From his powerful contribution on Tech N9ne’s “Love 2 Dislike Me” to his tender chorus on Prozak’s “Just Like Nothing”, Tyler has quickly shown that not only is he one hell of a singer, but a versatile and dependable artist for Strange Music to utilize in one of their busiest years to date.
Now Tyler Lyon finds himself as a crucial helping hand on Tech N9ne’s upcoming debut rock and roll project, Therapy – Sessions With Ross Robinson. We talked to the powerful singer and musician to et his take on the making of the EP, his musical background and his surprisingly deep history with Strange Music.
Give me a rundown on yourself. Where are you from, how did you get into music, what’s your life like?
Well I’ve been playing music, man more than 18 years probably. I’ve been playing guitar for about 16 years and singing for my whole life basically. I grew up in Kansas City, everywhere and all over Kansas City. I have been playing in bands and doing the band thing as a profession for about 13 years I’d say. I’ve played all over the place.
Some of my first memories of growing up and coming on to some of the music, and I’ve loved everything my whole life. I’ve listened to every type of music so coming up, I remember some of our first times going out and hanging with my buddies and drinking when we weren’t supposed to and discovering Tech N9ne and that was kind of my first experiences with Tech N9ne, during The Worst and The Calm Before The Storm, just tons of records that came out many many moons ago.
About Tech N9ne, how do you look at him as far as being an ambassador of Kansas City, not just in hip hop but in music and entertainment in general?
I think what he does is very special. It’s bigger with Tech though. It’s not just representing your city because it’s the right thing to do, it’s representing your city because you are convicted to do so, because you feel that the city deserves more credit than it’s getting, and he finally worked hard enough to get a platform to where he could really showcase some of the things that he sees that no one else sees. That was the magic about meeting Tech N9ne in the first place.
The first time I met Tech N9ne was a long time ago, probably 2001. We were all hanging out after a band practice from my first band that I was ever in. We left and everybody was wanting to get some food and nobody wanted Taco Bell. That was the whole consensus: nobody wanted Taco Bell. We dropped what we were smoking on, a cigarette. We had to pull over to find the damn thing and he pulls into the Taco Bell parking lot because that was the closest thing to just pull in and stop and find the cigarette. Soon enough, the Tech N9ne van pulls up and Tech gets out and he’s handing out demos for Anghellic and we had demos for our band. We swapped demos and he hit us up not too long after that and said he loved it. Looking back it’s funny because you could see potential but we were definitely a young band and I think he recognized that and saw some potential. That was a long, long time ago and I’ve done quite a few different tunes since, whether it be with him or for Strange Music or for Strange Music artists. I was on the Everready CD but this Something Else track was the first time I ever got to put my vocals on anything with him or actually write together with him.
That’s crazy you were on Everready. A lot of us had no idea. Was it “Riot Maker” by chance?
Yeah, I played guitar on “Riot Maker”. That was the first time. The first time I got to come into the studio back then was when I walked in and he was recording the vocals for Absolute Power. We were all pretty enthralled just to be around the guy. He’s so much more than just a rapper. The guy’s an artist. He’s a musician. He’s a visionary for things that people can’t do who just call themselves rappers. They can’t do what he does. There’s so much more than the lyrics that are good with Tech, it’s the vision of seeing the music more than just the two-dimensional hip hop. It’s deeper than that.
It’s funny you say that already because I was going to ask how this journey started but as it turns out, it was years in the making way before your appearance on “Love 2 Dislike Me”. How did it come full circle to where you would ask to be the vocalist for that song?
Well, during the time that I hadn’t really communicated with Strange a whole lot – they were busy and I actually formed a band called The Leo Project back in 2005 or 2006. We went out and we did three records for The Leo Project and did some major festivals around the country and sold about 40,000 records. For an unsigned band with no PR that’s pretty good. We did really well with that band then our economy fell apart and when that fell apart our financial backing fell out. The band had to take a step back and eventually call it a day so that we could reform and so everyone could refocus their efforts elsewhere. Me being a songwriter, after five or six years in the Leo Project, well we all learned a lot from that. After that, some of the other guys had some opportunities to join other bands that were already functioning, working and going out and touring. Me being the songwriter, that’s not really what I want to do, so I had to restart and I had a vision for a horror movie called Evalyn Awake. It’s kind of a horror movie meets the apocalypse.
So I wrote some treatments for a few movies and I loved the name so eventually I found the right guys through the music scene that I’ve seen and I thought “Wow, these guys are great.” So we ended up getting together and I kind of proposed to them an idea to put this thing together and they were interested so we started it. About 11 months later we played the largest one day festival in the country here in Kansas City at Rockfest. It takes a lot of determination to get things done so quickly, but this is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do and you work a long time on the connections. You work a long time on the relationships because you don’t just build relationships based on what they can do for you. You genuinely develop friendships with people and then those pay off…but it can’t be fake.
You learn that. A lot of people try to work in entertainment but do so out of desperation and it’s very transparently self-serving. They don’t seem to last long.
Absolutely. You create value in a lot of different ways and one of the ways you create value is literally, I mean that was one of the biggest things you know, and Tech knows this now. Now I can be honest with the guy and pick up the phone and be like “I love this song. You’re fucking awesome.” But when I initially met the guy you know, I played it cool, like anyone else does.
On a smaller level there are people that really come up and really appreciate the chance to meet me. The most wonderful ones are some of the ones who – I mean it’s cool to discuss music obviously but as an artist you don’t really want to talk about yourself because that’s what you do for a living, so if you’re not that narcissistic, if you don’t love yourself that much, then having other conversations or somebody playing it really cool really does go a long way. I’m a big football guy, so when people come up to me and talk to me, start spouting off about football and you’ll catch me real quick.
That’s kind of the thing I did with Tech because meeting him, being a big fan, choosing my moments to be a fan and choosing my moments to be a musician, because the guy has respect for me as a musician, so I learned quickly that I had some value and I could come in the situation and not feel like I was the little guy in the corner that loved the music. I was the guy that, and obviously now with the Something Else record and the Therapy record, I became the guy that’s like “Hey, what do you think of this? Can you add to it?”
Not to mention working with Seven – my first time was in 2005 and I went to LA and worked on a record with him and that was the first time I ran into Seven. Seven’s the only one that is kind of responsible for getting us all back together. He’s always been a great friend and I happened to not change my number for, gosh 10 years, a better part of 10 years. I kept wanting to but sure enough I get a phone call about doing that song and I thought “Well that proves it, I can’t change it.” Yeah, so I got a phone call right when I moved into my new apartment and I was stoked and like “Yeah of course, I’d love to come try it out.” I was instantly a little unsure because I knew they wanted Corey Taylor and first I was like “Well, I’ll do a good job. I’ll live up to what it needs to be.” Then I got the approval afterwards that Tech really loved it. He thought I did every bit of good of a job as Corey would’ve done, no disrespect to Corey at all.
I think Tech was excited that it was somebody from Kansas City and so the song just came together amazingly, especially with the message of the song. It’s kind of hard to write when there’s two different guys writing and you didn’t get the chance to really vibe off each other, but I get how Tech writes. Him and I have talked many of times about some of the approaches in the songs we’ve done and how it’s really hard for people to get on the same page without talking and we’ve been able to do that multiple times now and it’s pretty exciting. I understood his music when I heard it many years ago and was able to go like “Yeah, I understand what you’re going for” so many years later. He’s got a vision and if you don’t get it he’s not going to lie to you. He’s not very good at that. He’s going to tell the truth and if you do get it, he’s going to be ecstatic and he wears it on his sleeve. It’s kind of nice because there’s no BS. It’s like “Did I do a good job? Yes or no?” and that’s it and you go from there. I’ve enjoyed working with the guy. It’s fun and I’ve got some ideas that him and I have discussed that might end up being something with my band and him and I would love to do some stuff like that.
It’s been great to see him be diverse and go into the rock world. He’s always loved rock but to see him go in and do some stuff, I’m excited and I want to bring some more rock and roll to him that’s a very regional rock and roll, some metal and some of the progressive style stuff that people do such as bands like Periphery. It matches the way that he rhymes. It matches with the speed and the way that he bounces on his words. The music would match so we’ve got so many cool things that have blossomed out of that one tune as well as working with guys like Prozak, which has been incredible, love that guy, and hopefully we’ll be able to work on some more records in the future. I’m ecstatic man. I’ve been a fan of a lot of the guys on the label. It’s so funny.
We shot the video for “Love 2 Dislike Me”. I sat there and talked to Tech about when I was 18. I went out on the road with him through Pueblo City and Colorado Springs and he didn’t even remember it, but it was just great because, I mean he remembers all sorts of stuff so it’s not a shock that he didn’t remember this one thing, but I was like “Oh I remember it like it was yesterday.” I remember it because we all went to KFC and someone told me “White boy don’t be scared, it’s KFC you better get you some.” It was hilarious. They were not lying either because I think that three buckets were gone in about five minutes so I made sure I had a couple pieces. They were like “This is no stereotype, this is real!” (Laughs)
How has this whole experience been with your quick integration into songs from the Strange Music artists?
Well you know it honestly feels wonderful to be a part of all the things that Strange has had in 2013 and hopefully moving forward. It’s funny because I watch a lot of sports and I relate a lot of this back to guys that take the field for years and years and they finally have a breakout year. For a lot of people it seems very overnight and for that particular athlete it’s been years and years coming so it’s kind of the same way for me.
I’ve put in a lot of work and like I said, developing natural friendships with people. Obviously we all want to meet the next person that’s going to take us to the next level. That’s just how we all work. We’re all trying to get further, do more and climb the ladder, but when you develop the real relationships with those people, that’s when things will continue to come to you, because otherwise people can see right through it. I could go and cold call a number of different people who I could definitely use their business and use their partnerships, but until I really develop something there that, they get it and they believe what they’re saying if they make business calls on my behalf. When they say “Hey I got this guy, we’re going to work on this show” or do this thing or whatever, you know “This is the guy.” If they say that then it’s genuine. It’s so much easier to sell yourself and sell your product whenever people have a real belief in what you do. I think it showed on “Love 2 Dislike Me”. It was a perfect topic for me and I believe in that guy, so if he wants me to come do a song I’m like “Yeah dude, let me try and grand slam it. Let’s do it to the fullest.” So I mean I definitely love the fact that I’m working with Strange. I just feel like for a lot of people I’m really really happy to be introduced this year. I have been kind of walking around this pack for the better part of a decade. It’s just really nice to finally put my signature on a few things and hopefully continue to grow from there and do some more things from the label.
It reminds me when you said sports, [former St. Louis Rams quarterback] Kurt Warner sacked groceries and then won the Super Bowl a few years later, but it’s not like he was working at a grocery store his whole life. There was a story behind all of that. You were ready to make your contribution but do it in the right way. You didn’t force your way into this.
You take your time and what’s great is that I didn’t do a song with Tech 10 years ago when my voice wasn’t as good as it is now. I always felt that the voice was good and good enough to be a performer and singer and artist and all that, but as you keep growing I do see why people talk about things getting better and better. I’m 28 years old, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m really happy, even though I wished things would’ve popped off earlier. At the same time I’m really happy they did right now because I feel like he’s getting the best performances right now and as well as going there and doing a lot of drums, guitar and bass on the new Therapy record. I did a lot of music for the record and I feel like he’s getting the best of what he could get so I’m really happy and the timing couldn’t be better.
So how were you originally approached to be on the Therapy EP?
Well we had finished “Love 2 Dislike Me”, I had done two songs for Prozak’s record and we sat down and chatted about what the Therapy record what was going on with it. I am not as shy as I used to be when I was younger so when I hear something that I could be assisstance with and I like the product, I’m right there. And Seven and I just chatted and I said, “Hey, I would love be a part of Therapy, it’s right up my alley because I’m a rocker. I can really help to try to shape and mold that – obviously with Ross Robinson it’s not going to need any help – but just to be able to once again put my stamp on things and try to help where I can.” I was really excited to do so and so I just waited and saw what was on the table for that.
The first thing was we wanted to get some live drums so we set up the kit and we got to record some live drums for the first time in the new Strangeland Studios, which is great. That place is gorgeous! So that was a really good time to be able to do that and once we did that we got excited for it – and Seven and I are like little kids when everything starts coming together. I love working with the guy, I think I’ve done about 20 different tunes with him now. He is just a guy who is so much fun to work for in the studio that when he finally starts getting excited and hearing things some things he’s wanting to hear, we get excited. Because Seven has the ability to write a lot of these parts without a guitar, but the reality is that I really wanted some natural guitar so we went that route and I just went in and laid the bass on it. So we have a few songs like “Public School” and “I.L.L.” that really turned out really cool with some of the rock side of stuff. The first one we had discussed initially was “When Demons Come” and that was another one that came out really cool, it’s a really interesting chord progression and a really creepy song and a little bit different of an approach than “Love 2 Dislike Me”. “Love 2 Dislike Me” was so commercially acceptable and such a great song and I think this song is very much more artistic. And I don’t think there is any right or wrong side to that card, I think that that’s what you have to do as an artist – you put out stuff that you’re like “I love this and I think everyone’s going to love this” and then you put out stuff that you’re like “I love this.” And you never know, you could think that this is going to be the artistic song on the record, and it turns out to be the giant one. Sometimes you put things out because you think it’s going to be a good tune and sometimes you put it out because you’re like “I love this.”
Tell me about the songs that you’re featured on. What are they about? What did you contribute to them?
On the Therapy record there’s three main songs that I worked on.
Obviously, “When Demons Come” is one of them, which is a really cool song where I basically sing the part of what would be the demon. When Seven and I sat down, we chatted about the song and what it meant and I had mentioned that a demon is never going to be considered an ugly being, a demon is going to something that entices evil. Like the saying “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” this is the same concept here, on that part we want that beauty to come through because it’s very tempting and it’s the temptation of the part. That song came out really, really well and it’s a really cool song that’s broken down to just some basic heartbeat type drums and a lot of singing from Tech that’s really cool.
We ended up doing the song “I.L.L.” – I Like Ladies and it is a cool song. I ended up doing drums, guitar and bass for that song and it came out really well. It was one of those songs where we were like “Let’s just get the grind and the natural energy of full, real live acoustic drums.” And a lot of that comes down to how the cymbals really wash over the beat, that’s what will make that natural sound as compared to making a synthetic drum beat, which Seven does a great job of. These are things that Seven wanted so I did drums and bass and guitar on that.
The third song I did was “Public School” which I really dig. Kaliko did a really cool part on it. I think he has like a B52′s vibe on the chorus which is funny, but it’s cool because that guy can do anything. He can make any sound and do any vibe that he wants. I did drums, guitar and bass on that one as well, so that was another one that came out really neat. There’s some rock and roll elements for sure on the CD, the CD sounds really cool. And obviously the guys like Wes Borland and Ross Robinson and some other names on there that are killer, killer musicians and I’m just honored to be another member to that and it feels good to have a guy like Tech N9ne stand in my corner and really try to help me grow as a musician.
Above everything else, the best thing I can say about him is that he’s been a good friend. He’s a guy I can talk about music with or talk about life with and it’s quite incredible to meet someone like that that still has that ability to chat with me. And I know that everybody gets a different something out of someone they meet and that’s always the one thing that I’ve gotten from Tech: the guy never failed to be a friend and it’s been incredible and that’s why I’ll work as hard as I can for him.
Yeah he’s got that genuine thing that comes across. From talking to him about you and hearing you talk about him, it seems the one thing you have in common is a mutual respect…that and a love of music.
Yeah, for sure, and I’ve told him that. I told him that the one thing I can take to anyone is that he is Kansas City’s hometown thing. I’ve never had to do this, but if I had to go to battle when it comes to “Is my guy the best or is your guy the best?” I will always say my guy’s the best because of the diversity that he brings. And I call him a musician. I don’t call a lot of rappers or a lot of emcees musicians, but there are a few out there that just absolutely deserve that title and who can create music. If they can’t pick up the instrument, but they can spit it at me and hum it to me and sing it to me like Tech can. Yeah, maybe he can’t play the guitar, but he knows what he wants and he hears it and he’ll tell you. That’s why I can set my city’s rap king apart from everyone else, because of his ability to be a musician and not just a rapper.
What do you think about Therapy from what you’ve heard?
I like Therapy, I think Therapy’s great. What it did was where “Love 2 Dislike Me” came out about 60/40 rock and hip hop. It’s definitely got some great elements of hip hop in the song. Therapy ramps up the rock and roll even a little bit more. I’m eager to see how everyone feels about it because I think it’s really cool. It’s typical Tech N9ne. It’s got a little bit of party, a little bit serious, a little bit of fun, a little bit of darkness. It’s got all the elements, but the one thing I’m excited for is to see people really grab on to this record because I anticipate that he will do even more of the rock thing and maybe even ramp it up more. Maybe we’ll get him to do a full on rock record with him just being the vocalist on it. That’s what we’re pushing for and that’s how excited I am about Therapy. I think Therapy‘s going to be cool. I think it’s going to be something different, unique. The guy’s trying to really show a lot of different sides and colors and it’s exciting because you’ve got Something Else that came out recently. Therapy will be a great new color on the canvas. I think he’s going to be excited to see what people really feel about this. I think it’s going to turn out well.
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