What have you been up to recent months?
I just finished recording my album Pages – it’s been years in the making but I finally got it to where I feel like it’s done.
You’re doing something special when it’s released, can you explain that a bit?
I’m excited because the cool thing about this album is that for every copy sold the Food Bank will serve a meal to someone in need.
When will that be out?
I’m planning on the summer. Top Of The World just came out and I want to release a couple other singles first.
You look like you’re having a blast in that video, what was it like filming Top Of The World?
Filming the video was incredible. I got to work with a ridiculously talented director named Jon Jon Augustavo who I was a fan of and luckily he was a fan of my music, so it was one of those things that worked out perfectly. And you know, a normal music video you shoot for a day, maybe two, and you do three locations and some performance shots. Jon Jon said he wanted to do 15-20 locations which is unheard of, and I was like, “I’m down!” I used to make beats for Big Sean (who’s featured on the track) and do music in my Mom’s basement, so I felt like the video should be a homecoming and it was definitely my favorite, and the most fun I’ve had making a video.
You made a lot of stuff at home, Cooler Than Me was done in your dorm room, right?
Right — in college I would make hundreds of beats and Big Sean would use a couple of them, but I decided to start singing on my own tracks if nobody was going to use them so they didn’t go to waste. I had rapped since like age 10 or 11, but one of my first times singing a song was Cooler Than Me. I recorded it in my dorm room on a shitty microphone and put it on the internet, and fortunately people loved it.
You did all of this while in college – was there adversity finishing school and doing music simultaneously?
A lot of my adversity actually came with the “success.” I meet other artists who lived on Ramen for 10-15 years before they had a hit or made money and I’m like, “Man, I had it easy.” I think the toughest thing I encountered was after I had a hit song and a record deal, I wasn’t any happier. I struggled with depression in high school and didn’t have the highest self esteem, so I thought if I got these trophies it’d solve the problems I had going on inside myself. When these things came true I had put all my faith in them to restore my happiness, but I felt the same.
Has that feeling changed?
After that I started thinking about what really mattered in my life and why I was doing this. I heard a quote from the Dalai Lama that said “Figure out where your talent fits in to make the world a better place.” I think that’s a concise, profound, beautiful sentence. It took a while to figure it out, but one day on an airplane they were serving sandwiches and I took a bite and felt a powerful physical sensation and got the idea to do the album and serve meals for the copies sold.
You touched on dealing with depression and I’ve heard you mention being shy, is there a point where confidence and happiness suddenly kicked in or was it a gradual thing?
I think getting older I feel a little more confident every year. I’m still shy all the time. My family and friends who’ve known me forever can’t believe what I do because I used to be so quiet. They say when they see shows they’re like, “Who is that guy? I don’t even know him.” I know a lot of people think college is the best four years of your life, and my experience was great, but every year after has gotten progressively better. Also, I figured out my happiness isn’t attached to where I am on charts or in my career at all, it’s really a choice I suppose.
During those points where you weren’t your happiest, did you ever consider doing something different?
I almost quit maybe 2 ½, 3 years ago. Not music altogether, but I sort of thought maybe I was meant to just write and produce songs for others. Then I heard that quote and bit into that sandwich, and as funny as it sounds had my epiphany.
Was that your quarter-life crisis?
I’ve never heard that term before! I guess that was it, when I didn’t know what I was doing and when I had that hole in my heart that I wasn’t sure how to fill it.
Being 25, do you feel like there are valuable lessons you’ve learned halfway through your twenties?
Something I didn’t learn until after college is that in most instances your gut/heart/intuition/God, or whatever name you want to use has more wisdom that your friends or even your family. What I’ve found is that when I follow my instinct, things generally work out.
What inspires you and makes you feel most creative?
I’m a guy who, from age 11 to maybe 21, made music exclusively by himself. So what really inspires me now is working with other people. I love collaborating with people.
Will your upcoming album have a lot of collaborations?
Definitely. I think I took pride in not having any features on my first album, but now that I’ve done that I have 2Chainz, Big Sean, Labrinth, Dr. Wayne Dyer and Justin Bieber on the album.
Do you prefer being in studio and getting creative work done during the day or night?
I actually like working in the day a lot more. In college I worked at night because during the day it was ridiculously loud so you couldn’t record a song. I’d wait until kids went to the bar so I had this box from like 11pm to 2:30am to work. Then they came back from drinking and it was noisy again. Then, when they passed out I’d work into the morning. But that was then, now I really enjoy starting early and being done before like, 2pm. I like seeing the sun, I find sleeping all day kind of depressing.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far?
I’m really proud of my improvement as a musician so far. For example, I’ve trained on keys and become a pianist, and I had only been singing for a few months when I did Cooler Than Me so I’ve worked on that and I’m learning guitar. It sounds like bragging but, just working on becoming a professional musician, I’m proud of that.
The Top Of The World chorus lyrics talk about “this time next year.” What are some of the things you’d like to have accomplished by this time next year?
I want Pages to be out and a huge success. Three words my team goes by are relate, love and inspire. So my goal is to relate to, inspire and love as many people as I can. Whether that means writing a letter back to a fan or connecting at a show or writing a tweet, just connecting as many times and as deeply as I can. Also, I’d like to fall in love and have a girl by my side. I think that’ll happen.
Any advice for aspiring creators? Not just musicians, but artists in general?
Two pieces of advice. One is the follow your gut thing because it applies to any decision. Number two would be that in order to achieve anything in life, you must first believe it and expect it of yourself. I was a guy who didn’t really believe I could be successful. Then, I remember sitting in my mom’s basement with Big Sean and thinking, getting a record deal is so far away. I didn’t think it could happen to me – and it wasn’t happening to me. Then Big Sean got his record deal and suddenly these things didn’t seem so farfetched. I started believing in myself and if he got a deal, I could too. Then my dreams literally came true.
Relate, love and inspire!