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John Tyler’s Prismatic Journey Through Music 

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It’s been a banner year for Baltimore creative John Tyler, and he has a huge banner to prove it. After the annual Love Groove Festival wrapped up, Tyler took the main stage banner and hung it up in his studio. Featuring the bubbly words “LOVE GROOVE,” it’s more than a statement piece; it’s an affirmation. Pinned up right by the door frame, the banner stretches across a long wall to a distant corner by his bay window. Even though it takes up a lot of wall space, there’s still room for other decor.

On the wall behind his work desk, there’s a great display of classic records like Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Spirit; The Secret Life of Plants by Stevie Wonder, and an LP by Ahmad Jamal. Tyler mentioned that the records belonged to his mom, then motioned me over to his record cabinet.

He took out the vinyl box set of Awaken, my Love! by Childish Gambino, saying it was one of his favorites. We were already listening to Black Classical Music by jazz drummer Yussef Dayes and as we sat down, Tyler pulled up a live video performance by Dayes.

We talked about our mutual love of catching live shows, no matter the genre. “I remember getting my first bus pass and taking notes of everything, seeing fliers, billboards,” Tyler recalled. He traveled to skateparks for rock and punk shows and porch stoops for jazz pop-ups. “Basements, warehouses, I’ve seen it all! There was one in an alley, I’m going through my memories,” Tyler paused then laughed. “The crazy one I just saw, my friends sent me, they were in Paris—they do raves in caves, you have to crawl through these tight spaces.”

John Tyler, photo by Jill Fannon

Guided by a curious mindset, Tyler was gaining perspective and making connections at all sorts of concert venues. But he also felt like something was missing in a larger sense. “Everything was separate, it felt like things could be united,” Tyler reflected, noticing how the different music scenes were in their own bubble. This motivated him to start Love Groove Festival, “a music, art, film, and educational festival designed to highlight, showcase, and compensate emerging artists.” Now at 24 years old, Tyler is a prolific musician, producer, and festival organizer. His prismatic outlook on music is built on a foundation of being able to hear and see things from different angles.

“I listen to everybody,” Tyler said. “I listen to a lot of music and dissect it.” This also applies to Tyler’s own creative process. While going through Tyler’s music catalog, I noticed that he often releases singles with accompanying variations. Each studio version usually comes along with an instrumental version and an acapella version. Having this multi-faceted approach to music allows Tyler to “turn things to fit any context that I please.”

John Tyler for BmoreArt Issue 17, photo by Justin Tsucalas
John Tyler for BmoreArt Issue 17, photo by Justin Tsucalas

He recently explored creating more variations with his new single “Lost.” The studio track has an acapella version, an instrumental version, a dance remix, and a movie score treatment. Tyler shared details about the story behind “Lost” and played the single for me, two days ahead of its late January release date. (The remix version was released on March 4th.)

When I mentioned how the single seemed anthemic, as if it should be played in a stadium, Tyler responded, “I played at the Orioles stadium and that experience, being in front of thousands of people, inspired this whole new sound… That’s a long story, let me see if I can make it short.”

“It happened over weenies,” Tyler began. “I was at a Visit Baltimore event, everyone was talking about weenies. I never heard about weenies being the topic of a party so I went to go have some. Next to the weenies was this man in a really nice suit. I asked him about the weenies, then asked him what he did.”

Tyler learned that the man in the suit had a high-ranking leadership position with the Baltimore Orioles. He didn’t miss a beat. He immediately suggested that the Orioles needed a theme song and the man encouraged Tyler to write one. “I went home, wrote the song and sent it. The next morning, he gives me a call, gets me connected with other people on the Orioles team. I came in, met with them and played them the song seven times.”

That was towards the end of 2021. As time went by, Tyler developed a partnership with the Orioles. “They started telling me about this project, it was so secretive.” It turned out that the Orioles were unveiling their new home team jerseys through Nike and Major League Baseball’s City Connect series. 

Tyler came to the table with ideas for a theme song but ended up putting his talents to use in a few other ways. First, he scored music for the short promotional clip “You Can’t Clip These Wings”, which serves as a jersey reveal campaign while paying homage to Charm City. In the video, author Kondwani Fidel eloquently recites a poetic ode to Baltimore, referencing street corners and neighborhoods while a young Baltimorean bikes through the cityscape. You can spot Tyler outside of his Bolton Hill studio at the 0:35 second mark.

As an extension to the City Connect launch, Tyler curated an all-local music series to play at the stadium during home games. You can hear the compilation playlist here which features musicians like Ray Winder, Outcalls, and Bobbi Rush. Tyler bookended the season backed by a live band. “We were playing on the top balcony where the bar is and the music was playing on a giant screen.” During their last song, Tyler expressed gratitude to the crowd and then disappeared. The band kept playing. Then Tyler emerged on a lower level, walked to the baseball field, and played the National Anthem on his guitar. A total nod to Jimi Hendrix. “Getting to the field is such a long, crazy process,” Tyler admitted. “Imagine walking from Motorhouse to Dooby’s or the Monument. They don’t have elevators; you’re going through so many tunnels.” 

John Tyler, photo by Jill Fannon
John Tyler, photo by Jill Fannon

Hearing Tyler share this story reminded me of the cave raves that he mentioned earlier. Just as those Parisian music fans navigated dark chambers for an otherworldly experience, Tyler traversed the underbelly of Camden Yards to reach the baseball field. Performing in a wide-open space of that scale must have been transcendental.

“It felt great, that was such a wild time,” Tyler said. “Not only that, I had a partnership with the Charmery where an ice cream flavor came out the same day as my song ‘Sugar & Spice’. I had four things going on at the same time. That was such a crazy, crazy, crazy…” Tyler trailed off for a second, then added, “…that was so crazy.” 

The fourth thing going on was a live performance the following day at Patterson Park. Tyler co-curated an all-day event, the City Connect Neighborhood Block Party. Maybe that sounds like an overbooked weekend to some, but as a working musician, it was just a day in the life for Tyler. 

I asked him what spices were involved in his customized “Sugar & Spice” Charmery flavor. He couldn’t remember, so he pulled up a video to jog his memory. In this quick clip, Tyler tours the Charmery facility with David Alima, owner of the Charmery and Master Flavor Maker. Alima declares that it’s a secret five spice recipe. It ended up becoming their third best-selling ice cream of last year. I started to wonder if I’d be able to order a scoop of Sugar & Spice, but Tyler informed me that it’s out of stock for good. “The thing about David is, he doesn’t like to make flavors again, so once it’s sold out, that’s it.”

“But if it’s so enjoyable, wouldn’t they want to have it around?” I asked.

“That’s not how his thinking is,” Tyler explained. “I think he really just enjoys moments more than profit.”

That sentiment could also be Tyler’s modus operandi. Although he is undeniably strategic, Tyler’s endgame is all about meaningful moments, especially ones that transcend space and time. “I definitely make music for myself. Most of these are unreleased projects that will never come out,” Tyler said as he motioned at a matrix of tracks on his computer. “Then I have the songs that need to come out. Most of my music has some kind of messaging behind it, like “Lost”. People need to hear this. Lyrically, it can help someone get through what they’re going through.”

When I brought up how I was enjoying listening to some of his earlier music from his album The Good Side of Things, he flashed a smile. “My biggest goal is to have music that can live in any time period. For you to listen to it today and think ‘this is clever’ is the ultimate compliment.” 

Tyler knows that his music couldn’t be what it is without his community. “To go deeper with collaboration, of course, there are the people behind the song, from the drummer to the saxophone player, to the artist featured on it,” Tyler said. “Then there’s the people who mix it like Emmanuel Byrd, to make sure every element has a moment. Then there’s the person who masters it. Then I’ll go do a photo shoot with Gustavo Marinho, the main photographer that I use. Also on this shoot, there’s one of my best friends, Juba. He does a lot of content videos and performance videos; we’re coming up with lots of shots together.” Tyler mentioned other creative team members that are brought into the fold, like graphic designers and web designers. “There’s a lot of people involved in releasing one song.”

“Collaboration is for the best,” Tyler added. “For folks that don’t have funding for a giant production, work with the people in your community…people who are just starting out, just want to make stuff, just for the sake of art…You can push things to the absolute limits when you let people do what they do and bring ideas to the table. I’m so open with everything.”

John Tyler, photo by Gustavo Marinho
John Tyler, photo by Gustavo Marinho

SUBJECT: John Tyler, 24
PLACE: Love Groove Ent. in Bolton Hill
WEBSITE: https://johntylersounds.com
INSTAGRAM: @johntylersounds

Who are some of your dream collaborators, in terms of bigger acts?

Oh my, Dayes! I reach out no matter how big or small, collaboration makes the world go ‘round. I asked Yussef Dayes to play drums and he said, “We’ll see after the tour”. Pharell Williams, even though he’s such a worldwide artist, he’s reachable. He’s done a lot of work in the city behind the scenes. Janelle MonaeI saw her live, that was an experience. This composer, Ludwig Göransson. He did the musical score for Oppenheimer and Black Panther. He’s everywhere. What else…I could give you a long list, but one more, Tyler the Creator.

While we’re on that topic, what about regional or local collaborators?

I’ve worked with so many people. I’m thinking about who I haven’t worked with. One person is 4K Michael, he’s in the rap world. I’d also love to work with Julien Chang. I’m looking through my playlist, there’s a lot of good people. Mumu Fresh is great too.

Is your single “Lost” part of a body of new music?

I’ve been working on a duology album and a TV show. The overall name of it is called Cry like A Man. The first half is coming out this year and the second half is coming out next year. “Lost” follows this character nicknamed Fuzz who’s raised not to express his emotions and to man up and be strong. If he feels sadness or feels like he has to cry, he has to bottle it up and throw it as far as he can. Now he’s in his early 20s, a lot of his traumas are coming out, and he’s trying to find his purpose in all of the wrong things. It’s a powerful project that breaks cultural barriers because this is something that everyone from all backgrounds goes through.

“Lost” is that realization of “wow, I really don’t know who I am and what I’m doing. I don’t know how to feel because of how I was raised and I fully forgot I had all of these traumas behind me.” The way that I produced the first half was I wanted it to feel upbeat, almost as if you’re taking medicine or candy. The whole project is like ear candy. But if you dive deeper into the lyrics, it’s hard. On “Lost”, if I go through the first verse…I’m just going to say it:

Lost in the trauma, lost without nirvana
Lost by religion, lost without dollars
Lost without integrity, lost knowing there could be a better me
I been Lost MENtally lost without my enemies
Lost without the recipe for disaster
Cause trauma brings the melodies
Lost without identity on Instagram
So Lost for words I need a telegram

I really enjoy that you have different interpretations of some of your songs. For instance, “Baby Bird” has a studio version, then the instrumental version is lush and the acapella version is emotional with its focus on the human voice. Do you find that creating variations of your singles is becoming a standard practice in your creative process?

I like the idea of reimagining things and making them different. Sometimes I’ll create a composition, record vocals on it, and then I’ll completely take out the composition, redo the music for the vocals like I never heard the original music before, and it becomes this completely different…sometimes spiritual experience. I find that very intriguing. It’s definitely something I’m exploring even more these days because every single I have coming out is similar with all the different versions. You can do so much with sound, especially these days with sampling. You can really transform a sound.

I was listening to your debut album The Good Side of Things. I love how playful and joyful it is, especially how you use it as a concept album to create a radio show vibe.  Have you ever been involved in hosting a radio show? If not, is it something that you’d consider doing?

Yeah it’s coming, I’m bringing it back, that radio station was called Johnny Llama Radio, it should be here in the summertime, it’s coming! I really enjoyed it too, a lot of people do that radio thing (on concept albums) but no one really did it like that. The call-ins, the commercials, the skits. It’s crazy to think I was 18 years old when I did that. I was quite young.

How can people tune in to your upcoming radio show?

I have a platform that I’m developing, Love Groove Entertainment, it’s like a mini version of Netflix or HBO. It’s going to be a hub of contentlike the movie I’m doing, a podcast, additional music. It’ll be on a website and YouTube. Next year, when we have the funding, I’ll have an app. You’ll be able to get the festival tickets on the app and listen to the music there.

This story is from Issue 16: Collaboration, available here.

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