It’s an early summer afternoon and DYLAN – aka British singer-songwriter Natasha Woods – takes to the stage to soundcheck at London’s iconic Wembley Stadium as she prepares to open for Ed Sheeran. Flanked by her backing band – comprising guitarist Rosie Botterill and drummer Connor Hopkins – DYLAN feels a familiar riff on her fingers and, with the crew’s encouragement, begins to serenade the stadium’s 90,000 seats with AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
As she confesses on our call, Thunderstruck is more than just a riff for DYLAN. Instead, as she explains, it embodies what life is like for the emerging electro-pop artist at this point in time: “I ignored my band and went for it. All the crew was cheering me on. That song is everything. That's what my life is like right now!”
It’s not far from the truth. With the sound of the drums beating in her heart, the guitarist has spent the summer on the road. As well as previewing tracks from her new mixtape to jam-packed audiences at Reading and Leeds Festivals, she's also racked up a sold-out debut US headline at the iconic Mercury Lounge in New York – the same venue that played a pivotal role in launching the careers of State-side mainstays, The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But this slick stage show hasn’t come without graft and grind.
It was Woods’ father who gifted DYLAN her first guitar back when she was just six years old: a plywood acoustic that he built and let his daughter decorate. “I remember being so excited about getting it out after we'd had supper because that was the deal: if I finished my food, then we could all stand on the kitchen table [and play],” she reflects fondly.
Quickly, improv times became more fierce than fulfilling, though. “My mum used to make a joke that Dad wouldn't touch the guitar unless I came back from school.” Despite the friendly rivalry, DYLAN actually gravitated towards piano over the next few years, confessing to not picking up a “real guitar” until she was in double digits.
Once again, it was her dad’s influence that guided her through the guitar greats. “In my late teens, there was a bit of Stevie Ray Vaughan. A lot of Angus Young. It took me about a week to learn [Jimi Hendrix's] Little Wing, but my favorite is always going to be [Vaughan's] Lenny. Also, if you don't tune down for Little Wing, it’s in the same realm as Lenny, so I created a mash-up that meant I could swing between those two.”
DYLAN also has an affinity for Guns N' Roses rocker Slash, and has paid homage to the classic rock legend on numerous occasions by incorporating a cover of Paradise City into her setlist.
But it would be her introduction to a different kind of chart-topper that would have a profound impact on the young songwriter’s forays into finally carving out her own originals.
“When I first discovered Taylor [Swift], it was like, 'Oh, this is how you tell a story in a song.' That was a massive revelation for me. Listening to these rock songs like [Aerosmith’s] Love In An Elevator, that's six minutes of a guitar solo!” she jokes, before taking a minute to reflect. “I think that's why my songs used to be a bit weird. There would be really long silences where I imagined the solos...”
Throughout our time together, DYLAN is consistently self-effacing, cracking jokes and leaping into action to show off her gear, but this observation taps into a more candid moment.
“I left school and decided that I wanted to be everyone else apart from myself,” she observes. “I had so many identity crises. All I knew was that I wanted to be the best, and the way I sought to do that was by taking in too many people's opinions, and that ruined me.”
But fate took matters into its own hands. Two years ago, the world ground to a halt and headed into a global pandemic, forcing the songwriter back to her family home in Suffolk, regrouping with her dad to thrash out the classics on the kitchen table once again.
Tapping back into her teenage self delivered a stark realization for her, as she recalls: “I thought my 16-year-old-self’s writing style was bad, but actually, that’s the way that I write best. I'm never going to be able to write a proper rock song, as much as I try. All my toplines are pop. There's nothing wrong with that, though.”
Even with the bright melodies and a liberal dose of dance moves, the hard rock core runs deep for DYLAN: “Don't get me wrong. If I had it my way, we'd be sat there doing 12 bar blues for the whole show.” She begins to recount a recent jam session with some pals in her kitchen after her recent acquisition of a banjo that she swiftly detuned to drop D, before wigging out over the accompanying harmonica high-notes.
“Honestly, I can't tell you, it's everything that I love about music. We sat there in sunglasses with a glass of wine. That's what music is about. Not a banjo, but that whole experience.”
Her debut mixtape, The Greatest Thing You’ll Never Learn, is far from a laid-back living room affair, though. The latest single, Nothing Lasts Forever, is undeniably infectious with stuttering Boys of Summer-style guitars, while Girl of Your Dreams features punk palm-muted perfection that precedes a rip-roaring chorus.
This dichotomy between her song craft is boosted by a new addition to her studio setup: a Fender Champion 40. “It's the love of my life,” she beams. “I've always been the kind of person that's had a preset amp but, oh my God, I'm loving the tones that you can get out of it and the way you can manipulate your guitar.”
It will be in good company alongside the musician’s new Fender Player Plus Stratocaster HSS. DYLAN is just one of the rising artists alongside Wet Leg, Self Esteem and The Linda Lindas to feature in Fender’s Player Plus sessions, sharing her love for the instrument’s sonic sound. “It has a bit more edge,” she explains. “Don't get me wrong, I love my blue Stratocaster, but it's a much cleaner sound.”
A unifying theme for all of DYLAN’s rig is her continued love of arts and crafts, which seems to have stuck with her since her days of painting the plywood acoustic with her dad.
Animatedly, she begins waxing lyrical about some new guitars she has in the works, including a Fender Meteora model. It's set to have a sunburst flame finish on a black scratchplate, alongside a bespoke mixtape design with candy red hearts and the sentiment ‘Love and Be Loved’ snaking the guitar’s gold sparkle rim in her bubble handwriting.
Elated with her new additions, she enthuses, “I’m going to be that arsehole that changes guitar for every song!”
Alongside the quick build of her multi-guitar rack for the incoming tour, there is one more project that DYLAN has her sights set on. “The other day I got electrocuted by a plug and my first thought was, ‘What if you had a glitterball guitar?'” she muses. “As someone that's in her very early stages who can't afford a lot of lighting, you shine one light on that bad boy and you've got a whole light show.”
The only logical followup seems to be whether we’re talking about tiling the full body of a guitar in question. “Thin tiling. I don't want to ruin the sound,” she reasons. But then, if anyone deserves a bit of a breather from hitting the town, it’s DYLAN. “I'll be glad to be sat in one place,” she laughs. “Don't talk to me for at least two weeks – I'm going to be tiling!”