity.
Yeah! Then junior/senior year, I’d play music out more — at a wine bar, farmers market. I began to develop more covers and learn people’s songs. I started out with a lot more modern singer-songwriter guitar players — John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson — and then moved more into the stuff I grew up listening to with my parents: 70’s rock covers, Three Dog Night, Doobie Brothers, The Beatles….In college, a bunch of people on my floor were musicians, and we developed into a band and started playing.
RN: This is your current band I was reading about?
Yeah. Spiral Lion happened recently, in January, but we aren’t all together right now. My lead guitar player, Ryan Wagner, is great. We jam every day since I’ve been back. He’ll definitely always be a part of my musical endeavors, because we just have this chemistry.
RN: Who are some of your favorite performers to watch? There’s a few on your list of influences you’ll never get to see live… Any hometown bands you think people should know about?
I’ve always liked Pink’s style because she’s been able to maintain a rawness to her music and even her writing, while being somewhat of a pop Artist. Her live performances are pretty involved, while she’s singing live as opposed to lip-synching, which is amazing to me. And Gary Clark, Jr. I saw him at Jazz Fest last year. He was amazing to see live…He’s just very laid back and cool in his performances.
It’s really people who connect with their audience in either way — being a huge performer or just more low key.
A couple Colorado bands to check out:
Jessica Gonyea, also known as DJ A-Cup (and one-half of the duo Monneypenny), has been a fixture of the music scene for nearly a decade. She has been touring the world as a member of rock and electronic acts since 2006, and featured everywhere from MTV to Spin magazine. Jessica currently holds a DJ residency at The Standard in Los Angeles between touring with actress/DJ Sasha Grey.
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