Viral Bedroom-Pop Sensation Dayglow Grows Up
Sloan Struble, 21, turns 35. He'll explain.
"I have this theory where everybody turns 35 at different times [in their lives]," opines Sloan Struble, knotting up his legs and hugging them into him as he fiddles with his sunglasses. The 21-year-old behind Austin indie-pop phenomenon Dayglow radiates a millennial wisdom due to sheer certainty in himself, not his mannerisms. Explaining the long-standing ethos behind his musical endeavor, he lays out a spectrum of contemporary genre purveyors.
On one end, behold the 1975: a bit dark, brooding, angsty. On the other, sits Mac DeMarco, he of the foggy guitar riffs and goofy songs.
"Happy, but super dumb," nods the theorist.
Struble wants to fill in the void between them.
"The way the public has always shaped it is this: If you're optimistic, then you're being ignorant about something, or if you're happy, it shouldn't be taken seriously," he says with a soft fire in his voice. "I want to figure out how to make optimism not be a Disney thing. You can be a grown adult and experience optimism and have this outlook on your life and not be ignorant about things going on in the world, but also not have everything based in fear or selfishness or something."
We sit on a concrete bench that circles a planter in a large courtyard enclosed by three communication buildings on the University of Texas at Austin's north side. Just steps away, Struble might, in an alternate universe, be finishing up the last days of his junior year as an advertising major.
Instead, his 2018 debut Fuzzybrain – which he wrote, produced, and mixed in his parents' small West Texas home in Aledo before moving to Austin for his freshman year at UT – made him something of a wunderkind. In what he calls a "freak accident," Struble's hazily danceable "Can I Call You Tonight?" catapulted him into internet virality, out of collegiate life, and on tour supporting Hobo Johnson in the UK and as his own headliner the next year.
Now, two years removed from his first blaze of success, with over 6 million monthly listeners on Spotify and on the eve of his candied sophomore album release, Harmony House, Struble tries not to think about alternative realities too much.
"I try to live my life believing that could-have-beens just don't count," he says. "What could have been isn't. You just have to live with it. Because I get really anxious thinking about possibility, and so, I feel like what happened was supposed to happen for sure."
His newfound comfort harshly contrasts the alienation he experienced coming off his viral moment. Returning to West Campus following his 2019 touring stint felt like landing on another planet. In delusional recovery from food poisoning, he entered his apartment at the Block to find his nine college roommates playing video game shooter Call of Duty.
"It just made me realize how incredibly different my life was compared to all my friends at the time," Struble says. "It wasn't a situation where I was like, 'Oh, I'm so much more mature.' I don't think I'm better because I've grown up. It kind of sucks having grown up so quick."
He spent the next few months in a pre-pandemic quarantine, attempting to finish his second album before he and his band hit the road for back-to-back North American and European tours in March 2020. Then the swift momentum of Dayglow's rise ran smack dab into the coronavirus. Seattle date postponed, his band played two paranoia-filled shows in Chicago before the tour canceled outright in the face of an oncoming global pandemic.
Back in Austin, Struble ventured to his 4,181-person hometown, where time off proved essential for both his creativity and mental health. Finally finding the time to reflect on everything that had happened to him, he relished having loved ones by his side – an introvert's fantasy. Embracing this unorthodox life, the singer/multi-instrumentalist got engaged to his girlfriend in December.
While Harmony House reached its final form in lockdown, its maker doesn't consider it a "lockdown album." He views it as a chapter stop defined by his growth rather than COVID-19. Having launched a YouTube "How I Made" series last spring, wherein he detailed his LogicPro production process for each song on Fuzzybrain, he hopes to deep dive the follow-up as well.
For its part, Harmony House takes a somber, thematic turn away from its predecessor, juggling Struble's loneliness with atmospheric synths, heavy keyboards, saxophones, and his signature lasers. Chronicling a journey toward contentment in the face of uncertainty, the album posed a mission for Struble: capture the Eighties in sound and spirit. The self-described "synth nerd" embraces the era's disorder, even if his music comes carefully crafted to achieve it.
"I think it could last," he hopes of his second full-length. "Which is why I was attracted to Eighties music, because it's lasted."
Harmony House coincides with an Austin City Limits TV taping this month, first show of his rescheduled North American tour. He jokes that PBS will need a disclaimer between every song: "This was taped during post-COVID!" The sudden jump from his first, more modest headlining tour to the massive venues he'll soon be playing shocks him.
"I didn't have baby steps," Struble laughs. "It's really exciting, but it makes me feel like a fraud. Like, don't go. Don't buy tickets ... I'm just a guy. I'm just a normal person."
Dayglow isn't the project of some old geezer trapped in a young adult's body – even if some of his new music could soundtrack an Eighties school dance. Struble may feel 35, but twinges of his boyish demeanor remain, now colored in with the wholeness of someone who found faith in the present moment. Asked what he would say to his younger self, he begins in earnest.
"It's okay to not completely know your thesis," he stares at nothing in front of him as he speaks. "That's what I would tell myself: 'That doesn't make you dumb. You're just growing up.'"