A short while ago I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with a personal idol of mine, Australian music producer tyDi, before a show he was playing in Denver, Colorado, USA. In a sea of generic dance music, his productions serve as the lighthouse, every one of them beautifully crafted, creatively arranged, and lovingly tweaked until they serve as the pinnacle of music. What was originally planned as a 10-15 minute interview turned into a 40 minute conversation with topics ranging from tour stories to ghost production to DJing to sitting bored in class. It almost felt like I had known him for years. Read on to see for yourself…
S: First question: Where does the name come from?
T: There’s no cool story about that. It was a nickname that I had, but it was originally “Tidy” like how you’d normally spell it. I guess no one ever really spelled it because it was a nickname. Then one time I entered a DJ competition when I was 15, and they messed up the spelling. Not only did they mess up the spelling, but they also capitalized the “D.” It was just the worst error ever, but I won the competition. I’m completely not superstitious in any way, but I ended up just sticking with the name because I think the normal way of spelling it is probably taken. But I do have this rumor going around that my middle name is “Dior” so if I don’t feel like telling that story, I just say, “Well, the ‘ty’ comes from Tyson and the ‘di’ comes from Dior.”
S: See, I always thought the “ty” came from Tyson.
T: Yeah, yeah, well, the “ty” does, I guess, come from Tyson because Tyson-tyDi, but the “di?” I just made that b******t up just to, you know, to start rumors and things.
S: Okay, musical background.
T: I’m an actual music geek. I sit here and say that I’m completely cool about us DJing, but truth is, I’m not. I have a degree in music, I studied music for four years, I play piano and drums, I compose, I can write for lots of different instruments. I’m just obsessed with music. I’ve got an album coming out soon. It’s not my actual album – I mean, it’s by me – but it’s called “Hotel Rooms” and it’s all chill-out, ambient, and orchestral. So it was a really great opportunity to make music that isn’t just EDM. It’s mostly chill-out and just music to make you think. So that comes out this year on [Armada Music]. And then next year I’m dropping a proper album…proper is the wrong word. They’re both proper! But then I’m dropping one that people will expect with me.
S: With singles…
T: Yeah, with singles and EDM songs and things like that. But yeah, I’m a music geek at heart and I studied music my whole life.
S: So you just mentioned your new album. Are songs in it like “Confirmation Bias” and the one you’re dropping tonight, and “Fire & Load,” is that going to be on there?
T: That’s going to be on Hotel Rooms but in a stripped version, so it’s just me playing piano, drums, and Christina doing the vocals, so it’s like…. I’m going to diverge a little with this question because I was just on a huge Twitter rant. I was reading about how Above & Beyond was doing their live acoustic shows, and I think that was really special because their music can be broken down to real songs, and that’s something that I relate to, because I start all my songs acoustically. I sit on the piano with the vocalist often – if we’re in the same city – and we just write music. We write a song. We don’t think about, “Is it going to be a dance track?” or, “Is it going to be a chill-out song?” or, “What’s the drop going to sound like?” We don’t think about that; we just write a song – we write a verse, a chorus, a bridge, and we come up with the melodies and the vocals. Then, once I have a song that I really believe in, and literally can just be played with a piano and a vocalist, then I turn it into whatever I want. So you can always reverse-engineer my music back to a song. And I was kind of having a little stab in a fun way at the Beatport – I love Beatport, I was just there today – but the trend in what’s cool right now on the progressive house charts. I don’t know if there’s a glitch in the system, but every single track has like, the fat kick drum with the triplet synth, and I don’t know if you can ever reverse-engineer those songs into an actual piece of music. Not saying they aren’t music! They are music, but I’d like to see you do it on the piano.
S: So, jokingly, when are you going to write one of those?
T: Okay, I’m guilty because I did it once.…I made an extremely pop song called “Nothing Really Matters” which I got a lot of fans hating me for, but I got a lot of new fans for it, and I signed with a major label for it. So, I mean, it was good and it was bad. My true fans know that just because I make one pop track, doesn’t mean I’m now making every track a pop track.
S: Well, and every artist should have room to experiment anyway.
T: Yeah, like look at “Confirmation Bias” which I just brought out after “Nothing Really Matters.” I don’t stick to trance or anything like that, I just write what I love, and when I wrote “Nothing Really Matters,” I was writing a pop track. I really wanted to do it! I thought, “Why not? I don’t want to sit here and be locked in a cage of what I can and can’t write.” I mean, I’ve got a Blink-182 [tattoo] on my wrist, so I thought, like, let’s make something pop, and the song was just fun. That was “Nothing Really Matters” and it actually has fans that love it, and some of my older ones that hate it because they know me for a different style, but it served its purpose, and…where was I going? It has a drop in the club mix. So, when I wrote it, it didn’t have a drop, it was a straight-up pop track, and then I thought, “How am I going to play this in the clubs?” ‘Cause it doesn’t really have a drop, and then I slammed in this drop, and the drop is admittedly one of those triplet-like…fat bass with the triplet thing, and I think that was before I listened to all of the tracks in the [Beatport] Top 100 and realized what I was doing wasn’t that original. And suddenly I felt really guilty about putting that drop in that song. It was, just like, oh man, where was my originality at that choice?
S: Does it bother you that you’re often classified as a trance artist?
T: Not at all! It’s probably a good thing, ‘cause the guys who love trance are generally pretty passionate. Like if you look at some of the biggest trance DJs in the world – I won’t name any names, but if you look at how many followers they have on Twitter or Facebook, and then you compare that to guys who aren’t trance like deadmau5 or David Guetta or Skrillex, it’s pretty d**n obvious who is actually more popular than who actually ranks very highly in particular polls, if you know what I’m getting at. What I’m trying to say is the trance fans are quite devoted, so you could be a superstar house DJ, and have 20 times more fans than one of these trance guys, but you’re going to get more support from the trance guys, which is why I don’t like polls, because I don’t think they reflect true popularity. It doesn’t bother me that I’m classified as trance in some ways. I don’t find that I am in many cities…America has really embraced me as “EDM,” and a lot of people don’t like that term. I love it; I think it’s fantastic.
S: Well, it’s a great way to refer to an entire subset of music.
T: Yeah, in a way it’s like…what’s the musical word for not being a racist? Like a “genreist?” “Antigenreist?”
S: Let’s just coin one right now—genreist.
T: Yeah, yeah, so, I like EDM because if you want to ask me what my style is, I personally don’t know.
S: “I write dance music.”
T: Yeah, well, and sometimes I don’t do dance; I have a chill-out album coming out. I write music, and it’s often electronic and sometimes it’s not, but the one thing that carries through in all my songs is what we spoke about before. You can break all my tracks down to a piano and a vocalist, or just even a piano piece.
S: You’ve often gone on many rants on Twitter about astrological signs and such. Is there any particular reason you feel so strongly about astrology? I’ve seen you say from time to time that you don’t really understand why people are so into being a Gemini, or a Capricorn.
T: Well it’s not that I don’t understand that; it’s that I know for a fact that that is not true. I haven’t built that up from any kind of personal belief system. The reason that I love science is that science at its true core is studying evidence and basing a theory or making a hypothesis and coming up with a theory based on evidence that we have, so science is the only way to find what’s true or false in the world. I could tell you that I’m very passionate for science because it helps further the world. So if some guy comes out and he tells you that he believes in, you know, something ridiculous like Elvis is still alive, that person is immediately going to pay a price. You’re going to think he’s crazy, and you’re going to ask him to justify his belief, and if he can’t justify it with evidence, or logic, or rational thinking, how else can he prove his point? I love science because science at its core is finding out the truth, and that’s why I often go on rants about stuff, silly things.
S: But rants are fun.
T: Rants are fun, and they offend people, but sometimes they also make them think.
S: They do, and I’m not really one to buy into all the astrological stuff; like, I don’t even know what “sign” I am.
T: Well I know what I am; I’m apparently a Gemini. But scientists did this experiment where they got thousands of different predictions or stereotypes that would go with a particular star sign, they mixed them all up, and then they gave to thousands of people the wrong prediction or the wrong thing about their life, and nearly every one of them – something ridiculous, like 98% – all thought, “Yeah, that’s me,” which goes to show that basically these things that we read about star signs apply to anyone.
S: Well going further along this…in the one psychology class I took at my university, they actually talk about that, that they’re all generalizations, they apply to anyone. They gave people this personality test that had a very generalized answer, and most of the subjects said, “Oh, that’s 100% me.”
T: So that’s kind of why I pursue science so much, or really force it on my Twitter fans, because I’d like to see a world where people don’t open the newspaper and read something complete rubbish and believe it. I’d like to see a world where people just base what they believe on facts and opinions.
S: Switching gears…what is your view on the current electronic dance music scene?
T: It’s super interesting for me; it’s always been interesting. I think I’m more passionate now about music than I ever was, but that could just be because I’m more into it every day. What we spoke about before, I’m a little frustrated with what’s cool right now in the sense of…”progressive house” is the genre they put it under on certain websites, and I think, like, if you said that to Sasha or Digweed, they’d probably be a little upset because it sounds to me like slowed-down hardstyle. This is me being a “genreist” now! But I’d like to see a little more diversity in house music just because I’m hearing so many drops. Every track seems to drop into an almost identical thing, with a changed sound or a changed kick. It’s like, big deal, cool man, you found one extra sound to make a triplet with and then you slammed in a kick. It’s fine, it works, it sounds great in clubs, but it’s starting to drain me. It’s making me think that it could be a really good thing because when someone comes along that does something completely different, it’s going to blow everyone out of the water. I’m looking forward to that.
S: I want to see who does it.
T: Yeah, I mean deadmau5 did it back when he blew up, right?
S: Ghosts ‘N Stuff.
T: Yeah, he was original. There was a need for something new, and deadmau5 came along and made what was essentially melodic and almost trance-sounding, but he did it a house tempo and very minimal, and it had all the same emotion but it was slower, and he changed dance music. I’m seeing a lot of copycats in EDM right now; I’m seeing everybody just copying what’s cool. It’s like, “Oh that works, so I’m going to do the same thing.” If it works for them, great, but that’s not what I want. I’m trying to just express myself as a musician. If I can do that and still pack out clubs, then I’m pretty d**n lucky, so I’m pretty happy at the moment where my life’s at.
S: So do you see yourself moving toward more of a pop-centric focus, with songs such as “Nothing Really Matters”?
T: No, I actually did an interview on that track that I put up on Facebook because I wanted to tell people that that track was me doing a pop song. I thought it was kind of obvious when I released it that was me doing a pop song, which some people mistook as that was me changing my style, and then it kind of struck me that I didn’t know I had a style. I had been known for quite a while for being a trance DJ, and I found that interesting, because the stuff I was releasing at the time were songs like “Meet Me In Kyoto” and “Russia” and trance I thought was 138 [beats per minute] and quite fast.
S: “Uplifting” trance.
T: Yeah, uplifting trance, and I was doing this real minimal kind of tech stuff, but guys like [Armin van Buuren] and Markus Schulz were playing it, and it was signed to Armada, so I kind of got that branding as being a trance artist, which is not a bad thing at all, and I built this huge following, and I’m stoked with that. But I think my true fans know that I’m kind of all over the place with genre. That could be a bad thing, in the sense that of like, honing in on “what is tyDi?” and “who is tyDi?” But I don’t think I could keep doing this job if I had to write the same kind of song every day.
S: Well, and I think a true style will carry on between genres.
T: Yeah, like…style for me is melody. I want to make songs that move you. You could play “Nothing Really Matters” as a piano song and sung acoustically and I think it would have a lot more depth than the original dance version, and I think it might change people’s opinion on that song. I think that my songs just carry a lot of melody through them, and that’s where I did get a bit of a trance branding, but I wouldn’t call myself a trance DJ.
S: When you started out, what made you originally kind of go towards professionally doing music? You said you went to music school…
T: I studied just music theory and also music technology, so I do courses in classical writing, and I had to do stuff I hated, like writing in alto sax and just instruments that I never will use…or I never thought I’d use, but I am using them now!
S: It’s funny how that pays off.
T: Yeah, I had to study works by Beethoven and Mozart, and I remember sitting in those classes and just going, “Ugh, kill me!” and now I’m listening to these songs again and thinking these guys absolutely are geniuses, and I aspire to hopefully move people with my music in the same way that those guys do. That’s a big call there. But I’ve never worked a normal job; I’ve never had any other source of income, and that’s because since I was so young, that’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to do music, I heard dance music, I was a drummer in a rock band, I listened to bands like Blink-182, Taking Back Sunday, all those guys, like…actually, one of my favorite artists was Dashboard Confessional – Chris Carrabba – and it’s someone that when I left the band world, when I stopped being a drummer, I thought, I’m never ever going to get the chance to meet these guys, and it’s really weird because I just finished a song with Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional, and I have it coming out on my new album, so it’s weird how that all came together in the end. Dance music blew up, and it gave me the opportunity to meet – and work with – these artists that I never thought I would ever get to work with.
S: Does it ever feel weird meeting these people that you once looked up to and aspired to meet and idolized?
T: Yeah, there’s been times where I’ve walked into room, and the first thing I’ve done is that whole Wayne’s World thing where I like, got down on my knees and went, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! But now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s write a song!” But yeah, I do get extremely nervous around artists that I’ve respected for many, many years. There’s nothing worse than writing a song with someone while shaking in awe of their…amazingness!
S: Or just in wonder that this is happening in the first place.
T: Yeah, just in wonder this is happening and I’m sitting next to someone that I’ve listened to. I remember listening to like, The Used and Dashboard Confessional, making out with girls in cars when I was 14, listening to their songs, so it means a lot to be sitting in a studio with people of that status and making songs with them.
S: If there were one or two things you could change about the industry, what would they be?
T: If I could change some things about the industry…the obvious and most straight-up one that I don’t really mean is that I wish I could change what that whole triplet thing going on house music where every song literally drops into the same drop. It’s beyond a joke now; it is like a super-saw synth in the breakdown, playing a big hook, and then playing a triplet drop. It’s driving me mad. I would change that. If I was a wizard and had some power, I’d probably change that first. That would be like a drunken whim, it’d be like, “Aahh, I want that gone!” But if I was to give you a more intellectual answer about music, I’d probably hope that more that more dance music producers learned music theory before they learned to slam loops together and produce well, because there’s plenty of producers who are really, really good in the sense that they can make a song sound big and fat and juicy, but if you break the song down, all it is is a bassline or kick drum or snare. That’s great and it works in the clubs, but I’d love to hear more musical variety. And then another thing that I’d change – and this will be the last, I promise – is the how unfair the industry is. I’m not saying this from my perspective because I’m so lucky and so grateful…I have the best fans in the world, I like to think. I’m making music that I love, I’m traveling the world – right now I’m doing a US tour, four cities in four nights, then I fly to Australia, do two shows in two nights, then fly to the Philippines to do more shows, so it’s like…I’m traveling the world, I’m making music on planes, and it’s the best thing ever. What I do see is that there is a lot of unfairness in the industry in the sense that there are people who have no talent, who don’t know how to write music, they didn’t study a thing, but they have a lot of money, so they pay someone else to make the song for them.
S: “Ghost producing.”
T: Ghost producing! They release the song, and the fans are completely unaware that that song is not by them at all. It’s like getting a blank canvas, saying, “Paint me a picture,” and then signing my name on the bottom, and then putting it in an art gallery, and then going to people in the art gallery and saying, “Do you like my work?” That’s exactly what ghost writing is. It’s that offensive. If you break ghost writing down to that level where you really think about what it is, it is truly offensive to your fans. It is complete lying, and that really upsets me because it’s deception, and I wish anyone that doesn’t make their own music didn’t pretend to and they went and found a job that they were good at instead of paying someone else to do their job for them, and I’d love to see more of the people who truly are talented, that I meet everyday, that I work with, these kids that have songwriting abilities, but they don’t have the money or the knowledge of how to get their music heard, and they’re trying so hard at it, but the industry is a pyramid in the sense that the top stay at the top and the bottom stay at the bottom.
S: And they don’t want that change.
T: The guys at the top don’t want that to change. Some people break through, but there’s so many people that don’t, and it disappoints me because I really would love to see the truly talented people at the top – and I’m not saying anything about the people at the top, I’m not singling anyone out, but we all know there are people at the top that don’t write their own music and pay others to write it for them. I wish that was something I could change about the music industry. I can’t; I can talk about it in interviews.
S: Maybe if enough people talk about it, it will change.
T: Maybe if enough people talk about it, it will raise awareness. Maybe people will open up the credits of the album and read who the actual songwriters are. If they see their favorite artist and they see “Written by…” and “Produced by…” and “Engineered by…” they might go, “Wait a minute…whose album am I listening to?” That’s probably my most passionate thing.
S: Kind of going along that now, what do you think of digital DJing and the amount of competition it brings to the DJing scene?
T: I was talking about this with somebody earlier. I have no problem with digital DJing or DJing in any way, whether you use a laptop or decks or turntables or anything else. I don’t mind how you DJ, because I think the art of DJing is not really the mixing on its own or how high you can put your hands in the air in front of everybody or how big your laser show is. DJing is playing the right songs at the right time, so the only issue I do have is with the DJs who plan their sets completely. I was talking to somebody earlier today about this and I watched them from backstage and they had a [Logic Pro] session – so this isn’t even [Ableton Live] – this is a program that’s not for performing music. They had a Logic session with an hour-long track, and I was watching them stand there and pretend to DJ while the bar just moved across this hour-long track. So he was essentially standing there in front of a crowd doing nothing but drinking.
T: Acting! That’s, again for the same reason ghost producing offends me, faking a DJ set offends me as well, but I have no problem with whatever other way you want to DJ as long as that you are doing something on stage. Admittedly what I do DJing is mixing songs. A lot of them are my own songs, so I have produced them at home, but I’m not going to stand and pretend like I’m writing them on the spot, or doing something like that because it’s impossible. I’ve got live instruments all through my songs, so I’d need an orchestra or something.
S: What about the influx of competition that has come from the lower bar? You know, you don’t have to spend $1500 on a set of CDJ equipment; you can just buy a $150 controller or even just use your keyboard and VirtualDJ for free.
T: Healthy competition, bring it on. But again, if they’re buying this equipment and you know, just getting up there and really not treating DJing like an art form, they’re really just doing it for money or fame or girls, then yeah, I do have an issue with it. It does create competition probably among those guys. What would probably make it worse is if you got one of these kids who is getting their DJ setup and they’re setting everything to “sync” so there’s no DJing going on, and then the song they played that made them famous is one they didn’t write themself. To me that’s just, again, back to the ghost producing…. But I mean, haven’t thought to deeply about the way this new equipment raises competition. I think the guys who make it are going to have to be very impressive, and to do that, they’re going to have to think outside the square, so maybe the competition won’t be as competitive as it seems, ‘cause someone will have to step up the bar.
S: Or write their own music.
T: Yeah, write their own music and prove it.
S: Do you have any funny tour stories?
T: All the best tour stories I have are the ones I don’t remember. ’ve definitely woken up in some pretty weird places. One time I was spooning a traffic cone. These memories are really vague. I’ve got no idea why! It could be the heavy drinking at the performances…apparently that does something to your memory? I’m not sure. But no, there’s crazy tour stories all the time. I probably can’t repeat them without getting in trouble with the people that were in them, so I’m going to be diplomatic and say…what happens on tour stays on tour.
S: So you mentioned bands like Blink-182, Dashboard Confessional…how would you say they have influenced your own sound?
T: They’ve influenced my sound probably more lyrically and melodically, because that’s what I got from their music. Obviously Blink-182 has a lot of dumb songs, so let’s not say I draw my inspiration too much from those, but they have some incredible songs as well where the chord progressions are maybe what you would call “money chords” in the sense that they’re very simple chord progressions, but they’ve got great top lines, great vocals; a lot of the tracks are cleverly-written, cleverly-thought out, and I learned a lot about songwriting before I even knew it from these bands. So before I studied songwriting, I was listening to The Used or Taking Back Sunday, and wondering why these songs hit me so hard. I guess I learned over the years that’s how the vocals or the story of the lyrics plays off the melody of the song and the chords of the song. Without even knowing it, these bands set me up for how I write my songs now, and that’s why I think I owe a lot of my style to the people I was listening to before I knew. That’s why I have the tattoo!
S: What’s your upcoming single called?
T: It’s called “Live This Lie” and it’s hopefully going to be out in about a month or so, and I’m really, really pumped about this one because it’s very different to anything I’ve done before. Think kind of like…Evanescence cross Paramore cross EDM. The end result is just mental. It’s got so much intensity. It’s very aggressive, which is a new one for me. I’ve got a lot of chill songs and a lot of ones that are quite “emo.” This one, it’s…very empowering. The chorus in this song is, “Now that I own you, I will control you, “ so it’s really quite in your face. So that’s a fun one, and it’s coming out soon with a music video, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this but I’ll say it anyway, so sorry to my manager if he’s going to get really upset about it. There’s a rock version of it as well, and that’s going back to all those questions about those rock bands. I’ve never done that before…but we’ve done this rock version of the track and I like it as much as I like the EDM version. There’s big things to come with this record, and I hope my fans love it.
S: What gave you the idea for the iPod Nano competition?
T: That was all my idea. It actually was. The idea was that I wanted to give away a prize to a fan, because my fans give so much back to me; they’re really interactive. And I was trying to think of a prize that is priceless. I mean like, going over the whole idea of gift packages and speakers or a DJ setup, and that’s all pretty cool, and maybe a fan would rather win a DJ setup than an iPod with a secret song, but to me what was the most special gift was the idea that I’ve written this song, and believe me, I can’t even talk about it, my manager hasn’t heard it, my mom hasn’t heart it, nobody besides me in the world has heard this song, and I spent a long time writing it. It’s a huge compositional piece that has so much beauty in it, and I thought if I get a song like this that I wish I could release, but instead of releasing it, I stick it on an iPod and then give it to somebody and let them decide its fate…I don’t know, I don’t think anyone’s done that. And I don’t know whether they’ll share it or whether they’ll keep it to themself or whether they’ll share it with friends.
S: And that’s half the fun of it.
T: That is half the fun of it. I’m part-wishing they’ll share it since it is such a beautiful song, but I would never blame them if they didn’t because I think the selfish side of me would keep it and show my friends.
S: Go brag and say, “I’m the only one in the world with this song.”
T: “I’m the only person in the world that has this song.” So that was the idea. It was the most priceless thing I could think of giving a fan. And it’s unfortunate that the only way that works is if one person can win it, but if more than one person could win it, then it wouldn’t have its value. So we’ll see how that pans out. The girl who won it is a sweetheart. She was chosen at random, and it was completely fair, and I still haven’t given her the song yet because I wasn’t allowed to post the iPod because of the battery for some reason. I have to deliver it to her in person, so I guess that makes it more special. So at a show sometime soon, I’ll be giving her the iPod. Hopefully she doesn’t drop it somewhere and destroy it…luckily I have a backup somewhere. Once I know she has it, I have to delete the backup; then she truly is the only person with it.
S: So you better hope she backs it up then, or you keep the project file, just in case.
T: Yeah, if she doesn’t, that’s like, the biggest erase of all time. That would suck.