For those of you who don’t know, Tyler Keyes is a producer from the Midwest who relocated to Austin, Texas so that he could make music with his partner in crime – M.i. He left everything behind in the hopes for a bright future in the music industry, and judging by the sounds on Pushing Keyes, he’s well on his way. From living with and interning for the mad man MPC deity Exile, to hooking up beats for Chamillionaire, he’s writing chapters for a book that’s already impressive to say the least. Fresh off the heels of releasing Pushing Keyes, Tyler sat down with me to answer a few questions about the album but also his experiences and influences.
Tim Althaus: Hey Tyler, how’s it going?
Tyler Keyes: It’s going well, how about you?
TA: I’m doing well man. First and foremost, I wanted to congratulate you and thank you at the same time; I know the release of the album is an exciting time for you and M.i, and I’m sure that you’ve had your hands full with promoting the album.
TK: Of course. Your site has been a long time supporter, so it’s a pleasure.
TA: We appreciate that here at Mind Inversion. First off, you know how important production is to me when it comes to determining the overall quality of a record. On Pushing Keyes, you’ve definitely pulled out all of the stops, and your drum game sounds stronger than ever. Ever since Prep Time came out, I’ve known you’re a fan of sampling, but on Pushing Keyes, it seems as though you’ve taken some cues from Ryan Lewis – in terms of an organic instrumentation feel. With that being said, how much studio instrumentation did you use on the album?
TK: Yeah, there’s a lot of live instrumentation on this project; more than I’ve ever used before. We had live recordings for tuba, violin, cello, trombone, bass, trumpet, guitar and percussion. I think that live instrumentation adds a certain dynamic that keyboard production just can’t emulate. But I also did a lot of work off of my keyboard as well.
TA: Everything just seems to have an organic feel to it. From M.i’s rhymes to the beats on the album – even the sampled tracks – everything feels very natural, and I really like that. I’m sure a large part of the feel has to do with the chemistry that you and M.i share as a producer emcee duo. That kind of leads me to my next question: You and M.i have been working together for the last year in Texas, and a year prior as well, but didn’t you start collaborating when you were living in Minneapolis? How did that working relationship start and progress?
TK: Yeah, we’ve been tag teaming it for a little while now. The Prep Time project was completed entirely through email and phone calls. When we started discussing the idea of making Pushing Keyes, I guess I was the paper, rock, scissors loser. I already had a couple of the beats made for the album, so I moved down to Austin after being in town for SXSW.
TA: Even though M.i is a great emcee, he’s also a very talented producer and jack-of-all-trades. How did you two determine that you were only going to use beats from yourself for the album?
TK: There’s an unreleased version where I handle all of the rapping and M is on the beats. Look for us to be interchanging our clothes along with the microphone for the live performance. (laughs) Nah, I leave the vocals to the professionals. We have a good chemistry when it comes to working together. A one producer and one emcee album is rare to come by, but when you do, it’s something special because the work can be so much more cohesive. You’re right about M.i being a great producer in his own respect – so him trusting me to handle all of the duties is awesome.
TA: You couldn’t be more right man. One emcee, one producer combinations are my favorite instances in Hip-Hop. When you think about duos like Gangstarr, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, and even newer cats like Blu & Exile, it’s obvious that they were meant to work together, and they were able to draw things out of each other that no one else could.
TK: You said it. Blu & Exile’s album Below the Heavens kinda laid out the blueprint in our case.
TA: Speaking of Blu, you guys were able to work with him on “Church West Texas” – which is one of my favorite songs on the album. He hasn’t been in the game for a very long time, but he’s got a strong following, and to many, Below the Heavens is a modern day classic. How does it feel for you guys to have him on the album, and how did that collaboration come about?
TK: We had Blu picked out for that song right away. A few years back I was living with his producer – Exile – in L.A. while he was completing Fashawn’s album – Boy Meets World. I got to learn from him and see how he approached sessions. He is notorious for producing full albums, and watching it taught me not to over-control and keep trust in your writer/collaborator. Coincidentally, our video director Aaron had struck up a working relationship with Blu, so bridging the talents naturally came together.
TA: To me, Boy Meets World is a classic album, and one of the best debut albums in recent memory right alongside Below the Heavens; I can’t even imagine what it was like to watch Fashawn & Exile collaborate on that project.
TK: Yeah, it’s a great album. They were in the final stages of it when I arrived. Then the focus shifted to DagSav – the joint project with Johaz. Did you ever hear that one?
TA: Nah, I can’t say I’ve heard it
TA: (laughs) I’ll definitely check it out tonight.
TA: You guys were also able to link up with Chamillionaire for the project, and you’ve produced tracks for him a couple of different times. He’s a Grammy Award winner, and he has an extensive following in Texas. What led to you two collaborating, and ultimately ending up on the album?
TK: Yeah, he’s the man. The first beat I produced for him – “Never Enough“- was set aside for M.i in the early stages, but Pushing Keyes didn’t go in that direction. Cham heard it right before Ammunition was released; he scrapped the original outro he had, and he cut the new record in a couple of days. As time went on I started sliding him some of the material I was recording with M.i., and when I asked him what he thought about hopping on “Nothing You Can Do”, he was all about it.
TA: That’s awesome that you were able to make that connection man. You guys have definitely have good relationships with other emcees, but I’ve also noticed that you guys maintain good relationships and get some serious love from some of the biggest Hip-Hop blogs on the internet (i.e 2Dopeboyz, The Smoking Section, Okayplayer, Kevin Nottingham). How does that feel for you guys as artists?
TK: It’s an honor, and it reassures us that we’re doing something right. The internet is the main highway for modern day music, and those sites are some of the most heavily trafficked out there; I’ve been visiting some personally for years because of their good consistent musical content, so it’s dope that they consider our material in that same category.
TA: My personal favorite from the album is “No Money”, and you mentioned that the other day that it has been the Twitter favorite as well. M.i’s lyrics are heartfelt and ridiculously on-point, your beat is insane, and to top it all off, you got the kids from the “Hot Cheetos and Takis” video to lay down some vocals (that I absolutely love). What is your favorite track on the album? and why?
TK: My #1 song changes with the days. “Comes & Goes” and “Throwing Stones” are two of my favorites though; they both have some personal meaning to me in the lyrics. I think the beat for “Throwing Stones” is my favorite overall.
TA: “Throwing Stones” is a great song, me and Steve (mutual friend) were talking about how M.i shouts out La Crosse on that song the other day. Upon my initial listen, I didn’t even realize that he spit a verse from your point of view, and I thought that was really interesting. Did you actually write the lyrics for that or provide guidance? Or did M.i just craft those words himself?
TK: That’s actually something that we thought to do towards the end of recording, and I wish we could have done more. I had a notebook of written bars and jump off points that M could run with. He took it, and he wrote everything in his own words.
TA: It’s amazing that M.i was able to convey your thoughts so well on “Throwing Stones”, and as the song mentions, you moved from La Crosse to Minneapolis to Austin, Texas. Was leaving your comfort zone and family in the Midwest for a certain level of uncertainty a hard thing for you to do? Or was it something you were dead set on?
TK: Definitely not an easy move. I not only separated myself from my family, but also my friends and my people I came up doing music with. Austin was something that I wanted to do for myself and my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of the people from back home fly down for visits at least once. The city is incredible which makes for an easy transition too.
TA: Without risk, there’s no reward.
TK: There’s a lot of truth behind that.
TA: You’ve told me before that you’re heavily influenced by cats like Just Blaze, Mike Shinoda and Classified, but I’m curious, what producers are you into right now that make you want to elevate your production game?
TK: If anyone pushes my sound right now its No I.D.; his recent work with Common, Nas and Mikkey Halsted has me on my game. I also like what Soundwave is doing for Kendrick Lamar and them. Always I’m paying attention to what Kanye and Pharrell are doing musically as well.
TA: I forgot to mention Ye because I know you’re a huge fan of his, but I can’t agree more with No I.D.; everything he has been doing lately is absolutely genius.
TK: No I.D.’s got the crown right now in my opinion.
TA: Mind Inversion is a Midwest minded blog, and you’ve been a resident of both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Besides your family and friends, what’s one thing that you really miss from each state?
TK: I miss being able to say “pop” instead of soda and not catch a weird look from someone. Also, there’s nobody down here that can compare to a Wisconsinite when it comes to drinking; ya’ll can wear that title belt proudly.
TA: They definitely don’t generalize Wisconsinites as strong drinkers for nothing.
TK: It really all comes out during Oktoberfest week in my experiences; I need to go to another one of those. I’ll be the guy singing off key to Asher Roth “I Love College”.
TA: (laughs) oh man…. Are you guys going to be heading to the Midwest for any tour dates to support Pushing Keyes?
TK: For sure. I can’t wait to do a show up there; plus, M has never been properly acquainted to my mom’s strawberry rhubarb pie, so that in itself is worth a trip up north.
TA: I’m definitely looking forward to catching you guys live, so you’ll have to let me know when you’re making it this way. As a last question I have to ask, if you could work with any emcee in the game right now, who would it be?
TK: Will Smith! I think he’s still got something left in the tank, and I think I could set him up on a nice Fresh Prince type stage. That would be legendary (laughs).
TA: It sounds like the 90’s all over again. I would play the shit out of that!
TK: I just saw him performing “Summertime” on Letterman the other day – still sounding like the illest.
TA: Him and Jazzy Jeff were ahead of their time without a doubt.
TK: Pioneer status.
TA: Agreed. Well, I want to thank you for your time man, it’s much appreciated, and I hope that Pushing Keyes continues to gain momentum because it’s an incredible project. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
TK: Thanks for having me. I also want to say thank you to you and the other people out there who have been taking the music in and responding to it. We put it all out there for free so as many ears as possible would hear it and let it be their life’s soundtrack for a little while. That’s what its all about.
TA: I appreciate it Tyler, and thank you again.
Pushing Keyes is out now, and you can download it for free here.