Team StarKid's Dylan Saunders Talks Fan-Funded 'Confluence' Album

Joseph Llanes

Singer also shares a quick preview of Darren Criss' long-awaited debut LP.

"Imagine if Otis Redding and Robin Thicke got to do a session," says Dylan Saunders. "That's what I hope it will sound like."

Saunders is outlining "Confluence," his recently fan-funded debut album, from his car in Los Angeles, on his way to record a voice-over audition for a Disney film. It's an ambitious mission statement, but he is no stranger to startling ambition and the embracing the power of that success as a member of Team StarKid, the viral sensation theater troupe that is just shy of 150 million views on YouTube.

Saunders is now branching out to his own original music and album, using Kickstarter to fund the project. However, he recoils at the idea of calling his effort a "solo" one, instead terming it a "vast friend-filled music career." Collaboration is the key for Saunders, who says he was inspired by his talented friends, and calls the forthcoming effort "an excuse to keep collaborating."

"Confluence," which was backed in full just days after it was posted with a goal of $30,000, is both the title of his album effort and a definition of its intended content -- a collaborative effort, an assemblage, the flowing together of multiple streams. To realize that dream, Saunders enlisted Tomek Miernowski -- who previously worked with fellow Michigan grad Charlene Kaye -- to produce.

"Tomek loves developing a new sound," Saunders explains. "One mark of true talent in my eyes is a person's ability to examine all elements of a creative concept simultaneously, Like a film director who's thinking about the tone of a scene while looking at lighting and giving acting notes, all in the same breath. That's how Tomek looks at a song, exuding that kind of advanced multitasking."

Saunders is not the first of his group to go beyond StarKid's ambitions: actress Jaime Lynn Beatty recently completed a successful Kickstarter for her debut album, which will be released in May, and co-founding StarKid and "Glee" star Darren Criss has ambitions beyond the TV screen.

"I know Darren is working on his own solo studio album, and it's been incredible to watch it progress over the last year," says Saunders. "He is an unbelievably hard worker, so I'm always excited to hear his new hooks and song ideas. He's truly an expert pop writer. If I've learned anything from them, it's to really take my time, and to always approach the work critically."

Within StarKid, Saunders' iconic role was that of a hippie Dumbledore in their "Harry Potter" musical parodies, but his real breakout music-wise was in "Starship," an original musical staged in 2008, as Tootsie Noodles, the daft but loveable Starship Ranger and one of the romantic leads. The Starship album debuted at No. 134 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 for Top Cast Albums.

But Saunders hasn't limited himself to one Internet sensation -- he grew up with poet and rapper George Watsky and joined him on tour in 2012 as a backup vocalist. Beginning on May 8, Saunders will join Watsky again for the European leg of the "Cardboard Castles" Tour, promoting Watsky's sophomore album of the same name, which started at No. 50 on the Billboard 200.

All collaborations aside, Saunders is now moving out from the collective spotlight and into his own, while drawing upon his StarKid influences. The Kickstarter effort has been all about making dream into reality, aided by his extremely loyal and passionate fans.

"It's been one of the most inspiring moments of my life," Saunders gushes. "The response has been overwhelming and humbling and joyous and moving and compelling. I keep finding myself at a loss for words, mostly because my supporters have already set extremely high precedents for their power and compassion and greatness in the past. And then there's a day like today, where that standard gets completely blown out of the water and reset even higher.

"A young woman wrote to me earlier today apologizing that she couldn't contribute to the album campaign," Saunders continues, "but wished us luck and then asked if I would ever think of doing a show in Australia. The weight of a message like hers is mind-blowing. 'Devoted' doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of it. It's absolutely changed my life."


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