Tyler, the Creator is a bit of a genius. He has released four studio albums, directed a fist full of music videos and a couple of Mountain Dew commercials, has a pretty mad clothing line and, despite the fact that booming, hyper-confidence is his schtick, he’s done everything from a relatively humble position — celebrity considered and in comparison to other rappers on similar success waves. The first time I felt comfortable calling him genius was after I watched a clip of him jamming with BadBadNotGood — one of my favourite bits of footage of Tyler. The way he is moved by other musicians. The way his musicianship isn’t the result of rigid discipline, but of a genuine feeling that it seems he can only be punched with by being freely creative. It’s all evidence and reaffirmation of his place in real music. And it speaks louder than his raucous, marketable stage presence.
The first time I interviewed Tyler for Oyster, it was 2013 and I was scared. I freaked out backstage at The Enmore with my co-interviewer Ingrid Kesa — tried my best to slip impressive questions in between Odd Future antics, loud yelling, chair-throwing and play fights. We lost control of the situation, so Tyler (and Earl Sweatshirt) ended up interviewing us. Intimidating is an understatement. Years later, when my apartment was robbed, my mind went straight to my iPod that was taken with the recording of that interview inside it. The thought of someone listening to it or, worse, sharing it, makes me the same kind of panicked that I was in that greenroom.
This time around, we asked Tyler, who has been such a mad supporter and collaborator to Oyster, to elect a fellow artist to share a cover and exchange words with. He chose Archy of King Krule.
Together they discuss Tyler’s recent record Flower Boy and Archy’s The Ooz; they bond on creating pretty music and learning the difference between mp3s and wav files; they go on about listening to Charles Manson, Rod Stewart and Korn; and discuss the implications of messages within pop music as well as Australia’s greatest ice-cream, the Golden Gaytime. At one point, Tyler confides in Archy that this unshakable persona is just a mask for insecurity — and everything suddenly feels full circle.
Tyler: You want to start this, Archy?
Archy: Nah I don’t. You start it.
Tyler: I love ‘Slush Puppy’. I think ‘Slush Puppy’ is in the top three songs of last year. Your album was my favourite, one of my favourites, from last year. ‘Logos’ is fucking insane and I listened to that album during a really special time in my life. I want to thank you for being the soundtrack of that.
Archy: Thanks man. What was going on for you?
Tyler: I was just on tour, hanging out with a buddy of mine who’s a really cool fella, riding my bike in every damn city I went to. And we were listening to that album a lot. I wanted to tattoo “Slush Puppy” on my leg, but I didn’t really get another chance to do another stick’n’poke so it never happened. But who knows, who knows if it’ll happen.
Archy: Yeah, maybe I should do it. I think I could probably learn how to do it quick.
Tyler: That would be nice. That would be really nice. Do you have any tattoos?
Archy: Nah, I don’t. I don’t really want to get any, I don’t have any desire for it.
Tyler: Don’t get tattoos. I wish I didn’t have tattoos.
Archy: Yeah. What have you got?
Tyler: A bunch of dumb shit on my leg. I have all my album titles. I have an inhaler and some other dumb shit, like, I drew a potato with a face on my leg, a cow with a donut as a face. I have a bottle of syrup.
Archy: You draw a lot as well… I’ve seen your paintings and your sketchbook…
Tyler: …I have a flower on my leg, a bumblebee on the opposite side. My favourite band is N.E.R.D so I have their logo on my leg. I have a really bad version of me drawn on my leg. Yeah…
Archy: Well, you’ve got to just understand that each individual one is just encapsulating that moment you did it. You’ve just got to get on with it now…
Tyler: Yeah. I might laser them off when I’m like 40 and really over it.
Archy: Yeah. Or just cut your leg off.
Tyler: No. Last night my toe was numb and I thought I had diabetes. I got nervous and googled it and realised there are a lot of people whose toes are numb and they thought they had diabetes.
Archy: That’s fucked up man. One of my fears is waking up in the middle of the night, lying on my arm, I’ve done it loads recently, I’m just lying on my arm and it just goes numb and I wake up like, “Shit, I’m never going to be able to use this again.”
Tyler: You’re going to have to fucking cut it off!
Archy: Yeah that would be fucked up. Then my whole shit would be ruined. What am I going to do after that?
Tyler: Dude, I think the same shit. Cos, like, I need my leg to use my hand.
Archy: Yeah ‘Slush Puppy’… thanks for the love. That’s the thing. Okay Kaya, her voice on it is pitched down…
Tyler: That’s crazy that that’s a girl…
Archy: Yeah, she sounds pretty.
Tyler: What’s your favourite song off your last record? That’s a hard question, because everyone is personal, and you made each one, but is there one that you specifically reply and listen to the most?
Archy: Yeah, I like ‘A Slide In’ the New Drugs one. That’s like my jam. I wrote that, the chord progression, basically because I was staying with this girl and I was trying to teach her how to play guitar. And that chord progression basically has all the chords that I feel like anyone needs to learn how to play. All the chords that I like are in that song. So I just wrote the whole composition like that, and made this girl practice it over and over again and it got stored in my head. I was like, “I gotta use this shit.” And yeah, it became that.
Tyler: Woah. That’s tight.
Archy: Yeah, it’s interesting. What about you?
Tyler: Off your album or off mine?
Archy: Yeah of yours. Nah, actually… off mine [Laughs]…
Tyler: It varies, but I have this instrumental called ‘Sometimes’ and it’s really just piano for 36 seconds. But the chords that I use in it are really just the ones that play in my head all day — just daydreaming. And I sing a small melody over it and the music that I really like and base of the shit that I love is just really pretty chords and then a simple melody over it. I have a six-minute version of that 36 seconds that I like to listen to a lot.
Archy: Oh man, you’ve gotta send that to me.
Tyler: Yeah definitely. The version I have, that I didn’t put on the album, has like a verse to it and it’s really pretty. That shit just melts my fucking soul.
Archy: Oh man, I’ve gotta hear that whole version. I love that shit. I’ve done a lot of that on my record — just made like jams for 15-20 minutes and had to cut them down. It’s also like, I only made them so I could chill with them and just play them while I’m sleeping, you know what I mean? When I’m lying down or some shit.
Tyler: Man, I have so much music that I make that’s specifically just to shower or, like, I drive to this on specific road. Or I’m going to make an eight-minute version of this, but the album version didn’t have three bridges that I added because, you know, you don’t wanna over do it. But it’s those things that really just keep me wanting to make shit.
Archy: Yeah man. You can be just making shit for the sake of the fact that it’s music. It gets to a point, especially with a career like yours, where you get the audience in your mind a bit and that proves the pureness of the composition — when you can make something purely for yourself and have no desire to have to have people appreciate it. It just becomes something for your self.
Tyler: Yeah. I think the best albums also are made, you know, 70/30 like that. You know, 70% is for you. I think when you mostly make it for yourself, but always keep in mind what they’re going to like or gravitate to, and you selfishly take yourself out…
Archy: Yeah, for sure. Do you think there’s more freedom within you writing purely instrumental and not necessarily paying attention to lyricism and more paying attention to melody? Like, you started mainly as a rapper — it was about content and lyricism, you know? Do you feel like you’ve evolved or were you always doing that on the side?
Tyler: Well I started rapping at like 8 and started making music, beats and stuff, at like 12, teaching myself piano and drums. Lyrics were never that important to me, like don’t get me wrong, they played a part and I focused in on them, but when I listen to songs, I like listening to the whole thing. Like, where the verse sits and the chords and how the drums hit and like the yelling the background, the adlibs, how they put the reverb on that. I like the whole thing. So, overall, lyrics weren’t the most important thing to me. It was always the feeling first.
Archy: That’s interesting. When I first saw you play live it was a PA and the mic. And it’s interesting how now you’re playing more with bands and with singers. You know, you’ve got keys on stage. Was it easier to play with just a PA before?
Tyler: Well I’ve always wanted to do what I’m doing now, but I was kind of scared and reluctant because my voice is so deep — I always hated it. I always wanted to sing but I sucked at it so I never really did it. And I didn’t take piano lessons, so the way that I taught myself is kind of wrong so playing on stage in front of people is still kind of scary but, you know, being so young with so much energy, it was like, “Oh I can’t go all the way with the pretty shit so let me just jump around and yell on stage to cover up that insecurity. Over the years, I’ve just kind of been like, “Fuck it.” And just kind of got more comfortable with singing and having more stuff on stage, and having more instruments and rapping less. Cos that’s what I always wanted to do is rap less. But I know that people low-key didn’t want to hear that shit so I had to segue them into listening to the hooks with the singers and shit like that.
Archy: What was that girl’s name you worked with, the Nordic girl? That was a really interesting piece of work.
Tyler: Coco O. I love her. I remember hearing her voice. She has a song called ‘Sleep’ and the chords just make me want to kill myself.
Archy: Yeah her voice is insane. It’s the texture of it. Where’s she from, because the language, I remember hearing ‘Løb Stop Stå’…
Tyler: Either Denmark or Sweden…
Archy: It just sounded so good. That language and the way they close mic’ed it. That influenced me a lot and then hearing the stuff that you’d done with her — it must have been Saturday Night Live or something that you played with her and you were playing keys. That was really interesting.
Tyler: Yeah man, that’s what I wanted to do and that was one of the moments where I was like, “Fuck it, worse comes to worse I fuck up on the piano, we sound horrible, and then I’ll go onto the next song super crazy and hype and that will cover it up.” But, looking back, I wish I just did that song and called it a day. But it was so hard to break out of the mould of people thinking I’m just crazy and hyper all of the time. It was about them seeing the actual talent that I had and now I’m just trying to make sure that any time you see me, it’s only based on what I’m good at — which is music, or the clothing thing, or whatever else I’ve got going on that’s pure talent.
Archy: I remember seeing a video of you playing ‘Yonkers’ on piano and I was like, “Damn, that’s not just a sample. He’s playing that.” That was before I knew you or anything about your musicianship. That was pretty interesting.
Archy: Because the chords in that, it’s a really interesting track. In its minimalism, then how it built up and then the chords came in. That was dope.
Tyler: Thanks man. When that song came out, everyone was so crazy on it being a roast but I was like, “No, look at what else I can do, this is what I’m into.” So I played the piano part. But, you know, that’s not so shock-value so people just ignored it. But I’ve been spending the last seven years saying, “No, I can actually make music.”
Archy: That’s interesting.
Tyler: One of my favourite songs from you is the original version, the Zoo Kid version of ‘Baby Blue’. That shit is fucking… man.
Archy: That time in my life, I’d just gone from a floppy disc 8-track to a digital 4-track. So I had a lot more freedom in a way but I basically had to run it into Fruityloops and with that, my Fruityloops didn’t have the save function. So everything I was making then, I’d have to sit down from start to finish and bang straight through it.
Tyler: Oh shit. So anything you made you had to export it?
Archy: Yeah, literally. So that’s the print of the first time I sat down to the end of it. What you’re hearing in that is the original print, the original bounce of that. Even on my first vinyl release, I didn’t have wav files of those tracks because I didn’t understand the difference between mp3 and wav files at the time. I just bounced these mp3s over there and they wanted to press it on vinyl and I was like, “Yeah, sure, send it to the masters,” They were like, “Where’s the wav files?” I was like, “Oh shit, I only got mp3s.” [Laughs] So they had to convert mp3s onto the vinyl, it’s hilarious.
Tyler: I didn’t know that.
Archy: I think in that track as well it was like a marriage between texture and the song writing, you know what I mean? Like, there was something in the production that I was happy with, and let alone that it was the song I’d spent a lot of time with composing before going in to record it.
Tyler: Yeah, I had the Fruityloops demo and a lot of Bastard, a lot of the beats on that were just made in the demo. And I’d have to sit an hour on each beat and before I got tired of it I’d be like “Yeah, this is cool.” And I’d just export it because you couldn’t save it. So the way it was exported was the way that it was. And that whole album was just mp3s. It wasn’t levelled equally to other stuff. And even with Goblin it was sort of like that. I didn’t know what wav files were, I didn’t know what mastering was. I was like “Let’s just make it loud!” So it could sound equal to the songs of my favourite artists and call it a day. But I think that’s what made it special, because it’s so raw.
Archy: Yeah, it makes you actually spend time there and then completing it. And then when it’s printed, it’s like that’s that, it’s done now. Unless you want to recreate it, and I’m not a big fan of trying to go in and recreate stuff. That was the problem about Six Feet Beneath the Moon for me — I spent a lot of time trying to recreate that stuff. I lost an innocence and in the end I kind of got sick and tired of it and just threw it down and gave it to XL [Recordings]. You know, whereas I’d spent a lot of time before just composing and composing and composing then printing it and it’d be fine. But, yeah, I don’t know, recreating stuff kind of fucked me up a bit.
Tyler: I feel it. There’s been beats that have been deleted and I’m like, “Fuck it, it just wasn’t meant to be.” I’m over it at that point, dude.
Archy: Yeah, I know.
Tyler: What have you been listening to in recent time?
Archy: I’ve been listening to a lot of songwriters, just minimalist, maybe like a singer and an accompaniment. I’ve been listening to a lot of Charles Manson, his song writing I think is amazing, and Daniel Johnston. I’m a huge fan of Daniel Johnston and his tape recordings and the way he went about making music. What about you?
Tyler: The only Daniel Johnston song that I know is a song called ‘You Hurt Me’ and I really love the melody and the piano. It’s really cool. But what have I been listening to? I’ve been getting into a lot of 80s stuff right now. Like new wave-ish.
Archy: Like a lot of synths over big beats?
Tyler: Like Hall and Oats, ‘Young Turks’ by Rod Stewart is so amazing to me right now. Billy Idol is cool. Oh, I’ve been in love with Gary Numan. Shit like that. That’s what I’ve been on right now.
Archy: That’s a really interesting period of time. I feel like it’s the start of what you would call pop music, like boy bands but they were still banging out playing as a band.
Tyler: Yeah and it was actually good.
Archy: Like Spandau Ballet and shit.
Tyler: Yeah, like them. And it was creative and it was pop songs but it was still weird. And I think pop has such a negative stigma to it nowadays because none of it is weird and it’s made for 12-year-olds.
Archy: Yeah, which is gross too, you know, because it’s 12-year-olds thinking about sexualised things, which I don’t fuck with.
Tyler: I don’t even know because I was listening to Eminem when I was 9 years old. So like, you know.
Archy: That’s a good point. But I think it’s different and grosser now when there’s innuendos, which are like… I don’t know. Basically, I live next to these young girls and their room is right next to my room. Through the wall I can hear these songs that I would not let my daughter sing.
Tyler: Yeah, I feel it. I guess at that point it just depends on the parent. Hopefully they just sit them down and are like, “This is this, and this is that. Don’t be stupid, this is all entertainment.” I mean my mum did that. Eminem was killing his wife on albums and she was like “Look, nigga, don’t do nothin’ stupid.”
Archy: That’s a very good point, man. I need to think about myself in that scenario. It was pretty interesting what I was listening to… Korn.
Tyler: Yeah, you wilin’ dude. I mean, they weren’t bad, I just did not expect you to say that.
Archy: Yeah man, I was into all kinds of shit when I was growing up. Like I got really into that whole nu metal thing and that was pretty gnarly. Slipknot as well, shit like that. But my mum was banging out stuff from De La Soul to Fela Kuti, so I was in a house like that trying to listen to my metal music. But I couldn’t help but be a big fan of those.
Tyler: Yeah, my mum was listening to Sade, Soul II Soul, Patra, and Hiroshima. I was listening to soul and jazz and reggae from her, but all the kids that hung out at school — the rock shit that they were listening to introduced me to a whole new thing. It got me into Björk and Lenny Kravitz what they were doing in the early 90s. So I have a similar makeup in the sense that everything was being fed to me at once. Do you fuck with Can?
Archy: Yeah I fuck with Can, yeah for sure. I remember listening to ‘Vitamin C’ — it kind of goes back to that instrumental thing we were talking about before. Listening to instrumental music was kind of new to me. I remember when I started to listen to bands that just made instrumental music, like Can and Soft Machine and people like that. It was interesting because it was all about rhythm. You know like The Meters, they had chance in their music. The same with Fela, in a way. There’s five minutes of just groove, pure groove. You listen to Captain Beefheart?
Tyler: I’ve seen that name, but I’ve never clicked it. I guess I’m going to check that out. What kind of shit is it?
Archy: It’s kind of revolutionary in a way. I’ll send you some stuff. There’s one track I really like, which is just bass and guitar, it’s called ‘Peon’.
Tyler: I’ll check it out. So you mentioned Soft Machine. One of the members, Robert Wyatt, went on to do his thing, and he has a few really weird and creative things.
Archy: I met a dude in Sydney like four days ago and his dad played in Soft Machine and played with Robert Wyatt. He plays with Jonti.
Tyler: Yeah, he’s a cool guy. He covered ‘911’ of my last album and that shit is so tight. He’s really good.
Archy: Yeah, he supported for us the other night. But yeah, that period of music is really interesting because they’re still using a lot of analogue equipment and analogue synthesis but the quality of the recordings back then is just so good. I love that whole period of time.
Tyler: Yeah, all the music is so warm.
Archy: I think probably because they’re recording reel-to-reel, the desk they’re using is just made for music. Nowadays there’s a lot of strange gear about that’s trying to emulate the past but I think a lot of people working in laptops and stuff can miss a point sometimes.
Tyler: Making music on the computer, it’s so easy to get distracted and out of that zone. We could be on Logic, arranging something, and then go to YouTube and watch boat crashes. It really fucks it up.
Archy: You need the limitations some times. You know, with Logic and Ableton there’s no limit to what you can do. So you can sit on stuff and you can work on it forever because you just can. Limitations bring out a better intention in your song writing and what you’re going to do to achieve it. That’s what I think.
Tyler: I feel it. We have every single sound on these programs. But if we didn’t, it’d be like, “Oh, I can’t put a horn section here so I guess I got to figure out what else to do with that guitar right there.” It opens up a whole new door of shit you wouldn’t have done because of what you lack at the moment. I think that’s really important, and why stuff back then was so revolutionary. I mean, still to this day, it’s like, “How did they think of that?” Well, they kind of had no choice.
Archy: Yeah, it’s dope.
Tyler: I need some limitations at some point. In a room with only two keyboards and drums, lets see what I come up with in three days.
Archy: So what keys have you got?
Tyler: I got like a Juno, a Roland, I got a bunch of random stuff at home that I’ll pull out when needed. Like, one day I just went on the internet and took any random keyboard and didn’t want to look it up because I’d rather be surprised. I bought a DX7 and didn’t get the right cartridge, so I just had a bunch of random sounds but they ended up working out really well. I used a lot of those keyboards on the last album and it gave me sounds that I’ve never had.
Archy: That’s good to hear. I remember when you were recording in London at XL, there was a lot of midi sounds on there, so it’s nice to know that you’re using all these random keyboards. It’s the same with me, I just get these cheap ass instruments and one of them, every now and then, will just have that sound and I’ll be like, “Damn, I’m going to glitter this whole track with this now.”
Tyler: Some of those sounds, as cheap as they are, they’re just so rich because they have so much texture and personality.
Tyler: Fuck. I got to shit really bad dude.
Tyler: Like, I can’t lie.
Archy: What are we saying anyway? We can probably wrap this up now.
Tyler: I had some fish earlier. I shouldn’t have had it.
Archy: What kind of fish?
Tyler: Some tuna sushi.
Archy: I don’t even know that fish. I don’t think I ever eaten that.
Tyler: You never had tuna?
Archy: Oh, tuna, yeah yeah.
Tyler: You need to get out the goddamn house. Oh my god! You’re in Australia! Go and get a Golden Gaytime ice cream. It is the greatest ice cream ever, oh my god.
Creative direction: Tyler, The Creator
Photography Tyler, The Creator, Archy Marshall, Renell Medrano and Charlotte Patmore
Words Hayley Morgan
Interview Zac Bayly