The Colorful World of tiedye ky – Exclusive Interview

tiedye ky performs at an indoor club show

tiedye ky – Photo Courtesy Of Benjamin Howell Photography

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The Rise of tiedye ky

Philadelphia’s tiedye ky is an old soul. The self-proclaimed ‘Basspunk Loverboy’ brings his own eclectic flavor to the electronic music game by blending gritty bass music with elements of hip-hop, indie, rock, and other genres.  

His unique style, which is evident in his three projects (Basspunk Loverboy, Color Palettes: Side A, and Color Palettes: Side B), has brought him critical acclaim.

In 2019, tiedye ky performed at festivals such as Camp Bisco, Wakaan Festival, Moon.Beach, and Dirtybird Campout. As for 2020, you can catch tiedye ky on Space Jesus’s Moon.Landing tour along with Onhell and Tsuruda through February.  

Despite his recent success, tiedye ky goes beyond his role as simply an artist. In our conversation, he proved himself to be introspective, humble, and gracious to those who have helped him along with his career.

A few of those people include Space Jesus and his best friend and manager Sal. I had a chance to speak with the up-and-coming artist about his flourishing career, musical influences, skateboarding, and much more. 

How has your hometown of Philadelphia influenced your music?

Philly really changed my whole perspective on art culture and music culture. There’s lots of diversity in the city and it’s where I first started going to raves. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey but there isn’t the same art culture and music culture there. Moving to Philadelphia is what exposed me to all of this and is what inspired me to start creating art and music.

How did you originally link up with your most vocal supporter, Space Jesus? How has your association with him impacted your career? What aspect of his upcoming Moon.Records label are you most excited about?

I originally sent Jasha (Space Jesus) some music in a Twitter DM. I just sent it on a whim, not even thinking he would see it. We had a lot of mutual friends. One I could note is Esseks – he would kind of put me in his ear. I think when I sent him the music in the Twitter DM, he must have already known my name so he checked it out.

Dude, Jasha’s support has been so awesome to me. He’s become a dear friend. I’m proud of him for taking his career so far that he’s ready to start a label. I’m really excited to see what he does with moon.records, and I’m excited to be with him on tour. He’s become a dear friend as I said, and I think this tour is really gonna feel like a family vibe.

Let’s talk about your track “Love & Enemies” with CharlestheFirst. How did you manage to achieve such a hard-hitting first drop? How does working with CharlestheFirst compare to working with other artists?

Charles and I started that collab in a hotel room in Detroit. It came a really long way, but that second part of the question “how does that drop go so hard?” I remember we originally had it so that when the drop first came in, there were a lot of drum layers kind of stacked with that first bass wobble. After we had been sending the project back and forth, we decided to take a subtractive approach and took something away from that very first moment of the drop. We took away those drum layers so that when the drop hits, you get really only that bass wobble. I think that’s what makes it hit so hard. It’s almost just bass and the minimalism.

Charles is awesome to work with. He’s really talented and he’s really fast. He works very quickly in Ableton and that makes it really awesome to work with him.

It’s well documented in your social media that you are into skateboarding. How did you get into skateboarding? What are the parallels between music culture and skateboard culture?

I’ve definitely tweeted about this exact thing. I’ve literally gone on a twitter rant about this – how I think skateboarding culture and the music culture we’re now a part of. I think skateboarding, for me, was definitely an even earlier exposure to this type of art community even before moving to Philadelphia. I grew up skateboarding in the burbs and that was kind of my first exposure to anything outside of a very traditional lifestyle.

When I was growing up, not everybody liked the skaters. You were kind of like a ‘punk’ if you skated. I just like the idea of rebellion, but not saying I’m a punk or anything like that. Art and music culture can be different for those who are accustomed to a very traditional lifestyle and that’s what I love about it. They can definitely co-exist. I meet a lot of people in our community who are into skateboarding too.  

Your most recent project is called Basspunk Loverboy. What is the significance of this title and how does it relate to the actual music on the EP?

 I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the title, but I remember that once I landed on the name Basspunk Loverboy I was like “That’s it, man!”

I think at the time, and even still now, Basspunk Loverboy is just a name to describe myself as well as the music on the EP. It’s all about this juxtaposition that I try to keep in my project at all times where you not only have the soft, very vulnerable side of lover boy, but you also have the intense, heavy vibe. It’s almost an angry basspunk. It’s just a name that I came up with to describe both sides of the project and of this music.

Tiedye Ky wearing a hat standing near an art wall with his arm out.

Your song “Loverboy” features vocals and guitar riffs and sounds very much like an indie track. How was producing a song like this different than producing a track such as “Earth,” a more traditional electronic track with heavy synths and bass?

 I think that producing a song that is primarily instruments and almost indie is very much based on the performance of the recording rather than the effects or post-processing that you can do after the fact. What I’ve seen a lot of electronic music relying heavily on is doing everything inside the box. Producing an indie track is more about getting in the right space from the beginning. The question is, “How can you put the most emotion and sentiment in that guitar riff or that vocal track you’re recording?”

In turn, an indie track will have fewer channels and much less going on. I think “Loverboy” was only 15 or 20 channels inside Ableton, where a complex electronic song could be 100+ channels.

Your project Color Palettes: Side A features songs titled after colors (ie- “Blue,” “Pink,” etc.). However, Color Palettes: Side B features songs titled after earthly elements (ie – “Fire,” “Water,” etc.). What is the reasoning behind this? How do these two projects relate to each other?

When we were putting out the Color Palettes projects, I had already been writing music where, on one side, you had the chill stuff and the light stuff. Mostly happier, melodic, and vibe-y music. On the other side was heavier, grittier, and nastier bass stuff. Side A is that chiller, vibe-y side. Side B is the heavy stuff.

I guess we came up with the colors and elements to describe that hybrid or juxtaposition that says, “tiedye is every color.” Tiedye can be whatever it wants. I think what has helped me create the most success with this project is always being myself and not trying to stick with one idea or one sound. I guess the colors were a super obvious way to describe tiedye ky. Different colors represent different emotions. Side B came after Side A, so we had to think of a different way of breaking it down. We came up with the elements.

 I have to credit my manager Sal for actually finding those shapes that go along with each element. He did some research and found shapes and elements that all came together so well to the point where we said, “We have to use this idea!”

What is your relationship like with your manager, Sal?

Sal is my best friend, bro. I think I’m extremely lucky to have Sal. I’ve seen a lot of my peers and my fellow artists that are in the same position as me. A lot of times when they keep friendships and business together, you see it fail or cause them problems. Some people would say that it’s better to keep business and friendship separated, but Sal and I just kill it together, man.

He really has that business personality that I lack. I think my creative and vulnerable personality might be lacking in some of those things that he has. We complement each other really well.

I don’t know where I would be without Sal, man. We’ve been doing this together for a long time. I have to shout out his business, Arway Apparel. We do screen printing and embroidery. He started maybe a year ago.  Now I’m in there working in the shop with him running the embroidery machine. There’s now this duality of me and Sal doing business together – in a way, he works for me and I work for him. I’m really happy to have Sal, man. I love that kid.

You’re a noted fan of the late Mac Miller. What about Mac do you admire so much, and how do you strive to emulate him in your approach to music?

 I was listening to Mac Miller’s records before I was actually exposed to electronic music. Before I had even gone to my first rave, that’s what I was listening to. In high school, I remember listening to his album K.I.D.S.

I really think that he’s so widely digestible and widely accepted. Anyone could have loved and related to his music, and they still do. I think that was really powerful and could relate to me. He was around the same age that I am and the things he would rap and sing about in his songs all felt like things that I was going through at the same time.

 I like the word “vulnerability” – even when he sings and raps you can hear the vulnerability in his voice. You can hear how it’s really coming from his heart. That’s really what I loved about him the most. I really related to him as an artist.

“Franks track” is a remix you did of Frank Ocean’s “Wolves” outro from Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album. In what ways did you intend for your remix to differ from the original?

 I just remember listening to that Kanye record, and I had already been a big fan of Frank Ocean. I guess I saw it more as an opportunity just because the original song had no drums. At the time, I was more interested in doing cool remixes. My remix of the song is probably three years old now. At the time, SoundCloud was popping and a good way to gain traction was to come out with a bootleg or a remix. I was a very small artist, so doing something with Frank Ocean’s name on it was going to hit a lot of people’s searches. They’d see it and be like, “Oh, I love Frank Ocean so I’m gonna check out this remix.”

I saw it as an opportunity in a sense. I loved Frank’s vocals and there were no drums. That right there, as an electronic producer, was an opportunity. I didn’t even have to separate anything. It was just ready to go for me to add my own layers and take it to a new place. I still play it at my shows. I played it this weekend and it still goes off every time!

You weave together elements of EDM, hip-hop, rock, and indie in many of your tracks. How do you bring together all of these genres to create a cohesive song?

Creating a cohesive sounding song is really difficult. Sometimes I try to bring all of these genres together and it doesn’t always work. When it does, it feels really unique. Trying to steer my sound in this direction is something that has brought tiedye ky a lot of success.

It took me a long time. I was putting music online for six or seven years, and only in this past year have I seen some success from it. I just really enjoy trying to make something new and fresh. It’s really important for artists coming up to know that you’ll have the most value and most longevity trying to just be yourself. That’s something that I stand by super heavily and that I’m proud of.

How do you typically like to mix vocals into your tracks?

I definitely like traditional vocal styles. Some really traditional effects that you’d hear in older music on vocals are the slapback delay, or even a crunchy distortion sound is something that I like. I love that surf-indie vibe you get with a flat delay and crunchy distortion.

I like having the vocals feel super raw and don’t always like to tune them. That’s what we’re hearing a lot now in these new rap genres – heavy autotune. I actually really like hearing the imperfections in pitch and imperfections in the vocals – that makes a song really sound emotional and raw.

One of my favorite artists that I haven’t mentioned yet is King Krule. I’ve taken a lot of influence from his vocal stuff where it’s almost like he’s crying. It’s like he’s not even trying to sing “good,” if you define “good” as in pitch or in key. Sometimes he’s even screaming and crying. That’s where I have used the word “punk” to describe my album – it’s this element of imperfection. I think that’s “punk”.

Your song “Chainsmoking In LAX” with Mindset samples rapper JID’s “Never.” The track starts out with a loop from “Never” and eventually builds into a gritty, synth-filled banger. From a production and mixing standpoint, how did you and Mindset create such a dynamic song with a strong presence from start to finish?

 This song came such a long way. One thing that helped the song get to its final point is that it went through many stages of being created. I originally created a beat that didn’t have the JID sample at all.

 I used a virtual modular emulator called VCV Rack. The beginning loop is a sequenced and synth-y arpeggiator.  It didn’t even have the JID sample yet. Then Mindset pulled up, and we realized that the JID sample fit. We were like, “Oh shit, this is gonna be crazy!” Mindset pulled up to my house with his synth and we just went in on it, bro. It just came out so awesome. People love that song, I still play it at my shows and it just goes off.

 What are your favorite production tools to use for sound design? 

I really love using analog equipment. My synth that has been my workhorse for the longest time is called the microKORG. It’s a little tiny analog synth that sits on my lap. My studio is in my room – I just have a couple of speakers and a couple of synths.

Something worth mentioning (that’s kind of my little secret) is that I really like using guitar pedals. Just because they were made from guitars doesn’t mean that you have to use them in that traditional way. It still has a quarter-inch in-and-out just like any piece of electronic or analog gear.

I can make sounds in Ableton that don’t have to be anything remotely close to a guitar – like, it can be a crazy bass sound. I can send it through my interface, through a guitar pedal, and back into Ableton to record. I’m holding one right now by Electro Harmonix called Grand Canyon, it’s an analog delay. I can almost play the guitar pedal like a synth. My signal running through it is just playing out of Ableton, and I don’t really have to play an instrument. I can focus my hands on twisting knobs and doing things on the guitar pedal. I don’t really meet a lot of people who use guitar pedals in electronic music.  

“Hit Em From The Top Rope” is a very bouncy but gritty song. How were you able to make this beat sound so raw yet so catchy?

I don’t want to boast, but Top Rope ended up becoming a compilation tape on 40 Oz. Collective. “Top rope” was something that me and my friend Hunter (a founder of 40 Oz. Collective) came up with. We would joke around and say “top rope” a lot. We would use it to describe something that we liked, as in “Awww, that was top rope!”

Then, he [Hunter] recorded a bunch of “top rope” vocal samples and I created the “Hit Em From The Top Rope” song. Later, 40 Oz. Collective decided to get a bunch of artists to make top rope-themed songs. I was down for it and wanted all of my homies to be a part of it too. Then, I went back and recorded my own “top rope” vocal samples that no one else had. I think that may have contributed to the catchiness, if you will. I had my own vocal samples that I made myself. That bass wobble is from the microKORG too.

Which three artists would you say are your biggest influences outside of electronic music? Why?

I have to give the number one spot to King Krule. Biggest influence by far. I think, actually, when I first heard his music I didn’t like it that much. The more I listened to him, the more I analyzed deeper and deeper. I became so fascinated by the imperfections.

Music is not really about sounding perfect. It’s about being intentionally imperfect. That is something I carry through the music that I make, and through the art that I love and enjoy. It’s almost like a painting – my favorites are abstract and messy rather than precise. Using your emotions to lash out says a lot more than being perfect.

Number two is Mac Demarco. I’ve been listening to him for a super long time, man. He also introduced me to this idea of intentional imperfection. A lot of his songs sound intentionally out of tune. The way he tunes his guitar is intentionally off. People post tutorials online of how to play his songs on guitar and you’ll find that a lot of the notes that people who are trying to transpose his music leave a note saying, “Mac Demarco intentionally tunes his guitar a half-step down”. Finding imperfection in his music has really inspired me.

I could also say Frank Ocean, of course. His voice is so beautiful. He inspires me to try to sign myself, which I have done in a lot of my music. He is so unique and there’s a lot of space in his music. It’s usually just his voice right up in the front with minimal melodic elements.

You produced the rap song “Burn It Down” for The Vagabondz. Do you see yourself producing more traditional hip-hop tracks in the future? How was creating a beat for a hip-hop song different than producing one of your own songs?

That’s a really cool question. One of the members of The Vagabondz was a fellow student of mine in college. I like collaborating with people and making music with the intention of having vocals in the front. Something I don’t like about some electronic music is that people just try to go for the most complex thing that they can and try to fill every space with that same wobble and that same crazy electronic noise. There’s a lot to say about music that is carefully spaced out and every sound has a lot of intention.

Vocals really help tie together a piece of music. Not only is there a musical quality, but there is a message in the language. I really like making music with vocals and I really like making hip-hop. I’d love to do it again. We were just exploring and having fun. It brings me back to my college days.

 If you could go b2b with any DJ, who would it be and why?

The answer is someone I’ve already gone back to back with – I love going b2b with CharlestheFirst. I love going b2b with Jasha too (Space Jesus). 

I could say that I’d love to go b2b with G Jones, one of my favorite electronic artists. Going b2b with G Jones would be so hard because his music is so him. It’s so good and so unique. That would be a very challenging back to back, playing with G Jones or even Eprom. I’ve spent some time DJing with Jasha offstage just for fun. We’ve had hours of fun just mixing together and feeling good. I have so much fun playing music with my friends. I think that’s my real answer – playing with your friends is the most fulfilling.   

What has been your greatest challenge in the music industry?

My biggest challenge was finding a community that accepted me and my art. That took a really long time. I was an opening DJ for 3 or 4 years in Philadelphia. It seemed like other artists who strictly made heavy dubstep and bass music would just blow by me. Their product is designed for a very specific market. For promoters, it’s in their best interest to book an artist that is going to do well in a specific market.

It was hard for promoters to believe that tiedye ky would appeal to this market that I’ve now become accepted by. I think it’s flattering to be accepted by this bass music community. Tiedye ky’s music isn’t really bass music. It’s not really dubstep, but then I find myself being accepted by this culture. It’s flattering that people in this scene have an open mind in that sense.

How does your upcoming album differ from the previous music that you have put out?

In previous projects, you’ve seen me try to separate vibe-y and indie stuff with the heavy bass music stuff. The purpose of separating them was to maybe make it a little easier for the listener to understand. If they came searching for heavy dubstep or bass music, there’s Color Palettes Side B. If they came searching for indie music or chill stuff, I have Color Palettes Side A. This new project is about knocking down those boundaries, being myself, and having both the melodic stuff mixed in with heavier stuff.

It’s going to be totally fluent and I’m super proud of it. I’m unapologetically myself. I don’t have to worry about whether or not people are going to like it. It’s all about being myself.

I don’t want to say too much, but it’s coming early 2020. There’s a lot of value in waiting on certain details. I’m just going to leave it there: It’s coming early 2020.

What are your plans for 2020 in terms of touring and live performances? 

 The Space Jesus tour is the biggest I’ve announced in my career. It’s my first time touring on a bus so it’s going to feel really legit. I’m hoping folks will be excited for my album release party. I can say that I’m definitely going to host it in Philadelphia. Why would I host my album release party anywhere but my home? I’m hoping to see people maybe travel to this.

I think the album release party would be great to try some new things. Actually, I’ll probably do a live performance as well as a DJ set. You can catch me doing some live singing and live guitar with no electronic backing track. I can separate those two things, at least in a performance aspect. The first half of my set, I could do completely acoustic, like singing and guitar. The second half of my set could be a DJ set where you get some of the cooler beats. I’m really excited for festival season, too. I’m excited to see where it’s going to take me.

Tiedye Ky wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey and performing at a music festival.

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