You’re known for your determination and independence, is it true that you’re entirely self-taught?
All aspects of what I do are just me learning. I find it hard to learn from other people, I think a lot of people learn differently – I’ve never been good in a classroom with someone telling me, I’m better hands on, trying to figure it out for myself.
That would be hard for a lot of people – how did you develop that confidence and self assurance to do things?
I don’t know where it came from, but I had a very strong sense that college was not the route I wanted to take. It’s not that I was bad, I was in AP classes at school, everyone told me I was crazy for not going to college. I just knew I was going to pursue art and it felt counterproductive to study when I could grow my network and resources to spend loads of time and money at school, learning stuff and then feeling like I lost all that time. I’m also not a patient person, I didn’t want to spend any more time waiting for my life to happen. I waited so long just to graduate high school and be on my own. It was always my dream to have my own place and be free. The kind of dream you have when you’re a little kid, I imagined being an adult was the most amazing thing ever. So when everyone was like, “What about college?” I was like, “Hell no, I’m starting my life now and I’ll be fine”. I don’t regret that decision at all
At school, video was your focus not music, can you tell us a little about that?
The school that I went to in Virginia is called TC Williams, it’s known for being a great public school. In film class we could rent big cameras and I began to record and experiment with Final Cut. What I was making was very experimental, lots of multimedia work combining elements of green-screening stuff and making weird things. I was just really into things that were layered on top of each other, the type of art I was into was stuff that was a photo, but painted on top of and then collaged.
Is that typical of your creative process, even with music?
Yeah, when I first started making music, it was very much like sampling, taking old stuff I liked and reworking it. That’s what art was for me too, taking stuff I liked and making new versions on my own incorporating all the things I liked. Changing it and at that end of the day, that’s what I think art is: innovating shit that inspires you. Mixing and morphing different shit together. I don’t sample any more so much, I think there is maybe one sample on my new record. It gets too complicated – back then I wasn’t selling music.
You said the first record was very ‘baby’ and this new one is more mature – can you elaborate?
I haven’t listened to that project in so long. Recently, I did and I noticed that listening to my voice – I was singing from my head voice and not my diaphragm, I just feel like my singing and production is much more mature now. I definitely learned a lot with this album, it was my first time getting to work with so many different people, to know what it’s like to really be trying to make a record. The first album I was experimenting and learning what it meant to be a musician, so there was a lot of experimentation.
Are there standout moments?
I think singing from my diaphragm! For ages, people said I sang too much from my nose or my head and I was like, “What am I supposed to do?” I can’t just switch a button. Then, one day after trying breathing techniques and sitting with professional singers, something finally clicked and I was like, “Wow, I know how to do this!” I didn’t know how to do this before. Occasionally I would do it by accident, but I had no control, it’s just a muscle you learn to control. I felt like, “Damn, I should have known this for a long time!” but I’d never even been in choir of had a singing lesson before.
Are there any favourite tracks on this record?
Hard to say, I feel they’re all really special in their own way. I think the newest one I’m making in my favourite, but that’s because every time I make a new song I feel like, “This is the best song I’ve ever made!”
What song is most fun to perform live for you?
Riding Around and Loner, those songs have touched people the most, so I love to see how it affects people. I love seeing them sing along and knowing all the words and getting lost in those songs. I think it’s really special when you perform a slow song and captivate the audience. A lot of the time people feel a pressure to perform upbeat music to engage the crowd. For me, when you perform a slow song and people are still into it – that’s special for me.