Sometimes acts just appear from nowhere with little or no fanfare. L26 fall into this category. When we first heard ‘Ootoko’ we wondered whether the album had been made by an established musician or possibly a hugely experienced producer in disguise. We were deeply curious so set about trying to find out just who was behind this impressive debut.
Today there is virtually no underground music scene with social media giving us an instant ‘access all areas’ pass. This leaves little or no hiding place for acts to develop and fanbases to grow by word of mouth. That is why finding L26 is so refreshing. Out of nowhere, with virtually no social media presence, an act has emerged fully formed releasing a stunning debut “Ootoko” (Japanese for Giant) which is one of the best albums we’ve heard from any Welsh act in a long time.
It took a degree of detective work to track down who was behind L26, but as the album features The Honest Poet we approached him and asked ‘who is this mystery person?’ It turns out our paths had already crossed as L26 is in fact Chepstow based Dylan Healy who has also played guitar for The Honest Poet.
We began by asking Dylan about his time spent with The Honest Poet and it’s clear that this was a hugely valuable experience for him. “After a while of playing together, he asked me to be his guitarist which catapulted me into Cardiff playing once, sometimes twice a week. It was an experience I’ll never forget even after I left his side to focus on my own material. He helped introduce me to some incredible talent in the Cardiff scene. I particularly admire his drive and his creative input, you can tell the guy is properly in touch with his emotions and it shows in his music.”
(Dylan with The Honest Poet at Clwb Ifor Bach 2019. Photo Francis Brown)
Whilst finding his feet as a guitarist in his early music days and playing guitar for The Honest Poet, there is much more to Dylan’s musical abilities and one of the most impressive aspects of ‘Ootoko’ are his vocals. However, this switch to taking centre stage originally came about by chance. “Singing came about somewhat by accident when the singer in a school band I was in couldn’t make a concert last minute. After that, it just stuck and I ended up just practising and practising to get to where I am now. I had a singing teacher for a modicum of time which helped me to grasp the fundamentals of things like breath work and warm-up exercises. Everything other than that was just brutal conditioning, and trial and error.”
It was a desire to focus on his own music that lead to the creation of L26. The name itself has no actual meaning and merely serves as a moniker to enable Dylan to separate himself from the music he creates. “The reason for choosing an artist name that’s so obscure means something to me is because it connects with my idea of music being my escapism. I never wanted people to refer to me as an artist the same way they would refer to me in my personal life. Because they are two very different people.”
L26’s debut album ‘Ootoko’was produced Tom Auton who is already something of a veteran of the Cardiff live circuit being a performer in his own right. However, Tom’s move into production work wasn’t a deliberate career move and largely came about as a result of producing his own demos. “The original plan was to get to a competent stage of demo making, then I could take it to another producer and they’d have a better understanding of the direction and ideas of my music. I’ve always produced my own songs, that’s how other people discovered that I produced. I’ve now worked with around 20 -30 acts round the UK ranging from Rock to pop including Rebecca Riots, Crystaline, Finding Aurora and The Roselles.”
(Tom Auton – L26 Producer)
For the first 3 tracks released by L26 Tom and Dylan worked together in person but once lockdown hit they needed to find a new way to record. The process they developed was relatively straight forward enabling Dylan to record at home. “I would build a foundation for each song using Logic Pro and send them to Tom to create a solid scratch track after some artistic discussion. He would then send that back for me to record vocals on at home which he would then take and create the first proper mix. ”
For Tom this process was helped by Dylan’s grasp of digital recording tools such as GarageBand and ideas bounced back and forth. “The process of recording the L26 album was really simple. Dylan would make what we call a ‘scratch track’. This is the song in its most basic form and gave me an understanding of the melodies and the structure. Then Dylan would send me maybe 3-6 songs that he’d like to take influence from, or even just to show me a synth sound he really liked. I’d then go away and build up a track based on the references he’d sent. Once we were happy, Dylan would record vocals on his own at his home studio, then I would edit, and mix the song. Dylan is incredibly easy to work with and is great at communicating his ideas, so I basically just brought his existing ideas to life.”
For many the lockdown has been a hellish nightmare, particularly musicians who have been unable to perform to live audiences. However, this did not directly impact the songs written for the album. “From a song writing perspective I don’t feel that Covid or the lockdown had any effect at all on the album other than the fact I was mentally very healthy during that time. That may have influenced my productivity in the song writing process. With song writing, I usually like to hide what is going on in my personal life through writing concepts based on those experiences in which you could not make connections to who and what exactly happened. Music is my way of revealing some of my darkest secrets at times but I like the element of mystery.
Although badged up as hip hop/rap on digital platforms the music on ‘Ootoko’ is eclectic and for Dylan this diversity is important. “I don’t really fix myself to one genre and will just throw out whatever I feel like usually whilst adhering to some very mild theme. For example, the album is all very electric and synthesised but stretches to different genres to keep things interesting and unique throughout.”
The next move for L26 will be to take the songs from the album out on the road when live gigs recommence. With a relatively sophisticated and layered sound we were curious as to how Dylan might be replicate ‘Ootoko’ on stage. “My intention is to Main Stage everything to start with. I feel like this is the best way to get people to engage with the songs in a live format. I definitely won’t eliminate the possibility of a band somewhere down the line though. This year will hopefully mark the start of a new type of live performance for me as I’ve only ever done pub gigs with an acoustic guitar. I also want to take time to connect with a lot of other artists in the scene and collaborate as much as possible.
With Dylan already writing a new ’big project’, live gigs on the horizon and ‘Ootoko’ beginning to get attention 2021 looks set to be a year of growth for L26. We have high hopes indeed and we will continue to bring you news of L26 as and when it develops.
Listen to the album - https://open.spotify.com/artist/2hWX8ZuTtiZHO0WeVjRusE
L26 on Instagram - www.instagram.com/_l_2_6_/?igshid=116zjxf3ehkvh