Dyllón Burnside danced into hearts of the most on FX’s groundbreaking series ‘Pose.’ But the gifted star has been building his multi-dimensional career brick-by-brick.
And now he’s circling back to one of his first loves: music.
In a candid interview, Burnside opened up to That Grape Juice about his new single ‘Silence,’ the upcoming third season of ‘Pose,’ his journey to acceptance, and much more.
Join us below…
That Grape Juice (Sam): So many people know you from Pose, but you’ve been grinding for some time. Tell us a little about your journey into the spotlight.
Dyllón Burnside: Absolutely. I started performing as a kid, like a lot of folks, performing in school plays and stuff like that, choir and theater in elementary and middle school. Which is why art education is such an important thing to me, because it was the beginning of it all for me. And from that point, I started a group with my cousins when I was 12, and had the opportunity to record a couple of albums and tour with Bow Wow and Rihanna and do concerts with Stevie Wonder and Ludacris and all these incredible artists.
I then decided that I wanted to move to New York and pursue theater. I always sort of knew that I wanted to be an actor. And because I had all this wonderful music background and experience on the stage, it felt like theater was my way in. So, I went to New York and studied theater at a theater conservatory there. And within a year, I found myself being cast in a Broadway-bound musical that was inspired by the music and lyrics of Tupac Shakur called ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’. I was one of the lead actors in that, right after I finished school. And, from there, got an agent and so sort of been grinding it out ever since with more musicals and with indie films and couple of TV projects. And then, ‘Pose’ came along, it has been like the gift that keeps on giving.
And while working on ‘Pose”, I sort of decided that I wanted to get back into the studio and work on some new music. I think the music industry is in a very interesting place, it’s in a very different place that it was when I started in it many, many years ago. And I felt like I had an opportunity to put music into the world, not because I had to or because I was trying to be famous or anything like that, but because I had something to say. And I felt like people maybe wanted to hear it or needed to hear it or could stand to gain something from what I have to say. And so, ‘Silence’ is there, my new single.
That Grape Juice: Why this song and what do you want listeners to take away from this track?
Dyllón Burnside: Yeah, why this song? Is because I think it’s incredibly relevant to what so many people are facing right now. I didn’t write the song in quarantine, but one might think that I did when you listen to the lyrics. This song was born in December 2019. And I co-wrote it with a producer friend of mine. And it started with a session that I had with my therapist, where I was talking to her about my struggles with feeling isolated and lonely. And sort of feeling like I was reaching out to social media and sex and dating apps to sort of fill this void, this silence, if you will, instead of dealing with my own self. I started writing after that session with my therapist, just sort of journaling about it. And when I went into the studio and was talking to my producer friend, I was like, “I want to turn this into a song”.
And so, after speaking with her, I started journaling about what I was feeling, and I realized that it was in those moments when I was just sitting in my apartment and it was hell of quiet. And what I really wanted was someone to help still that silence, with anything. I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed to be in a relationship, I didn’t necessarily really want to hook up with anybody. Really, what I wanted was someone to distract me from being in that moment with myself.
And so, I took those thoughts, that journal entry into the studio with my producer friend, Drew Scott. We built the track out and fleshed-out the lyrics of the song and melody and recorded it in a few hours.
I didn’t know what song was going to be sort of my debut for the world as a solo artist. But it became really clear in April, as I started to feel some of these same things come up for me during quarantine. And started to talk to friends and see people posting about it on social media about feeling lonely and isolated. And folks talking about how their relationship to social media had shifted because they’re so isolated. I realized that wow, this is exactly what I was going through in December, and I think this song could be cathartic for people, be therapeutic, maybe is a better word, for people. And can help them, sort of face some of the things they may be dealing with. And so decided to release it now.
That Grape Juice: I hear you.
Pivoting. Who are some of your Influences and dream collaborations?
Dyllón Burnside: Oh my God, biggest influences, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, OutKast, Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliot, the list just goes on and on and on, they’re some of my favorites. Dream collaborators, I would love to work with Frank Ocean, I think he is an artist of our time and he’s definitely someone who has influenced the work that I do. Not only as a musician, but the way that I show up in the world as a black, queer man. Frank opened doors and broke barriers sonically and culturally. He’s someone I’d love to work with. I’d love to work with Labrinth, I think he’s brilliant. Laura Mvula, I’m obsessed with her. Oh, and I’m obsessed with Ne-Yo too. I mean, obviously, I love UK artists.
That Grape Juice: The UK has a lot of talent! Awesome to hear you’re a fan.
It would be remiss of us not to ask about ‘Pose.’ We were so looking forward to season three. How has the pandemic affected things?
Dyllón Burnside: We had just gotten started on filming season three in March. And, I don’t know, I maybe had been on set for two days before it all got shut down. Production had been going for about a week and a half or two, but I had only been on set a couple of days. We got the notice that we had to go on hiatus for a little bit. All of us were really concerned and not really sure what that meant. But we were mostly concerned about everyone’s health and making sure that everybody was safe. And so, I immediately got on a plane and flew down to Georgia, because the last place you want to be when there’s going to be an apocalypse is New York City.
Yeah, it’s been frustrating because we were all really excited to be back again and see each other. Everybody had been working on really exciting projects individually. And I think the time that we get to spend together really just rejuvenates and inspires, at least it does for me, it inspires me even more when I get to be around them and we get to work together. Season three was shaping up to be a really exciting one based on what I read so far and what I knew about what was going to take place over the course of the season. And so, we’ve been staying in touch and we’re excited to get back to one another and to finish filming the season. I know the fans are excited for it too, so hopefully we won’t have to make people wait too long. Hopefully, that people will wear their masks, stay at home. And if for no reason other than so we can get post season three.
That Grape Juice: I watched a digital piece on you where you opened up about struggles with your sexuality growing up, as well as in the church and your early time in the music industry. What advice would you give to young folk in that kind of position now?
Dyllón Burnside: That’s a really tricky question, because at the outset, my response is to be your authentic self always in whatever that means. And to not be afraid to speak your truth and be yourself with your family and friends and everyone around you. But I also recognize how that can be difficult at home when you are navigating the politics of family. And when you don’t really have lots of choices as to where you can be right now.
And so, I would say, find ways to assert your individuality, find ways to really honor who you are, no matter where you are. But, be wise and be mindful of the positions that you may find yourself in right now, because it’s a vulnerable time. It would just be irresponsible for me to tell kids to put themselves in a position that will render them in an uncompromising situation. But, at the same time, I hope that you will find the strength and the ability and freedom to honor yourself no matter where you may find yourself.
That Grape Juice: Back to the music, what’s next?
Dyllón Burnside: That’s a great question and I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot. At the outset, this was going to be like an EP project that it all sort of was just that is a body of work. And it very well still may be that, but I think we live in a time now where we don’t have to release music in big chunks anymore. People are listening to the songs that they like anyway and putting them on their playlists. I think as this body of work in this currently, the songs do sort of speak to one another. But, in terms of what the release of it actually looks like, I’m still figuring that out. It feels new all over again to me, because I’m doing it my way this time.
And things are constantly shifting, not just in the music industry, but in our world. And so, I also want to be mindful of where we are in the world and give people what I feel like they can use and what they need and not just push some musical agenda on them.
For now, ‘Silence’ is where my focus is. I am thinking about, actually this morning, is working on putting together a treatment for a video for what I think will be the next release. And so, just stay tuned, there’s definitely more to come.