Photo by Oriana Koren
When Odd Future's first mixtape The Odd Future Tape came out in 2008, the rap collective and their music quickly became a symbol for the uncensored spirit of youth. Their live shows were notoriously high energy with moshing, and screaming, providing a free space where anything goes. Now with the news that OF members have separated, you can find pieces of their legacy in the Internet, whose recent show at LA's El Rey Theatre had a similarly carefree vibe and youth-oriented crowd made up of kids of all races, sexual orientations and ethnicities. The band, which is comprised of former Odd Future members Syd and Matt Martians, along with Patrick Paige II, Christopher Allan Smith, Jameel Bruner, recently released their third album, Ego Death, and embarked on an international tour (their LA date was the first stop).
The day after the concert we sat down with Syd, who went from Odd Future producer and DJ to lead singer of the Internet, at her home in LA, the original meeting place for OF and friends. Its role as a meeting place seems to have outlived the break-up of the collective. During our visit, the place was buzzing with people: the Internet's producer Matt, (who brought his dog, Zaxby), Syd's father, her vocal coach, and her neighbor Travis who she first started making music with. It was in her house that a 15-year-old Syd first started engineering music in her makeshift studio with Travis, using Garage Band, iPhone ear buds, and a Shoji screen "booth," selling time at their DIY studio via MySpace, which is ultimately how she met Tyler, the Creator and Hodgy and joined Odd Future. They would go on to prove that a group of teens with talent, strategy and a robust social media following could cause a musical shift, bringing underground artists into the mainstream and even redefining what "mainstream hip-hop" could look and sound like.
And now with the Internet, Syd is refreshingly redefining what a band's frontwoman looks and sounds like. As a singer, Syd comes out of her shell, able to command a crowd and call on an audience to jump up and down or slow down and vibe out. Their third album similarly spans a range of moods and tempos, recounting stories of love, loss, stunting, and questions what's going on in the world. Syd was able to tell us more about the meanings behind the songs, being an openly gay band frontwoman and why the Internet makes sure to keep one another's egos in check.
You started out as a DJ for Odd Future but now you sing. Can you talk about your musical evolution?
Back then during Odd Future, I knew I didn't want to DJ forever. I started DJing when Odd Future started touring and I hadn't DJed before that. I didn't necessarily want to be an artist but I always had that one vision of me on stage with my hand up. Now, I would call it a premonition because that's what I'm doing. I wanted to stay behind the scenes but I thought once in my life it would be cool to be up there. When I was a kid I used to sing along to all my Usher and Brandy CDs and try my best to mimic them. I thought I was better than everyone else at my school but I was shy because I had a good ear and I knew I couldn't really sing. I knew I could get it better than most people, but I was lowkey scared to pursue it because singing is one of those things that's really embarrassing if you're not up to par.
How did you get involved with Odd Future initially, were you friends first?
No, we got to together with the common mindset that we wanted to be successful in music and change something. For Tyler specifically it was about doing what was real to him in his head and saying 'fuck if that's not normal we can change what's normal.' For me, I was just a fan of Odd Future. I thought their music, specifically production, was ahead of its time or just something you couldn't get anywhere else. Odd Future had a sound and that's the same thing I love about The Neptunes. If you hear a Neptunes track you know it's a Neptunes track or someone tried to make a Neptunes track. I built a small studio in my bedroom, which I eventually moved to the guesthouse. I had some beats up on a MySpace page and stuff I recorded for other people. I booked a session with Hodgy's friend and he came to the session. We really clicked and he ended up staying for dinner. The next week we had everyone at my house asking to use the studio. Travis knew Tyler already so they all came over and we started working and we never really stopped for a long time. We all thought we could take over the world with this or we could change the world, make the world a little bit more open-minded or something.
And what about now with The Internet?
With The Internet we all were friends before we became a band for the most part. I went to high school with my drummer Chris. I've known my bass player Pat since high school. Our keyboard player was initially my friend Tay Walker who opened for us [at the first show]. It started out as the four of us plus Matt. I met Matt on MySpace and we were hanging out together for like three or four months before we ever tried to make anything together. I think that helps a lot because now when we might get into a small argument it's easy to get over it because it's not a big deal in comparison to the friendship we have. The way our band is now, I tell anybody if they feel they ever want to leave or do their own thing, it's totally fine we can still be best friends but they should just let me know ahead of time. I've learned to not take things personally anymore. I learned that from Odd Future and being in a group with six people.
What's it like being in a band and playing live shows right now, especially for such young audiences?
I think there's a bit of a resurgence happening with live music and it's been happening for a while. It's becoming cooler to have a band whereas before you were just expected to be with a 2-track. I think that's awesome because kids have all this technology these days and can go make beats or record a rap song but this shows them that there's more to music than that -- or better yet reminds them. Personally, live music hits me a little deeper -- not harder but deeper. You know the trap beats sound great on the big systems, it hits you hard in your chest and stuff but it may not leave you with anything. I grew up going to a lot of reggae concerts and festivals and sitting on the stage as a kid -- I felt the live bass go through me. I don't think there's anyway to replicate that. I think it's dope that it's coming back -- it will even out the playing field.
Let's talk about the songs on Ego Death. You talk a lot about attraction and relationships and the way you address songs to women was very subtle and relatable. Your words and attitude seem more realistic than most songs we hear today where male artists are addressing women in these outlandish and disrespectful ways.
Yeah, I mean even with [album track] "Special Affair," I had the first three lines: A penny for your thoughts I know what you want/ I can read your mind even from behind/ And fuck what's in your phone I wanna take you home, I wanna take you home. I had that written for months and couldn't come up with anything else because it wasn't something I'd ever done before. So I linked up with my friend Taylor Parks and she helped me with it. The reality is that's what's going through my head in the club but I would never say that. I'm very quiet, even if I'm attracted to someone nine times out of ten I won't say anything.
That hesitancy seems very relatable to millennials, and shows how dysfunctional our relationships are and that love isn't necessarily a priority to lot of people.
Yeah, well that's funny because I'm single now and I have been throughout the whole process of making Ego Death and I think that has a lot to do with it. When I wrote our previous albums, Purple Naked Ladies and Feel Good, I was in relationships and was writing about them. Now, I'm writing about trying to start relationships that don't work out. I have to write about everything love-related without being in love. It's different because I think most R&B music is either: 'baby, I'm sorry come back' or 'I'm so in love if I don't have you I can't do anything' whereas my album is like 'girl, I don't need you. I don't need anybody. When I find her I'll be happy, but I don't need anything.'
I think that's a healthy perspective. It's also pretty rare to have a woman singing to other women. We're still at this time where there are lots of references to gay women in music but many times they're portrayed as just accessories to straight men.
I hadn't thought about that but it's interesting because I feel like it's a blessing and curse sometimes, honestly. I'm not going to sing about men because it's not real, but I think that sometimes the way I look and the fact that I'm a female singing about females can work against us because [society is] still transitioning and there's a lot of people that aren't comfortable with homosexuality in general and with female homosexuality. My image and me being a female who wears men's clothing and has a short haircut, it's something that a lot of people don't see often. I believe the term is "stud." I don't really refer to myself as one because I don't relate to that many of them but I get called that. And let's be real most studs are seen in a certain light where they aren't seen the same way as everyone else. There are no famous studs that I can think of. Yeah, there are androgynous women everywhere like Ellen DeGeneres but most people wouldn't call her a stud. And it also kind of makes you question labels because what is a stud? A black female who dresses like that? Or a female who dresses kind of thuggish? I don't know and that's part of the reason I don't try to relate to that term because well, what is it?
I think that speaks to the need for more representation, so people can just relax and listen and not feel the need to categorize people to try to wrap their brains around someone.
Yeah, and it's okay to not understand fully. It's the same with music. People try to put extra labels on music. Like 'this is like trip hop but with a funk-jazz fusion thing.' It's like dude, it sounds like soul music to me. I think music genres are getting a little too precise.
The album also brings up death in the title, obviously, and also the lyrics for the song "Penthouse Cloud." What made you want to include that in the project?
Part of the reason we're able to keep the band together with no beef is because we keep each other's egos in check or at least we try to. So far we've been successful and for the most part we're all chill people and not really conceited but egos aren't just for the conceited. It could be as simple as being on the phone with your girlfriend and not wanting to say I love you cuz you're around the homies but you might regret that later. Our bass player Patrick lost his mom recently and all he could say afterwards was that he should have showed her more love but his ego stopped him. That's also part of the reason for the album title. He's also the one who produced "Penthouse Cloud" and he's also the one in the band that stands up for shit and is always wearing the "Black Lives Matter" shirts.
When you performed that at the show and asked people to put their lighters up it was very moving. Did you know you wanted to write a song like that?
He sent me the beat and I didn't know what to write at first. What I ended up writing to it was perfect because it was natural. It was the morning after the verdict for the Mike Brown case was read. I was sitting on the couch with my dad and I was kind of confused because I didn't know how to feel. Something that made me uneasy is that the guy who read the verdict was smirking the whole time. Initially, I thought maybe the evidence was just in the cop's favor, but the fact that he was smirking was just sort of a slap in the face. I didn't know how to feel, that's why the song is like that. It was more so me questioning life and religion and politics, like 'this happened last night, why?'
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