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Jean Dawson At Lollapalooza 2023: “My Version Of Tradition”

Written by on August 15, 2023

“Here’s tradition. This is my version of tradition.”

– Jean Dawson

Jean Dawson is a Mexican-American genre-defying musician who took Lollapalooza by storm — literally, as he performed amid scattered rain showers. Before his set at the Bacardi stage on August 5, Dawson met with Vocalo’s Nudia Hernandez to break down his Lollapalooza debut, what audiences should expect from his show and defying genre. He also talked about the making of his song “PIRATE RADIO*” and the future of his sound.

Jean Dawson prides himself on not being confined to a genre. Due to the narrow limitations of a single genre, Dawson doesn’t define himself as indie, punk or pop. Instead, he feels his music is for anyone who needs it. 

“We’re the first generation with an encyclopedia of music that’s endless,” Dawson said. “So it’s harder for us to be dictated by one sound, just because our library can be anything … I don’t care when people are like, ‘Oh, you’re genre-bending. You’re doing this, you’re doing that.’ I’m like, ‘I’m making music, baby.'”

Jean Dawson performs on the Bacardi Stage during Lollapalooza Day 3 on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023 at Grant Park in Chicago. Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Though the two artists have distinctly different sounds, Dawson said he takes particular inspiration from Prince’s genre-defying style. He noted he feels like Prince was always himself, and was able to make immortal, critically-acclaimed music despite criticism.

“Prince is Prince, period,” Dawson expressed. “He definitely stuck it in stone, being like, ‘You like it? You don’t like it? I don’t care. I know it’s great. It was great on inception.'”

Jean Dawson performed at Lollapalooza on August 5. Before he took the stage, he met with Vocalo afternoon host Nudia Hernandez to discuss what fans can expect for the future of Jean Dawson, and being a genre-defying musician. The two also discuss finishing up his tour with UK artist YUNGBLUD, and his tour starting soon with Trippie Redd — and he hinted at a song with SZA in the works, with a release date not yet announced.

Nudia Hernandez: Hey, it’s Nudia in the afternoon here on Vocalo Radio Chicago’s only urban alternative and your NPR Music station. We are back here with Jean Dawson, hello!

Jean Dawson: Hello! Nice to meet you.

NH: Nice to meet you, too! Okay, just so you know, backstage, it is raining on us back here. It is raining men, but we’re pulling it off. I feel like we still look great.

JD: We’re doing it good, you know? There’s some storms coming out of the Southwest, there’s a little bit of weather coming in, there’s some chop on the ocean, if you want to go – or the lake, rather, if you want to go catch some surf, it’s all good.

NH: You could have been a weatherman … was that your second career choice?

JD: That’s what I’ve been saying, but all I do is observe and report. So if you ask me tomorrow what it’s gonna be, I can just tell you it’s gonna be different than today.

NH: I think that’s a good observation. And so I’m really excited, you’re gonna be here at Lollapalooza. Is this your first Lolla?

JD: Yeah, it’s my first Lolla. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

NH: Oh my gosh, and it’s real dramatic for your performance.

JD: It’s all rainy. I play at 5. It’s great, it’s a good time.

NH: Yeah, so you’re 5:15, Bacardi stage. What can people expect? What’s the vibe of your show, if no one’s ever been?

JD: F***ery … It’s going to be pure emotion, that real music. Lil B told me to do it right, so Imma do it right. It’s gonna be fun. It’s just gonna be f***ing very, excuse my language, but it’s gonna be f***ing very cool.

NH: It’s okay, we fix it all in post-editing, it’s all great. 

JD: Be-be-beep-beep!

Jean Dawson performs on the Bacardi Stage during Lollapalooza Day 3 on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023 at Grant Park in Chicago. Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

NH: I was going through some of your catalog and some of your music. And I was wondering, I feel like the vibe for 2023 is, a lot of these artists are making music that you can’t define into a genre. Do you guys love that? Like, do you guys get a kick out of being …?

JD: No. I think what it is, is that we’re like the first generation with an encyclopedia of music that’s endless. So it’s harder for us to be dictated by one sound, just because our library can be anything. It can be so packed with whatever era genre, whatever we want it to be. So I think it’s harder to just be like, “Here’s their tradition. How do I not break tradition?” Than it is to be like, “Here’s tradition. This is my version of tradition.” So I don’t care when people are like, “Oh, you’re genre-bending. You’re doing this, you’re doing that.” I’m like, “I’m making music, baby.” That’s it. I don’t know.

NH: And I know, before, I think you said, you’re like, “I’m not rap. I’m not hip-hop. I’m not indie, I’m not punk. This music is for whoever needs it.”

JD: Yeah, absolutely. When people say, “What music do you make?” I say, “I don’t.” I don’t. I don’t make it. It just comes through me. I’m just, I’m a conduit on a search engine. I’m a Google, you can find whatever you need, if you need it. And if you don’t need it, that’s awesome, too. So when people ask me, like, “What genre do you make?” Or what I classify myself, I just say I wouldn’t, because I wouldn’t do that as myself as a human. And it’s not a noble stance. It’s just like, it’s a boring conversation. Like, so what? Be whatever you want to be.

NH: One of the first tracks I was listening to was “PIRATE RADIO*,” which I really love. I listened to it a few different times, because I’m like, should I like run a marathon? Or should I cry? You know, I’m like, I’m not really sure what I should do.

JD: I mean, I think “PIRATE RADIO*,” it was first called “Hail Mary.” A lot of people don’t know that. I had three days to make that song. And I’m not proud of that fact. But I had another song that was supposed to be on the album with a big artist, and then they didn’t clear it because I’m not signed. And they like to play with me, and I’m not the one to play with. So I just made another song. I was like, “Okay, three days, string section. It’s all good.” And we made that song. And I feel like the purpose of it was, it’s a Hail Mary. It’s like a last chance.

NH: I love it. And you kind of said that about Prince’s music, too, right? Somewhere. Where you’re like, you could do so many things to it. But it’s not one thing, dance or cry to it.

JD: Yeah. I mean, Prince was 100% Prince. It was like, is it disco? Is it Iraq? Is it f***ing dance? Is it all these things? It’s like, no, Prince is Prince, period. I’ll never compare myself to the god. But, I will say that he definitely stuck it in stone being like, “You like it? You don’t like it? I don’t care. I know it’s great. It was great on inception.”

NH: And there’s, of course, when you Wikipedia you, you look on the Google and everything, on Bing.com, you see that you used your college money to kind of start up your music career and … you didn’t buy textbooks, you bought audio equipment. Okay, would you recommend that to these kids out there? What would be your advisory on doing that?

JD: Okay. I went to an institution that was way less intense than a lot of institutions. I had really good grades. So I was already kind of like, “It’s fine. I’m gonna pass all my classes.” If you’re smart, there’s ways for you to get those books for free online, you dig? So use that money for your food, buy your books, but you can summarize, or you can ask the pretty girl that’s sitting next to you to borrow her book. Go photocopy it, and you ain’t never got to buy the book. Play the game, don’t let the game play you.

NH: Okay, okay, I really like the pretty girl thing! Take notes! Take notes, write it down. And I have to say, I’ve seen a lot of interviews, interviewed a lot of people. And people always ask the question, “What advice would you give to young up-and-coming artists?” And I saw an interview you did, and actually your answer made me really emotional. And you’re like, “You have to love it more than it loves you.”

JD: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s a one-way street … It’s like a baby. You gotta love it, and you don’t know, the baby can look like it loves you. It can smile, laugh, you don’t know what that baby’s thinking. Music is a baby, you got to nurture it, give it affection. And it’s a thankless job. I mean, there’s people that are gonna clap, there’s people that are gonna tell you thank you.

But for you and what you do, you should be the least concerned about you as a human being that impact. It should be, “What are you doing in the service of the music?” So that’s negating yourself, and making sure that the music is bigger than you’ll ever be, as a human being. So I think the advice is like, yeah, love this s**t more than you’re ever going to love anything else. Except for your children and mother and blah, blah, blah, but you’re gonna love it more than it loves you. And that’s just the honest and greatest truth that we have.

Jean Dawson holds up two fingers while performing on the Bacardi Stage during Lollapalooza Day 3 on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023 at Grant Park in Chicago. Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

NH: And for any up-and-coming, I’m just going to take that clip, any up-and-coming artists that ask for resources or info, I’m going to send that to them. Because I think that is one of the most beautiful answers I’ve ever heard, when it comes to making music. So many people want the fame, they want the money, they want the praise, but you’re just saying you have to do it for the love.

JD: Yeah, if you won’t do it for free, don’t do it. If you’re not going to do it for love, don’t do it. You want to be famous? Woah, I was about to say something very crazy. You want to be famous, you can do a lot of things to get famous, right? Being known by everybody isn’t super sick.

You can’t go to Target the same. You ever walk around Target with headphones on and be like, “I’m gonna go get s**t, some ketchup.” No! Because now, you go to Target and somebody come up to you and is like, “You’re this person?” And you’re like, “Maybe!” And they’re like, “What are you doing?” “Buying ketchup.” “You buy ketchup?” “Hell yeah, I buy ketchup.” “That’s crazy. Can I get a photo?” “I look crazy. But we can do it, because I don’t want to be an a*****e.” And then that’s how fame works. That’s all you get. And then some free clothes, which is cool.

NH: I mean, free clothes is a big flex. Okay, I have to ask you about this grill. Okay, because is it … is it gold? Is it rhinestones? I’ve been trying to figure it out. Swarovski crystals? What’s on it?

JD: No ma’am. These are canary yellow VVS stones with …

NH: Show the camera! Let’s see. Ooh! Shiny, shiny, shiny, shiny. Yeah!

JD: These are canary diamonds, on some nice yellow gold. Shoutout to my jeweler, he always gets me right. Yeah, I’ve never worn rhinestones in my mouth ever in my life.

Jean Dawson shows off his grill made of canary yellow diamonds backstage at Lollapalooza on August 5. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: Sorry… I was looking the whole time and I was wondering! And before we started this interview, we were talking about, I was saying my dad’s from Chihuahua, your mom’s from Sinaloa. And so, I know corridos were big to you growing up. Was regional Mexican music, banda, bachata, like what, on Saturday mornings when your mom would clean, what was playing in the house?

JD: Mary J. Blige. But also Los Tigres. Also, I mean, Los Prisioneros, The Cure. My mom was like a punk, right? But regional music was definitely big in our home. Corridos, my grandmother loves corridos. I make corridos, too, but I don’t put them out. I just do them for myself, because I’m selfish. And yeah, it was that. But Mary J. Blige, 100%.

NH: I love that. Yeah, ‘cuz like, my dad’s favorite artists is Madonna. He’s Chihuahua, Mexico. It just, it doesn’t make sense, but it does, you know? And so, I mean, so you’re never gonna put out those corridos tracks. I mean, I was wondering like, Latin, reggaeton, trap, did that ever have any inspiration in your mind for you? 

JD: Yeah, I want to do Spanish R&B. 

NH: Okay! 

JD: I feel like I want to do something that’s like Portishead, but in Spanish, but I don’t know. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, ever. If God gives us life, we have life, death, and in the middle is wishful thinking. So I wishfully think every day that some magic happens.

NH: I love that. I want a canary yellow diamond. I’m trying to get a rock, okay? Canary yellow diamonds. So you’re on tour right now, right? Or you have a fall tour. Where can people see you, what’s going on?

JD: I’m gonna be doing a stadium tour with Trippie Redd. That’s gonna be really cool. We’re gonna be all over the primary cities, I think some secondary cities. It’s gonna be really fun. Right now, I’m bow-tying another tour with an artist named YUNGBLUD. He’s really cool, awesome guy from the UK. And then in the winter, I go to Europe with another artist, and we haven’t announced but that’s gonna be really fun. So I’m on the road for like about 90 days.

Jean Dawson and Vocalo’s Nudia Hernandez backstage during a rainy day 3 of Lollapalooza, on August 5, just before Dawson’s performance. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: Do you love being on the road? Do you love the tour life? Or are you like, I’m trying to go home and be with my dogs?

JD: I’m an affectionate person. I don’t like being without affection, and that’s the hard part. Because I’m not out here like fraternizing with nobody, so I get all like, “I want a hug.” Like my band knows, like, that boy needs a hug immediately. I’ll be depraved of emotion, so I’m like, and obviously the audience gives you a certain kind of love. And I receive it really well, but I’ll tell you what, the hug of a woman.

NH: The warm body?

JD: The warm body of a woman, or man or person, will always be better than the road. 

NH: I think that’s kind of enough said, honestly. Okay, where can people find you? Again, 5:15, you’re gonna be at the Bacardi stage. We’re gonna go pop in. What music are you working on? What can people be looking out for?

JD: I’m post-breakup right now. So I’ve been making a lot of sad music. I don’t know.

NH: It’s Chicago.

JD: It’s Chicago, you know? 

NH: Simps! Simps in Chicago

JD: Simps in Chicago, shout out to you. Trick it if you got it. If you don’t, pretend to. I’ve been making a bunch of sad stuff, but with hopeful feelings. I don’t know, I have some songs coming out like next month. And then some like feature stuff coming out. I think I have a song with SZA that’s coming out. That’s gonna be pretty cool.

NH: You think? You think?

JD: Maybe! I don’t know. I don’t know what tomorrow brings.

NH: Thank you so much for being here.

Jean Dawson performs on the Bacardi Stage during Lollapalooza Day 3 on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023 at Grant Park in Chicago. Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Keep up with Jean Dawson on Instagram, and listen to his music on Spotify below.

Interview conducted by Nudia Hernandez

Audio production and editing by Morgan Ciocca

Video editing and production by Omi Salisbury

Portrait photos by Morgan Ciocca

Performance photos by Owen Ziliak, Chicago Sun-Times

Written introduction by Imani Warren

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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