Tyde Levi is following his brother's footsteps to become Australia's next big thing
Creating Frank Ocean-esque R&B with Cosmo's Midnight and Daniel Johns, Tyde Levi is onto something real good.
Header photo by Cybele Malinowski.
It's easy to say that Tyde Levi is going to be popular because of his brother's fame. After all, his brother is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, selling out shows in the US and casually starring in one of the year's most touching films, fresh from his commercial and critical hit of a second album that arrived earlier this year. However, unlike the headlines splashed across blogs may suggest, the 18-year-old Melbourne musician is a lot, lot more than just Troye Sivan's little brother.
Initially rising as a YouTube (and social media) phenomenon with a subscriber list somewhere over the 470,000 mark, Levi is among the younger generation of social media stars which have made the leap into musicianship - Alessia Cara, James Bay and Carly Rae Jepsen among the other well-respected alumni - creating populous fanbases that make their transition into music impactful without the tiring branding and marketing that often preface releases in the 'traditional' means of artist growth. In the midst of all this, he left school to be homeschooled - giving him more time to work on his content and fan base - before taking up DJing, igniting a passion for music that now, years later, he's acting upon as a fully-fledged artist.
For someone that admittedly hadn't considered singing just three years ago, you couldn't tell it from his debut single Goldchains. Released back in July, Goldchains felt like a star-in-the-making finding his feet for the first time, combining the masterful production of Cosmo's Midnight and the sultry, smooth brass of The Roots with the songwriting of ex-Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns, blending it together with some thick 90s R&B nostalgia for a slick and sensual leap into the musical deep end that even now, months later, feels like it came from an artist beyond Levi's experience and age. It was "a show-stopping, sultry R&B affair that'll leave you breathless" as we said, and it still pulls the same effect now, introducing us to an artist with the promise and potential to follow in his brother's footsteps - something that holds particularly true when you listen to his self-titled debut EP.
Released in December, the six-track EP showcases Levi's versatility above instrumentals that range from moments of tender minimalism to the sensual grooves of Goldchains, each connected by a hazy R&B backbone that wouldn't feel out of place on Frank Ocean's masterful Blonde. Sober, the EP's second impact single, offers a take on Levi's R&B sound marked with confidence, pop sensibilities and sun-soaked guitar melodies perfectly accompanied by crashing ocean waves, while Champagne - a yet-to-be-released cut, presents Levi at his most romantic, crooning to a former lover who doesn't feel the same way. However, while each of the EP's focus tracks welcomes an artist finding his Ocean-esque confidence and boldness above Cosmo's brilliant-as-always production dexterity (something they showcased on their debut album What Comes Next back in June), it's the EP's final moments - a trio of tender, guitar-backed acoustic takes on his singles - that really shows us why Levi is an artist on the rise.
It's in these moments that we get Levi at his most vulnerable, which is often where you find whether or not artists have the thing. They've got nowhere to hide - no maximalist production or no swaying melodies to keep their voice hidden - and where many artists fail, it's here where Tyde Levi flourishes. With a soft, guitar backing by Charlie Collins of ex-Tigertown glory, it's here where Tyde Levi's vocal feels genuinely in its element - as much as the soulful waves typically behind him match his voice perfectly - and where truly understand what he's about. Instead of setting himself up for failure, he jumps and leaps into success.
Read our interview with Tyde Levi below, and pre-order his debut EP on vinyl HERE.
To start, I know there's a cliche question about having a significant musical influence in your family and all that, but I came across a recent tweet you did that said that even a few years ago, when you were 15, you had no idea that you wanted to be a musician. Is that right?
Yeah, I had no idea that I wanted to sing. I could - and would - sing around the house, but I would never even have thought about turning it into a career for me. Then one day I was in America - I was like 16-years-old - and I was seeing producer friends over there because I wanted to be a producer, and one friend just asked me out of the blue "hey, can you put vocals on this track so I could hear what it sounds like?" So I did it and I absolutely loved it. But like, I had no idea up until literally that point that I wanted to sing.
So there was nothing that made you snap and want to dive into being a singer?
Yeah, that was probably the snapping moment - just this friend saying "hey, can you just put some vocals down so that I can hear a melody on the beat?" I did it, then I wrote to the song, and then we wrote a whole EP together. That was years ago and it's unreleased - probably never to come out - but like, it was just us having a bit of fun. That was kind of turning point for me.
Was it straight on from there? Like yes, I'm going to do this shit? I'm going to make this a thing.
Yeah, pretty much. I have a manager - Aaron Girgis - and at the time I was a DJ who wanted to be a producer. So yeah, he was getting me into the studio with producers to teach me how to produce so I can start producing properly, and then that whole thing happened, so I just called him up being like 'hey, I'm going to start singing now,' and then within weeks there were full sessions organised.
So before this whole transition into music happened, you already had a pretty big platform on YouTube and social media, which is how more and more artists today are starting out in my opinion. Do you think that having that background and creating this community over the years has shaped or even helped your transition into who Tyde Levi is now?
It definitely helped out. I don't know about shaped necessarily, because I actually stopped making YouTube videos as I just didn't like where... not where the YouTube community was going, but YouTube as a whole was changing and I didn't really love that change, which made me stop wanting to make videos. But yeah, of course, having that fan base and having such dedicated, loving and caring fans helps me a lot - they support anything I could do. I could write the most horrific book in the whole wide world, or I could make a terrible, terrible TV show, but they would still absolutely love and adore it just because the people they are. So having that is the best thing ever.
Now, post-music, there are obviously the diehard fans that are sticking with me. But I'm noticing a kind of audience change where people who aren't interested in the music - and that's fine - are backing away, and there are new members and new audiences coming in, which is really interesting to see.
Yeah, that must be like a pretty interesting position to be in, being able to look at that changing audience - you couldn't do that before social media.
Yeah, definitely. I'll lose a couple of followers on Instagram and then I'll gain a whole bunch more with music. It's just interesting to see which people are going, which people are coming, and who is hearing my music. I think a lot of older people are hearing the music and getting more interested in me - which is cool - but really, it's all fun and games.
I wanted to talk about differentiating yourself from your brother, because I noticed that in basically every single piece written about you, it's tied to your brother, like "hey, Troye Sivan's little brother is actually making sick music."
Yeah, for sure.
You've got a whole new team, new writers, new producers. Your sound is completely different, being more R&B, Frank Ocean-inspired while his is what it is, and so on. Is there a drive for you to do something different so you can avoid the comparisons? Because I feel like that's something that impacts a lot of family-related acts.
Yeah, I think it's me wanting to be my own artist and wanting to be my own person. I think on YouTube I was always known as Troye Sivan's little brother and that's fine. I love Troye - I obviously want the best for him and I want the best for me. But I think now, because we're both older and we both know what we want and it is different to each other, we try and keep it different. If someone asks me about him, I'm so happy about it and I want to show support and I love him - and he does the same to me. But at the bottom of the line, we are separate people. We are separate artists. He'll show support for me; I'll show support for him.
I think this is what this EP is about. It's showing me as my own artist and yeah, like you said, we have a different team and we're on a different label and I'm a completely different person. So that's what we're trying to get people to see.
You said that you wanted the EP to show that you're a different artist. Who is that artist? Like, what do you want people to see you as?
Yeah, that's a loaded question sorry.
Yeah, jesus, how do I want people to judge me?! I don't know if I want to be any one particular thing. I think whatever an individual person wants me to be for them; then I hope I can be that for them. Like, I feel like Frank Ocean to me, is a completely different person than Frank Ocean is to you, or someone else. I want to be whatever person I can be for the person that needs it.
So onto the EP. So there's Goldchains, Sober and Champagne, and they're all done with Cosmo's [Midnight] and Daniel [Johns], aren't they?
Yeah, the whole EP was done with Cosmo's and Daniel Johns.
So what was the process of coming together with both Cosmo's and Daniel and what drew you to them as collaborators?
That process was one of the quickest, funniest and easiest I've ever been involved with and probably the best thing to ever happen to me. So, when my manager was setting up sessions, he talked to Universal, BMG, all the big labels, and they all set up sessions. I met Cosmo's in one of them, and then a couple of months down the track, when I had done a few sessions and I signed to BMG, I met Heath Johns. He is the executive manager at BMG and Daniel's brother. I was really working well with Cosmo's and Heath really wanted to get me into a room with Daniel, so we just put three days aside where we stayed at Daniel's house - me, the Cosmo's guys and Daniel - and we basically wrote three tracks in three days and that's the EP coming up.
It was so much easier than I thought it would be and I was so nervous to go into the three days, because obviously I'd never worked with Daniel and I'd known him from Silverchair forever, as well as everything else that he's done. I was nervous, but going in there was just the greatest studio experience I've ever had. Daniel was so amazing to work with. He just knew exactly where to push me in the right way. The Cosmo's boys are just so talented and they're not afraid to step out of the box a little bit and that's what I love - they brought such uniqueness to the songs. The EP couldn't be possible without both parties.
I interviewed Cosmo's for their album earlier this year and they were talking about their heavy inspiration and influence in R&B, which I know you do as well. Did they help you flesh out that sound and create what you're going with?
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think me wanting to be a producer right at the beginning really helped too, because now when I make a song, I know exactly what kind of sound I want, but it's difficult for me to get that point across. With Cosmo's, if I say something or suggest something, they just pick up on it immediately and they're like, "yeah, that's a sick idea." We really just worked well together
Photo by Cybele Malinowski.
So Champagne is the song nobody else has heard yet, and of the full EP, it sounds the most romantic. It almost sounds like a Frank Ocean - Channel Orange cut. Is that right?
It is, it's probably the biggest love song.
Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Champagne is about me liking or loving this girl and she's not accepting it, or doesn't want to accept the relationship we have for who knows what reason, and I'm almost getting down on my knees and begging her to give herself into the relationship that we could have. It's sad, but I think it's my favourite song of the whole EP because it has so much meaning, and it's probably my favourite writing on the EP as well. This is the one I probably wrote the most by myself without a lot of Daniel's help. So it means a lot to me and yeah, I absolutely love it.
On the EP, there are the three songs and then there are the same three songs acoustically. Was there a particular thought process behind this idea or was it just as simple as "yeah, this will be sick. Let's do it."
We wanted to do an acoustic video for Goldchains. I went to the studio with Chris Collins from Tigertown where we jammed out Goldchains for a while and then yeah, we were like "let's do the other songs" and it just all happened. We decided to just make the three acoustic tracks, and then we got Kai Neville on board who directed and produced the acoustic videos. There's an interesting video for Sober too. It just happened. We were only going to do Goldchains and they were like "fuck it, let's do all three," which turned into "fuck it, let's just put them on the EP too."
The reception to the Goldchains one has been pretty good too.
Man, it's been amazing. I think the acoustic versions just bring out a different side to the songs that don't come out normally. Chris Collins just absolutely nailed that. We were in the session and he was just freestyling the whole time.
This is your first EP and it comes really early in your career. I know you've been hyping up a lot of shit online, so what's the next frontier for you? Where do you go from here?
The next frontier for me is probably going to be live shows. I've obviously got a bit more music to come out because you can't really make a live show with just three songs, but yeah, we've got a lot planned up our sleeves and we're getting started already on band practice and everything like that. I think 2019 is the time to look forward to shows and touring.
Do you have any vision of what you want the live show to be like yet?
Live shows are cool when there's live elements in them. I see acts now and it's just track coming out of the speaker and maybe a DJ and that is not how you want to be seen on stage. There's going to be a whole lot of live aspects - drums, guitar, vocals - it's going to be a good time. We're going to make it fun. I've got some pretty cool ideas for the stage design and everything, but you're just going to have to wait and see.
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