Q&A With Dalton Rapattoni

Dalton Rapattoni talks to Pollstar about the upcoming release of his first post-“American Idol” album, misconceptions about having bipolar disorder, and what’s he’s learned about the music industry since forming his first band at age 12.  

The 21-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist finished in third place on the 15th season of “American Idol,” which had been touted as its final run. He quickly built up a fanbase on the show, thanks to his alternative rock/pop vocals, distinctive style and stage presence.

Rapattoni, who still calls Dallas home, formed the band Fly Away Hero with friends shortly after he started attending the School of Rock in Dallas and Frisco, Texas. He later became an instructor at the school.

Rapattoni was also one of the original members of the boy band IM5, which was created following a talent search by Spice Girls and “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller, creative director Jamie King, and blogger/TV personality Perez Hilton.

After releasing a few EPs with Fly Away Hero and a couple albums with IM5, Rapattoni is ready to put out his own album. Nobody’s Home is due out Sept. 22.

He’s currently on a U.S. tour that runs through late August. He performs tonight at Stanhope House in New Jersey. The outing features House On Cliff and Lauren Carnahan.

Dalton Rapattoni
Courtesy Right Angle PR
– Dalton Rapattoni

Congrats on the new album coming out.  

Thank you, yeah, it’s been a pretty wild process.

When you did start recording the album?

Well, it’s funny because we started recording the album a month after the show finale aired. And we started working on it literally the Sunday after the finale aired so there wasn’t a lot of pick up between. We recorded it at a studio called Orb [Recording] Studios in Austin, Texas.

I actually moved to Austin for six months as a part of recording the record. The time it took to make the album actually overreached my lease so I had to move back to Dallas and I would going back and forth from Austin to Dallas. 

You worked with Matt Noveskey from Blue October. What was his role? Did he produce the album and contribute as a co-writer?

He co-wrote a lot of the songs and he produced the whole record. He and I had been working together actually before “American Idol.” With my old band, “Flyaway Hero,” he produced our last EP that we did. So he and I have been working together for a long time and once he did the show he was super stoked to get something done with just me. He’s kind of like the second half to my music brain. He’s a great, great dude. 

It sounds like that worked out really well, that you were able to work with someone who already knew you and your style of music and so you’d be comfortable with him.

Yeah, he’s awesome to work with. We’re obviously really comfortable working together. He’s a genius. It was a great time. Love that dude.

Did you work with any other co-writers?

I worked with several co-writers. Three of the songs on the record are with one of my best friends in the world, his name is Will Jay. I was actually in a band with him a long time ago. And he and I have kind of been writing songs together since we were like, I think, 15 years old. We work really, really well together. We were in a boy band together, so a lot of shared hardships to write off of. (laughs)  

And then we have a couple other writers on there as well, because apparently we tried to do it the first time around with just songs that I wrote by myself and there were like, “Yeah, no. (laughs) We’re not going to do this.” I was like, “Oh, OK, fine.” So we had to get other people’s brains in on it. 

Always good to get other people’s input. That being said, this is your first solo album. How does it feel to be releasing music under just your own name?   

It feels like a lot more pressure. But … I’m hoping that it will feel more rewarding if it does well. There’s something to be said about being able to hide behind the name of a band because if you release a song and the song sucks and you’re in a band it could be the fault of any of four other people, you know? But if it’s just your own name, regardless of whether it’s your fault or not, it’s all going to be put on you, which is a little bit scary, but hopefully if it does well it will be all the more rewarding.

If it does well, you’ll get all the credit.

That is true. I do like credit.

What was the inspiration like going into the songwriting process? Were there any books, movies or music that inspired you? Or did it mostly come from your personal life?

Well, a lot of it came from my personal life. … I obviously draw a lot from Blue October because they were one of my favorite bands growing up. … We actually kind of recorded this album twice. The first pass we were trying to do more of a pop thing than we ended up doing. 

I kind of wanted to do a darker alternative pop-ish like concept album, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but we realized that that requires a lot more planning because of all the little idiosyncrasies, so we just decided to take all of the best songs individually that we had written and then instead of trying to work them all together into a concept album just to make them as good as they could be as their own songs and then put them together.

But as far as inspiration goes, I listen to so much music it’s kind of hard to tell exactly what band inspired what but I’m sure you could listen to a song and kind of pick it apart. Someone else would be better at doing that than I would because I’m so close to all of the material.

Besides Blue October, what other bands did you listen to growing up?

I listen to a lot of rock music. Pink Floyd is still my number one favorite band. But I also listen to the Beatles, they’re one of my favorite bands. I mean, that’s so cliché to say (speaks in a funny voice): “Oh yeah, I like The Beatles and also The Rolling Stones.” It feels so cliché to say that but I do know their entire discography. 

I don’t typically add the Beatles in there but with this album especially, stylistically, it’s a lot more based on the formulas of their songs. Like I said, there’s a wide swath of stuff that I listen to but I think those are two of the main ones. That’s going to sounds so pretentious, I bet. Ugh.

How did you come up with the album title?

So the album is titled Nobody’s Home. I don’t know how much you know about this. I forget how much I said on the show but I have a tattoo on my wrist that says “Nobody.” I got it the day I turned 18. And it’s based on the Emily Dickenson poem and I kind of see it as something to keep me grounded, to remind me that no one’s better than anyone else. Everybody’s nobody.

It’s called Nobody’s Home because with this record it’s a lot more content than any of the other stuff that I’ve made. It was a weird experience writing songs that weren’t like (speaks in a funny voice): “I’m emo and sad and I hate everything.” But I like the double entendre of the name Nobody’s Home has because if you see it as a person, you think “Nobody is home” but then it could be like “Nobody is there, no one’s home.”  

How did you choose which acoustic versions to include on the album?

That’s fun because we recorded the main album, the album proper, and then I got a call from Matt Noveskey. … I thought the album was done, and he was like, “Hey, do you want to drive back up to Austin and sleep in your car for a night and just spend one day in the studio and record as many of the acoustic songs as we possibly can in one day?” I was like, “Uh, yeah. Fine.”

I did that. I drove down to Austin one night and slept in my car and then we just went into the studio and tried to get as many acoustic songs finished as possible. So I think with the process of picking which songs to do was kind of just which songs we thought would sound the most different acoustic and then also, “The Way You Do” was picked as an acoustic song for I think one of my management team said that someone at some company wanted it. Other than that, it was like “Let’s just try to get as many as possible in and then go home.”

Earlier this year you played an acoustic tour. How did that go?

It was fun. I don’t want to say I like playing acoustic tours better but … there is a degree of comfort in it knowing that you’re completely in control of what all of this stuff is sounding like, because there’s not a band behind you that has a human factor. It is less exciting, I will [say] that because it’s not a collaborative thing. But it was a lot more chill. It was a lot less hectic. The whole tour was like a big nap, which was cool.

It’s nice to be able to do an acoustic tour, especially before you record, just to work out some of the kinks in songs.

On that tour did you preview some material from the new album?

I’m pretty sure I did. I definitely brought some songs back that we didn’t know were going to be on the record. The song “Trust Nobody” was a song that I had written for one of my old bands and we brought it back on the acoustic tour and the response was so good that we decided to put it on the record. We did bring back songs on the acoustic tour, it wasn’t because we knew it was going to be on the record, we were seeing how it would go.

It’s been a little over a year since “The American Idol” finale. What are you thoughts now on finishing in third place? Do you think it gave you a little more control over your career?

Yeah, actually people come up to me all the time if I’m walking around, especially in Texas because they want to support the hometown kid. They’ll come up and say, “Aw, dude. Dalton,, that sucks you didn’t win. Wish you would have won.” And I always say I don’t because I kinda finished in the perfect place for me, personally, because I’m so bad at listening to people (laughs) if I had to listen to a label, especially a label with a contract such as the Big Machine contract, it would have just been miserable for me. And there are some people that can do that and are good with working with labels, and are good with … not having a lot of creative wiggle room. There are people like that but I’m just not that guy. 

Fortunately with the way the season was formatted, I was on every episode. It’s not like I missed out on a lot of TV time by making it in third place. I think I wound up in the exact right position.

I was pissed though because sometimes third place gets a car and I just happened to be one of the seasons where third place didn’t get a car. … But other than that, it was great.

Simon Fuller is the creator of “American Idol” and he was also behind the band IM5. Did you feel extra pressure on “American Idol” because of your history with IM5?

Well, it was actually funny because Simon Fuller’s involvement with IM5 was not as direct as the band’s marketing wanted to imply. When I was in IM5 I only met Simon Fuller three or four times. So it was less like there was pressure and like, “Oh, I wonder if he remembers me!” (laughs) … 

I actually didn’t meet Simon during the “Idol” process until very, very late in the competition. And when I got into the room and sat down with him, I was like, “Hey, man” and he was like, “Hi.” He’s a really quiet guy so I was really trying to gauge, “Does this guy remember me or not?” 

But he did remember me and we talked about the band a little bit. There wasn’t really pressure because during IM5 he was never really like a domineering force over the whole thing. But it was kind of cool to just say, “Hey, we did this together. That was neat. Please don’t kick me off your show.”

In addition to attending The School of Rock, you also worked as a teacher in the school. I wanted to clarify, what did you teach? And are you still involved with the school?

So it’s funny how it worked out on the show because they said I was a vocal teacher underneath my name, but I taught everything. I don’t think it was fair to say I was a vocal teacher because obviously I wasn’t the most technically sound vocalist. And if you’re put up as a vocal teacher on that show people will tear you to shreds. (Imitates a critical viewer’s voice): “His vocal technique is so bad. I can’t believe he teaches vocals to kids.”

But I was more of a music teacher than anything else. I would coach the band that came out of the school. I would give vocal lessons to the kids, just basic technique stuff. But I still am involved with the school. I still teach a couple of the kids that I was really close with. If they ever need any help while I’m in town they can use me as tape to kind of patch the ship up. If someone dies that was supposed to be giving a lesson, they’ll throw me in sometimes – but only in the most extreme scenarios. (laughs)

Dalton Rapattoni
Courtesy Right Angle PR
– Dalton Rapattoni

What advice would you give to your students now that you’ve seen the music business from so many different angles? Or what’s a lesson you took away with you after “American Idol”?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in all of the music industry is just keep going because I was never the most naturally talented at this whole thing. I had to learn everything I knew. I was actually really bad but I kept working at it and I was kind of always there when an opportunity came up.

And eventually an opportunity will come along and you just have to be prepared for it. And you have to love it, you know, because it is a lot of sitting on your ass and waiting for something to come along. 

It’s really easy for you to not get a significant gig in six months and be like, “Well, I’m never to do anything in this business. I guess I’m going to hang it up.” I always notice that any time I have one of those thoughts that’s when something big comes along and then it keeps you in it.

I would just tell any kid who seriously wanted to be in it to just stay in it because it’s the people who stay around who are successful.

During your time on “American Idol” you were very open about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a child. Did you know from the start that you wanted to share that with the TV audience?

No, I didn’t. … I was never really going to talk about it because I had forgotten how personal the interview and stuff went. I never had a plan about what I was going to talk about. I had a plan [about what] songs I was going to sing but I never planned like a personality thing. So when it came to the time when they were asking me about myself I was like, “Well, I can stand on one leg for a minute and a half and I won’t fall down … and also I have bipolar disorder and uh …” and all of these different things trying to make myself sound interesting.

And then they were like, “Would you feel comfortable talking about bipolar disorder onscreen?” and I was like, “Yeah! I don’t see why not.” Because a lot of the people that I looked up to didn’t have a problem talking about it so I never saw it as a weird, taboo kind of  thing. But when I did talk about it I found out a lot of other people did. (laughs)

Are you referring to people on the show or fans or just the culture in general?

Well, a lot of it was just feedback from the general public zeitgeist. I remember specific comments on the [cover of the Beach Boys song] “God Only Knows” video that “Idol” put up later. There were some people like, “He look so sad in this video. Don’t worry, give him five minutes. Ha Ha Ha. Get it? Because he has bipolar disorder. Ha Ha Ha. And his emotions fluctuate rapidly. Ha Ha ha.”

I thought it was kinda funny in a dumb, ironic way because of how stupid that was of them to say. But it did highlight a little bit something that I was kind of blind to, in the sense that people really don’t get it at all. I think a lot more people need to talk about it. Not because they need to be preachy, preachy, “Oh, please accept us,” yada yada yada. If it was something that we could get people to get, it wouldn’t be a big deal. … 

No one learns when they’re being taught, you know what I mean? I’ve noticed that people learn stuff when you talk to them, not when you teach them. Especially with things like that, you have to come across from a more relatable standpoint rather than (makes funny voice), “You have to accept me and this is this and this is why and I am a beautiful butterfly of the mind.”

You just have to be like, “Hey,  man. I get sad sometimes and I can’t really control it and blah blah blah.” I’m sorry, I’m rambling like crazy. (laughs) Yeah, I mean, the show was a wild experience talking about that kind of thing because I saw a lot of reactions that I didn’t think I would get.

I think it’s really great that you spoke out about that and are helping to end the stigma about mental health.

I try not to think about it too much just because … I’m not convinced of the whole campaign approach to changing the discourse because I feel like it becomes incredibly ingenuine when you put a catchy phrase behind it. And you get a whole bunch of people together and you’re like, “Fight the stigma!” and all of that stuff.

I think that the best way to do that is just to like be a normal dude around people and then also say, “I’m a normal dude and p.s. I have bipolar disorder. Ain’t that crazy? Wanna talk about it?” Rather than like all joining hands and standing up. Because people just turn off when they see stuff like that, unfortunately. You kind of just have to relate to them on a normal people level first.

Last question on the subject: What do you think is one misconception about being bipolar?

I think that the biggest misconception is that’s it’s multiple personality disorder. It’s completely different. It’s not like you’re two different brains living in the same noggin. 

A lot of people think that literally one day you’re a super happy dude and then next day you’re a super sad dude. It’s not that. The manic bits of it aren’t as simple as being happy. It’s like being attached to a train and the rails are getting closer on the tracks as you go and you are afraid you’re inevitably going to crash.

And the depression isn’t just being sad. Just like anyone with any kind of depression will tell you. It’s not just being sad. It’s like an looming cloud on your whole life. At least my type of bipolar disorder. I have Type 2, just like Sia, fun fact. I learned that on [“Idol”]. 

It’s not as rapid as a lot of people think. For me, it takes a good couple of weeks to fluctuate between phases. And even then, I’m pretty properly medicated, if I do say so myself, so I notice when I’m in one of those dips but people around me typically don’t.

What’s the setlist going to look like for the summer tour?

Well we have a lot more songs from the record on this setlist. … We’re doing “Heaven” and “Back From The Moon.” And those will be really, really fun to do live. This tour is not going to be as insanely technical with lights and stuff. It’s just me and my friends from House On Cliff going out and playing some songs because we have some free time (laughs) kinda. …

I brought back some songs from my old band just because this tour is kinda for me before we tour all of the big album promotions and things like that. So it should be really, really fun. … We’re just having a good time, playing songs, hanging out with buds, ya know.

Just based on your time on “American Idol,” it seems like you’re a natural performer. So I bet it’s going to be a good time.

I have a great time on stage. It feels more like I’m talking to people than performing and I like that. As you can probably tell, I’m not the best with regular, normal people speak. So singing is a lot easier because it’s all formatted in a nice, clean way and I can’t ramble in a song.