A Conversation with Tyler Cole: The Young Black Rockstar Making Art While The World Is Ending
Interview by Ramisha Sattar
In late November, Tyler Cole announced a set of free tour dates that would be taking place in public parks across America. I had the pleasure of chatting with him on December 6th at his Dallas show, about his new album, first tour, and a charity that is special to him, School on Wheels.
Ramisha Sattar: You just released your new album, We’re in Love & the World Is Ending, back in October. Are there any tracks on it that are particularly special to you?
Tyler Cole: “Next to Me”, because one of my favorite musicians and idols is on that song with me, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange). He's one of my favorite artists ever and I was a huge fan of Dev before I ever even met him or befriended him. That song just means so much to me because he was on it. You know there's things about that song that are really personal, but solely just the fact that I have a song with both of our voices, it makes me wanna cry everytime I hear it.
RS: Dev is extremely talented!
TC: He is the most talented.
RS: What was it like getting to watch him make music?
TC: It’s like watching Jesus turn water into wine. That's the only way I can put it. Another song that is super special to me is “Sidney Poitier”, a dedication to one of my biggest inspirations. Sidney Poitier was the first Black man to win an Oscar, and he paved the way for people of color in the entertainment industry more than anyone else in history. He single-handedly broke down the color barrier and was taking roles that people weren’t giving to Black people. He was doing things that were so far ahead of the game. The industry was basically forced to accept him truly off of talent and that was so rare for a person of color.
RS: While we’re on this topic, how do you feel people of color are treated differently within the music industry?
TC: I feel like most people on the outside expect you as a person of color to do something very specific. Like when I tell people I make music, with no context they say “Oh you rap?”. Like did I spit some bars before I said that? You know what I mean? It’s hard to explain what I do as an artist. As a person of color, I feel it is a lot harder to be alternative, or to do things that are out of the norm, so that's the biggest issue I have! If you look at the alternative charts or the rock charts in Billboard charts, you see nothing. There's no people of color at all, except maybe a feature of a Black person on a White artist’s record. That really needs to change because some of the best rock and alternative music is being created by people of color. That's something I feel very strongly about, so thanks for asking that.
RS: Absolutely! So you chose to support School on Wheels, an organization that provides tutoring and education to the homeless youth in Southern California. What is it about this charity that makes it so special to you?
TC: I actually have a personal connection to the charity! I did a film project that I acted in about homeless youth in Los Angeles, and I didn't know too much about that, so I really did my research. I went to the School on Wheels to actually learn about these kids. When I got there I realized, wow this is such a beautiful program. All these people are actually contributing to the education of kids who don't have the privilege to go to a public school or to have a normal place to live. I feel like this is the most important tool that we need to be putting are time and investments into, because the cure for cancer could be in a kid who's living in a homeless shelters brain, you know what I mean? If we don't support that, then we're no better than the people who are hiding the cure for cancer.
RS: What other issues do you feel strongly about in today's political climate?
TC: Feminism. The whole Hollywood / Harvey Weinstein scandal has made me continuously so angry and so upset, but at the same time, I truly feel like this is sparking a change. People who actually practice misogyny are starting to see that this is no different from racism or any other issue. I think sexism is the biggest issue we're dealing with in America right now, so that's what I am most passionate about and focused on at the moment.
RS: So you self directed your music video for your single, “Blow Up Your TV”, and it turned out amazing! What was that process like, and how did you get involved in filmmaking?
TC: I love the process. Filmmaking is probably my first passion, even before music, only because that's how I started making art before I was actually able to record and produce music. I was out recording videos with my iPhone or my little flip camera with my friends. Filmmaking is something that I'm huge on, so transitioning that into directing music videos is awesome. “Blow Up Your TV” was a blast. The day we did that was one of the greatest days of my life. And everyone knew that this was something really special. We were literally blowing up TVs. I've never seen anyone do that, and everyone that was there were great friends of mine. There was so much great energy. That was a great experience and I definitely plan on directing a lot more videos. I actually also made a feature film.
RS: Oh I didn't know that! That's super cool. Do you know what songs off the album you are planning on making music videos for?
TC: Yes, for “Love at First Fight”. We are working on that right now. That’s really gonna be a special one. It’s gonna be crazy.
RS: I’m excited to see it! What else can we expect from you music-wise in the next few months?
TC: I’m working on so much music right now. I’m producing some stuff for other artists, I’m writing songs with a lot of people, and I have another album that I’m slowly working on. I also have a soundtrack to the feature film that I told you about. That’s probably coming out first. It's like an album that I'm doing, but it's specifically for the soundtrack to the film. Also, I plan to do an actual tour with actual venues after this. I'm kinda using this as a good experience to get the word out about the album.
RS: I'm excited to see how that all turns out! What made you want to do this kind of tour, instead of a traditional tour in venues?
TC: Well to be completely honest, I was trying to book an actual tour and I realized that it's not that easy when you don't have a tour manager or a booking agent. I have a lot of people working with me that really wanted to help me but were like “hey dude, it's kinda hard you know, when your not that level,”. I realized it's hard to get myself out there and to promote this album without having an actual label behind me funding those things. So then I thought, why not just do it myself? If nobody shows up I’m still gonna be able to express myself and play these songs.
RS: I feel like it's a really cool thing to do, cause you actually get to talk and hang with your fans. It's not the same experience you would get with a venue tour.
TC: Absolutely. I feel like I really got to connect with all the people who came out to these shows.
RS: Definitely! So are there any certain people or experiences that have helped you with your music?
TC: Absolutely, there’s so many personal experiences. I fell in love two years ago and that kinda inspired the whole album. My music got to a place where I couldn’t even try to make music without expressing myself deeply, you know? Sometimes I write songs for other artists, and those songs are usually less personal, taking a step aside. Not like really deep but like, is this just a good song? I couldn’t even do that because every time I put a pen to paper, things would just pour out of me. I feel like it's such a universal thing - love. Whether that's self love, love for another person sexually or emotionally, just like because you enjoy someone you know? It doesn't really matter. There's so many different kinds of love and that's kinda what inspired me, learning about how many different kinds of loves there are.
RS: If you could hope for kids to take something from your music, what would it be?
TC: That it’s okay to feel sad. It’s important to manifest your emotions into art and any means or expressions that will raise the vibrations of humanity and the collective consciousness.
RS: So what does the word “MSFTS” mean to you?
TC: It’s a place for people who’ve always felt like they never really belong anywhere.
RS: That’s all the questions I have for today! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
TC: No, thank you!
If you are interested in helping School on Wheels, you can purchase a signed polaroid of Tyler here; the proceeds will go the charity. Listen to We’re in Love & the World Is Ending here.