The cap city’s most determined and dynamic one-man band, Teen Fiction
By Travis HoewischerPublished August 1, 2012
It’s Day Two of ComFest 2011, and Bob Dawson has inadvertently positioned himself as the nucleus of the largest impromptu party of the day.
At the center of an atomized mass of stage crashers, dancers, and merry mug-toasting, the man otherwise known as Teen Fiction is trying to pretend that he’d become the ringleader of such a scene on purpose.
“I had dancers modeling my girlfriend’s fashion line, and one thing just led to the other,” he laughed. “Next thing you know . . . I was talking to the people on stage – ‘People on the stage . . .’ People in the crowd took it as a command. It was awesome.”
The serendipitous blending of crowd and creator happened several more times last year for Dawson, who realized an evolution of his Teen Fiction imprint from a DJ/hype man to one of the more intriguing solo outfits in the city’s music scene.
“It’s a party,” he said. “When there’s a crowd and a will, it just happens. I love chaos; I grew up playing punk music, so it’s just about being one with the crowd.”
When Dawson says he grew up playing punk music, he means it quite literally. Like any drummer, he spent his formative years irritating his parents, “banging on sh*t” in his New Jersey basement, a practice that would pay off in large dividends by the time he graduated high school. While most of his classmates were lining up jobs or dorm assignments, he and his three best friends were hopping a Warped Tour van out of town. Dawson and his band, All Rights Reserved, spent two years sharing stages all over the country with bands like All-American Rejects and My Chemical Romance.
But by the time he turned 20, a two-year whirlwind had come to a halt, spinning him here for a summer visit to his brother.
Without a band or an immediate project to work on, he set out to fully form the pop songs he had fashioned for years while teaching himself guitar and keyboard, a reconvening of his production dabblings as a kid on an old Macintosh.
“I just didn’t want to start another band as a drummer,” he said. “I wanted to play my music.”
His music, which today can bend genres and audiences in arcs spanning Steely Dan, Joy Division and Michael Jackson, has evolved into a simplified yet static-charged dance soundtrack.
“I’ve recorded whole frickin’ orchestras on tracks before, and I’d add ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ – stuff I couldn’t perform live – so I developed the mantra, ‘Picture It Live,’” Dawson explained. “It just simplified it. And it’s worked. If you listen to any Kanye West track, there’s really only about four or five things going on, it’s just that those four or five things are f*cking awesome.”
Dawson knows the pitfalls of a one-man band; plenty of technical problems lurk around every turn. A simple trip over a guitar cable while going from drum kit to keys can derail an entire song. Often, crowds are simply taken aback by Dawson’s stage presence – a smiling, sweating hype machine that is brash and earnest all at once.
“The typical OSU dude, they tell me all the time, ‘We were so close to making fun of you, song one. But by the end of the set, you won us over,’” he said. “But, yeah it can be tough. There is no guitar solo coming up from the guy next to you to save it all.”
Dawson says although he practices constantly, he estimates 90 percent of his sets are improvised.
“I like to keep it open,” he said. “If the crowd’s into the song, I’ll make it 12 minutes if I want to.”
Over the past two years, Dawson has developed a pretty solid elevator pitch for Teen Fiction shows, although an act that wins over reluctant frat boys may not need it.
“It’s pop songs and high-energy dance music, but I come in with a punk rock mentality – always. Whether it’s Wild Goose Creative or Madison Square Garden, I don’t care. I’ve had the same feeling playing for 100 people as I’ve had for five. Even if they don’t want to dance, I’ll dance for them.”
Teen Fiction will appear at this year’s Urban Scrawl (August 25 – 26th, 400 W Rich St.) and the (614) Magazine Live Music Showcase (September 14th, Skully’s Music Diner).