The Sub Pop signee makes his own music, videos, album art, and even press photos. Here, he tells us how and why.
I’ve been a creator for as long as I can remember. I put on plays for my parents in our backyard, I built booby traps in my grandparents’ backyard for fun, and I would spend hours drawing characters from my favorite cartoons. I was never a good student, though. Learning from others in a classroom setting never really worked for me. That led me to start finding creative ways to get extra credit in my classes. In middle school, I would bring VHS tapes of special episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation into health class. In high school, I made videos with my dad’s camcorder for extra credit. For Spanish class, I filmed my friend doing random actions while I gave the Spanish word for them. Another friend and I did a Spanish-language cover of “Tribute” by Tenacious D in front of our class.
Once, I came up with an idea to get extra credit for two classes at once, art and history class. We were learning about pirates in history class, so I decided to make a video about some of the pirates we just learned about. I made puppets of them and wrote scenes for each pirate. I wanted to switch things up a bit, so I thought it would be funny if one of the pirates had a rap song. I was listening to a lot of funny rap music at the time: Beastie Boys, MC Lars, MC Chris, MC Frontalot… a lot of MCs. I wrote a verse that was my take on an MCA verse from the Beastie Boys song “Triple Trouble.” My cousin taught me how to make the beat as I fed him ideas for it. When it was done, I brought the video in and showed it to my class. My friends loved it and found the rap (and the idea of me rapping) to be hilarious. After the success of my first-ever song, I knew I wanted to make more funny raps for my friends.
I got a copy of Fruity Loops and started producing my own beats. I started writing these nerdcore hip-hop-inspired songs for my friends. I decided to draw some pictures for the cover art, which was another fun project. It was never something I thought of sharing with people outside my friend group. My dream was to start a band and make songs like my some of my favorite bands. HIM, Taking Back Sunday, AFI—they all made songs as a band, and all I had was a guitar and Fruity Loops.
One of my favorite nerdy rappers, MC Lars, announced some tour dates, and I was surprised to hear that my town—Jacksonville, Florida—was one of the stops. I found a friend that would go with me, and I got to see my first live show. MC Lars was on stage by himself with his laptop, performing, and that was when I realized I didn’t have to have a band to create music I was proud of. He rapped a lot about being very DIY, but it wasn’t until that moment that I thought about how I could use all of the things I do to start a serious music project that people might care about.
Soon after that show, I started coming up with songs, artwork, and all kinds of ideas for my music. I didn’t know how to sing, but I had recently discovered a lot of anti-folk musicians that were also inexperienced in singing but creating music anyway. I started recording my songs and uploading them to MySpace. I figured that would be the best way to get my music out to as many people as possible without anyone else’s help. I would look at different artists’ profiles and send friend requests to people who left comments on their page, hoping that they might also like my music.
As time went on I continued to grow as a musician, photographer, and graphic designer. I always have a sense of how I want to express myself, so being able to do these things on my own was really helpful. I didn’t have to wait on anyone else or explain my vision to them. After years of releasing my music and slowly getting more people to listen, Ish Butler of Shabazz Palaces and the Sub Pop Records A&R team reached out to me. I ended up signing to Sub Pop, one of my favorite record labels.
When it came time to write and record my Sub Pop debut, I didn’t really question if I would be making it all myself. I couldn’t really imagine changing the process of creating by myself. It was all I knew and seemed to be working so far. I had the cover art and press photos thought out in my mind already, so I made those too, just as I always had. When it came time to make music videos, that was something newer to me. I hadn’t really bothered to make music videos for my songs before, but I was making videos before I ever made music, so I figured I’d give that a try, too. It’s just another way for me to express the ideas I have in my head. I made videos for my songs “No Going Back” and “Why For”; it was pretty much just me with my camera and a tripod.
Being on a record label brought a lot of new responsibilities that I didn’t have before. Not only did I have to create my own album art, but I had to design the packaging for vinyl, CDs, and cassette tapes. I also took my own press photos and designed my own T-shirts. I was essentially my own manager and my own lawyer as well. All of that, along with trying to get things completed by a deadline, became pretty stressful and time-consuming. Finding a balance between doing things myself and working with others wasn’t something I ever had to do.
Through all of this, I’ve learned the benefit of working with others. If I can build the right team of people, I can find people to help make my ideas into reality. I’d like to bring more people into the fold of my creative process in the future. I’d like to work with photographers, artists, a film crew, or anyone that can help bring to life the ideas I have in my head. I’d like to work with producers on my music that might be able to help me get a better guitar tone, or record in a studio that has synthesizers I otherwise wouldn’t have access too. I worked by myself out of necessity before, but now that I have access to people that can help, I want to use that to my advantage. I’ve got a manager, lawyer, and live band now. They all work as an extension of what I want my career and my art to be. Even though I’m not doing everything by myself anymore, I’m still the guiding force behind it all. That part shouldn’t ever change.