Sometimes people forget that music is an art form. Tyler Daniel Bean is not one of those people. Check out what he had to say about his creative process and how it’s transformed over the past few years since the release of his first LP, Longing. and his subsequent releases:
MEB: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview! Now, it’s been a couple years since the release of your full-length Longing. Since then, you’ve put out an EP Everything You Do Scares Me and the first installment of a series called Repetition. How do you feel you’ve changed as a musician over the course of all this?
TDB: I think there are two distinct shifts in the way I’ve changed as a musician. First, my lyrical content has shifted from an attempt to understand how the outside world affects me to a sort of self-inquiry on how my insides effect how I view what’s outside. In a sense, this shift could be defined as a shift from aesthetics to ethics, or how I see the world vs. why I see the world the way I do. It revolves around a revision of how I view my depression. This change in the way I am dealing with subject matter also seems to come from the shift from longing for the past to a fear of the future, and in some ways an attempt to learn how to remain present. As may be expected with this type of research, it’s caused the subject matter to appear bleaker, and potentially more helpless than before, but as I said in response to a reviewer calling Longing “the cure for happiness,” I write what I need to hear in order to move on with my life. Indeed, when I released that record I was in a much better place than when I wrote it.
The second shift is a push away from writing on an acoustic guitar. I haven’t touched my acoustic aside from a few scattered solo shows in well over a year. I started feeling like it was hindering the emotional exploration of this new batch of songs, which is strange to say. I think what that means is that I am trying to understand how this new lyrical view is represented in music form, and much like is found in real life, these songs don’t feel the way they should without the company of the Other. The guitar relies on the arrangement, and it feels forced without it. Not surprisingly, the songs have become heavier, as could be seen on the “Archibald Street” demo that was released on a compilation for Skeletal Lightning Fest in April, or in my song on the forthcoming split with Kid Driving, which has been deemed my “most delicate and heaviest song yet.”
These changes may not yet be readily apparent, but the seeds were planted on the EP and continue to grow with the material that will be released on splits in 2015 and the next full length in 2016.
You mentioned that your upcoming tour with Oklahoma Car Crash will be the last chunk of consecutive dates for a while so you can focus on your masters’ thesis. What’s it like to balance such a heavy workload alongside being a touring musician?
It has been a trip. We played well over 100 shows (somewhere around 140) in 2013 while I was working from a laptop (before it was stolen) and Skyping with professors. I remember after a show in Fort Worth, TX, we were staying with a friend of the promoter. We brought in all of our sleeping material and then Joe (my then drummer) and I got into our respective sleeping bags and started reading. One of the kids in the room blurted out “What chu’ readin’ fer?”
I think he was referring to his impression that, as a band, we would want to party, but as much as I rep party culture, my type of party is reading a book and falling asleep. He was asking about Joe’s book, as Joe responded to the question, and I kept quiet. I think I was reading from Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation Of Reality In Western Literature and I had little interest in trying to explain why I was reading critical theory.
It’s funny to think of little moments like that to prove to myself that I don’t see music as a career, but instead a hobby and a reason to travel. It’s an important distinction to make.
What’s your thesis going to be about?
My study is corresponding with the shift I was referring to in my lyrics, but it has to do with the fact that when I started implementing this shift while writing my second record a little over a year and a half ago, I was so surprised by what I was finding that I was metaphorically paralyzed. I stopped writing, I stopped playing music other than when I had scheduled a show, and I lost track of myself. I’m not sure what I was afraid to uncover, but I sometimes wonder if I was worried that, in relation to how I felt when I released Longing., I would somehow cure myself. It’s a silly thought, but I know too many people who have expressed a similar worry in relation to creativity. I’ve been studying literary and critical theory in order to discuss this transition and what it means for writing, and in a roundabout way, articulate the fear I found.
My thesis deals with the adverse relationship between fear and art. I’m working from the perspective that with a shift in the metaphor that influences how we conceptualize mental illness, the correlations and effects of the fear/art dynamic lessen, and further creation is possible. The implementation of these ideas on my own life has produced results as expected, as I am obviously writing again.
It is unclear what will come of a final product, as my advisor has suggested writing and recording my second LP as my thesis project alongside a minor work similar to Wordsworth’s Preface To The Lyrical Ballads to serve as explanation. Both that and an actual thesis paper seem relevant; it will likely depend on what comes of my renewed interest in music.
Who are some of your favorite musicians or artists?
Musicians: David Bazan, Jason Molina, My Disco, Jessica McDermott, Gregor Samsa, mewithoutYou, Engine Down, Ruiner, Nana Grizol
Artists: Rothko, Cézanne, Cassatt, Monet, Soutine, Singer Sargent
Writers: Woolf, Nabokov, Didion, Theroux, Morris
When you write music, what’s your process like? Do you write lyrics first, or arrangements, or is it somewhere in between?
I used to write lyrics first, and that still feels most comfortable, but for the most recent material, I’ve been hindered by time and desire. I’ve written several songs with no lyrics in mind, but instead an emotion. It’s new, it’s strange, and it puts me out of my element, which is significant; comfort often leads to stagnation and the assumption that you’ve exhausted your interest. I am learning new things about myself every day, and I am interested, if not excited, to see where this broadened view of process leads me.
You’ve tracked nearly every instrument for your songs. Do you have a particular favorite instrument to play? How do you think that compares to being in a band that only requires you to play one or two instruments?
I don’t like playing drums. I may be a fine drummer, but I am definitely not strong by any means. I think my favorite instrument to play is bass. It defines the mood of a song and is arguably the most important instrument in a band. When I think of my work or the bands I draw influence from, I gravitate towards musicians who understand how to use bass as an asset instead of an addition.
This project has always been something for me to work on when I have the time. It definitely sprouted from my ability to play multiple instruments, but I don’t know if I can compare it to being in a band with other people. Being in a band with others requires give and take. It has always resulted in it feeling like work, though it’s fascinating to have 3-5+ people working towards a cooperative product. There lies within the process an element of surprise that I don’t find in this project. I wonder if I don’t find that same surprise because I see my music for what it is, an inner release and a way of understanding, and I don’t ask much more from it. It comes when it comes. It is what it is.
The description of Everything You Do Scares Me includes these words about the EP: “Lyrically and musically, these songs portray the fleeting sadness and the necessary sorrow that we must embrace before looking to the inevitable future.” There’s no doubt the EP presents those feelings as such, and expertly so. Do you think sadness has been commodified in music, particularly in modern emo?
I think you could place value on sadness, and that you could make a hierarchy of worth based on one’s ability to accurately represent how emotion affects our understanding of the world, but I am not sure it would be anything new. The emotional motif is nothing new (we’re dealing with the same subject matter as Goethe, and Shakespeare before him, and what Longinus was defining well before him); in fact, it could be argued that, with practice and patience, it’s now as easy to represent sadness as it is to paint a still life. In many cases, it’s done without thought or talent, yet the general public accepts it as worth something. I often wonder what’s next for emotional expression, and in some ways I see what has already come via bands like My Disco or Shellac, who have been breaking down the elements of music and reforming them into something new and, in many ways, more emotional. Musicians like that—those who willingly, and in most cases unconsciously break the rules—are what critics would likely call brave. Brave artists find what’s next.
Let’s talk about Repetition. The first volume is an EP of your versions of songs by The New & Very Welcome. What compelled you to do this? What are your future plans for the project?
Repetition was my attempt at finding a creeper gear of sorts in order to bring myself back around to writing for the next record. I looked back at some of my favorite musicians and tried to understand how they dealt with it all. My covers of The New & Very Welcome sprung out of a deep appreciation for Jess’s writing style. She represents her emotions in a way I’d never before experienced. I still think about the first day I heard “I Think I Made You Up Inside My Head” and how I left the song on repeat for hours while I tried to figure out what about it made me feel so broken. I am not often brought to feeling broken.
Volume 2 (Pedro the Lion) will be released at the same time as Volume 1. There are a few thoughts bouncing around for future volumes—Mount Eerie, Julie Doiron, Rilo Kiley, Neil Young—and I am sure that the series will continue. It will just be a matter of when.
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Just do you, Boo.”
Find what makes you feel warm inside and bring it with you. Love yourself. Support your friends. Forever.
Thanks for everything.
You can catch Tyler on tour with Oklahoma Car Crash this month! Check out all the dates below.
12/12 – Philadelphia, PA @ Milhouse
12/13 – Ridgewood, NJ @ Ridgewood Elks Lodge
12/14 – Watertown, CT @ Peachwave
12/15 – Providence, RI @ Psychic Readings
12/16 – Boston, MA @ O’Brien’s Pub
12/17 – Worcester, MA @ Sublevel 58
12/18 – Winooski, VT @ Hepep’s Pizza
12/19 – Plattsburgh, NY @ The ROTA Studio and Gallery
12/20 – Lancaster, PA @ Fulton St. Arts Co-op
12/22 – Alexandria, VA @ The Lab