In the music world today, it’s incredibly easy for an artist to create one track that sends their careers heading into the stratosphere, only for the follow up to send them crashing straight back down to earth with a bump. Longevity is something that all artists strive to achieve, and one person who’s had a meteoric rise to fame in the past year or so, is Kentucky native Bryson Tiller. The multi talented Louisville artist has had a whirlwind 12 months, from sleeping in his car trying to make ends meet, to performing at shows across the USA & Europe, as well as dropping a top 10 album in the shape of the bumpin’ Trapsoul, Tiller has seen his stock rise through the roof, all within the space of a year. Amongst the tens of millions of Soundcloud plays and Youtube hits, as well as gaining a legion of diehard fans, Bryson has managed to always keep himself to himself, rarely making outlandish statements to the media, and keeping a firm head on his shoulders. EARMILK sat down with arguably the hottest young talent emerging from the scene at the moment to see just how he keeps himself so grounded, and what it’s like to suddenly go from a struggle, to living comfortably.
EARMILK: So you've just finished your showcase here in the UK, how does it feel coming over the Atlantic and hearing people singing every word of the songs you’ve written?
Bryson Tiller: My first UK show will be in March, last night was just a showcase, but it's surreal, very surreal to hear people singing the words back, it’s amazing.
EM: One thing that really struck me about yourself is that you’re genuinely humble. A lot of artists get on stage and say they’re thankful to be here but it’s not as sincere, but you’re genuinely thankful for the opportunity. Can you just explain a little bit about how you’ve come up from struggling with two jobs, to in the space of a year becoming one of the hottest talents to emerge on the scene?
BT: Everytime I’m back home I always look around and think, wow, things have really changed. I’m driving a nice car, I’m living in a nice apartment. It’s just amazing, I’m happier when I’m home, I just love it
EM: This time last year, you were sleeping in your car, now you’re doing shows across continents. As far as your work ethic goes, what kind of process did you have to get you out of the ‘hole’, was it just a case of keep grinding?
BT: Yeah, once I got kicked out and I was sleeping in my car, I was like ‘wow, I cant give anyone else the power to put me out into the streets like that. Whatever I gotta do, I gotta do it ASAP, which is why I was trying to get 3 jobs, yknow, working real hard, and I actually didn’t end up getting that 3rd job, but this is my new job!
EM: So you were working two jobs just trying to get money to get by?
BT: Yeah, I was working at this moving company on the weekends too
EM: You told a story at your show last night that stuck with me, about how you asked your homie if you could borrow $20, and he told you he didn’t have it for you. Then another friend said to you ‘you only need that one hit to make it', which turned out to be “Don’t”, did you have any idea when you were writing it that it was gonna be as big? Or was it a case of ‘I’m just gonna write this and see how it does?’
BT: Yeah, only cos I always get the same feeling after I do a song, I’m all hype about it like ‘yeah this is dope!'
EM: So with your writing process, do you pick your beats first then write to them?
BT: Yeah, well actually, sometimes, like I might leave here and remember something that you said and think ‘that sounds like an interesting punch line’ or a song idea, and I’ll write it down, like two lines. Then I’ll find a beat, and I’ve got this list in my phone, a long list of ideas. Basically I’ll hear a beat, and whatever that beat makes me feel, I’ll find a lyric that’s kinda similar to that and put it onto the song, and I’ll just build the song around that.
EM: On your debut album Trapsoul, you got production from one of the most legendary beatsmiths in the game, Timbaland (on the track "Sorry Not Sorry"), who shouted you out and praised your music. I’m guessing you looked up to, or at least listened to people like Timbo before, what’s it like having artists of his stature feeling the music you’re making?
BT: For Timbaland to be feeling my music, it was a major stamp for me, cos he worked with Playa (Black, Smoke & Static Major), a group outta’ Louisville, Kentucky. They were the only ones to get out of Louisville doing R&B foreal, and everyone in the city always wanted to link up with people who were a part of that situation, so they could be the next, and it seems that nobody ever really did. So for me to be doing my own thing, not worrying about anybody and then Timbaland to reach out to me, it was crazy.
EM: Did he hear a song of yours and then reached out to you or did he get in touch differently?
BT: He heard “Don’t”, and we have a mutual friend, and my friend called me like ‘hey Timbo wanna holler at you’ and I was like wow okay. So he hit me up and told me that he liked “Don’t”, and that we should work together and the rest is history.
EM: I’ve read that when he gave you the beat for “Sorry Not Sorry”, he wanted you to record at The Hit Factory in Miami, but you don’t like big studios and that you wanted to do a bedroom or hotel room session, what is it about big studios that you don’t like? Or is it more to do with the familiarity of having a smaller set up?
BT: Yeah, I mean NOW I record in big studios, but I still do it the same way. I only do it now because it’s easier, I can sit my laptop on the console, open it up, plug the monitors into my interface and plug the microphone in and I have the microphone right next to me. I didn’t like big studios before, because I didn’t like having a lot of people in the studio with me. In order for me to record, I need to feel like nobody is on earth.
EM: Like you need to zone out and it’s just you?
BT: Yeah exactly
EM: You also reportedly passed up on signing with OVO, instead choosing to take your talents to RCA, which in my eyes, was a good decision as you don’t sound like any other artist out at the moment. Was it a conscious decision to try and set yourself apart from other artists that people might try and compare you to? Did you always want to be different?
BT: The crazy thing is, everybody was telling me ‘oh you’ll be a big enough artist to have your own crew one day, and be able to sign your own artists’. If I’d signed with OVO and blew up I would’ve branched out and done my own thing. I dunno man, I didn’t want to do any of that, I just wanted to be a part of something, I wanted to be a part of somebody’s family and just kinda build my thing there, but like Drake said, it aint how it happened to go.
EM: The term Trapsoul, in my opinion, is the perfect way to describe your music. You have the soulful elements with your singing yet you have those trap vibes with the rapping and the beats you select. Did you coin that phrase, or how did it come about?
BT: I guess I did, I mean I didn’t make it up, I was on Soundcloud and a fan had commented on one of my songs saying ‘Trapsoul Movement’, and I thought ‘what is that?’. So I looked up Trapsoul, to see if anyone had any songs or mixtapes with that name and there wasn’t any, so I thought ‘this is what I’m gonna name my project’, and I just ran with it ever since then. I did make it popular though! There were a lot of people coming out the woodwork after.
EM: Did you have any worries that when you put Trapsoul out, people wouldn’t be feeling it as much?
BT: Yeah, I did worry about that a lot actually, cos I wasn’t finished! I had a lot of time, like I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be. The label was telling me when I had to drop it, when I had to turn it in. I was just like wow, I really wanted to put some more R&B joints on there, more singing. Or at least some more R&B driven songs, but we didn’t get a chance to.
EM: The thing I enjoyed about the album, was that it was featureless, it was just yourself and no guests. Was it a conscious decision to have no-one else on there with you?
BT: Yeah, it was a team decision, they wanted me to stand alone and show people that I didn’t really need features to succeed
EM: Is there a particular cut from Trapsoul that’s a favourite or has the most meaning to you?
BT: Someone just asked me, and I said “The Sequence”. I feel like I just said that to give them an answer, like I don’t really have any favourites from the album, I’m just moving on to the next thing now.
EM: So, that’s a part and time of your life, you’re moving on and getting into something new?
BT: “Yeah, it’s 2016 and I’m on some different shit”
EM: Looking into 2016, I’ve seen pictures on your Instagram of you in the studio with people like Drake and A$AP Rocky. Are these people you’ve been working with on new music?
BT: I haven’t been working with anyone yet, I’ve still just been doing me. A lot of people have reached out to me, but I’ve just been chillin’, when it happens it happens
EM: So have you got plans to drop an album or a project this year? And do you have a direction you’re going in, beats already selected for it?
BT: Yeah I definitely want to drop something before the year is over. Yeah definitely, I’ve got around 6 or 7 beats chosen already
EM: I wanted to pick up on something you said last night, when you told the crowd ‘I just want to show you that you can do this too’. You always seem like a positive person, do you have any advice for people that are struggling or feeling trapped, even if it’s not specifically music-related?
BT: I like what you did there with the whole 'trapped' thing [laughs]
EM: [laughs] I wasn't even trying to make a pun but I'll take it
BT: Nah it’s cool, someone actually said something similar about how living in Louisville you feel liked a Trapped Soul, as there’s no rich musical history there. I mean I try to give everybody my formula, but everyone’s different and they all will have their own way so I don’t really know what to tell to people. What I will say, and I try to tell everyone this, don’t wait to be put on. Put yourself on. I feel like a lot of people wait for somebody else to say ‘ok lets do it’ rather than going out and getting it themselves. I never asked anybody for anything, except for $600 for studio equipment, but those were the steps I had to make in order to get to where I was trying to go.
EM: When you go to different cities and countries, and you’ve got people singing all your songs back to you, and asking for pictures. What keeps you so humble? A lot of artists get the fame and the fans and their ego goes huge and they don’t have time to talk to fans and interact, what keeps your feet on the ground?
BT: Really I think it’s just everything I’ve been through, I’ve always been like this. I’m the nerd from school, I was always in my own world, never used to talk to anybody really. So for all this to happen to me, I still don’t believe it. Girls would say certain things to me and I’m like ‘I don’t believe you’. Even my manager, he tells me I’m bigger than I think I am.
EM: It’s refreshing, first and foremost I’m a fan of you and your music, so to see you so down to earth and appreciative, it’s incredible!
BT: [laughs] Thankyou, I appreciate it!
Bryson's incredible debut album Trapsoul, is available now on RCA Records. You can buy your copy on iTunes!