While Channel Tres has been dubbed a house musician well before the radio and streaming services tuned back into the genre's longstanding magic, he resists that simple categorization. He called upon the raunchy bounce of West Coast hip-hop perfected in his hometown and married it with house music's Midwestern foundation to create a distinct blend he likes to call "Compton House."
The technicolor world that he built for the genre is breathtaking. Moody bass and percussion are inflicted with touches of joyous harmonies and funk elements, much like the swanky G-funk that started in California and trickled its way into the rest of the hip-hop scene.
Tres himself is a commanding presence onstage, carefully leaning into each choreographed step while dripping in glitter and sequins. His deep, rumbly voice is as hypnotic as it is erotic, lulling listeners into a trance as he takes them on a journey that requires a good deal of dancing. While he speaks with a calm and relaxing humility over Zoom, his pride peeks through as he relishes in his power to make even the most reluctant person move their hips.
Related | We Owe Everything to Bloghouse
Since his 2018 self-titled debut EP, Tres has meticulously laid out the groundwork for his present-day self. Whether it be releasing his breakthrough single "Controller" or collaborating with Tyler, the Creator for "Fuego" while the world was coping with lockdown, Tres never sacrificed quality and intention. However, he knew he had to save some of his energy for his eventual debut. Now, Real Cultural Shit inches closer into view, eager to expand the house innovator's reach.
His latest single, "6am," is a smile-inducing party romp with funky '80s keys and rubbery synths. Unlike the tense, contemplative songs on I Don't Go Outside, his pandemic offering, Tres basks in the bliss of being able to return to human connection on the dance floor, club and wherever the night may take him next. It speaks to the overarching theme of his music: connection and emotion. Good or bad, platonic or romantic, Tres wants to experience it all.
While Tres digs his heels deep into the rich soil of his beloved home across his discography, Real Cultural Shit zooms out to address the trauma and loss the Compton-bred musician experienced throughout his childhood. As the years pass and the distance between him and his painful memories grow larger, he's finally ready to give not only the audience the story they deserve, but give himself the space to bring his dreams to life.
Below, watch the video for Channel Tres' "6am" and keep scrolling to read PAPER's full conversation with the Compton House innovator.
So you're gearing up to release your debut. What made it feel like now was the right time?
It just felt right as far as where I am mentally, where I am skill-wise and the point I'm at in my life. The project under this name dropped in 2018. I felt like I've spread the word through EPs enough. I've had a couple songs that made noise and, you know, I did a bunch of collaborations and played a bunch of shows. I think now it's time to start putting out bodies of work that are albums because I feel like enough people know about it. Skill-wise, that's just where I am.
Do the labels of EP, mixtape and album mean something to you?
I mean, the EP is maybe just a sampler. I think that with an EP, it's very — I mean, my EPs have storylines. I'm aware enough that I wasn't able to execute really what I want to do, but it takes putting out music and the journey to get to where you want to go. [With] each project, you get to where you want to go. For this project, I love it, but I want to do more. I feel like I've just grown into being able to do an LP. As far as on the EPs, I'm still figuring stuff out, I'm still trying stuff. I mean, I'm always trying stuff, but like there's some songs where I go back, and I'm like, "Okay, that was cool. I would have did this different, or I would have been like this." For this project, every song was detailed. They all are special to me in a different way and it's what I wanted to do.
Talk more about your projects having different stories. I fondly remember 2020's I Can't Go Outside being one of the earliest to reflect on that loss of human connection brought on by the pandemic and the subsequent loneliness, while Real Cultural Shit has more of an underlying theme of survivor's guilt, trauma and a strong message about your love for your home.
Yeah, I Can't Go Outside is when the problems were really bothering me because, you know, I was inside! So my drinking and my drug use was crazy. I was moving so much before that point so I wasn't really addressing a lot of issues that I have. I was kind of on autopilot. Then when I had to sit down for that, I really started thinking about a lot of things and I was kind of overwhelmed with all the hurt that I've had, and different things like that. That project is more addressing those issues.
And in this project, I'm still talking about my home and I'm still talking about those things, but it's more like I'm wearing it. That's why it's called Real Cultural Shit because when I was making some of the songs, that was a big phrase I kept using in the studio. I was like, "Man, this is real cultural shit," as far as saying this is what this is, where I'm from, who I am, all those scars and all those things that I've been through as a kid. Those made me into the man I am today. With this project, it was kind of like, I like this guy. I'm not afraid to love myself in a lot of ways. It's a special thing that I can come up from the environment I grew up in. I can break through all those things and live a better life.
Also, I miss certain things about my neighborhood, I missed certain friends I made. Some of my friends got killed, some of my friends are in prison, some of my friends are fathers and different things. I don't see things no more. I remember different times where I got made fun of for the type of person I was and different things, but all those things make me who I am. I'm still the same guy. I just wear it with more confidence now.
Throughout this project, you really seemed to translate your incredible stage presence to these songs. You use dance music as such an interesting vehicle of expression. What was your approach like going into the studio?
With this album, I was thinking about performance really hard because I like to talk about these subjects but also, I love to dance. I'm not sad over this shit. I'm happy, you know? I also think it's the Gemini in me. I'm just really big on dichotomies. Like this subject matter doesn't necessarily go over this instrumental, but let's try to nail it. I'm big on that. I gotta perform the songs too, so these are things that I want to think about or be reminded of or want to say because I got to perform them! Music has also been a very revealing and healing vehicle for me throughout my life. I can log back to the time I was fucked up, or I can log back to the time where I felt really great and powerful. I can access all those feelings through my music.
You've been sober for quite some time now. Congratulations!
Shit, damn near a year. Almost! A couple months.
It's easy to fall into that stuff when you're on the road, especially since so much of music and venues and parties revolve around drugs and alcohol. How do you take care of yourself and stay on the path?
I've done it all. Like, at this point, I'm in my 30s. I think there's a stigma in music and shit to always be young and fake your age and shit. But like, I don't really care about that type of stuff. I want to be who I am. I want to be authentic. When you get to a certain point in life, it's like, "Dude, I can't handle this shit! My body can't handle this shit." It was just a natural progression for me. I'm tired of waking up hungover. I'm tired of my breath stinking. I want to be responsible! I want to be a responsible adult. I'm not saying everybody — like some people can do their thing and be responsible, but for me, I just realized I can't play both sides. I'm either drinking or not drinking, you know, ain't no fucking off switch for me. That's kind of the reason I'm successful and I'm focused on music, and then that's also a bad thing because if I focus on the wrong thing, I'll go balls deep with the wrong shit. So, it was just some self-awareness things that took place for me that really made me make that change. You know, during my 20s, I smoked weed for a long time. I just really wanted to see what life was like on the other side. Now, tour is fun. We're working out, we watch movies, I'm playing Uno. I'm actually engaged with my crowd and meeting fans and I'm actually taking all the emotions in. Something somebody said to me like a while ago, they were like, "Bro, you're already on a big high performing for all those people. So why do you need to get higher?" Feel that shit. At this point in my life, I just want to feel, whether it's a bad emotion or good emotion. I don't want to ignore it or use something else to numb it. I want to feel it all.
So you're from Compton and it's a recurring theme throughout your work. Have you been faced with fetishization?
When I tell people I'm from Compton or when I'm talking to these labels or people that want to do shit with me, it's like, "Oh, you're from Compton? We need to capture that!" Sometimes they want to go to the city and film and I'm like, "I'm not going to that area to film. That would be fucked up!" What the fuck? A lot of bad shit happened over there. You know how hard it was to break out of that mental space and the shit I had to go through in that neighborhood? My great grandma didn't instill certain values in me and people didn't tell me shit for me to just rewind time and keep going back unless I'm doing some type of fucking giveaway or helping the schools or the kids or something like that. That's the only reason I go back, but to go back and try to capture the scenes and relive my childhood?
I felt like I was doing that at a certain point when I first started. It's not bad, because it was very healing for me to go back 'cause I became such a different person. Now it's just like, I lived that section of my life. I'm trying to get onto different things and better things. It was just an irritation that I had. Yes, it's this rich history of gangster rap and Dr. Dre and Kendrick, we have all that, but I went through some fucking trauma! I've seen people die. I've seen poverty. It really messes with your head. I didn't realize how much thoughts I had and how much trauma I was dealing with, you know, PTSD until I grew up. I'm still working through a lot of those things with my family. It's a lot.
That and some other themes you tackle on the album go in line with your ethos of getting out of these boxes placed upon you. Even with something as simple as dubbing you a house musician when you take on inspiration from so many things, this album feels like you giving people no choice but to understand what you're trying to do.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I'm just precise about my shit. I could be doing anything and I'd be good at it, you know? What is it? I don't want to call it Black music. It's black precision. I just happen to be African American and I'm fuckin' working on this shit. I'm gonna be good at it.
Are you laid back, a perfectionist or a micromanager in the studio?
Well, I don't really micro — I micromanage but in a healthy way. I've developed a healthy relationship with creativity. So you have the creative part of your brain, and then you have the editor part. I know when to let the creative roam around and do their thing, and then when it's editing time, then it's time to really micromanage those ideas and make it into a song. I have days where I'm in the studio and we're just listening to shit, and then I have days where we're just trying stuff out, making beats and sounds and stuff. Then I have those days where it's time to finish. You know, this part needs to be this or I need to say this word better. It's just developing a healthy relationship with the creator and the editor.
Who do you consider yourself to be in that equation?
I'm both. I just have days where I'm just creating, and then I have the days where I'm editing. The editing is more of the serious and precise part. The creating is the fun part because it's a blank canvas to just create something. If I like it, now let's finish it. I try not to do it on the same day. I try to let it breathe and let it come to me.
Do you have a studio where you live? Or do you travel out and go to a different studio?
For this album, I made some of the songs in different places like New York and I listened to and edited it in Paris. I did some at the godmode studio and then I have a studio in my house. I always have my laptop on me. So, you know, it's a lot of different places.
Going back to performing for a second, I've only seen you in a festival setting such as your incredible Portola performance. You're on your first headlining tour. How do you approach the curation of your setlists compared to festivals?
Well, definitely it depends on the parameters of the festival like if I have enough time and different things, but I like festivals. I'm more... flamboyant and loud and shit. I don't know. This tour, I've been headlining so all the fans know my music and they are there for me so it's more fun because these people understand the journey and like, they know what's up. I can really connect with them because I'm looking at them vibe to the music and they're excited when I play some new shit. For instance, "Controller" is a mood, "Top Down" is a mood, "Acid In My Blood" is a mood. For them to get that mood and just fall right in automatically, it feels good.
But also I have good success at festivals because people just fall in. They're all special. The tour stops, I get to really perform my whole show out because the way I do my shows, I'm really into like — I was an arts kid so I get my artsy vibes off. I do my whole show in sequence the way I want to.
Do you bring that storytelling element to your shows too? Whether it be in the sequencing of the setlist or whatever?
It's just a vibe. You know, I put skits in front of certain songs and have interludes. You gotta come see.
Although I must say, I can only imagine the feeling you get when you see people slowly trickle over into your sets at festivals.
Yeah, I'm used to it! It speaks to hard work. You got to just give your all and really sell it, you know? All the rehearsals and all the working out and all the things you do behind closed doors that nobody really sees, it works. There's a lot of work that goes into preparing yourself mentally and physically for these things. When it works, it works. When you see people that don't know you getting hip to you and they don't even know your music? They're just like, "Man, this is a fucking show"? I love that. I'm like that when I go see a random band or just pull up somewhere and watch some dudes play jazz. I don't know them, but I'm immediately into it because you can tell that they're into their craft, and they work on it.
And you have Rochelle Jordan supporting you on this tour. She's incredible.
She is a sweetheart. She helped me like, I never wore eyeliner. So she was doing my eyeliner and shit. She's dope. I love her music and her vibe was really, really special. She's just a really sweet person. It was just nice having her on the road because I just like to connect with really good people. I've been on those tours where I don't really talk to the person or they just have me on a tour, but they don't really know me. It was nice that I was able to pick out somebody that I actually vibe with their music.
I've heard that story one too many times of someone being asked to open on a tour and never meeting the headliner past backstage interactions.
You would think that that's the automatic but everybody's different.
I guess lastly, you seem to have it all figured out with the progression of your artistry. How does Real Cultural Shit fit into your larger vision?
I'm really happy about this body of work. I feel like my first EPs were my coming-out party, but I feel like this is truly my real coming-out party as far as me being here to stay. I'm a longevity artist, I'm not just somebody that's gonna be one and done, like, I'm gonna be around. And I think this body of work really captures that. I'm not playing. This is really a glimpse into what this is gonna be and what this is. This is real cultural shit. This is me.
Photo courtesy of Christian Lanza
- SG Lewis, Robyn and Channel Tres Brace for 'Impact' ›
- Portola Music Festival Showcased the Beauty of Dance Music ›