Exploring Life’s Complexities in Foreign Colour’s Debut Album, Weight of a Rose

Fall has personally always been a relentlessly nostalgic season, pelting a world of memories in your brain synapses…kinda like that particular scented candle that brings you back to a specific space and time. In this case, I think the latest release–and debut album, Weight of a Rose–from Raytheon Dunn’s Foreign Colour embodies that same feeling.
The ten-track album encapsulates a horde of emotions colorfully painting a beautiful but complex picture of life displayed and imagined through the existence of a rose. The rose is the symbolic crux of the album, fulfilling its ordained role of carrying the burden in representing life, joys, passions, struggles, doubts, and love—like Atlas holding the weight of the world…this is Weight of a Rose.
Read my track-by-track take on Foreign Colour‘s debut album along with some insight from the artist himself.

Your Heart, My Flower

Jasmine Rodriguez: Pivotal in setting the tone and mood of the album, “Your Heart, My Flower” exists almost like that time-lapse your bio teacher would play when learning about the genesis of a flower in the plant kingdom. “Your Heart, My Flower” is that flower bud—that love and life ready to bloom.

Foreign Colour: I knew I wanted this song to be the intro. I used to play this song in-between breaks with my old band. I was inspired a bit by The Last Bison after seeing them live for the first time some years back. In the background, there is an older man speaking. That sound comes from a recording we had during one of our jam sessions, and when things got quiet, we heard this old recording coming out of my amp.

My amp was sort of old and not the best, so it picked up a radio frequency, and we thought it best to keep for future use. When I got to this song, I felt like it needed something underneath the music to help give it a dreamy feeling, so I added that recording. The beginning of the song is my old friend David recording himself walking and hitting his tape recorder.

Goodnight (I’m Happy for You)

JR: Moving on from the previous track’s somber melody, “Goodnight (I’m Happy for You)” opens up both in a musical and figurative sense with a bright shimmering sound matched with a colorful array of percussive instruments. The track symbolizes a new beginning, a new life that brings along with it bittersweet emotions. This can best be understood in lyrics ‘I heard the days have changed / It gives us new life to gain / But when your problems they grow / We all know how the story will go.’ Exuding child-like energy, Dunn manages to temper naive expectations while also uncovering all of the possibilities that life brings forth. The flower is in bloom.

FC: This is probably the oldest song on the record, going back almost nine years. There are probably eight versions of this song floating around the internet somewhere. Musically, I wanted this song to be a bit festive/colorful. I was listening to a lot of Washed Out albums, Paracosm and Purple Noon, which had just come out. I would like to add that I don’t know about anyone else, but I get a rush of inspiration when I hear new music from musicians I really enjoy. I just have to create while the energy is there; it’s too powerful not to do so. I remember that feeling riding my bike late at night last summer and hearing the entire song in my head, so when I got home, I got to work, and a few days later, it was done!

Lyrically, this comes from a relationship I was in many years ago where the person I was with was very prideful, which caused many problems in our relationship. Too stubborn, you get in your own way; too stubborn and there will be no room for you to grow. More or less, it’s a song about agreeing to disagree about how to grow a flower.


JR: Like you always do‘ is the core sentiment of Foreign Colour’s debut single, “Sundancer.” Approached similarly to “Goodnight…,” a light and airy nature consume the five-minute track, playing out to a cyclical scheme of rhythm and lyrics, which is kind of genius of Dunn. In an interview earlier this year, Dunn gave some insight on the origins of the song, noting heavy existential questions that would make any nihilist nod their head–or really anyone during 2020. Despite the hardships and growing pains that life presents us, Dunn reminds the listener that at the end of the day, you’re still moving, breathing, and accomplishing things, no matter how big or small. And that is something to dance for.

FC: This was the first song I wrote and completed for this album. Originally, this song was much darker and moody, which is how it usually goes when I write on acoustic, but when I brought it to my studio, I realized I might have something bigger here. The rhythm guitar is a rendition or inspired by my old band’s song, “Sleepy River,” but with more groove to it.

I battled a lot with my friend/mixer & mastered engineer Severin about how the song would end because for some weird reason, I wanted the outro to play for an obnoxious length, and he quickly told me, ‘Don’t do that!’ I just enjoyed how it sounded, and I was proud of it, so I didn’t want it to end in a weird way. Once I got the music right, or the sound I was looking for, I sent it out to some friends to get reactions. After hearing [the song], I felt like this would be the debut single whenever I put out this [album].

This takes inspiration from my wife sort of having a mid-life crisis questioning ourselves as humans and our place in the world. In the midst of lockdown, we talked about a lot of things, what our purpose was, and honestly, the meaning of purpose. After many late-night conversations, it all came down to no matter where she goes in life, I will love her just trying and figuring out what life means to her—to love someone without being possessive of where their future will go.

The Flower

JR: “The Flower” is the comedown from the former high-tempo songs, replacing the youthful, exuberant energy with something more grounded and mature—perhaps signifying that the flower is now fully developed. Reassurance in lyrics ‘I’ll wait for you / The flower as it blooms ‘ paired with the sweet and soft lulling melody assures the person on the other end that all of their worries and aspirations are valid. Because regardless of how things turn out, “the flower” will be cherished for all of its qualities and for simply being. This is the calm before the storm.

FC: This song was written sort of out of the blue but for a good reason. I found out while recording this record that we were going to have a baby. I was extremely emotional about it. My wife suggested this was a perfect song to write about and something for her to listen back on. So I tried to bottle everything going [on] when I first found out [and] let it out over this song.

“The Flower” represents my daughter, Sienna, who I try to [symbolize] [as] a flower. With a taste of the sun and water, she will bloom into a beautiful human being. I wanted the music to be like a lullaby. Also, the piano in the middle of the song is called “Fairytale Lullaby.” I wanted it to be something she could listen back to, or my wife could play for her to help her sleep. It’s funny too because she said it does work! My favorite part of the song would have to be the guitar solo panning left and right during the bridge.

Under Your Spell

JR: If “The Flower” was the calm before the storm, then “Under Your Spell” is the storm. Juxtaposing the last song, “Under Your Spell” introduces a nice change of pace with a gradual build-on instrumental that carries an energy not see before in the album. I imagine if this was played live, the lighting engineer would have a field day. This song positions itself as the rough storms we weather in life and can be interpreted as the turning point in the album.

FC: In my opinion, this marks a turning point in the record where the tone is less lighthearted. This song was supposed to be on my band’s record, but we went different ways before the record could debut. I felt like this song needed to be heard by everyone, so I re-recorded the guitars, added some synths, and there it is. It’s a song I can’t way to play live. I love when bands/artists show off how beautiful and powerful their music is when there are no vocals. It can feel like an organized jam session.

A Swan Song

JR: The title immediately caught my attention for this track. Typically, a swan song is like the final bow that an artist or performer carries out. That being said, it makes me wonder if Dunn had doubts about continuing on with his passion which, in the context of this album, represents the flower slowly wilting away. Whatever the case, Dunn really shines in this stripped-back song with an acoustic accompaniment that emits a hauntingly beautiful aura. It’s my absolute favorite song from the album and one that I wish I would have written.

FC: This one is quite personal. I had the first couple of lines I sang for about three years or so, but I could never find the words to help me finish it. I was writing about something I felt inside of me, but it wasn’t clear for me to distinguish exactly what it was. It wasn’t until things took a turn for the worse that the song found its meaning, and it wasn’t about me anymore.

I found myself in my relationship where my partner lost someone extremely close to them. I have learned in the past to never put yourself in their shoes but just be there for them when it’s hard to do anything else. The emotional battles we fought would take a toll on us, and I did my best to understand it all. Our time together ended before the light could be at the end of tunnel. With this song, I wanted to tell my final feelings—a sort of wishful, ‘Goodbye, I hope you found it in the middle of it all.’


JR: Continuing the darker sound in the latter half, “Hallucinate” instills an almost hypnotizing-like quality with its swaying rhythm and lyrical refrain of ‘I can’t let you go, ‘ signaling a cry of defiance against the once resigned fate drawn in “A Swan Song.”

FC: This was the last one I wrote but also the fastest. I think I finished 90% of it in a day; the lyrics came a couple of days later. This song was fun to play and write. I had this bass line stuck in my head after listening to Fontaines D.C.’s song, “Televised Mind.” That song gets me excited! The drums came naturally after [listening] [to] that!

I listened to an interview of Kevin Parker of Tame Impala saying, ‘You know you got something special when you can just play the drums and bass line on loop forever.’ That’s what I did. The crazy thing is I’m still trying to decipher the meaning of this song–it doesn’t have a huge meaning, but is something you will just have to determine.


JR: The curveball of the album! I did not expect to hear a “jazz meets samba fusion,” but here we are. It’s the way Dunn sings ‘ How I love to, to adore you / Feel my love now, all around you‘ that makes you feel like you’ve been enveloped in the warmest embrace. Coupled with the comforting lyrics, the gentle presence of “Adorn” brings respite from the prior sullen soundscapes. The flower has been revived.

FC: This song probably took the longest for many reasons. Growing up, my mom did her best to expose us to different kinds of music [that] I really gravitate[d] towards, [like] blues, jazz, and R&B [with] artists like The Isley Brothers, John Legend, and (most of all) Sade. I’m a huge fan of Sade’s work and sound. This was originally called “Whisper,” which is an entire song itself, but out of curiosity, I changed the BPM of the drums to something faster, and all of a sudden, we had something different, a brand new feel.

There are so many elements in this song that it was a little complicated for me to mix myself [in], but I knew I struck gold with how this song could potentially be. What was also cool about the song was that I felt like I was the producer because I sent this song to a friend of mine who plays trumpet, and I knew it was the perfect element to add to the song; without it, the song was lackluster.

I think he sent me about four takes of the song. [From] [there], I picked and stitched parts together that I liked, placing them in different places throughout the song. It was a tedious process, but it needed to be done! I always knew this song would be a [feature] debut, but who would it be and would they help elevate the song? I would sometimes hear my friend Ciara singing on her Instagram stories (before she deleted her IG), and I thought she would be perfect for the job. We sat down and had long talks about the song and approach I needed from her to make this song something special. I think after two sessions, she nailed it and for that I’m eternally grateful for her giving this song so much life. People are really surprised with this song because there’s nothing like it anywhere else on the record.

The Doppelganger

JR: Jolting the listener out of the previous dreamy-like reverie is the unsettling “The Doppelganger.” Serving as a reality check, “The Doppelganger” delivers a foreboding warning to establish who you are before someone else does it for you. It’s a reinforcing track about taking back control against a world that isn’t always so kind and forgiving.

FC: This song really came out of nowhere. I don’t remember exactly how I got started on this song; if I remember correctly, I was listening to a lot of In Rainbows by Radiohead, and I wanted to make something weird and progressive. At the beginning of the song, my guitar is making a crazy feedback kind of sound which was totally done on accident. I was getting flustered with how the recording process was going, and I just started hitting the string hard and randomly. When I listened back, I said, ‘I think this could work for some odd reason.’ I tried to stray away from playing chords and lean on just playing leads throughout the song, which I think I nailed down during the chorus. I was focused on the delivery of my vocals, wanting it to be as smooth as possible like I was talking on a phone.

Another big influence on this song was HRVRD. They have a demo floating around the internet that inspired a bit of lyrics in this chorus. This song [came] to me after reading this book called Supermarket. It was a short but twisted book about a man losing his own mind in the effort to be successful. After reading it, I thought about myself in this man’s situation and how I would be if the person I feared the most was myself.

Sound of Your Dreams

JR: Closing out the album is the mystical, “Sound of Your Dreams.” Despite the track’s tranquility, it doesn’t pose itself as the deus ex machina. Instead, there’s an air of unfinished business strewn throughout that screams “to be continued.” Maybe it’s because of the song’s short length, or maybe it’s because the song just fades out with no clear ending. In any case, the closer is the epitome of life being a mixed bag. The ups and downs…lessons learned and personal victories earned…all make life worth living.

FC: I was attempting to build this song into something very whimsical, something orchestrated to where you could feel the world around you while listening to it. However, I think I was towards the end of the record feeling the need to just surrender what I have and really take the time to make something like that on the next go around. I feel like you need to look at each instrument like it’s its own character, and you need to find where they belong in your story. I have always liked the phrase “Sound of Your Dreams.” It’s something that I carried with me in several different projects, so I thought it was time to give it a home. Besides, I did feel like it sounded like a dream.

Featured image artwork courtesy of Severin Di Croce; edited by Raytheon Dunn.

Thank you to Raytheon Dunn of Foreign Colour for providing a behind-the-scenes look into each song. Weight of a Rose is out now on all streaming platforms!


The Journey to Finding Peace in Shaolinn’s Blackstone

Tap into your inner self tonight with the help of rising VA artist, Shaolinn as she premieres the latest in her soul-gripping musical collection with the “Blackstone” EP, out now on all streaming platforms. The show, specially curated by Shaolinn herself, will be held at the Bunker Brewpub in Virginia Beach, with doors opening at 8 PM and the show starting at 9 PM. Other featured artists joining the night’s celebratory events include Gee Litt, Boris the Lucid, Brooklynn, Tson, Khi Infinite, and DJ J-Rok. Read Sumone’s short and sweet conversation with the Heir Wave artist below.

Your release show for your upcoming EP, “Blackstone,” is [tomorrow]. What are you most excited about for the show since it will be the first show you’ve personally curated?

Just seeing all the talent and working with a band for the first time.

What were your thoughts working through the curation process when developing the lineup for the show?

Seeing my favorite local artists peeps and performing with a band for the first time.

Did you find growing up in the 757 to be influential in your creative process or musical style?

Yes, in the process, but not in a musical way. A lot of the artists I listen to aren’t from the 757, but more from the world. I do work with a lot of talented people from the 757, though.

How did you find time to record music prior to being signed to Heir Wave? Was it difficult recording during those times, or do you look back at those moments more fondly?

It wasn’t really different; because to get there, I already had a process in place. It can get expensive, but I had supportive people around me to lend a hand.

When do you feel you create your best work?

On nights when my mind is clear, and I can really dive into the music.

In “Heavy Heart,” you repeatedly mention “being free,” “letting go,” and “finding peace.” What are some words of encouragement that you or someone else provided that ultimately led you to let go and find your peace amidst your self-love journey?

I’m actually still finding my peace. It’s something we all need to work towards. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps a lot.

In a previous conversation, you stated that you did not think people would like “Heavy Heart” “but surprisingly listeners did.” Has your mindset changed when it comes to writing or releasing music after seeing a lot of people gravitate towards your music?

Yes. I didn’t think people wanted such a “talky” song. It’s not a catchy melodic song. I didn’t think people would care about me talking about my life. When I perform it, so many people come up to me and tell me how they relate to it. After that, it made me feel more encouraged to be open about my personal life.

On your IG live minutes prior to the visual premiere of “Vivian,” you expressed surreal excitement. What message did you hope fans would receive when watching the video?

The perspective of a drug addict and how hard it is for someone going through the struggles of it all. The harm isn’t malicious. It’s hard on everyone.

What are you most proud of thus far in your career?

I’m just proud to be here and have this opportunity and the inspiration from all of the people around me. I just want to keep going and, along with myself, make everyone around proud of me.

What do you hope listeners get from your music?

Anything. Anything that they feel. I speak my story, and I hope it makes people tap into their own story and bring something special out of them.

Featured image by: @playknows

Thank you to Shaolinn and her team for the interview, you can get your show tix here. “Blackstone” is out now on all streaming platforms.

Redefining the Framework of tyler donavan

Popscure’s Jasmine phoned in Virginia Beach rapper tyler donavan on a rainy, Sunday afternoon to talk about his predestined beginnings as a musician, his thoughts on Virginia’s future in music, and redefining who he is as a person and musician through his latest release, “inhale.”

“What you see is getting framed.” Tyler Wright—better known as tyler donavan—prides himself on his “open book” level of transparency. Our first conversation was scheduled for a late Friday afternoon/evening, a few hours into the start of the weekend. But a couple hours before the agreed time, tyler had asked to reschedule, citing a bad mental health day. This level of transparency shouldn’t come as a surprise to those that know, or are familiar with, tyler donavan’s work and personal testimony. Following major spinal surgery in 2018, tyler donavan has done nothing but stay true to his word. From documenting his first steps without a walker to expressing the ebb and flow of doubts that surround his psyche of who he is as an artist and a human being, tyler donavan continues to maintain that what you see is what you get—“what you see is getting framed.”

Although Georgia-born, the Virginia Beach, Virginia artist has always held that special, particular energy that is so unique to VA. Coming from a family of music, tyler donavan’s place in music always seemed like a given. His mom, an Airforce veteran, was a member of The Airmen of Note, a jazz band that would travel to different bases worldwide to perform as well as being a member of the touring group, Tops In Blue. It was there that tyler’s parents would eventually meet. But tyler didn’t delve fully into music until middle school. “In middle school, I was bullied a lot. It was like 02-03, so 8 Mile had just come out, and everybody thought they could battle, you know…typical like lunchroom, locker room stuff…” he says. “So to get into creating music, it was just out of curiosity, but it was more so like…well, I wouldn’t say curiosity…[it] [was] more of a defense thing . . . I was just kinda there, you know? I wasn’t really participating.” Despite his introverted nature, tyler got sucked in—the dormant energy was ready to erupt at the slightest hint of a trigger, and that trigger so happened to be Linkin Park.

“Linkin Park had a song called “H! Vltg3 [“High Voltage”]. It was a demo on Hybrid Theory? Or I think it was like a bonus track on Hybrid Theory, like in an international CD or something like that. But when they did Reanimations, there was a remix, and Mike’s [Shinoda] first verse…I can still quote that verse to this day. So I did that, and they were like, ‘Oooooooh!’ cause they were like…he [Mike Shinoda] was rapping like big words talking about double helixes and stuff [laughs]. I was like 11; I don’t know what a double helix is?? Like?? [laughs]” From that point on, tyler began rap battling and eventually the bullying stopped, and in its wake came the shaping of his identity.

With this newfound discovery of rap [tyler wasn’t introduced to rap until around 10 or 11 years old], he would begin crafting his art…sharpening the pen…refining the mind. Over time, the young artist would release works like debut album, Nimbus, in 2016, along with singles ovation and talkin 2017. tyler donavan [at the time tyler wrighteous] was beginning to find his identity as not only an artist but as a person. Then came 2018. As many can attest, life has a funny way of working out, and in the midst of figuring out who he was, that process was cut short…tyler donavan had to start over. Who was he? Who was the person known as tyler wrighteous? As .donavan.? As tyler donavan? As Tyler Wright?

How did you take that first step into writing and rapping?

As far as writing my own stuff, I just started with random freestyles over beats that I liked. And I was just rapping and talking shit. It was just rapper talk…just trying to sound cool in a way no one heard before. I think the first beat I ever wrote over was Dumb It Down by Lupe Fiasco, if I remember right…cause Lupe is my favorite rapper—ever. And so, I remember I had it on like this little MP3 player [laughs]. I went around to everybody that I knew with headphones, and I was like, ‘Listen to this! Listen to this! What do you think???’ Mix was horrible…I sounded super monotone…I wish I still had the verse, I’d send it to you. It was [big sigh]…but you know, for the people that actually listened to it and weren’t annoyed by me, um…they were like, ‘Okay, you have something…like the talent is there, but you’re not talking about anything.’

. . . The rest of high-school, I was just trying to get my pen right. I was just trying to sharpen the sword, studying, listening to a lot of Lupe…a lot of Jay-Z…a lot of [A] Tribe Called Quest…a lot of, just you know…stuff that I gravitated to. Then I got the Internet and you know, fairshare[music] and Limewire…so, you can get everything under the sun. So I just…I just kinda dove in and when I started realizing that I can actually write about myself, write about like…what I’m feeling and not just how cool I am, or how much of a better rapper I am than you . . . it was Kanye’s second album, Late Registration. That album is a masterpiece to me. It covered so many topics, and he produced damn near everything. It’s just…it’s super influential. I wouldn’t be…I don’t think I would be the writer, or the producer, or the performer that I am if not for that particular album more than any other album. And it came out right before my birthday, so it was like, ‘Okay cool. This is cool. I’m supposed to listen to this.’

For those that don’t know, you are from Stafford, VA, but moved to the 757 after college. What is so different about the 757 compared to the rest of Virginia?

I love the 757 so much…just the energy here that like…from when I first came down here for school, I just…I don’t know. Where I was from, especially on the creative side, there weren’t venues that hosted local artists. Like there was nothing. We had coffee shops…that was it. So, to be able to see venues like 37th and Zen or the Iguana (or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves now) small venues like that, to the Norva and the amphitheater [Veterans United Home Loans Ampitheater] where local artists are performing…um, I don’t know. Like Work Release and Toast…just all these different places, these in-the-wall type places where some of the best music can be heard…I love live music, that’s my thing. That’s my thing. That’s what gets me every time. 

So, there was just more opportunity for that down here, not just as a performer but as a fan…to someone who just loved listening to music…some of my favorite concerts were here. I saw Mac Miller, Pac Div, and Casey Veggies at the Norva…that was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. I saw Portugal. The Man at the Norva and that was one of the best nights of my freakin’ life. Like, that night was incredible. I have a love for the Norva. I’ve put it in a song where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever do the Norva,’ but that’s…I was supposed to do the Norva, but things happened, and I couldn’t do the show. But I don’t know…there’s just something down here. I personally don’t know if I can tailor it to a certain person that chartered that energy, but I will give credit to RBLE [Rebel-E]. [From] the RBLE team to like Gabe Niles to Artel Carter…they were a part of it in some way, shape, or form. Whether they were on the bill or Gabe’s DJ’ing…somehow, someway RBLE was a part of it. Just seeing those different opportunities . . . seeing the different genres…like, you can really be yourself here. There’s a platform for it. There’s a place for it. There’s an audience for it. People accept you for it.

To go off that, the 757…there’s so much diversity beyond people, music, all of the niches that you can think of…why do you think Virginia is not included in the conversation of other music hubs like New York, LA, Nashville? Do you have a theory behind that?

I was just talking to somebody about this. [Long pause] I have…I don’t know if it would necessarily be a theory because it’s based [on] observation…and I don’t wanna…I wanna make sure that this doesn’t sound like I’m complaining, or from a space of entitlement because that’s not it at all. But the first that make it out of here, 9 times out of 10, don’t mention us. They don’t mention what’s going on back home, or if they do, it’s in passing. Or, up until recently with you know, Pharrell doing Something In The Water—which is incredible—and now, with Pusha T starting Heir Wave Music Group—which is also incredible—but, we’ve recently had big artists come out of here. And again, they don’t owe that to us. You know? There are certain artists from here that, I guess, hold a grudge or something because the spotlight isn’t being shown on us based off of what someone else has already done. And you can see that desperation, for lack of a better word, in their work. Artists are trying really, really hard to put on for Virginia and make it like an Atlanta, or a Chicago, or…I truly believe that Virginia can be one of those mid-tier scenes. The top three scenes right now will always be LA, New York, and Atlanta. And Nashville. Those are the top four; I could be missing one. But like, a lot of regions are having incredible runs. Chicago had an incredible run from like 2010 to I’d say…well even to now! Philadelphia had a good run with artists…Florida…even like Louisville, Kentucky…Portland…Seattle…Austin. So, Virginia can be in that conversation. 

And I think…[sigh] I’m trying to find the right way to word it, but I think there’s just a sense of entitlement that we expect these bigger artists to come back when they never may have said they were going to come back. When Pusha announced the record label, the first thing I saw was them hating on the first person that he signed. And it’s like, ‘Yo, what do we want?? Like is it just cause it’s not us??’ Like Pusha T may never hear my music ever in life. I’m not gonna be mad that he doesn’t pick me for his label just because I feel like I make the best music in the world and I’m from here? People don’t want to put on for Virginia like they say they do, they just want to be the face of it. And when they’re not the face of it, whoever is the face of it is a hater, or they don’t put on for home . . . And I just never subscribed to that sort of—again, for lack of a better word—victim mentality.

It’s almost like a double-edged sword, right? Like the Virginia pride of…like you said, putting on for Virginia, but then at the same time are you really putting on for Virginia?

Right. And I have that pride, and I wasn’t even born here…I was born in Georgia. I moved here when I was five, so I pretty much grew up here. And I love it here. And there’s so much history here. We always go to the Pharrell conversation—let me say The Neptunes conversation, I’m not gonna forget Chad Hugo—so, we had The Neptunes conversation and the whole Star Trak empire. We had Clipse who was rapping about nothing but drugs…and making it work! Then you have Pharrell rapping, then you have N.E.R.D., you have freakin’ Kenna, all in that…Kelis—she isn’t from here—but all in that same camp…and it was based out of Virginia. Like that was incredible. And then you have Timb [Timbaland], and you have Missy [Elliott] who were genre-bending since they kinda started. “Get Your Freak On” could come out today, and it still sounds like, ‘Oh, this sounds like this was made 10 years in the future!’ So, the history is there.

And we’ve had our second wave—for lack of better words—of you know, some of the biggest records that have come out of here. DRAM owned two summers with two records like “Cha Cha” and “Broccoli.” He owned the summer. And you know, Masego…he’s like part of this new wave where like jazz is coming back to the forefront, and I think that he played a major part in that. So it’s like…we’re here, but I think that the reason we’re not in the conversation is because we either aren’t getting the look, or we are getting the look and dropping the ball. And so, I’m grateful that artists are focusing more on being the best artist that [they] can be instead of trying to put on for something. Because if you focus on just making the best art, and multiple people are doing that at the same time—at a high level—the conversations will come. 

But right now, it’s just been kinda like one after the other. One person pops from here, or six months later, somebody else pops from here…instead of creating like a real hub and working with venue owners and working with local brands and really creating the network here as opposed to everyone kinda doing their own thing. I think that’s where we can start getting into the conversation. But who knows? Unfortunately, I can’t just get everybody on the same page, at the same time…and it’s not my job to. I just wanna make the music I wanna make. I wanna connect with as many people as I can because there is a lot of fucking talent here, and it deserves the light.

So basically, we are missing that unity, collective aspect?

Yes, and that’s what makes Richmond so dope. Because Richmond has that. The Richmond hip-hop scene…there is a unity there. And that’s why you have legends like Nickelus FMichael Millionsthe Radio B. And then you have people like the Mutant AcademyFly Anakin, who I’ve known since around 2012. We did shows together…I think we did songs together. And now he’s working with fucking Madlib, and it’s like, ‘Yoooo!’ Like there’s definitely more of a unity there. You can see it in events, and you can see it when people drop projects, they’re actually supporting and pushing it and local radio playing the records and like…there’s definitely a sense of unity. And I’d love to see that more in other regions of the state. 

Since we are speaking about Virginia, I noticed you were included in the Commonwealth Sounds, “Welcome to Virginia,” playlist. How does it feel to be included amongst obviously some very big names in Virginia music?

So remember when I said that I like…when I first moved down here my first introduction was RBLE? It was RBLE and Commonwealth. Those were the first two things that I saw where I was like, ‘Okay. This is what’s cool. This is culture (even though that word is played out). This is the…these are the top dogs that are creating and making dope stuff.’ I wasn’t expecting it at all. I think…who sent it to me? Fake UzumiShaded Zu! He sent that to me. He just sent me the playlist and was like, ‘YO! You’re on this!’ and I was like, ‘Bruh, stop playing with me!’ I didn’t think that anyone at Commonwealth knew who I was. I love them. I love how they present themselves. Their branding is incredible. I think the history they have is incredible. I will always love Commonwealth. So, to be included in that playlist, and to see so many people that I knew included…it was really dope cause it gave me that hope that, ‘Oh! Okay…maybe the seeds are being planted for that unity that we were talking about.’ And to have that platform…freakin’ Commonwealth! To have that platform shine a light…it’s incredible. There are different tiers where it’s like the top tier right now, for me, as far as recognition is playing Something In The Water. And then Heir Wave Music Group is right under that, and then I think Commonwealth is probably on the same level just because of their longevity. I don’t know much about streetwear brands and stuff like that, but I view Commonwealth as having almost that same respect as like a Supreme. Commonwealth is like Supreme, where it’s like high-level quality, totally respected…they just make dope shit. So the fact that they included that song [“The Lamb”] is incredible…a big honor.

I know we touched on this a little bit. Do you think there is a new movement stirring in Virginia music?

Yeah, I do, because I think people’s mentalities are starting to change. I think that people are just focusing on the art. Some of the best music in Virginia right now is coming out of Suffolk. And no one ever talks about Suffolk! There’s a group, IllDaze, that’s incre—like from music to how they present their music to visuals…they’re unbelievable. BreezePark is another great collective. And then what’s dope is that all of the members in those collectives do their own individual stuff, and they’re top-notch in that. Not just music but production…photography…like oh my God! And it’s just incredible, and they never get brought up. But they’re doing numbers! They’re doing better numbers than us by far. So it just goes back to if you just focus on the quality of the work, then that movement will come. Yeah, I think…give it about five years. If we can have just five solid years of work and connecting and building something, I think that we can be in that conversation for sure. And not just like a “flash in the pan” either. I want us to have a run. And I think that we will…I think that we will. Whether I’m a part of it or not, I think we will.

Take us back to the early days of your career. You had a couple of name changes – tyler wrighteous and .donavan. What inspired your artist name to what it is now?

I got tired of changing it, and I just wanted to use my regular name. I was originally wrighteous…just wrighteous. I got that from…honestly, from Finding Nemo. I was sitting with my friends in Stafford, and we were happily watching Finding Nemo. I think one of my friends’ nephews was actually watching, and the scene with Crush, ‘Righteous! Righteous!’ [laughs] came up, and we were laughing, and I think it was my best friend Jeff, who was jokingly like, ‘Hey, that should be your rap name.’ And then like a week later, I like sent him a song and the artist title was “wrighteous.” And then I added “tyler” to it because “wrighteous” sounded too general, and I wanted it to be a little more personal with me. And then the name “wrighteous” itself got kinda corny because I kept getting the assumption that I was like a gospel rapper…and I’m not. And that is interesting all in of itself because I have definitely gotten closer in my faith and it’s grown back…and it feels awesome now, but back then it wasn’t there, and I didn’t want to give out that assumption that it was. 

So then I switched to “.donavan.” cause that was my middle name, and I share that with my father. And I wanted to honor him because he’s been fighting brain cancer for the past few years, and…I don’t know. We didn’t have the best relationship growing up just because he was always working, and he was strict…and I’m very sensitive so that usually doesn’t mix [laughs]. But the older that I got, a lot of the things that he was trying to tell me and get into my head…it made more sense the older that I got. It was kinda a two-way thing where it’s like, ‘Okay…I feel more connected to my dad now more than anything,’ and when I write I’m…I try to…I’m usually very inspirational and try to be motivational and uplifting and positive. I kinda got that from him in a way cause it was like, ‘Hey, life is gonna suck sometimes, but we gotta keep pushing. And we gotta keep moving. And we gotta keep going,’ and that energy I got from him. So, I changed my name to “.donavan.” And then I added the dots just cause I was having an identity crisis…and then people kept spelling my dag-on name wrong throughout the whole time! Like “wrighteous” they would spell wrong. “tyler wrighteous” they would spell wrong. My biggest show to date—I opened for IDK in D.C., and the guy who did the poster knows me…he did my first freakin’ album cover, and he still spelled my name wrong! And I’m just like, ‘Ughhhh! Like how can you like?’ Even now, with it being “tyler donavan,” they still spell it wrong. They spell it “dono-,” that’s how my dad spells his name…mine is “dona-.” And there is a Tyler Donovan that’s spelled “dono-,’ and he’s like a kid from Hawaii that plays like acoustic stuff—he’s not bad!

Yeah, I’ve come across him! [laughs]

Yeah, you know what I mean!? He’s not bad [laughs]. We should do a song together! Yeah, to get to “tyler donavan” and to kinda stick with it…I’m not gonna lie and say that Kendrick [Lamar] wasn’t a major inspiration in that. Where it’s like your first and middle name. It’s more of a personal thing, it’s more, ‘You’re gonna feel what I’m saying. I want you to really feel and relate to what I’m saying.’ That definitely played a factor in it, and I don’t know…I like it. I like it better. I think it’s a good representation of where I’m at. I’m not changing it again, I’m kind of stuck with it [laughs].

I like it too.

Yeah, it’s definitely my favorite out of the four different things that I’ve had. 

Yeah, it’s kinda like “what you see is what you get.”

What you see is getting framed. Yeah, that’s a line that I have off of the “breathe” EP I put out last year. What you see is getting framed. I’m never gonna be here selling this image to you. I am not selling a gimmick. I am a typical…like I am your “everyday rapper.” I’m not trying to be a superstar. I’m not trying to act like a superstar. That’s just not me, and it’s never really been me. I’m just a regular guy that has feelings just like you; this is how I get them out. I’m blessed that even one person connects with it in any way…the fact that there are more than that is just a blessing on top of it. I figured why have a fancy name? I can have the name my mama gave me, and it’ll be good enough. If it’s good enough for my mama, it’s good enough for me.

You had a, and correct me if I’m wrong, debut album in 2016 titled gasping for air. Is that correct?

Um, Nimbus. gasping for air is the album I’m working on now. But yes, I had an album in 2016. It was pretty…mixing aside, it was a pretty solid album. I produced every song. It had Sunny Moonshine on it, and Masego played sax on it. Yeah, that came out four years ago.

In what ways do you think your music has evolved?

That’s a good question. I think that the biggest difference is…I would say the level of transparency. I’ve always been an “open book,” especially when it comes to writing, but if I listen to Nimbus front to back, and if I listen to the songs I have for gasping for air front to back…I think there is a level of maturity I didn’t have before. Nimbus was like high school to me, if I had to put it in a maturity standpoint…which is kinda weird since I made it when I was like 25. But it felt like high school to me, and I think that with the songs I’m working on now . . . more life has been lived. You know? There’s just been more experienced, and I’ve grown up and…I think it’s displayed—not in just the music, but in the writing and production. I’m a little more seasoned now. 

When it comes to writing music, are you more of a “thinker” relying on music theory more, or are you more of a “feeler,” what feels right?

Definitely more of what feels right. I have a basic understanding of music theory, and in certain instances, it does make sense, [so] I do utilize it. But for me, it’s just what feels right. One of the biggest challenges I had initially [pause] I didn’t have a…like a sound. I didn’t have a signature sound. We talked earlier about how Kanye had the sped-up sample…Pharrell had the almost like video game [sound] like if he’s just producing by himself, it’s almost like a video game type of sound, and Chad is more super chord heavy, almost jazz-based. Everybody has a sound, and I didn’t have that. I still don’t think I do. On the flip side, it’s so freeing because now, more than ever, genres are kinda out the window. And you can do whatever you wanna make, and I’m influenced by sooo many different sounds that like [pause] I was told that I was hindering myself by not allowing  it [the process of creating without a genre in mind] to happen. 

I know we are focusing on the EP right now, but the main focus that I hope you hear from the album [gasping for air] and the two EPs [“inhale” and “exhale”], production wise, is like the energy of a mixtape. One of my favorite things about rap mixtapes was…people were just getting on whatever beat they liked. They didn’t care. There was no cohesion behind it; there was no structure behind it. Like, ‘I like that beat. I’m gonna rap on it. This is what I’m gonna say. Alright, let’s go.’ I love the range of that. One of my favorite mixtapes ever is [laughs] by this guy out of Canada named Colin Munroe. He had a mixtape in 2009, called “Colin Munroe – Unsung Hero.” And he had like indie-pop songs, indie rock songs on there…like cloud rap type beats on there, he [even] had a song with Drake on there. And then he had a whole song where he was just singing over a Dilla beat. I’d never heard singing like that over a Dilla beat. Like the only singing I’d ever heard over J Dilla was Erykah Badu. This may not be the best comparison, but it was like if you took the singer from Death Cab for Cutie and put them over a Dilla beat. It’s the dopest thing in the world! I love the experiment of, ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to sound…people would expect you to be over this.’ At first, I was like, ‘Aw, I don’t have a signature sound,’ but now it’s like I don’t care! I wanna have songs where I’m just singing. I wanna have songs where I just rap my ass off. Because I know that I can do both at least somewhat well, enough that I enjoy. So, it’s just what feels right, and it’s always been that way. I’m really grateful for that cause when I start thinking, it feels too processed. Music is like time capsules to me. I’m not gonna force something if I don’t feel it.

You have a very unique way of vocal delivery that keeps the listener hanging on to every word you say…even what hasn’t been said. Was that always something that came naturally to you, or did you deliberately hone that skill? Or were you even aware?

That is definitely something that has always been stated. I don’t know where it came from, to be honest with you. I think it was just natural. But I do have to give credit to being in choir and doing theatre in high school, where voice inflection is really important. You can say the same sentence three different ways, and each way can have a completely different meaning depending on how you present it. I always try to keep that in mind. I listen to a lot of Outkast, where they flip their voices in different ways. That Colin Munroe mixtape I mentioned before, he used pitch bending and manipulation…Kendrick does the same thing, and Mac [Miller] did it a little bit as well. I like the idea of trying to make something that you’ve never heard before.

You’ve been very transparent about your major spinal surgery in 2018. Since then, you’ve released your mini-mixtape, “.Respiration.” and EP, “breathe.” How much of that transparency and writing has been therapeutic for you?

I mean [pause] I’ll put it this way. I went to therapy, and I wrote music…I got more out of writing music than going to therapy. I’m not saying not go to therapy. I need to go back! There are certain things that I have to talk about that I can’t do in a song. So, I need to go back to therapy, but at that particular time, I was getting more out of writing than talking to somebody for an hour. I felt more relieved, especially with..and I’m glad you brought up “.Respiration.” cause no one has talked to me about it. Those were the first things that I wrote after getting out of the surgery. Honestly, there wasn’t a lot besides the “I Got Up” remix over the Nickelus F beat. The other two songs on that project were really just me checking to make sure if like, ‘Okay, does the pen still work?’ When I saw that it did, I was like, ‘Okay. We can get back to work.’ That gave me the energy to make “breathe,” and then the whole idea of gasping for air came up, and it all lined up from there. Those remixes were really important because it allowed me to kinda shake off the rust and get back in and see where I’m at. It let me know that I didn’t fall off, and that was my biggest fear. I thought that I was going to fall off as a writer and, if anything, I got better. I’m really grateful for that project.

It’s interesting that you say that because when I listened to “.Respiration.” I noticed that there was a darker, almost rougher sound compared to “breathe.” How much of that juxtaposition reflected your feelings about 2018 and your surgery?

Hmm…dark is a good word. To be honest with you, I haven’t been the biggest fan of myself for the past five to seven years. Music was the only thing that I kinda had that I was like, ‘Okay. I’m good at this. This is something that doesn’t define me, but like…you know, it’s something that I’m good at, and it’s something that I love to do.’ And [pause] a major part of that was performing and being in front of people and being honest with myself and being honest with people. I got a lot out of that. When the surgery happened, I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to perform again. I was always going to make music. If my voice worked, I was always going to make music. But to be able to perform that music…I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do that again. So, I kinda had a chip on my shoulder…and I always rapped with a chip on my shoulder cause I always felt like the odd one out. And I still do…and that’s okay. 

Writing for “.Respiration.,” compared to “breathe,” “inhale,” the next EP “exhale,” and gasping for air…all of those projects are to inspire, to encourage, to motivate, and it’s just a testimony, right? With “.Respiration.” I just wanted to rap. I just wanted to get my shit off and get rid of that chip on my shoulder to prove that, ‘Yeah…I broke my back, but don’t get it twisted for one second. I’m still nice with this. And I’ve been nice with this for a minute.’ Do I feel I get that recognition? I don’t…at least not vocally. 

With the exception of Pusha T, the best rapper in Virginia, to me, is Nickelus F. Pusha T and Nickelus F are the two…and Fly Anakin. Those are the top three best rappers in Virginia, in my opinion. Pusha doesn’t know who I am, that’s cool. I’ve known Anakin for years, that’s cool. Nickelus F is my hero…like he’s one of my heroes when it comes to rap. Bar for bar, I’d put him up against anybody. After I did “.Respiration.,” I did a show in Richmond…and Anakin was actually on the bill now that I remember! And Nick was there! I didn’t expect him to be there, but he was there. And I was doing that remix to open the set. He had already heard it, and he had shown love to me before, which was crazy in itself. He walked up to me and was like, ‘Yo, I heard the remix. You killed that.’ I was like, ‘Oh. My. God.’ I was still on a walker…I was still using the walker. And I was like, ‘Yo, thank you!’ After the set and show, following when “.Respiration.” came out, [he] came up to me again and said, and I quote, ‘Yo. You can rap your ass off.’ That is all the validation that I needed. I stopped caring about trying to be the best rapper. Do I still have that ego? Of course I do! Do I still think that I’m top 10 in the state? Yes! And I’m NOT 10. And I’m NOT 9. I truly believe that when I have a pen in my hand, and I’m focused, I am one of the best rappers that this state has to offer. I truly believe that. And I will continue to believe that until the day that I die.

Photo Credit: @kliftxn

So, “.Respiration.,” I just had that chip on my shoulder like, ‘Don’t forget for one second…I’m gonna focus on songwriting, and I’m gonna focus on trying to evoke emotion…but don’t get it twisted for one second. I’m still really good at this.’ And the fuel I had for that was to get people to leave me alone and respect me. I wanted that respect, and I still want that respect…but it’s not as much the fuel anymore. I’m not worried about respect from rappers that I may never meet anymore. Again, one of my favorite rappers gave me props…more than once. I’m good. So, I guess the perspective changed from that. And who knows? I may do another one day. I’ll probably do another “.Respiration.” that may become a mixtape series where I’m like, ‘I wanna rap for 15 minutes. Alright, cool.

The first installment of your upcoming series, “inhale,” is coming out soon. What, if any, of the songs do you feel tested your songwriting ability, or became a song you were surprised to write?

Oh the last song for sure, “take the lead.” That was a completely different song. Like production wise, it was a completely different song before the version that you heard. You actually heard the original one cause you were at the Charlie’s show!

Oh, forreal??

Yeah, you were at the Charlie’s show, and during the set there was a song where I just didn’t perform, and I just played it. That was the original version of “take the lead.” That was definitely the most challenging one because…I mean if there’s gonna be any song that I have so far, that’s been released, or that’s gonna be released, that I think could be like on radio or be mainstream…it’s that one for sure! From the structure and from the outside looking in, it kinda reminds me of “3005.” It reminds me of that sort of energy where the production feels really good, but if you really look at the lyrics, it’s talking about this heavy stuff. That whole song is about a toxic relationship that I was in. That was definitely the most challenging structure wise, and then writing because it was about something really personal. 

Where does 2020’s “inhale” find you mentally compared to 2019’s “breathe?”

With “breathe,” I was living in it while I was writing and recording it. It was very in the moment like, ‘This is just where I’m at right now…a lot of shit has happened…this is where I’m at.’ But the series that I’m doing now, it’s…before it was gasping for air, I called it a testimony. And I’m just viewing the smaller EPs as chapters of that. So, it’s more of a reflection now with these projects as opposed to “breathe” where I was actually still in it. The focus behind the first chapter, “inhale,” is living in the good. That’s why the songs are kinda more chill, more laidback…except for “take the lead.” It’s more relaxed and more of a good vibe, right? And that’s kinda where the story starts. The next project will probably get a little deeper…a little darker. Then the full album will be like the full piece…the final piece of it. I like trilogies. I’m weird. My favorite number is nine…threes and nines. I rock with trilogies, they’re dope.

I feel that! I love a good concept. 

Me too! And I’ll be honest with you, I was worried about doing it this way, and I was worried about this release strategy because I haven’t seen a rapper do it. But when I saw…it was originally inspired by John Mayer because he did it with…not his last album, but the album before. But more directly, what Hayley did…what Hayley Williams did!

Oh, Petals For Armor!

Exactly! I think, from a business standpoint, it was freakin’ smart. Cause it’s like…Hayley Williams is probably…I would say one of the best live voices I’ve ever…one of the best voices period, that I’ve ever heard. And I think she’s…like I’m not the biggest into rock cause I’m just not there and there’s so much, but from…I’ll put it this way…before he passed, Chester Bennington was the greatest living frontman in my opinion. Obviously, we had Freddie Mercury, but like…that was living at that point, Chester was the guy. That was the voice for me. When he passed, there was this time where I just started to listening to Paramore more, and I was like, ‘Goodness gracious…this girl is like…it’s insane!’ To see her do that…I love Petals For Armor, I love that album. 

Oh yeah, that album has been on repeat. 

It’s so good. It’s so good, and I’m so happy for her because like…whenever an artist goes solo, it’s like, ‘Okay. It’s either gonna be really good or eh…’ and she killed it. I was really inspired by that and with how she broke it down. Like I said, I wanted it to be like a mixtape, production wise, and like an album, lyrically. I wanted to break it up because I’m still trying to reach a new audience and get new ears. If I see somebody that I haven’t heard of before or in a long time, I’m more inclined to listen to a four-track EP than a nine or twelve-track album. I focus more on making small, cohesive pieces so that if you rock with those pieces, and you come along with the story, then I know you’re gonna love the album. That would be the approach. So where “inhale” finds me now is…I’m at a point where I can look back instead of being in it. It’s a different energy, but it’s still me…I’m still in the energy of some of those songs. You know what I mean? On a spiritual level, the EP is the chapter that is focused on the flesh. The whole album, in general, is a tug of war between faith and fear. When you get tired of fighting that, and when you get tired of being in that tug of war, you just wanna live in the moment. You just wanna do whatever it is you wanna do…you wanna hangout…you wanna get fucked up…you wanna…you know what I mean? “inhale” is like a soundtrack for that basically. It starts off really chill like you’re talking with your friends or whatever. “forecast” is kinda the same way. “options,” which is more commercial sounding, is more like the pregame, turn up song, or whatever. 

When I think of “options,” I picture myself in like a really nice car, windows down, got a blunt, shades on, bad chick is in shotgun, and I just feel like the coolest dude in the world driving down the oceanfront at three o’clock in the morning. And, I’m not that person. So, it’s fun to kinda step into that world and live in that for like two…two and a half minutes [laughs] before I come back to reality, and that’s what makes the transition from “options” to “take the lead” so cool. There’s a sample at the end from 500 Days of Summer cause it’s literally like that breakdown of expectations and reality. That’s really what those two songs are. I wanted to just make it an enjoyable listen for 10 minutes. I didn’t want to make anything forgettable; I wanted to set the tone of, ‘Okay, this is the first part of the story. If you like it, we’ll keep going.’

Yeah, I was gonna say…I like to listen to new music in a quiet space where no one is going to bother me. When I listened to “inhale,” I felt that story…I went through that journey. And that last song…man…

Yes! That’s what I wanted! I’m so happy that I didn’t scrap that song because I was going to. I liked the original version, but it wasn’t there yet, production wise. Compared to the other songs, it sounded bland. I had like a super, awesome guitar solo at the end that isn’t on the actual version, which I’m a little bummed about…but it’s okay. It was a last minute thing where I sent it to my friend, Nu$e [Musik], out in LA. He added some keys to it, and when he sent it back, it was like the battery was recharged. I went back, and I just changed everything with the beat. The way it transitioned from the bachata drums and stuff like…it’s my favorite part…it’s my favorite part of the whole EP. 

I was gonna say, that song…that song is the one. 

I appreciate that. To date, that is probably the most complete song I have. And I’m really proud of it, and I’m really grateful. I gotta thank Nu$e again because he’s one of the most talented musicians that I’ve ever met. I call it the Hey Arnold keys. He put the Hey Arnold keys on there and gave it a different energy.

I’m really excited for this to come out. It will be out next month on the ninth, correct?

That is the plan. We are shooting a lot of dope visual stuff at the end of the month, so more stuff will come out after the EP comes out. The idea with “inhale” and “exhale” is to treat them like mixtapes. I’ve always viewed mixtapes as trying to get as much local attention as you can while trying to build up that local fanbase. That’s why I’m upset with COVID, one because it’s a super health thing, but two…I was planning on hitting every open mic that I could just to try and get into other people’s faces. You know…I haven’t really been out there like that with my surgery and just with mental stuff. I’ve gone out once in a while, but I’m not really out here. 

I’m just grateful that certain people in the music scene here know me and remember me and have been really supportive. There are so many ears out here that haven’t heard me, and I can’t expect people that already know I’m great, or know that I make music, to always [spread the word] about me. I have two legs. I have a voice. I can go out. The exciting part about it is that I do think this is my best project to date, so I think that it’s going to get the fans that I already have back because I know that I’ve been really inconsistent with releases. But I also believe this will be the first project that I can stand on, and I think people will actually want to share—not just because they’re my friends, or saw me at a show—but because the music is actually really good from start to finish. I think this is the first time word of mouth will really…the product will back it up. I may have fallen short of that in the past, or I didn’t fall through more than I needed to. I don’t know if I’m gonna make another full album again. I want to. I absolutely want to, but I can’t do it if I don’t live anything. This may be the only one that I do, and if it is, then I just wanna invest into it, and I want to do it however the hell I wanna do it, so I have no regrets. I’m excited. I’m nervous as hell. I really think this is gonna…it may not get me in the door, but it will definitely be a solid knock at the door…you’ll hear…and you’ll pay attention. 

inhale” – tyler donavan (artwork: @bigbadlone)

Featured image by: @leansvision

“inhale” is out NOW on all music streaming platforms! A big thank you to tyler donavan and 9th Nimbus for the chance to conduct this interview. And most importantly…don’t forget to breathe.

Discovering How to Be Human with Suburban Living

Ahead of their upcoming show together in Norfolk, Popscure contributor Elliott Malvas took some time out to interview his bestie, Wesley Bunch, founder and bandleader of the Philadelphia dream pop band.

Having grown up together in Virginia Beach [a small enough town where everyone who listens to a certain type of music naturally coalesces], Wes and I have been best friends forever. I remember the day he started writing songs as Suburban Living some time in the early 2010s. He has since moved to Philly and his band has seen various personnel changes, the current lineup backed by Michael Cammarata, Peter Pantina, and Chris Radwanski being the longest-running and most consistent. With a brand new single out, an album release on the horizon, and a slew of tour dates ahead of them, we’re sure to hear some new tunes as well as old favorites. Having listened to the upcoming LP [along with every other Suburban Living release heretofore], I can confidently say it may be their best yet.

I have fond memories playing with Wes in different bands or just kicking back with my main homie, but I tried taking an unbiased perspective as I asked him about his latest work. It was difficult and a little odd, to say the least, but I hope you enjoy this unique inside look into Suburban Living. We’ll see you all at the gig this Wednesday with my band, You’re Jovian, and new wave revivalist duo, Korine.

Suburban Living has had a long history. When do you consider the start of Suburban Living? Do you start counting from the first few demos or first shows?

I guess I’d consider the summer of 2012 the start of it. I was living in Ghent, and although I had some songs recorded under the name Suburban Living, I didn’t take it seriously. Once one of my songs got published on a reputable blog, I knew I wanted to start assembling a live band and try and take the project as far as possible.

Suburban Living has been a blue collar effort from the start. Do you think people around you know how much effort you put into your band? I think sometimes it’s hard for people on the internet to see this.

I think so. I try and not think about it too much. I’m a workaholic when it comes to my band, and sometimes that works for me and sometimes it works against me. I think in the past couple [of] years, I’ve been able to find a balance of not overwhelming myself with the project. Coincidentally, my friends and my partner helped me find that balance.

Speaking of band, you have quite a band behind you. At what point were you content on them writing parts and recording in the studio with you?

I love my dudes. I knew about six months into us playing shows together that they were in it for the long haul and understood the music. It’s been a blast carving the songs with them. It’s also been fun trying to write songs for them, or certain parts [that] I know [will] gel well with how they play their instruments.

What’s been your process as of late for writing and tracking demos? What rate do you write new songs, and are there any songs that kinda get lost and never fully come to fruition?

It hasn’t changed much. Usually, I just sit down with my guitar and synthesizer and just try and come up with stuff. If nothing comes about, I’ll take a 30 minute break and eat some food or go for a walk. I’ll come back to it later. If something does click, I play it over and over and over again until the natural movement of the song comes to me. When I’m in a big writing fury, and stuff is clicking, I’ll sometimes go weeks without listening to anything besides my unfinished demos. I took this process really seriously when writing [songs from the new album] How To Be Human and found myself really out of touch with current music and releases, which was different for me. As a music lover, I try my best to listen to new bands that are up and coming.

How long does it take roughly for you to start a song and finish it from its initial inception?

I guess it depends. Some of my favorite songs I’ve written were finished in only a couple hours. Some took me days to finish. A lot of the How To Be Human songs took forever to finish because the structure of the songs were out of my comfort zone. I tried my best to branch out of the intro/verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus pop structure on this one, which was tough for me.

Suburban Living’s upcoming full-length album titled How To Be Human comes out on 5/22 via EggHunt Records
The new record coming out sounds really promising. What are you hoping to get out of this release, and what are your expectations for the record?

I try not to have super high expectations, but I’d love for the album to reach as many ears as it can. Having it come out on vinyl is a huge accomplishment, and we’re psyched to finally see the records.

How did the deal come about to sign to EggHunt Records? Because just before this you were on 6131, who are also based out of Richmond. Any bad blood?

Nah, just the way the wind blew I suppose. We were talking with EggHunt years ago before we signed with 6131, so we had always stayed in touch with them. I’m psyched to still be working with a VA label since that’s my home state, and I love RVA.

The new record is legitimately the best work you’ve done by far. This is on all fronts. Song structure, recording, production, PR, etc. What would you attribute to this?

Thank you!! I really put my head down in the writing process. It was the most determined I’d ever felt, and it helped that I was consistently playing tours between Suburban Living and filling in for Swirlies. I felt like my mind was always wrapped [around] writing and performing music, which made me push myself harder in the songwriting process.

Any interest in releasing Suburban Living demos and B-sides? I love that kinda shit.

I actually wanted to do this for our last album, but the idea got canned. I love that kinda shit too and would be open to it. Maybe on a tape or something? I feel like that’s the perfect platform for my demos.

What’s Suburban Living’s long term goals and aspirations? On an indie level, I feel like you all can go head to head with the best. What is it going to take to get to a national audience and get to that next level? Does this even concern you?

Ha, if I had the answers I’d be there I suppose. Like most bands, I just want the music to be listened to and the opportunity to play the most live shows we can. I try and take a step back at any moment I can and just be thankful for where the project is. Sounds corny, but being in a band has extreme highs and extreme lows. Sometimes it’s easier to crack a beer and laugh when you’re in the lows. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t ever frustrated though. Life moves on, it’s not going to stop for you and make your band successful for you.

How do you balance personal goals within the band vs. the goals of your bandmates? Is everyone on the same page if things change and really take off?

Definitely. This is all what we want to do with out lives, and since I’ve been out on my own I’ve designed my life for this lifestyle.

Last question. Since moving to Philadelphia and being embedded in the culture up there, how do you feel about the south on a political and cultural front? When you visit home, do you notice a big difference between people and how they interact, etc.?

It’s different, but not as different as a lot of people would think I feel like. Honestly, it’s been crazier seeing how much more HRVA has turned more liberal and progressive every time I visit, which is awesome. It’s never a shock at how hyper conservative the south is though. Being on tour and seeing so many different cultures, I try and just keep my head down and focus on getting to the venue without dying, haha. We do get some stares at some gas stations though, that’s always fun.

Bonus – favorite venue in Philly?

Johnny Brenda’s, hands down. There’s a reason why so many people say its the best. Cause it is ; )

Find full event info on Suburban Living’s Facebook

Thank you to Wesley Bunch and Suburban Living for the opportunity to conduct this interview. We’ll see you at Chicho’s Backstage in Norfolk, VA on Wednesday, March 11th. Photos were taken by Kelly Cammarata and come courtesy of the band.