In the summer of 2016, Jeremy Lyon found himself anchorless. His band had broken up after five years of touring the country, and Lyon felt consumed by uncertainty about the future — both his own and America’s. So he picked up a pen.
“It was the first time I was writing without needing anyone else’s approval,” says Lyon, an Oakland native. “So I stopped worrying about taste or whether a song was good until after it was done -- and that opened the floodgates.”
King Dream is the result. With a soulful voice, roots in the golden age of California psychedelia, and a modern indie rock energy that places him firmly in the 21st century, Lyon charts a path through timeless themes: disillusionment with oneself, with adulthood, with one’s country — and the discovery, time and again, that somehow there’s still plenty worthy of a love song.
Jeremy Lyon picked up a guitar at age 7, began writing songs soon after, and saw both Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen play not long after that. With a gift for hooks and the easy charisma of a natural frontman, he’s rarely been without a band since: In high school, he played at venues like San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill, where he was often the youngest kid at the show. After a year of college, he co-founded the acclaimed folk-rock band Tumbleweed Wanderers, who went from busking outside The Fillmore to playing it; touring with them from 2011 until 2016 (when they disbanded) formed the rest of his education.
Inspired by songwriters like Jim James, Jonathan Wilson and Blake Mills, Lyon spent the next year in a state of reflection and self-reinvention. On “First World Problems” — the King Dream track that opened the aforementioned floodgates — Lyon leads the listener through a good-natured ode to self-doubt. “It’s a bit of a ‘quarter-life crisis’ album,” says the songwriter. “It’s basically me talking to myself, saying, ‘What the hell am I doing? I'm not a poet, I should go back to school.’”
Admitting you don’t know what you’re doing, it turns out, is liberating as hell. A palpable jolt of freedom courses through King Dream’s self-titled debut, whether expressed as vulnerability (Lyon calls “My Love” the first positive love song he’s ever written) or anger. And there’s plenty to get angry about: against the backdrop of Trump’s first days in the White House, Lyon grapples with current events in real time. “Hand In Hand" was written the night after Philando Castile was killed, while "Patriot" and "Money + Power" respond to Standing Rock, income inequality and the prison industrial complex.
Thanks to his vocal ability and versatility, meanwhile, Lyon had quickly become one of the most in-demand sidemen in the Bay. Playing with different bands, he picked up a few things: new instruments and arrangement techniques; a love of darker psychedelic textures and moody, atmospheric sounds on electric guitar. And then an invaluable collaborator-producer: Lyon credits Graham Patzner of Whiskerman with helping to carry King Dream’s debut from idea to reality. Patzner knew Lyon had been writing, and in the early morning hours of 2017, at a New Year’s Eve party, the pair made a pact: if Lyon made it real — made a project, an album — Patzner would produce it.
Patzner’s stylistic marks can be heard throughout the record, thanks to his contributions on keyboards as well as string, brass, and backing vocal arrangements. The band is rounded out by Cody Rhodes on drums and Scott Padden on bass, with additional help from Patrick Glynn on synths; a who’s-who of Bay Area singer-songwriters (Caitlin Gowdey, Debbie Neigher, Chelsea Coleman) serve as a backup choir. But there’s no mistaking the soul and the guts of the record for anyone but Lyon’s: named for a protagonist from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, King Dream is the sound of one person turning inward to question long-held assumptions about the world and his place in it, to reassess a future that once felt like a given.
King Dream’s debut, then, out August 24th, 2018, is a reemergence of sorts. It’s also a good record for a long drive along the coast. It’s about places, relationships and empires crumbling, and the possibilities that announce themselves when the dust has cleared — when you find yourself alone for the first time in a long while, and you open your mouth and see what comes out.