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Music fuels the heart and soul of Dylan Gardner

BY MARY HOULIHAN | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Dylan Gardner is that rare 18-year-old who knows exactly what he wants to do for the rest of his life. That’s a lofty statement but the young singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist exudes a confidence and determination well beyond his age. Plus he’s got an interesting debut album out on Warner Bros. Records that’s proof that he’s on his way.

DYLAN GARDNER

When: 7:30 p.m. March 26

Where: Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont

Tickets: $12

Info: (773) 281-4444; beatkitchen.com

“I was born to love nothing else but music,” Gardner says from the road on his way to his first South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, where he was scheduled to take part in several showcases. “In my opinion it’s the greatest thing a human can achieve. I can’t get enough of it; it’ll never grow old.”

Gardner’s new album, “Adventures in Real Time,” features effortless pop songs that absorb plenty of music history but are also accented by Gardner’s original touches. He began writing at 14 and by 17 had a songbook of 100 songs to pick from. He first gained notice last April with his YouTube video “Dylan Broke Up the Beatles,” which featured 15-second snippets of every track on side two of “Abbey Road” (the Beatles officially broke up in April, 1970) played on an array of different instruments.

Gardner is currently touring with a trio — his brother Mark on drums and Nick Jozwiak on bass. They recently opened a week’s worth of shows for “American Idol” winner David Cook, and Gardner is experiencing his first intense hit-the-road tour: “People have this glamorous vision of what life on the road is like for performers but it’s a crock,” he says, laughing. “All we do is sleep, eat and play music. It’s great.”

Listen to his music, and you instantly know that Gardner has a love of the pop music harkening back to the ‘60s. His father, Mark Gardner, is a founding member of the power pop band The Kind, which had some success in Chicago and the Midwest in the ‘80s. After that band dissolved, he formed an oldies cover band, The Legends, and would bring his young son up on stage to play.

Dylan Gardner | PHOTO BY JERI HEIDEN

Dylan Gardner | PHOTO BY JERI HEIDEN

“All those songs just became part of my vernacular,” Gardner notes. “Immediately, they became my favorite music. But even if my dad hadn’t shown me the way I believe I would have found them anyway. Growing up with a combination of record collecting [he’s amassed about 1,000 vinyl albums] and the Internet I was able to have all of yesterday at my fingertips.”

Gardner, a slight teen with a Beatles haircut and immeasurable energy, is a music nerd who grew up in downstate Plainfield, Ill., moved with his family to Arizona in 2010 and now lives in Los Angeles. His father is co-owner of Naperville Music, a company located in the Chicago western suburb, which sells and rents instruments and offers music lessons. It’s here that Gardner first became enamored with the guitar (Jimmy Page is a hero).

“I still remember the instant light bulb moment when I learned my first song on a guitar,” Gardner says, referring to “In Spite of All the Danger” an early Beatles’ song. “I knew three chords and put them together on this Les Paul guitar at the store. I was eight.”

The recording process has long fascinated Gardner. He turned his bedroom into a home studio where he recorded the songs on the new album. Then producer John Dragonetti “added his 50 percent” in his own home studio. “It was really kind of a budget record,” Gardner says, adding, “We got to take our time for our vision to unwind in the process.”

When asked if he worries about a sophomore slump with his next record, Gardner responds with a quick “not going to be a problem.” He already knows it will be “another snapshot of who I am as an artist at a certain point in time. I’m very confident that I will be putting albums out for the rest of my life.”

But there is one question — How old are you? — that keeps hounding him and probably won’t go away for some time.

“After shows people are always asking me that,” Gardner says, laughing. “Actually, it’s one of the top Google searches for my name.”

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.