The Tyler Lyle concert August 2nd in St. Louis was a strange yet intimate experience. The show was at Fubar, one of STL’s heavy metal and punk venues, but Tyler didn’t let the band posters of Goat Whore, Desecrate, and the like deter him from connecting with the audience. Coming down off the stage and playing unplugged right next to the bar, Lyle conversed with the crowd, taking requests, and regaling the audience with anecdotes and meanings behind songs- such as explaining “Closer” as being a reaction to Nietzsche’s nihilism, and how “Don’t Want to Struggle” was inspired by the ghost in his old apartment building. His music is something that hooks you and draws you in, combining beautiful melodies with deep and poignant lyrics.
The wisdom that is in his lyrics isn’t just bound to his songwriting. Inspired by the all of the great writers throughout the ages as well as his meditations, Tyler imparted nuggets of wisdom throughout the show, from life, to love, to creative fulfillment. To those that were there at Fubar, the songwriting genius and performance of Tyler Lyle is something that will not be forgotten for a long time.
I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Tyler about his music before he came to St. Louis.
Summer: So you are currently on tour with Lissie, as well as doing your own shows. How has that been going?
Tyler: It’s been great! I really love Lissie’s music and she’s a great person to tour with. She’s got good fans and I’ve had a blast so far. I think we’ve done 7 or 8 shows so far.
S: You’re headed to STL on Sunday. Have you ever been before?
T: I’ve never been, no.
S: Oh, okay. It should be fun. We’ve got a lot of good food if you’re into that.
T: Yeah I’m really excited. Its one of the few major cities that I haven’t been to yet, so I’m very excited to have a little bit more time to see it. Is that considered the Midwest?
S: Yes, we are considered the Midwest, though a lot of people that live here still think were in the south.
S: Your album “The Native Genius of Desert Plants” was released at the beginning of June. Can you tell me a little bit about where the songs came from and how they came to be written?
T: Sure, I moved to LA after releasing my 2011 album The Golden Age of the Silver Girl and when I was in LA I got a publishing deal and wrote a lot of songs over the span of about 4 years. After that time, I moved to NY and had this big collection of songs that I never properly recorded in an album. So, I found a producer and recorded them pretty quickly. So all of those songs were written during my time in Los Angeles except for one called Winter is for Kierkegaard which was written when I was a student in Paris, which was about 8 years ago. It’s a really old song.
S: Do you have a favorite song off the album?
T: Yeah, I would say that my favorite song is Eighteen. It was the last one to be written on the album and it was the first real song I wrote for my wife.
S: Like you said, a lot of these songs have been around for four years in a relatively unreleased state. It’s just you and your guitar- like Ditchdigger, with the exception of the EP release last year. What is it like going from playing that at a Fuel/Friends house concert in Colorado Springs in 2012 to recording the produced version and playing that for people?
T: So I wrote a good portion of that song at Heather Browne’s house in Colorado Springs, so in the video that you saw, I had just finished the song. I haven’t seen the video in a while, but sort of doubt that it was the exact same, finished song. So yeah, that song we recorded a total of three times with other people while I was in LA and I could never quite get it right. So for the album we sort of combined the sessions of two separate recordings and made it into one, morphed track. That was a song that took a long time to evolve. I wasn’t quite sure what it was initially. But I decided that it was sort of the manifesto for the album. The place that I’d come to personally, I wanted it to kind of be a mission statement to put out at the beginning of the record.
S: In that song you have the lyrics “My friends, my friends/ Go near to the edge”. Those words have also appeared on “Free (I am)”, so it’s appeared throughout the years of your songwriting. Do you have a relationship with the lyrics, or what exactly does it mean to you?
T: There is an audiobook of interviews with Henry Miller talking about how the artist should, or its better for an artist to starve and try and make their art than for them to give up and get a square job, or a day job to survive. He says, “go near to the edge, you will not starve, you will not die”. And when I heard it, it kind of opened my eyes and I thought, yeah, you can go a lot farther than you think you can. And it’s been very true. I’ve been very close to the edge, and it’s always been the right choice to not sort of settle into safety and to keep pushing farther and see if you can survive it.
S: Do you have a lyric that you’ve written speaks to you the most? Not just off of this album, but out of everything you’ve written?
T: Hmm, that’s a great question. I think in One Beating Heart. That was a song that took a lot of time and a lot of emotional energy to write. I remember I was walking on the beach in Santa Monica, thinking about how I was going to have to move to New York, and coming up with the line “won’t you wade with me though the water/I feel my grandfather/I hear my granddaughter” and that one hit me on a deeper level than most of my lyrics that I write. There was something about that, that struck a chord in me- that we are one beating heart, that life is bigger than our lives, our tiny lives are all together, and it continues into this massive, one big life that sort of exist because of and in spite of us. And that’s sort of a reassuring thought. So tapping into that thought that was a pretty cool transition.
S: Who would you cite as your biggest influences both musically and in your writing?
T: Sure. Musically, I would go for the classics- Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan. That trifecta was pretty key. Van Morrison, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine. As far as literary influences, I was heavily influenced by Herman Hesse. Narcissus and Goldmund was a book that changed my life. Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Those were some books that really set me on a path, you could say.
S: Got you. If you had to be placed in a genre you would probably be in the folky, singer/songwriter category. Do you ever feel bound by being placed in those genres, or in a genre specifically?
T: Yeah, genre is this thing that we’ve sort of created in the past thirty years or so to sell more records. And I do feel bound. I did an 80s synth pop EP with a Danish house producer friend of mine last year and released it. I thought the songs were interesting and they were my lyrics, but the style, the genre didn’t connect with a lot of my listeners, and the people the style did connect with didn’t connect with my solo stuff.
It’s very interesting because I listen to everything, I really do. I don’t hear the boundaries around music the same way that a lot of other people do. So it’s frustrating for my Americana fans when I change it up and make the production a little more poppy, but that’s okay. I think the people that have always been there trust my vision and trust my voice to sort of be relevant through all of that. I think production styles are sort of a color palette that everyone can use now. I mean everybody should be listening to everything. I don’t think that genre should constrain it in the way that it does.
S: Some of your songs on your new album have more of a pop feel, like Against The Dark, while others have almost a bluesy feel, like Feel Free, which sounds very different from the first time I heard it. Were these sounds something that you always wanted to achieve but just didn’t have the means to do it, or has it just evolved over time?
T: The interesting thing about my position is that I’m a songwriter; I’m not much of a producer. I have a decent ear, but it really takes a person that really has a knack for production to partner with to get an album out. I think the way that it sounds- the instrumentation is all an experiment. I don’t think there’s really and objective or truer sound than others. Sometimes people connect with the demos, sometimes people connect with different versions; which is why I’ve learned not to release so much of the early demo phases of songs, because so many people get attached to them. But my concern is really the lyrics and the melody and the way that’s its presented to people. I want it to sound hooky and catchy for the listener, but I don’t get too hung up on the instrumentation or the colors that are used. That’s not my aim in putting out a record; it’s more nuanced than that.
S: So, like you said, you’re a songwriter, not a producer, and you’ve written a lot of songs. What exactly is your process of writing like?
T: Sure. Every day I wake up and I write three pages of generally stream of thought, whatever, into a notebook, and then I meditate. When I’m not on the road and not in the studio, I sit by myself and try and write for about three or four hours. Usually throughout the day I jot down thoughts, lyric ideas, or titles into my Evernote app, and when I don’t feel particularly inspired I will go back to those and try and use those as a starting point. But I write every day and [the song origin is] never consistent. Songs come from completely different directions and completely different ways. Sometimes they start from the title, sometime from a lick or a note, a melody, and sometimes there’s a theme that I want to get across. But the songs always come about in a completely unique way. There’s never a standard for that, but the process is always me sitting behind my iMac for three or four hours a day.
S: So you’ve release a number of albums and EPs over the years. Do you feel like you’ve always approached them the same way, or is your approach different every single time?
T: I think you have to approach them differently. Knowing that an album is going to become sort of like a yearbook for you, you’re going to pull it off the shelf and remember where you were in 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012. So Golden Age I didn’t anticipate that being what it was at all. We recorded it for $200 in a friend’s bedroom, and it was really to just get down the songs. And I didn’t think that the production was sort of worthy of putting it out as an album. But it sort of took off. It certainly didn’t have any philosophical core; it was exactly what it was. It was twelve break up songs, and that was it. There really wasn’t any more thought to it than that. With the new record I had four years to kind of think about my subject and the themes that I wanted to kind of put forward. It was a very sort of fortuitous thing for me to have had that moment in Joshua Tree National Park that I had, that moment of surrender to the process of how the universe works, so that sort of became the theme for it. In most cases the songs sort of dictated what the theme would be, and it’s always a different process getting to that theme. I don’t know if that answers you question or not.
S: It does. You were previously making music and living in California, and before that, Georgia. Now you’re in New York. Are writing and playing any different in a new city?
T: Yes and no. Los Angeles has definitely become the city to live in if you are a songwriter. A lot of my New York friends kind of moved to California at the same time that I was moving to New York. So there’s definitely not as much of a top writing community in New York in the same way that there is in LA. In LA I can do that three or four or five days a week, and in New York I can maybe do it once every two weeks. So that’s different, but in New York there are a lot of powerful live musicians performing. There’s a pretty close-knit scene in New York. It’s much easier to go out to shows and to hop around in New York than LA because you have to drive in LA. I would say that the culture is different definitely. The live music is much better in New York than live music in Los Angeles, but also the creative community in LA is strong and well established as far as the music industry goes. So I don’t think the songs are that different. But the New York winters they make me a little more bitter and I find myself writing a little more sadder songs, but I haven’t noticed that much difference in the content of the songs between the cities.
S: That was a rough winter, wasn’t it?
T: It was a rough winter. When I got to Los Angeles it was just a shock just of how wonderful it was to live where it 70 and sunny for 365 days. After four years I had totally forgotten about winter and I was rudely awaken come late September. It is a lot easier to get work done though. I find myself being way less distracted by the nice weather. When there’s snow on the ground you don’t want to leave your desk and go wandering around.
S: Definitely. You funded Native Genius of Desert Plants by Pledge Music. What were your feelings when you finally hit 100% on the campaign?
T: I was thrilled! It was one of these compositions that was going to cost a lot of money to make the record. I just kind of threw it up into the universe and it was really gonna work or not gonna work. It wouldn’t just kind of limp by because it was a big project. I think we got like 20% in the first day and I though “okay, this is going to be funded”. But I was a little hasty when I was setting my goal. It should have been much higher. The album cost about three times as much as what I raised on Pledge. But Pledge covered the basics. I was thrilled to be able to make the album. It certainly wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t reached that goal.
S: How difficult was it to come up with all of the rewards and to distribute them?
T: The rewards were really fun. The whiskey tasting and the flight club were really fun to do. A couple of them like the book and the vinyl are a little harder because of production behind it. So that was sort of a bummer, but the whole process was great. I liked doing the Pledge only videos and keeping people updated on the process.
S: So my last two questions are really about music in general. Who are a couple of recent artist that you think people should listen to?
T: That’s a great, great question. Leon Russell is doing great things. I like him a lot. And then there’s and Atlanta band, Dwayne Shivers, fronted by Micah Dalton. It’s kind of a quirky folky, bluesy duo that sounds really interesting. They’ve got some good stuff going on. Then my buddy Tommy Siegel fronts a band called Narc Twain out of Brooklyn. He’s in the band Jukebox the Ghost, but he’s got a side project called Narc Twain that is very Nick Cage-y, Queen sort of inspired band. So those are three bands that are on the rotation.
S: Who are a couple of underrated artists that you think need more attention?
T: Aha. Besides Daniel, which is this guy based out of Atlanta. Sleeping at Last. I know a lot of people know Sleeping at Last, but a lot of people don’t. I think he’s incredible, Ryan O’Neal. Who else… Everyone knows Jason Isbell his new album is great. Natalie Prass’s new record is great. I think those two artists are really are coming up pretty big time.
Take a look at his lyric video for “Eighteen”.