Interview by Brett Debbald
Photo by Lorenzo Basilio, Staff Photographer
How long have you been performing, and how did you get started in the music industry?
“I started recording music when I was eleven and I’ve never stopped. I think when you find something you love it just clicks. I have enjoyed every moment of my career. Even the years of performing in front of small crowds, late nights in the studio, long drives on tour. It is all a part of the journey.”
Who has been the biggest influence on your career and why?
“I would say that Isaac Meek, the mentor who took me in as a young artist and mentored me in his studio Undercaste, was the biggest influence on my career. He gave me the tools that made me the hardworking artist I am today.”
If you were to compare yourself with a more established artist, who would you choose?
“Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey. We both do what we want creatively and in life no matter what.”
Do you think your music is enjoyed mostly for the beats or the lyrical flow and content?
“I think great beats and meaningful content are both equally important to why people enjoy my music. It’s easy to get into the rhythm and sounds as well as connect to who I am and what I’m talking about.”
What do you hope to do with your musical career?
“Change the world for the better in some way.”
What is your favorite thing about being an artist? What is your favorite thing about preforming?
“My favorite part about being an artist is being able to explore new ideas and projects all the time. It keeps you sharp and young at heart.”
What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
“Not having someone to tell you to stop working. Haha.”
If you could work with any artist, who would you choose and why?
“Pharrell and Chad Hugo. The Neptunes have produced some of the best music of this decade.”
Do you consider any point in your career so far to be your big break? (Maybe “Yours Truly”). How has your life changed since then?
“I think my album ‘Yours Truly’ was certainly the biggest turning point of my career. I worked on it for more than three years and it introduced me to the world and industry.”
Do you have any pre-show or post-show rituals?
“Haha. I tweet “Stage ready.” When I’m playing with the band we do a little group huddle. I hardly ever smoke or drink before performing. And after the show I always go to the merch table to meet my fans.”
What aspect of the music making process excites you the most, and what part discourages you the most?
“I love the magical moments of creation in the studio. It gets spiritual. It’s like church for me in there!”
In your experience so far, what is the best piece of advice that you have followed? And has there been anything you wish you knew coming into the business?
“Macklemore, who I consider a mentor of mine, once told me after a show of mine to never forget to have fun. It was part of a larger conversation about a set I performed with a heavy chip on my shoulder. He said that one of his favorite things about my live show was how much fun I always have on stage and I had looked angry/venomous that night. Every show since then, those words have stuck with me.”
Do you write your own lyrics? Produce your own beats?
“I could never imagine somebody else writing lyrics for me. That is a very personal part of my creative process. Songwriting is my number one thing. As far as production goes, I work with a very close-nit group of producers that I have really good chemistry with. My live band, The Zillas, which is Nima Skeemz and Elan Wright, as well as my DJ, DJ Nphared, and I start songs in the studio from scratch and jam them out until all the lyrics and instruments have been recorded.”
What is the biggest barrier for up and coming artists to break into the industry?
“I would say the biggest barrier that young artists face is all in the mental. People often wait around thinking that something or someone is supposed to come find them and carry them to the promise land. When in reality it’s on us as artists and entertainers to connect with an audience and build that demand on their own. Once you have the following the industry will come to you.”
How important is video to your music? How do you produce your videos?
“Videos are super important. These days when someone wants to look you up the first place they will go is YouTube, they watch your videos and make a decision about how they feel about your music. Thats why your visuals always gotta be on point. A good video teaches a viewer about the artist and makes the song even better. I’m personally very hands on with my videos, I usually write the treatment based on what the song means to me and then team up with a director I believe in and feel will help turn my vision into a reality.”
How do you think the advent of the Internet and new technology has helped your music and new artists in general?
“In the past artists used to have to team up with industry insiders to fund and distribute their content. Now anybody with access to a computer can distribute their art. Through things like Soundcloud and YouTube we can release material for no cost and cut out the middle man that used to control and filter what the public could hear. Radio and TV are still around but as things become more and more catered to what people actually want to hear the more the public will be able to choose what music blows up. I released my first album with zero dollars of marketing. It was my fans that carried that record to the iTunes and Billboard charts.”
How involved are you in the recording, producing, marketing, and other processes needed to make and sell your music?
“I sit in on literally every mixing session I’ve ever had. I write my songs sitting next to my producers while we compose the music. My manager, my graphic designer, and I sit down and work through all the marketing for everything. Its a very small team and everything goes through me. I prefer to keep it that way, because at the end of the day nobody will look out for yourself or see your vision as clearly or be as meticulous as you will be.”
Where does the inspiration for your music come from? Do you sit down and work on songs, or does it come more naturally?
“Life experience is where I draw my inspiration from. If I was just to stay in the studio and go on tour my music would probably start to suffer. So instead I make an effort to live as much of my life as possible. I travel a lot, within and outside of the United States which has a huge influence on my sound. I’ve written and recorded in every situation you can think of. The music just comes to me… through me… its almost out of my power as if I was just a vessel of some sort.”
Is there anything you want to add to what you’ve already said?
“Thank you for the great interview. I hope you have a wonderful time at the show!”
In closing, tell us something about any projects or ideas you have in store, or are already working on?
“Super proud of my last EP called ‘Eyes Open.’ If you haven’t heard it check it out.”