LessThan3: As a fellow Tar Heel native, I know sports are a huge part of the North Carolina culture. Why music over sports?
Tyler: I played a lot of sports growing up–mostly soccer. North Carolina is huge for sports, especially with Duke, UNC, and NC State and all the crazy good basketball and football teams. My brother went to UNC, my mom went to Duke, and both her parents went to Duke. It was huge rivalries all the time. My parents put me in piano lessons when I was five, and I got pretty good at theory. I played guitar and drums throughout high school, as well as sports. But when I was about to go to college, I knew if you played a sport in college it’s kinda your life. And that was right as I was getting into making mashups and writing my own original stuff. Just getting ideas down. When I had free time I would jump on Ableton or Reason and make music because that was what entertained me. I love sports and football and stuff, but I have a passion for music. I don’t have a passion for playing sports. I’m not a competitive person.
LessThan3: You have a unique sound that is distinctly NGHTMRE. What do you feel helped form that sound?
I grew up listening to a lot of rock and alternative music. I was a huge fan of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys. I was always into really melodic stuff. I try and make stuff that has musical integrity, as I like to call it. I went to my first Bassnectar show right at the beginning of college. It was right as the Flux Pavilion
remix of Gold Dust
had just come out and all these really crazy bass-heavy tracks. I was like “Damn. This is insane.” It just made me want to create stuff like that, but it took me five or six years before I found a sound that was mine. Eventually you start to see patterns within your own production. That’s what I feel like your sound ends up being.
LessThan3: How did Icon Collective help advance your production skills?
Before I went there, I was at a point that I was happy with how my songwriting and arrangement were. But my mixing wasn’t [there]. I could play a Skrillex
song and play my song in a set next to it and it didn’t sound like anything related to it. It was way quiet and the drums didn’t hit the same way. Icon teaches you everything. They teach you sound design, arrangement, live recording for vocalists. But what I mostly felt like I got out of it was the mixing and mastering of things. The right way to mix down your drums, the loudness of each element in the song and how they should mix together, which frequencies you should cut out so that other sounds can fit in a little better.
LessThan3: What’s the most exciting tool or plugin you are currently experimenting with?
Tyler: Theres a built-in audio effect in Ableton that’s called grain delay. It’s basically a regular delay. It’s crazy. There are millions of adjustments you can tweak to make it sound cooler and change the pitch of the delay. That’s how I ended up making Street.
LessThan3: You recently played both EDC Las Vegas and Lollapalooza. Can you compare the two?
Tyler: EDC was my first festival ever. It was crazy. The day I played, they were holding the doors. The person before me didn’t even get to play. My set was cut to only the first 10 minutes. I started right as they opened the doors. Immediately people started pouring in. It was nice. I got to get up on stage and play my first song and there was no one there. Kind of eased the nerves a little bit. EDC was like Moonrise Festival where it’s only dance music. It’s cool because everyone is here to hear that music. Lolla I felt like most of the people weren’t there for dance music. They’re there because Paul McCartney or Florence + The Machine were headlining. There was definitely a good crew of people who were there to hear dance music, though, so when they heard it they went crazy. There were two stages next to each other and they just swapped the stages back and forth. A$AP Rocky was playing right before me on the other stage. He’s playing hip hop and he finishes with Wild For The Night. So everyone is just starting to turn up and get crazy. I started immediately. I was like “Yo, guys. If you’re trying to keep that party going, come over to this stage.” It worked out perfectly. Everyone was going crazy immediately. I don’t think they’d heard that kind of music that day. Both really awesome festivals. Everything was organized and well-run.
LessThan3: If you could go back and give your 20-year old self advice, what would you say?
Tyler: I feel like at that point I knew I had a passion for music, but I was still telling myself I needed to focus on business and finance. I got a finance degree at Elon. I would have just been like, “spend more time on music.” Obviously business school is important. I focused more on having dope grades, but I felt deep down that music was my passion. Also, have confidence in your own music. It’s easy to hear someone else’s stuff and think it’s way cooler. You just have to own your stuff and be confident with it. That’s 50 percent of the battle. At that time I was trying to make songs that I thought DJs would play because they liked the song rather than making the song I wanted to make.
LessThan3: Your song Street has been played by the likes of Skrillex, Diplo, Flosstradamus, and Bassnectar. What did that feel like?
played it, it was just ridiculous. All those guys are the reason I got into this music. It was pretty surreal. I was there when Skrillex played it at Ultra this year. It didn’t really hit me until the next day. I had given it to Fred (Snails
) and he had put in a mix and Skrillex said “I need every song in this mix. Can you send it to me?” So he sent it to him, and when I saw [Fred] the day of the show and he said “I gave that track to Sonny. Is that cool?” I was like “Yeah, of course. You think he’s gonna play it?” I went and he played it. Those guys are such tastemakers. Everyone is watching what they’re playing. If they play something out it makes such a huge difference.
LessThan3: If you could pick one superpower, what would it be and why?
Tyler: Flying would be the dopest thing ever. Just cruising around. I always see birds and I’m just real pissed that I don’t get to fly around. I don’t know how we haven’t figured that out yet. We went to the moon like 50 years ago. Or maybe being able to steal other superheroes’ powers.
LessThan3: Superman or Batman?
Tyler: Batman. I enjoyed Batman more growing up.
LessThan3: What would fans be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a pretty introverted person. I had pretty severe stage freight. Giving presentations in front of a class of 10 people made me really nervous up until a couple months ago. I’m really quiet at home. My first few shows I wouldn’t really get on the mic at all, because I was really nervous I would mess up. It took talking to Derek (Slander
). He was like “Everyone is at this show because they want to see a DJ and want to hear from him. No matter what you say, it’ll be good.” When I was in Australia, I got on the mic a lot more. Once I got through that, it was a whole new level of comfort onstage. It made me feel so much better. I’m definitely still an introvert. I’ve had friends come to recent shows, and they’re all like, “I’ve literally never heard you yell in your entire life. That’s the first time I’ve heard you yell.”
LessThan3: If the world was ending in LessThan3 minutes and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Tyler: Maybe some Sigur Rós or Red Hot Chili Peppers.