Tyler John is the Garden State’s Death Cab for Cutie

Updated: Jun 9

Culling his indie alternative songwriting and production, Tyler John creates tracks that just rock. Performing at local Philly venues such as Underground Arts, The Fire, The Grape Room, and Ortlieb’s, Tyler has shifted his focus during the pandemic to the studio and the recording process, where it all started. Tyler John has since released two singles, with the latest being “Our Good Name,” complete with grungy vocals and sharp guitar riffs.

The MIC was able to sit down with Tyler John and hear all about infatuation with music, his latest single, and what’s next on the docket.

Q: What’s your story; how long have you been making music, and what instruments do you play?

A: I have been making music since I was very young, coming up on two decades now. Some of my earliest memories are running around with a small ukulele that was half my size, as well as plonking away on a miniature toy piano. Years later, my elementary music teacher suggested that my parents invest in some guitar lessons. He had seen my intense interest in class and a performance of an original song at the school talent show. A life-changing event came when I was around thirteen. My parents purchased me a Boss BR-864 Digital 8 Track Recorder for Christmas. I would spend the majority of my time in my childhood bedroom with an SM57 microphone recording material for hours on end. I was infatuated with layering parts while being able to listen back to my ideas after a day’s work. Between the built-in drum machine, guitar amp simulators, and multi-effects, the curiosity was insatiable. My primary and most studied instrument is guitar, but I have always dabbled with bass, drums, and keyboards.

Q: How would you describe your writing process?

A: I didn’t play in a lot of bands until my late teens, so very little was written in a traditional rehearsal with others weighing in with their own opinions. I was guilty of easily becoming impatient with other young musicians who didn’t want to practice all day after school. That was how intensely obsessed I was. At the time, I couldn’t imagine any reason why a fellow thirteen-year-old would rather be playing video games or riding their bike when we could be making a racket in our parent’s basement. Because my recorder was always up to “jam” with me, my writing has always been linked to the recording process. Whether that be starting from a drum loop, bassline, or sparse acoustic arrangement, I always try to change it up to keep myself uncomfortable and responsive to new ways of writing. I will create self-imposed challenges and limitations to stay on my toes. I often will imagine scenarios like what if I was the drummer for a post-hardcore band, the guitarist from a shoegaze band, and a singer coming out of a folk act in an attempt to trick myself into new patterns of songwriting. What would that band sound like? How would I change my natural inclinations as a player to fit into my imaginary band?

Q: Do you record yourself, or do you go to a studio?

A: I would later learn the value of collaboration and listening to others while becoming more patient. Nowadays, I am lucky to have many collaborators. When I record with my backing band, we generally go into the studio and try to record live off the floor with minimal overdubs. When I am working this way, I’m just a guitarist and a singer. I do not allow myself to overthink the engineering aspects. I focus on performance while trusting who I am working with. I enjoy creating this way because it is the opposite of what I do when working alone, micromanaging and overdubbing every bit of the recording. When recording collaboratively live off the floor, you are creating with broad strokes. Being able to listen back to a full arrangement instantly after tracking, you stop zooming in so much. You can step back and look at the whole picture in a more objective way. On the other hand, I enjoy recording myself while sweating the details. I have recorded in closets, barns, basements, dorms, and bedrooms. These days I have a very nice home studio in a converted bedroom space with a full mixing board, a collection of gear that took me years to accumulate, and some custom acoustic treatment that makes it much more professional sonically than a bare bedroom space while tracking and mixing.

Q: What would you call your musical style and direction?

A: The material out right now fits under the indie alternative rock umbrella, although through the years, I have taken elements of post-hardcore, garage, and even some slight incorporation of progressive elements. Most of my music tends to deal with darker aspects of the human experience. I have written this way almost as long as I can remember when making my own material. Bands like The Cure, Placebo, and Death Cab for Cutie opened up a world that resonated with me without fully understanding why. I just knew it emotionally hit me in a way that some of the material on classic rock stations hadn’t when I was growing up… and I owe a huge part of my love of music unabashedly to classic rock and ripping guitar solos. I just think sensitivity in music can be really powerful. The combination of loud brash guitars and more delicate introspective lyrics has always been appealing to me. Combined with some biting lines, you can really conjure up a colorful thematic picture in the listener’s mind. I have had people come up to me after shows and ask if I have any “happy songs,” which can be somewhat frustrating and funny at the same time. I previously struggled with the idea that I was being solely perceived as someone who is only capable of doom and gloom, but now I am able to separate my entire identity based on what I write. I know that music about our shared struggles as human beings can be empowering to the listener, so I no longer feel strange with my own musical direction.

Q: Where do you find your inspiration?

A: In the beginning, I was most interested in writing about my own experience. I wanted to be able to tap into the most raw nerve so I could start from a very real personal place, even if dwelling on such topics made me uneasy. I didn’t want to remove myself all that much from what I was singing about. I had gotten pretty comfortable with sharing the more personal parts of my life through song rather than in everyday conversation. On top of drawing from personal experience, I was always an avid reader and had a small independent movie theater near me as a young man. I would frequent all types of films during matinees in between college classes. I started to realize I could blend fact and fiction to find new perspectives as a writer. As I have gotten older, I have found my own interests and experiences combined with different characters placed in fictional backdrops have allowed me to enjoy a more balanced, less personally draining way of writing. It is also a great lesson in looking outside of yourself and trying to walk a day in someone else’s shoes.

Q: You have three released singles, with your latest being “Our Good Name.” Tell us about this track.

A: “Our Good Name” was the second single collaborating out of my new home studio with Matt Weber & Christopher Hawthorne. It was made remotely during the pandemic. Files were quickly passed around over a weekend to Christopher’s Studio 150 in Burlington, Vermont, Joshua Pannepacker’s Thanks Mom Studio, and The Gradwell House in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. Katie from the Philadelphia band The Lunar Year sang some harmonies on it. It was mixed that Monday by Matt. The lyrics are somewhat vague but offer a glimpse into a couple attempting to navigate the birth of a child while being cast out from their community. Sonically we were really trying to pay homage to the 2000s Death Cab for Cutie Chris Walla production style.

Q: What do you hope to achieve as an artist?

A: It has been a long time coming to get to where I am now. This project has existed in so many different forms over the years. I am extremely blessed to be in a position now where I can create regularly. I hope to put out a lot of new music in 2021-2022 while pushing myself into new territory. I hope to do a fraction of what my favorite artists have done for me. To have my music be something for others to lean on or feel seen by. It’s easy to get lost in large ambitions and forget that even having a handful of folks connect with something you create is something very special worthy of being grateful for.

Q: What’s next from Tyler John? Can we expect any new singles or larger projects?

A: I have started writing and recording a new EP performing all the instruments myself. This is personally very exciting because it takes me back to my beginnings as a musician. I just wrapped up the first song and likely will be releasing a single in the next two months. After a year of isolation, I am hoping to travel the country quite a bit, playing shows solo as well as with my backing band. Only being able to share music through a screen this past year has left me hungrier than ever to get in a room with others to create a moment together.

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