You have to hear Kyle Dion sing. Really, it’s a must for your soul, for posterity. The 24-year-old LA-based singer hits an effortless and arresting falsetto that will leave you speechless. His debut album, SUGA, is one of the best albums of the year, and his chipper personality will have you falling in love with him all over again. For as layered and blooming as his music sounds, Dion is equally personable and easy to get on with. I gather as much because during our recent conversation he asks me who I am, suggests I open up to him, and then admits we can be friends now that he knows my star sign.
Before all of this, though, the singer tells me that he started out as a major Usher fan, with Confessions going down as his first R&B purchase after some Christmas cash came through.
“I was always a huge Usher fan growing up,” he tells me. “He was one of the male R&B artists that challenged me to vocally train myself. All his runs and falsettos. Growing up listening to him, I was definitely drawn to his whole catalog. I got Christmas money, and I used that money to buy his album. That’s a classic album, to me.”
Though Dion struggles to pinpoint exactly how Usher influenced his early style (“I think that subconsciously it definitely had something to do with who I am today”), all you need to do is press play to hear the similarities in vocal tone, passion, and those falsettos we cannot stress enough. On “Cherry Blossom,” Dion hits piercing and striking high notes; the song swells and feels mountainous. You feel as if you’ve arrived at the peak of love and expression, looking down at the clouds and continuously floating ever higher. We’re caught in a whirl of tepid bass and growling guitar melody, too.
As impressive as Kyle Dion’s current output is, his humble beginnings make his debut album all the more interesting. For one, he wrote his first song at nine. It was, of course, about a girl. “It was called “I Wanna Know” [sings falsetto],” he recalls. “I was just trying to put lyrics together with all these melodies I had in my head. That’s my first song, ever.” In that simple memory is the magic of Kyle Dion: he may have not started as a fully-formed artist—few people do—but he has always had the artistic spirit.
“I always remember singing. I don’t remember what it is to… I don’t have no recollection of what it is to not sing. It’s always been something I was chasing, since I was very young.” —Kyle Dion
Knowing Dion has been chasing music for two-thirds of his life, I had to ask how he keeps from getting discouraged. In a human way, he nearly yelled: “I don’t!” Of course, this surprised me. Certainly, with his talent, the singer would have no issues shrugging off hard times to keep it pushing.
“I get discouraged,” he continues while chuckling. “I’m an artist. I’m emotional. I’m also an Aries. I am one of the most confident people especially when it comes to my music, but I’m also a person. Music is all I know how to do. It’s what I’m best at. Nothing can discourage me enough to ever stop.”
There it is: Kyle Dion is one with his music. Through all manner of hardship (“I learned that through the hard times, you gotta keep going”) Dion remains in tune with his gift, and that is how he keeps from quitting. It’s admirable, but it’s also present in his music. There’s a sheen of resilience to SUGA, an entirely independent release that sounds wonderfully luxe and expensive. Executive produced by Dion’s friend Mars Today, the album is evidently a celebration of LA players who came through during the SUGA sessions.
“I worked with a good friend of mine, his name’s Mars Today,” Dion tells me. “I reached out to him after my EP dropped and we did a song together called ‘Cool Side of the Pillow.’ That was the first song we ever wrote together, that was the first song I ever wrote with someone, period. From there, we liked the vibe. It was very organic. We just kept on writing music. I invited him to executive produce my album, and he has a network out here in LA of a lot of cool, talented players. We would have people come out in the sessions and just dig into the sound and the narrative of the album.”
“My album is musical. It’s very intellectual. It’s not so easily digestible, I would think. It’s really me! I didn’t want to compromise myself to trendy shit. I feel like all that shit is like a blend. Everybody is doing the same thing, and they’re scared because that thing works, so they do that. I don’t care about that. I like to express myself the way that I do and it resonates with people; it resonates with the right people. My album is all me. You can hear it.” —Kyle Dion
Now that we’ve established that SUGA is indeed very good, the greedy music fan in us all has to wonder: Why is there not more Kyle Dion music? His earlier release, Painting Sounds, though strong, came out three years ago. Make no mistake: this is eons and eons in today’s music climate. But the time between records was not filled with strife or unintended delay. This is the pace Dion prefers to work at. He’s looking for experiences and moments, without any regard for the new trend of flooding the market.
“Growing up in the early 2000s and going to record stores,” he explains, “shit would come out, and it would be a moment. It wasn’t oversaturated back then. Subconsciously, that left an imprint on me. When I release stuff, I let it be a moment. I take my time with it. Whether that’s photos or music videos. I want everything I release under my brand to be an experience.”
With that, everything about SUGA feels momentous—from the runs and the instrumentation to the album art, which was actually inspired by a fan illustration.
“When I turned 23, this fan drew a picture of me and it was kind of the image you see now [on the cover], but it was a sketch,” Dion recalls. It had the elongated neck and it had my frames on and my ‘fro. It was very intriguing and beautiful. And I like a lot of dark shit, so I was drawn to it. As I was making the album, I went back to that image and wanted to recreate it. We got someone to cut the jacket because the jacket had little curls on it. It was sequins and there was yarn on the color that we created. Shout out to Wreiza, she was the designer of the jacket.”
Kyle Dion is artistic, adventurous, and evidently hyper-serious about his craft, but he still remembers to smile. As we chat, you can hear joy spilling out of him. He has a warm and welcoming aura. As he says, he is thriving. We end our conversation on a lighter note, then, with the last time he smiled, which was in the car on the way to Oakland, pressed for time and unable to stop for food. “Does Advil count as food?” he says, and his team erupted in laughter.
“That’s what our diet consisted of for the last six hours,” he explains. “It was Advil, mint gum, and mints. That was the last thing that made me smile.” Me too.