A Broadway music director and an actor walk into an audition. No, it’s not the start of some theatre joke, but it is the start of what is now the pop duo Stereo Dawn.
Will Van Dyke made his Broadway debut as a musician in the orchestra of The Addams Family in 2010 before music directing and conducting the Tony-winning hit Kinky Boots and then music directing, orchestrating, and conducting this past year’s Pretty Woman: The Musical. Dwan made his Broadway debut as Elliot (the affable stagehand) in 2015’s Finding Neverland and is currently part of the cast of Off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors at the Westside Theatre.
Van Dyke and Dwan’s instant chemistry led them to be fast friends and collaborators, first composing “Two Hands One Pocket” (“You know, when it’s super cold out but you still want to hold hand,” says Dwan) for Dwan’s solo show A Pop Star Christmas.
On September 27, they release Stereo Dawn’s first album Off The Ground. While the two are musical theatre guys, the record is not a musical concept album; it definitively sits in the world of pop. “Stereo Dawn is influenced by all of our favorite music. Everything from *NSYNC to Alanis Morrisette, and Elton John to Lizzo,” says Dwan.
“We tried to find a nice balance of pavement pounding edge with an optimistic ease to make the album relatable to anyone,” Dwan continues. “In a way music always comes back to ‘love’ songs, and I like to think our album is bunch of love songs (in it’s many forms).”
“Our hope is to use these different ways of storytelling to find a voice that can relate to a wide audience,” says Van Dyke. Dwan adds, “You know, to give the world the gay pop duo they’ve always needed.”
Here, they break down the inspirations behind, the stories woven into, and the relationship between the songs on the debut album.
UP AND AWAY
Chris Dwan: This song opens our concerts and was a no-brainer to be the first track on the album. I wrote these lyrics pretty quickly just trying to pump myself up. I think it was feeling that first day of spring kinda vibe.
Will Van Dyke: A big part of the way we write is back and forth via voice memos. I remember when Chris sent me this one, it was super duper catchy from the get go. I took Chris’ call-and-response idea for the chorus and flipped the chord progression around to surprise you a little. I knew I wanted a “four-on-the-floor get your heart rate up” beat from the second I heard the chorus.
WVD: The first idea of this song came from the passing of a pug named Charlie. There’s so much emotion that you feel when you lose a pet and it really has a profound impact on you. You start to look around at the people you love, and what those connections mean to you. I wrote a tune, arranged a demo and sent it to Chris to see what he thought.
CD: Right away I could feel the vibe Will was trying to evoke and ultimately this song is meant to ask the larger questions of life wrapped into a killer chorus.
WVD: We hope that it [asks those questions] in a way that will lift you up if you’re feeling a little lost right now. I also wanted to find a spot to feature for our cellist, Allison Seidner, as you can hear on this track.
COLOR IN THE LINE
CD: This was such a great song to work on. At Bunker Studios, where we recorded the album, Will found this weird electric celeste in the hallway.
WVD: I asked if we could use it for a couple songs on our album and it really adds a playful, childhood feel that elevates these lyrics.
CD: Yeh, this was a song for the playground at school. I grew up with songs like “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind and “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies, so I knew this was the track to try my hand at a white boy rap.
WVD: *rolls eyes*
NEW KID IN TOWN
WVD: This is my favorite song on the album. When we decided to start a band this was the first track we wrote. It came pretty organically and I think it was the first song we worked on the lyrics together?
CD: We wanted some kind of story song that explored that sticky feeling of being a new kid. We both moved schools a lot as kids so it was fun to relive those moments of finding your first friends, and it speaks to us now as friends starting a band.
MY VOW TO YOU
CD: This was originally meant to be a sort of boy band parody. I started with the title first. It sounded “campy 2000s,” but as I started writing and singing the melody back to myself it became a little more reflective, thinking about how my perception of the world changed and continues to change as I get older. Suddenly I’m realizing that my dad already had three kids by the time he was my current age and it made me consider how I, now, would deal with the constant curiosity of me as a kid. Pretty meta, but the music video in my head is gorgeous.
WVD: I’m sure it is, Chris…
THE VIEW, AND YOU AND ME
WVD: This was another song I brought to Chris. I first came up with a groove and wanted to write a song in 6/8 for the album.
CD: Will thought of this really great line “the view and you and me,” which I loved and it launched my thoughts, pun intended, to the stars. I had this image of sitting on a satellite looking down to earth and ran with it.
WVD: Think Savage Garden mixed with Elton John.
CD: This is a great story. I wanted to write a sort of “Kumbaya” campfire song so Will thought of a sweet melody and chorus idea then we both went off separately and wrote lyrics for a chorus.
WVD: When we met up to sing them for each other they were almost the exact same lyric, including the lyric that inspired the title of our album “Off The Ground.”
CD: It was kinda spooky.
WVD: It was very spooky.
CD: The song isn’t spooky though.
CD: Another fave from the album—a little disco bop inspired by a Halloween party where me and my boyfriend had one of our first dates. I liked playing with the idea of a dance song turning into a love song in real time at a party.
WVD: The background vocals give you Jackson 5 and the piano is really emulating a Billy Joel vibe.
CD: Our bassist, Steve Gilewski, has some awesome licks in this one too.
WVD: I loved arranging this tune for our band giving Alec Berlin, our guitarist, a really great solo in the bridge. I wanted to really make this song rock.
CD: When I write I like to imagine the song as a music video and for some reason I kept coming back to Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, singing this song at the bar she worked at in the film. I wanted that raw passion and heat. Mix that with Will’s insane arrangement and I think it really kicks.
WVD: This is the first song we wrote for the album and we actually wrote it twice. Both times Chris was in New York and I was in Germany, so the whole thing happened pretty organically back and forth via e-mail. The first version had a rap in it and was an electronica song…
CD: Which was a swing and a miss.
WVD: The second version is what you hear on the album and is what inspired us to keep writing more and more songs.
CD: It’s simple, but really gets into a groove for the bridge and has a real burn at the end.
WVD: When my husband heard that last line for the first time he was like “Oh!”
BREATHE (2 AM)
WVD: Last summer, during the hiatus between the Chicago and Broadway productions of Pretty Woman, my husband [Broadway general manager Andy Jones] was out of town with The Cher Show. Like any sensible person, I spent that time arranging and recording demos of ballads late at night; one of those was this arrangement of Anna Nalik’s “Breathe (2AM)”. When we were putting the album together we knew we wanted to include a cover, and this song seemed to fit best.
CD: Will really kills this one.
CD: It took me a long time to write this song. I was starting to figure out what kind of songs I wanted to write and, after playing an early demo for a friend, she flipped out and boosted my confidence to lean into the uphill climb this track embodies.
WVD: There’s something really rhythmic about Chris’ lyrics in this song. The pre-chorus allows for a great ramp-up into the chorus helped out by our fantastic drummer Mason Ingram.
CD: It was a perfect song for our first single.
WVD: When we were finalizing the tracks for the album, I felt like we were missing something anthemic that really captured our friendship. We went back and forth on ideas and images of what it means to be out with friends, those people who are your “ride or die” people, and landed on “Forget Tonight.”
CD: It’s meant to feel like a song you’d sing at 4 AM wandering home from a night out with your people.
WVD: And might be the encore at every gig we play ’til the end of time.