Interviews News 14 January 2016
Author: Alex Griffin

Behind the Smoke: A Conversation with Bryson Tiller

14 January 2016

Words: Alex Griffin

It’s a cold winter evening in central London, but Notting Hill Arts Club is bursting with a warm energy. The artsy venue seems suspiciously over capacity, a tittering excitement resonating from the diverse array of mostly trendy-looking individuals within.  The stage is surrounded, the lights are bright. In a 5-panel cap, jacket/hoodie match up and a pair of Yeezy Boosts, the mysterious and ever-popular artist Bryson Tiller steps out from behind the smoke and onto the stage. “I’m telling you”, he sings in his soulful tone. “I ain’t through”, the gyaldem-heavy crowd sings back ferociously.

Performing at an impromptu secret show brimming with fans in London, a colossal 4000 miles from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky USA, is a far cry from the life the 23-year old was living little over a year ago. Early in the evening prior to the show, Bryson arrived at a suave Shepherds Bush hotel, with a small entourage, and a large brown bag full of burgers. He’s visibly tired, but still welcoming, having landed in the country at the break of dawn. It’s here where he speaks candidly on the life-changing year he’s had, in which he released his critically and commercially successful debut album ‘Trapsoul‘ to the world.

“Everything is different. When I go back home to Kentucky it’s different. Just the vibe that I get when I’m there.”, he says. “Not even just the vibe that the people give me, it’s the vibe I give off. I’m happier. When I’m driving around and stuff, I don’t know man, I love it. I mean come on, I’m in London! This is like a dream, it’s crazy”

Bryson Tiller stormed into the majority of the public’s eyes early last year, when his single “Don’t” began receiving recognition from important taste-makers and radio stations, with Apple Music championing his blend of hard hitting 808 and snare drums and soul melodies early on. From that moment, he hasn’t looked back, storming through the year with a string of videos, co-signs and his album. ‘Trapsoul’ was released back in October – named after his now trademark sound, which he credits to a fan who commented on one of his early SoundCloud tracks – but it’s popularity is undeniably peaking right now. On the same week as the conversation, it was revealed the album had its highest selling week since its release, landing him within the top 10 of the US chart. With so much rapid fire success, it’d be easy to let an ego take over, but Bryson shows no signs of doing that. He remains reservedly humble when discussing his latest chart landmark.

“I knew “Don’t” was doing what it was doing and hoping that one of the other songs would do the same thing. And it did, with “Exchange” and again with “Sorry Not Sorry”, that’s blowing up a little bit. I’m just happy with that”. He continues with a quiet calm in his voice, “It’s crazy because I remember recording “Sorry Not Sorry” in a hotel in Miami – all the songs actually – I remember when I first recorded them, and now when I see them charting or whatever I just think back to those times.”

“Those times” in mention really were not so long ago and seem to act as an anchor for his levelheadedness. The lingering memory of fighting to be paid for his art, balancing his creations with working at Papa Johns, remains as a driving force of his attitude. “I went through a struggle a lot, so I know what it’s like to be there. I feel like if I just start getting too triumphant and cocky, then God might just take it all away from me.”

Although his success has been very much a self-started accomplishment, a couple of helping hands have reached out on the way and praised his grounded persona. One such hand was Drake, who offered Bryson to join OVO, before he found his major label home at RCA, as well as offering some kind words his way.

“When I first talked to him, we had a brief conversation. It was actually the very first time I was coming from New York, heading back to Kentucky for something and he hit me right after ‘If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late’ dropped. I didn’t think he was going to hit me up, I had just given him my number 5 days previously. I was just telling him, ‘Man, I don’t know what to do, this life is crazy, I don’t know if I’m going to sign to a label or an artist’. I just asked him a bunch of questions. He said, ‘I’ve seen a bunch of people fall deeper and deeper into a hole based on their character, people with immense talent’. Then he said he doesn’t think I’m going to be one of those dudes, so I vowed to stay away from being one.”

Bryson is quick to assert that there is no bad blood between the two, despite his signature landing away from the 6 God and the YOLO Estate. “I wouldn’t call it turning him down, you know what I mean? Just like when people asked me if I dropped out of high school, I don’t really say I dropped out, I just stopped going… Even after I signed with RCA, he invited me out to the club and we were just turning up to Future.  That was a dream come true. It was my number one moment of 2015. Next to my daughter being born, that was probably the best moment of my life.”


“There’s a right time for everything…”


Perhaps in the back of his mind was also the recent trend of comparison surrounding him and fellow crooners blurring the distinction between rap and R&B, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Tory Lanez, with high profile figures like Joe Budden weighing in with his opinion that only one of the three could survive with longevity. That particular opinion is one Bryson fails to see any legitimacy in, even claiming he’d work with them “at the right time”. He reasons, “There’s a right time for everything. Kanye West might not have been able to collaborate with Paul McCartney a long time ago. But now it’s like, “let’s just do 3 songs together” because that’s just how he’s feeling. There’s a right time for everything.”

There was a time when Bryson failed to see the point of doing collaborations, period. “I really just thought doing collaborations in all wasn’t worth it, like I was just going to focus on me. My manager, on my project, he just wanted me to stand on my own feet, just stand alone with no features and ever since then I’ve just been going with that. ”

Despite strengthening his solo pull, it’s still evident his ambitions have shifted towards further collaboration, and even songwriting for other artists. “I’m trying to write an “Umbrella” one day… The-Dream is one of my all-time favourites, he’s the one that really got me into song writing and inspired me”, he discloses. Bryson reveals that he wrote a song for his other musical hero (and ironically the panto enemy of Drake) Chris Brown, penning “Proof“, a track from Breezy’s latest album ‘Royalty’.

Having had his heroes give him the professional thumbs up, it’s relieved some of the pressure on his creative process. “I was just telling someone about that actually the other day, that I don’t even think I do care (about my music’s reception) anymore. There are some people out there where it would mean the world to me if they reached out, but Drake and Chris Brown were the stamp, like yeah I’m good. They like my music.”

One thing that Bryson does still keep firmly in his priorities is his family. Invasion of his personal life looks to be his one main grievance with his new found fame. One such invasion comes from one of the various (and hilarious) parody accounts on social media that have cropped up since his burst into the limelight, most of which post despicably moist quotes all day. He’s mostly all good with the parody, but it’s obvious where the line is drawn. “I hate that account. At first I was like, it’s cool it’s just free promotion. They were posting some of the stuff that I really don’t care to, like links to videos and stuff…  But that’s not me! Don’t be dumb. There is a page on Facebook as well, that posts pictures of my daughter and that really bothers me for real. Especially when my family follow it, they pretty much only use Facebook, my Grandma and stuff. She’ll like some of the status’ they post and it makes me mad. Why is this person pretending to be me? I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some full blown conversation with my Grandma and I hate that.”

Bryson begins to wind down the conversation with talk of his goals in the new year; a new album is at the top of his agenda, despite his demanding tour schedule. He does however remain tight lipped on the ins and outs of the project, only divulging, “I can’t really say because it’s a lot of things that I’m trying. I tried like 6 different things already. I’m just trying new things, listening to different music. If I told you what I was listening to, that would kind of give it away.”

The interview ends with his outward humbleness and friendly manner still the major energy in the room. He listens with genuine enthusiasm and attentiveness when he hears the unfamiliar word “grime”, taking notes of UK MC’s told to him; Skepta, Stormzy, Bonkaz, J Hus, Krept & Konan all go into his iPhone’s notes. It turns out he opened up at a Travi$ Scott show with Skepta, but unfortunately missed the opportunity to hang out with the fellow pal of Drizzy afterwards. “I was saying to my manager, I should have rapped with him.” The idea of that collaboration will make most UK fans salivate.

His set at Notting Hill Arts Club closes with a round of vociferous applause, from attendees including Tim Westwood, Chipmunk and many more familiar faces. Smoke fills the stage again. The lights dim. Bryson Tiller has officially left his stamp on London, while London leaves its own impression on him. It feels like just the beginning of the young man’s journey, and it undoubtedly is just that. Remaining true to the lyrics that opened his performance, he certainly ain’t done.

Bryson returns to the UK for a show at KOKO on March 29th. For tickets, go here.

@GRIFFandish ¦ @brysontiller ¦ @GRMDaily