By Isa Jones
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"I started writing songs myself and bringing them to the band, like, 'Wouldn't it be cool if I didn't play drums on this song, but I sang and played guitar?'" says Dragon. "But the singer was like, 'No, I play guitar. And you shouldn't move to another instrument until you've mastered the one you're playing now.'
"That was a big moment for me," he confesses. "I was like, 'Whoa, I think a little differently than this guy.' There were all these rules associated with playing music that I didn't know about. With that band, there was this idea of following a pattern. We needed to make it. We needed to spend this amount of money on this studio and this gear. It just sucked the heart out of it. We'd go on tour, and I'd get as drunk I could just to get through the set."
A big schism in personal taste helped precipitate Dragon's defection from the group — not to mention the direction of his own solo work. "He started getting into Fall Out Boy," says Dragon of his old band's frontman, "and I started listening to Radiohead. Around that same time, Björk came out with Medúlla. I thought that was really cool. I realized it didn't have to be like, 'Okay, you're in a rock band, and you have to have a lead singer and a drummer, and you've got to get fancy gear.'
"I definitely don't believe that you have to go through all these steps before you can make music," he adds. "I'm not very proficient at anything, but if I just play everything a little bit and maybe do it all at the same time, it'll be me. I also started experimenting with the cheapest mikes I could find. I always wanted to use the cheap stuff, because I knew that's probably what I'd always be working with."
Soon after, Dragon fled the nest, moved to Denver and started playing music on his own. A chance meeting with Nick Houde and Chuck Potashner, then of the scrappy local indie-rock outfit Transistor Radio Sound, emboldened Dragon, who soon recorded a song for inclusion on a compilation released by Transistor's own imprint, Still Soft. From there, Dragon began playing solo shows around town, mostly at DIY venues like Rhinoceropolis, though his ragged appearance and ramshackle approach to music often confounded his audience — not to mention the venues involved.
"The hi-dive has always treated me pretty well. They treat me with more respect than I maybe deserve sometimes," he says with a laugh. "I used to go in there with two dollars and a weird mood, just loitering and creeping people out. I remember playing a show there one night and going over there with a shopping cart full of musical equipment. They were like, 'What are you doing?" and I was like, 'This is my gear. I've got to bring this shopping cart inside!'"
Now that Dragon has put down roots, reconciled with family back in St. Louis and settled down a bit, he probably won't be pushing a shopping cart again anytime soon. But true to his scavenger aesthetic, he's quick to point out that there's no instrument like a found instrument.
"I found a really nice guitar in the dumpster, a $300 guitar that missing one string," he says, his face lighting up. "The Rhodes I play on [Weight] was sitting in my dad's church for ten years, untouched. People have given me guitars before — some $75 piece of crap — and it winds up being the most beautiful thing to me. It's priceless.
"I can pick up this violin that's got two strings on it, and I can plug that sucker in and make these songs that are beautiful to me without any technique or training or anything," he concludes. "You just put yourself out there, and the instruments will find you."