“I’ve been working my way up on the [music] scene since freshman year. Everything is falling into place and I’m finding my niche. I’m comfortable with my music, my abilities and my persona. I couldn’t be happier in the position that I’m in currently.” — Dizzy Joan
It is not everyday that you find a 20-year-old who has maintained a fundamental career goal since before even setting foot on a college campus. It’s this concrete ambition — tremendous musical talent; unconditional support from family, friends and fans; and a pair of red leather pants and a journey to rebrand himself — that has allowed singer-songwriter and University of Wisconsin student Dizzy Joan to embrace his true musical identity and successfully begin making his career aspirations a reality.
Growing up in a home infused with the music of ‘80s rock legends, Joan developed a passion for rock ‘n’ roll at a young age.
“My dad and I would always watch performance videos of classic rock icons, such as Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC and Def Leppard. I was inspired and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
To foster this desire, Joan began to teach himself how to play the drums on a mini-set given to him by his parents. It was a few years later that Joan picked up a guitar and began to play. From the moment his fingers slid down the frets, the instrument had captured his heart.
“I wanted to be a famous lead guitar player,” he said.
Joan began taking steps in this direction as lead guitarist of a Minnesota-based rock band, Civil Lizard, with which Joan continued to perform despite coming to Madison to pursue a degree. Though the band was well-established, its run came to an end midway through Joan’s freshman year.
Without a band, Joan spent a good amount of time playing guitar in the comfort of his college dorm room and writing music for himself. Due to a lack of confidence, he only shared the music with a close-knit group of friends, who supported his work and reassured him, giving him the necessary push to get back on the scene.
As Joan grew more confident in his work and antsier to once again take the stage, he jumped on a opportunity to open for singers Ari Herstand and Anna Vogelzang at the High Noon Saloon. In hopes of snagging the gig as an opener, he sent a message to Herstand expressing his interest. With no solo material or recordings to show, he made a point of his passion and strong ambition regarding promotion. It ultimately paid off and Herstand took a chance on the young and eager artist – Joan had booked his first gig in Madison as a front man and solo act.
Though he was ecstatic to have booked his first gig, he was mindful of the fact that he had no recorded music under his new persona. In need of a hand, he called his biggest supporters, his parents. With their help and that of a Minnesota-based recording studio called Winterland, Joan booked studio hours for the weekend and was set to record a five-song original EP, on which he was going to play every instrumental track.
“I wanted to play all of the tracks because, for the first time, my name, Dizzy Joan, was going to be on the front. I wanted the project to be entirely mine. I love to collaborate, but I wanted to get every last idea out of my head and execute the songs exactly as I envisioned them,” he said.
With five songs, one rehearsal, one weekend in the studio and one musician playing all the instrumental tracks, Joan and his recording team powered through and finished the first official Dizzy Joan EP in time for the High Noon Saloon show, which was a huge success and exhibited Joan’s capabilities.
Soon after the show, which served as a vital step in building Joan’s confidence as a singer-songwriter, he heard about open mic nights at Memorial Union. Though a burning desire to perform consumed him, he did not want to be just another singer-songwriter in a sea of back-to-back original acoustic acts. He wanted to stand out amongst the line-up – he wanted to entertain people and engage the audience, giving them something that they had yet to see.
Despite his recent success in his career as a singer-songwriter, Joan still had an underlying passion for guitar solos and rock n’ roll. Ultimately, it was this passion that gave birth to his brand: He put on a pair of vivacious red leather pants, got some guitar-stripped backing tracks and played rock covers at these open mics, emulating his long-time inspiration, Mick Jagger.
In support of his desire to “put on a show,” Joan began promoting his appearance at the Tuesday evening open mics.
“I told myself that I was going to treat each and every open mic like a huge event, like a concert. I don’t want to have the mentality that it’s laidback and that I don’t need to prep. I want to have a tight set and engage people. So I began heavily promoting,” he said.
Through his promotion and passion, he gained a sufficient following and received incredible support after his first set. He made it a priority to play more open mics, showing up with his glam-rock image every other Tuesday.
“I would put off any other commitments that I had that night and lug my amps and gear across campus for a 15-minute set without pay,” he said.
Eventually, Joan worked his way up to playing the Terrace, a more densely populated venue that nearly tripled his audience and gave him an even greater sense of reassurance. That summer, he remained in Madison and continued playing the Terrace every Tuesday.
One day toward the end of the summer as students returned for classes, an over-abundance of musicians flocked to play the Terrace and the Union had to resort to raffling off the open mic slots. Having gotten all dressed up and having already lugged his gear to the Terrace, Joan was deeply disheartened when his name was not called. Little did he know what happened next.
“I was so close to packing up and walking home, when they announced my name as the closing act,” Joan said.
In utter awe and surprise, Joan took the stage for what would be his last show mirroring his rock n’ roll idols as “that kid in the red leather pants.”
“It happened just like a blockbuster movie. People were singing along, having a good time, and I was just living in the moment. It was the tightest set that I have ever played. I could not have ended open mic season on a better note. So I didn’t do anything else,” he said.
Having finished his term as “that kid in the red pants,” he once again retreated to writing music for himself — this time with an emphasis on keyboards rather than guitar. Writing on the keys sparked a new style for Joan as he wrote his first gritty blues ballad and newest single, “Streets of East LA” in the span of a day.
There was something about the song that helped Joan to realize that this low-key bluesy vibe truly conveyed who he was as an artist.
“There was no second-guessing myself – no holding back. I wrote the song because it was exactly how I was feeling. It was the product of everything that I have learned as a solo act and for some reason, it stuck with me,” he said.
Joan’s upcoming show at the Majestic Theatre Saturday, opening for Nicholas David, will mark the first time he will be playing under his new image. It will be nothing more than him, an acoustic guitar and a handful of never-before-heard originals.
“I really want to exhibit my versatility and songwriting abilities with this acoustic set,” he said. “I want to embrace acoustic music, embrace being the only person on the stage, embrace being a singer-songwriter.”
As a junior, Joan has a limited number of years remaining at UW. Yet he will strive to make the best of the time he has left.
“In my last year of school, I want to play as many shows as possible, regardless of the venue. I want to further build up my fan base, get my image together and embrace every performance opportunity,” he said.
So look out for his name, because the Majestic show is only the beginning.