How do you fill the shell that remains once you're free of the demons that defined you? This struggle is as universal as the oxygen we breathe, yet as a society we seem to lack the willingness to meet it head on. Dylan Tirapelli-Jamail, the front man for burgeoning rock band True American, has struggled with demons that many of us are lucky enough to let pass by unnoticed. But he is in a unique position; one in which he's given the opportunity to speak openly about his struggles, and, in doing so, lighten the load he himself bears. The end result is stunning, albeit sullen, lyricism. Resplendent in it's glorious embrace of the painful themes we so often ignore, True American's sound is revelatory in it's honesty.
How did True American form?
True American: This iteration of the band is only about a year old, although I started writing music for it while in rehab out in LA about four years ago. I had good opportunities out there but I was in a bad way and I was not doing well. So, I checked myself into treatment. About 6 or 7 days in, they started letting me take supervised trips. I went to a pawn shop, bought a cheap guitar and an audio recorder and I started hammering out songs. I banged out 50 or 60 songs! It was like therapy. Then over three and a half years I went through them and figured out which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
Did you have any musical training before starting this band?
True American: I have never had any formal musical training but I've been a multi instrumentalist for my whole life. I originally played piano growing up, not very well, but I taught myself how to play a couple tunes. Then I wanted to be a rockstar so I took my sister’s hand-me-down beat-up Stratocaster and taught myself “Master of Puppets” over the course of 9 months. I kept playing and picked up bass and drums some years later. Apart from two guest vocalists I played and sang everything on our first EP that we have on Spotify.
Have you had experience being on stage before starting this band?
True American: I've toured in bands for a few years which is actually where the drug problem started. I took a few years off after I went to rehab and it’s very interesting getting back into it.
What's it like to have fans?
True American: Weird, but awesome. I think that it's cool to have fans when your music is so sad. I've had people come up to me after the show to thank me for being vulnerable and being honest. Recently someone found me after a show and said: "I'm really sad. Thank you for being as sad as I am. I feel you on an emotional level." I love talking to people. I used to hate people. When I was on drugs I didn't want to talk to anybody ever.
True American: Because I didn't want people to see me that way. I projected my own insecurities on other people. I wasn't willing to admit that I couldn’t stand myself and so I convinced myself that I hated everyone else. This is totally not true, I've been clean for over 4 years now and I absolutely love talking to people.
How much of your being clean is tied into your creation of music?
True American: A ton of it. Being off of drugs is absolutely a huge part of what I talk about and writing is definitely one of the main reasons that I've been able to stay clean. It’s very cathartic to put my feelings on paper and it's very therapeutic to perform it. It gets them out there and gives me a sense of relief, in a way.
Are there songs that you have to shy away from because they speak to sensibilities that you're trying to stay away from?
True American: There's a song that we have a really tough time playing live. The song is called "Son and the Sea" and it's about what would have happened to my mother if I had died. Which is what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gotten clean; I was very close to that point. The three times we’ve played it I’ve started crying in the middle of the song. Yesterday my mom was in the crowd and I tried my hardest to avoid looking at her. But at one point I lose my resolve and glance over at her and she’s crying and immediately I was just like “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” My bass player said he heard my voice crack and thought they were going to lose me to tears again but somehow I made it through.
Is that emotional honesty something that you want to pursue further?
True American: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of artists are losing their sense of vulnerability, which I think is a very important part about being an artist. It's my job to continue to pursue it, whether or not it goes somewhere. I know that the people who enjoy our band appreciate that because it speaks to their deeper sensibilities. If they feel like being sad, they can listen to our music and sit with what it feels like.
You play with some dark themes, are there some that you feel are dangerous to speak about?
True American: Yes, it can bring up intense feelings in certain people. But the danger comes from the way that the person is dealing with those themes within themselves. Addiction is not talked about as openly as it should be, which is something that I’m trying to address. If, by being honest, I can demonstrate to them that someone else feels this way, too, I can show them there’s something beyond it. There are certain people who feel so hopeless that they put up blinders around the things that they can use to pull themselves out. My wish is to give those people a sense of hope. Everyone can make it out, it's just a matter of finding the outlet to help you realize that you can.
Banner Image Photo Credit: Sara Marjorie Strick