The night before he left home for the University of Texas, Sloan Struble built a human head in his parents’ kitchen.
From the Fort Worth suburb of Aledo — "It's a small fragment of Texas, so wouldn't be surprised if you didn't know about it," he says — Struble gave birth to an album of optimistic bedroom pop, which he titled "Fuzzybrain," over the course of his senior year at All Saints’ Episcopal School.
Off to become an advertising major at his dad’s alma mater, in a city he loved from Texas Longhorns football games growing up, the last step of this DIY project was the cover art.
Struble emailed a sculptor whose work he admired on Instagram, inquiring about a plasticine model. Then he wondered: "Why not do it myself?" He’d created the entire album up to that point — written the music and lyrics, played the instruments, laid down the vocals, produced it on the computer. Might as well give it a face, too.
The clay for the model came from Hobby Lobby, about $30 worth. Struble sculpted all night in the kitchen, creating a disembodied head and neck with a bright red nose and messy, orange-ish hair. He took photos of his creation using a set-up in his room. The next morning, it was off to the Live Music Capital of the World.
Only a couple years later, Struble — as Dayglow, the name of his homemade pop project — performed at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2019.
Now, almost 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify play Struble’s music. He has more than 84,000 Instagram followers. He’s shared the stage with major label artists like King Princess and Coin. NPR and NME have named him an artist to watch. That UT degree is no longer at the top of his to-do list. He had been set to headline a sold-out spring tour across the U.S., including two Austin dates at the Parish, before the coronavirus pandemic put a pin in the plans. But hey, at least he had a headlining tour to cancel.
Sometimes the cliche just works best. This is all a dream come true.
"I was pushing toward it," Struble says when we chat in March, the definition of easygoing, and generous with his thoughts. "But I didn't think, you know, I'd be interviewed right now and talking about the album. So, it's pretty strange."
Dayglow is on the cusp of something big, and he won’t be old enough to order a beer until August.
Listen to Struble explain how he came up with the name Dayglow:
It’s a vibe
Struble grew up on a farm in Aledo, 13 acres or so, with chickens, a garden and some fainting goats, the kind that went viral on YouTube a few years back: "When they get excited, their muscles tense up, and when they try to walk, they just fall over. It doesn't, like, hurt them or anything, but we just had those for fun."
Struble’s dad, John, is a dentist and a farmer on the side. His mom, Kristy, has been a major creative influence, and she loves to thrift shop. Both sing, and they raised Struble in a Christian household.
That church upbringing led Struble to early fandom for bands like Relient K, Switchfoot and Owl City, artists with mainstream pop-rock appeal and Billboard Hot 100 cred but a spiritual faith that kept vigil behind the lyrics.
Hearing Relient K’s 2007 song "Must Have Done Something Right" in the car made a young Struble want to learn guitar. He went from Guitar Hero to guitar lessons but didn’t like what he was learning — the basics. He was 10. He wanted to rock. Struble quit the lessons.
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Then his cousin showed him GarageBand, and it really started.
"This weird salad of artists" perked up his ears as he grew up, familiar to anyone paying attention to music in the 2000s. YouTube wormholes dropped him in front of indie-pop stars like Passion Pit and MGMT, whose electronic flourishes sparked a desire to produce and create sounds. Struble caught the EDM bug in middle school, and artists like Skrillex dialed up that itch. He went through a lyrical phase, too, thanks to bands like emo stalwart Bright Eyes.
"I just got obsessed with building songs with the loops that they have available," Struble says of GarageBand, the music production program preloaded on many Apple devices. "From there, I ran out of loops to use. I kind of had to tell myself, ‘If I want to make music, I have to learn the instruments.’" Struble taught himself guitar, piano and bass — a "one-man band kind of situation."
He had time to fill. At All Saints’, he felt like he was in his own bubble. Struble enrolled there for high school, while many kids had attended the private institution most of their lives. He was friendly with classmates but didn’t have a lot of close pals. His headspace was "one of individualism and working all the time."
"I think I know what the change I'm about to experience is going to do to me," he remembers thinking as he immersed himself in music, "but it's not happening yet."
The songs that would become "Fuzzybrain" were projects of both passion and ambition. Struble needed the creative outlet, yes, but he also knew the work could find an audience.
"I'm pretty aware of how people react to things, at least I think," he says. "I was really confident about the songs. I knew they were different than the other bedroom pop stuff that was being created at the time."
Listen to Struble talk about his DIY vibe:
"Fuzzybrain’s" tunes bask in warmth and optimism, rejecting the darker vibes you could find within a minute of clicking around Soundcloud. The lyrics usually aren’t narrative, in a straightforward sense, and can border on the abstract: rain inside skeleton frames, nicknames on a sleeve, spotlights stuck on the ceiling. The words to Struble’s songs mimic a train of thought, he says, pointing to French pop band Phoenix as a touchstone.
"I think with Dayglow, and me just as a person, I feel like I communicate best through just creating a vibe," he says.
Melodies are always present in Struble’s head, he says. He cares about quick intros and good hooks, like the 1970s and ’80s pop greats he’s come to love: the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, Whitney Houston, James Taylor. He writes, produces and records all at once, in what he calls a "non-linear" process.
"I never know when I'm done, because there's not steps that I follow," Struble says. "I kind of just have to let go at one point eventually, but I think it's worked so far."
Austin city limits
Struble wanted to go to UT because he wanted to come to Austin, which he calls the prettiest part of the state. (A not uncommon reason, it must be said.)
"I just have always been drawn to Austin, because it's such an interesting reflection of what it is to be Texan," he says. "There's so much pride in being a Texan, and I love that. I think Austin does it in a different way than every other city. ... It definitely promotes that it's more diverse."
While recording songs in his high school bedroom, he says he was "waiting and wanting to be in Austin," especially because of the city’s music community.
"In Aledo, there's not much of an artistic community of any sort," he says. "So I was kind of on my own."
He set the single "Can I Call You Tonight?" out into the wilds of the internet in early 2018, as well as a charming DIY video, to positive attention. Struble then self-released "Fuzzybrain" as an eight-track LP in September that year, the same month he got to UT.
Positive reviews from music press and placement on popular Spotify playlists followed. In October 2018, he started fielding interest from labels, booking agents and industry reps. He flew to Nashville a couple weeks after playing South by Southwest in 2019 and hooked up with a manager. Then, about a year after first sending "Fuzzybrain" into the world, he re-released the album with two additional tracks. Dayglow now has a distribution deal with the Awal label.
And to think, he could have been cramming for an advertising midterm right now.
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The whirlwind of it all set in when he played ACL Fest last year. As a sophomore in high school, Struble went to Zilker Park’s fall fest for the first time. He remembers telling a friend that he would play there in about four years. As it turns out, he has an impeccable sense of timing.
When writing the tracks on "Fuzzybrain," Struble had envisioned songs that he could play to a festival crowd — "bigger and larger than life."
"If I'm going to make music, I'd like it to be powerful, and in an encouraging way," he says.
Struble calls the moment surreal. He’s played other fests as Dayglow, but ACL Fest remains the only one he’s attended for fun, he says. Right before taking the BMI stage, he could hear rapper Denzel Curry’s music blare from across the park. The previous night, Struble’s hero, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, performed as a headliner.
"When I played that set is the moment where (I felt) like, ‘This is awesome,’" Struble says.
Listen to Struble talk about what ACL Fest means to him:
Nourishing the things that matter
Struble still lives near campus in Austin, in an apartment with nine other people. It’s a strange situation, he knows. But hey, we’ve all signed leases before.
"Even this time last year plus a couple months, I still was thinking I was going to be a student at UT," he says. "I thought, you know, music would just kind of be a side thing and sort of exist on the internet."
Next year, Struble hopes to be working out of a studio in Dripping Springs. He’s learned he has to separate himself from the music sometimes. It’s his job now, even if it’s fun. There are other ways to while away the time: Barton Springs Pool, especially night swims, and climbing in the Greenbelt. He still goes to church and finds value in having a spiritual life, to "nourish things that matter."
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Like every working musician, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed things down for Dayglow. We caught up with Struble on Monday, on the phone from his parents’ house in Aledo. Promoters aren’t willing to schedule shows in this time of uncertainty, but Struble says he’ll visit the cities he had to postpone as soon as he’s able.
"The natural response for a lot of creative people is, oh my gosh, I am going to use this time to make everything," he says. These days haven’t held much inspiration, so he’s taking the time to rest and let go without guilt. True to form, he’s optimistic it will all be over soon.
Struble’s selling all of Dayglow’s unused spring tour merch on his website and donating the proceeds to Sweet Relief, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to career musicians and industry workers dealing with illness, disability or age-related struggles.
"It’s not as hard for me as it is for other people," he says.
There’s much to be uncertain about in the world today. But when you’re talking to an up-and-comer, you have to ask what’s next.
"I'm pretty introspective and I overthink things," Struble says. "And so I've actually learned a lot this year to just not do that. Just think about what's in front of me, and take that for what it is.
"So, I don't know. I guess I'll know in five years, but I definitely don't yet."