David Dixon’s forthcoming single, “Better With You By My Side,” isn’t subtle. He wrote the song as a love note for Lauren, his wife of almost three years. The single’s artwork even features a photo of the couple from their wedding day: Lauren rests her head on his shoulder. In Dixon’s own words, “She’s the best.”
“Beautiful, funny, kind, supportive, loves music,” he adds. “We met in my hometown of Greenville, NC, years ago when she was working at the same venue where I hosted a weekly gig.”
“Better With You By My Side” came about after running into a dead end with another song. The goal became simple: “Work out an upbeat, cheerful groove on guitar and try not to overthink it.” Dixon wanted to create something that made people feel good.
“It immediately turned into a love song,” he remembers, “and I retroactively wrote the story of the song around that one line [“better with you by my side”]. I spent two days on an outline, and then I spent two months tweaking the lyrics and arrangement. I love how it turned out; it’s one of my favorites.”
Dixon recorded the guitar, bass, organ and vocals at his Wilmington home. Live drums were added later by Pennsylvania-based mixing engineer Carl Bahner. Dixon’s friends played a role as well: Hourglass Studios’ Trent Harrison lent gear, and Signal Fire’s Sean Gregory loaned guitars and amps to provide a wider range of sonic options.
Dixon’s music can be heard from free at daviddixonmusic.com or via streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Pandora. However, “Better With You By My Side,” won’t be available until Friday, June 19. It’s the third single from his upcoming five-track EP, “Small Circles,” slated for release later in the year. The EP was funded in large part by a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Most of Dixon’s scheduled shows were canceled or postponed due to the pandemic, but a few livestreams and pre-recorded home sessions can be found on social media. Sessions typically feature Dixon’s rootsy originals and he plays covers. “I recently made videos performing a Beach Boys song, a Foo Fighters song, and I did a fun Justin Timberlake/Chris Stapleton cover a while back,” he explains. “They are all free on my website for anyone interested.”
encore caught up with Dixon to learn more about how he’s staying positive amid the pandemic and civil unrest.
encore (e): How much of this song is literal and how much is figurative/metaphorical?
David Dixon (DD): The verses of this song are very literal: “I’m not the best at keeping plans / I’m scatterbrained with calloused hands / You always seem to understand, and I’m better with you by my side.”
I’m not officially diagnosed with ADHD, but my wife jokes she thinks I [have it]. I get distracted easily. Sometimes I’ll be unloading the dishwasher and will abort the job midway through to go work on a song idea.
The lyrics directly refer to my life and my relationship with my wife, but I tried to write them in a way that is relatable to other people and their relationships. Universal concepts are a good tool in songwriting; people tend to understand the story better if they’ve shared similar feelings and experiences. That’s why songs about love and heartbreak are so common. The trick is trying to find a fresh or unique way to say something that resonates and matching that with a memorable melody.
e: In the song you write that you “wouldn’t mention her tattoos” … a promise not exactly kept!
DD: [laughs] That line was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Lauren has a tattoo on each foot. They aren’t really obvious unless she’s barefoot or wearing sandals. When she was considering getting her first tattoo, Lauren’s folks gave her a little bit of flack. Once she got the ink she didn’t tell them right away. When I told Lauren I was writing a song about her and jokingly asked if anything was off-limits, she said, “Just don’t mention my tattoo.” I ultimately decided the line was too good not to use.
e: Tell us more about the EP you’re working on. Is there an ETA?
DD: The EP would have been released already, but the pandemic pushed things back a bit. I really wanted to have a traditional album release and throw a big party at a local venue, perform the new music live, pass out CDs and have fun hanging out with everybody. I’m not sure when that will be possible due to the pandemic, so I’ve been taking some extra time to obsess over the last song in the meantime. If the quarantine/social distancing continues to be necessary for much longer, I’m just going to release the EP and make it available for purchase on my website within the next month or two. I’m grateful to have a platform where people can hear my new music, whether or not they can see me perform live at the moment.
e: How are these days of COVID-19 and social unrest treating you as a whole?
DD: There have been pros and cons. The pros being I have had more time to work on writing and recording music than during my normal, performance-heavy schedule. Honestly, balancing the live show schedule and trying to finish the EP at the same time was grueling. I felt really burnt out for a couple of months. The break from performing three to five nights a week was really nice at first, but I miss playing live music. There is absolutely no substitute for performing to real people in the same room and feeding off their energy.
The main con of the current tribalized state we are living in is all the hate and negative energy. It seems like a lot of people would rather their team “win” than to do what’s right. Pretending either political party is standing on moral high ground, or is “right” about every major issue seems a little naive to me. I’ve seen corruption so often coming from both sides of the aisle. (I mean, right now, our own NC Senator [Richard] Burr is being investigated for dumping a bunch of stock immediately after finding out about COVID-19 and the resulting economic shutdown, and then sharing that info with his donors but not his constituents. How is that not corrupt?)
When I get on social media and see endless insensitive comments and insults, it has a strong effect on me. Mostly, it makes me sad . . . so lately I’ve been limiting my time on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with the recent protests. The lack of empathy from some people and their willingness to place “peaceful protesters” and “rioters/looters” in the same category is extremely disappointing. Our country was founded on protesting against injustices, and we consider our forefathers heroes for standing up to unfair treatment. I can’t think of a cause more important to demonstrate for, and we’re damn lucky to live in a country that allows the freedom to do so. There’s no quick or easy fix, but raising awareness about racial injustices and admitting they exist is the first step.
e: How is it all impacting your music?
DD: Musically, I’m trying to add to the positive and steer away from the negative, for the sake of my own sanity. The main reason I wanted to release this song now was to put out a feel-good song about love at a time when so much negativity is present.
Starting in August, a lot of my bookings are supposedly back on but we’ll have to see. I’ll be putting out new material one way or another!
Answers have been edited and condensed.