As r&b fans, we constantly talk about what’s wrong with music lately and bare witness on a daily basis to artist after artist jumping on the same gimmick their peers are using. But how many times do you hear an up and coming artist talk about not only standing out and trying something unique and different, but bringing back the feel good music of generations past? Additionally, how often do you find dudes proudly blasting the auto tuned artists and dance r&b music that dominates the radio from their cars? I live in New York City, so I can confirm it’s rare. Fortunately, 9th Wonder’s new artist Tyler Woods is a breath of fresh air to r&b music. As you will hear in this interview, he’s looking to make that r&b that we can be proud of again and has got the voice and talent to back it up. In this interview, we talk about his upbringing as an artist, being able to write, produce and sing, working with 9th Wonder, his EP “The Mahogany Experiment”, when to expect his debut album, and more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was reading in your bio that from a young age you learned to play over 10 instruments. Take me through some of the instruments you can play.
Tyler Woods: Percussion, it consists of several instruments like the set and the snare and the xylophone. Also Brass instruments like the trombone and the trumpet. Of course the piano and the guitar. Some woodwind instruments but I don’t play woodwind instruments as well as the brass. So a lot of those instruments really consist of brass instruments and percussion.
YKIGS: Do you have a favorite instrument to play and why?
TW: Favorite instrument would probably be…that’s a hard one…the piano and the guitar are my two favorites right now because I can sing and write as well as play and it’s a good form of expression where you can just really lock in and do some nice acapellas. So those are probably my two favorites right now.
YKIGS: I was also reading that eventually after high school you moved to Europe to pursue a music career. What opportunity was out in Europe that wasn’t here in the U.S.?
TW: Well at that time my father was a band director, R.I.P., so I came up into music. My mother is a teacher so with the writing and the music I wanted to do something on the collegiate level, but school wasn’t really in me like that. So I kinda wanted to do something that I considered better. So I had a group that we formed that had a Blackstreet type sound and we went overseas with a connect from a guy who was already going back and forth taking groups over. So we just started touring on a whim just jumped out of the window and we went over. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the opportunity wasn’t here in the states, but it was just something I had never done before and I felt the timing was right to just go abroad and try to crack the market over there. The good thing is they really love live performances over there with bands and music so it actually worked to our favor. So I hopped on that as soon as I saw the opportunity.
YKIGS: So looking back at the move, you’d call it a success?
TW: Yea definitely because I’m doing what I love to do and with the blood, sweat and tears, I got to work with a lot of artists and people of different cultures and different languages even. I wrote songs for German artists and stuff like that, at the time I didn’t speak the language so it was a good experience for me. I continued to learn, I call it my college, so I definitely think it was a success. Then my mother and father said since I chose to skip college, I would have to make something of it, and I did so I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity. But yea it was definitely a success for me.
YKIGS: Tell me the story of how you initially met 9th Wonder and how this led to your signing with his label.
TW: I did a record years back with Camp Lo called “Gotcha” which did really good in the southeast region in some other places. 9th Wonder was working on the Wonder Years at the time and he had Camp Lo for a session and asked them “Who was your boy that sings on ‘Gotcha’?” So I went in for the session and after that it was history, I immediately started working with 9th every day, I was traveling back and forth and he was just feeding me with stuff. We had a really good relationship from there and it was just like magic because then I would go overseas and do my thing and he would just continue to send me stuff and our relationship just built and grew more. Then all of the sudden he started the label JAMLA and the rest is history.
YKIGS: What’s it like working with him in the studio? Tell me about the whole process of making songs with him behind the scenes.
TW: What’s cool with 9th working with him is that he’s a genius at what he does and he’s also the type of brother that when you have something to bring, your art to bring, he gives you free reign to express yourself musically and bring everything to the fore front of how you want to express yourself. I would say with 9th it’s real easy to be yourself and specifically with me and him, he produced a lot of r&b records as well already, of course he’s famous for a lot of the hip hop records he produced, so he matched very, very well with my southern soul feel that a lot of times he reproduces from older records. So it just kinda fit perfectly, with me and him he’ll play a sample or track and I’ll just go and the next thing you know, we’re in the booth. A lot of times he would just play a record, and since I really don’t write on paper, I would just go in the booth and I would just improv for about 16 bars, and the rest is history.
YKIGS: I know that you can not only sing, but can also write, produce and vocally arrange music. What type of advantage do you think it provides to you to possess each of these abilities.
TW: It’s good because a lot of artists like Ne-Yo and The Dream and Raphael Saadiq, a lot of these artists that produce and they play and they arrange; it’s very intimate. They grasp the exact feeling of what they’re trying to do, what’s in their head automatically comes out exactly that way and I think that’s very special. I’ve also been writing for other people, for example with 9th Wonder, he’ll have a record that’s very melodic or will maybe have a voice here or voice there. Some people who don’t write or arrange might miss the feeling of what the record is supposed to be. So being that you can play, you can hear certain chords or certain harmonic structures that normally anybody else wouldn’t hear and you can really capture the essence of the song.
YKIGS: I read in your bio you look to make “soul music that is relevant for this generation” and you also don’t care what everybody else is doing. Talk to me about your musical style and how you developed it.
TW: I love hip hop and I’m a huge hip hop fan as well. In hip hop nobody else did what everybody else was doing. It was about your thing and you stepping to the left and doing what you do best, not really copying everybody else. If you see somebody else that’s doing something good, you say “Oh that’s dope, but watch me do this.” To me, being that I love hip hop so much, I kinda took that grass root approach to what it is that I do. Today, there are a lot of cats that are dope out here, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t look at what they do for influence for what I like to do. I feel like there are a lot of other genres of music where it’s different, there are a lot of differences, everything doesn’t sound alike. So I like to continue to try to bring that spirit to soul or to r&b and give the people an option for what they want to hear.
YKIGS: Yea, I can respect that.
TW: Yea, I appreciate it.
YKIGS: Next week you’ll be releasing the free EP “The Mahogany Experiment.” What can we expect to hear on there?
TW: Real dope production first of all with 9th and my man E. Jones, he produced the single which is called “Lost in your Love” and is a really dope record. What can you expect to hear? A modern day Marvin and Curtis with the spirit of Jodeci and a Carl Thomas feel and that sound that’s missing today. I want to reintroduce this sound to the so called young folk out that kinda missed that era. So you can kinda expect to hear that good old southern feel that I like to portray and just good music over some hard bottom and some real hard beats by my man 9th Wonder. I’ve even got some features by my JAMLA camp, my girl Heather B. and of course my brother from another mother Big Remo.
YKIGS: Yea what you explained about the album and the sound, I feel that’s a sound that’s definitely missing in r&b and something we need. So I’m glad you’re putting out music like that and I’m looking forward to hearing it.
TW: Yea I appreciate it. I totally agree, like myself, I was coming up I was listening to r&b from a very young age. I recall in the second grade listening to r&b and reciting lines from records that were on the radio at the time. At the time you had Carl Thomas, D’Angelo, brothers could listen to that and play it loud, they would turn that up in the middle of the summer and you could rock out just as hard as you could with Biggie or something. So you’re right, we are missing that to where a brother can really feel good with playing an r&b dude in his car and not feel like he’s soft.
YKIGS: Very good point, I like that approach.
TW: Yep, I appreciate it.
YKIGS: Just looking ahead, do you have plans for a full album in the future?
TW: Definitely, me and 9th have got so many records and so much material that we’ve built up over the past year that and just stuff that’s sitting and waiting on the timing; we pretty much make timeless music. We’ll definitely make another album around the summer time or spring, second quarter. The next album is definitely on the way.
YKIGS: Talk to me about the song you wrote for Christopher Williams “The Way We Feel” and how that opportunity came about and give me some background on the song.
TW: Well Christopher Williams is Christopher Williams, the brother’s got it, he still has it, he’s over there doing his gospel play and tour thing which is a real good look; I love those plays and all that kinda stuff too. But yea, he’s in VA so it’s just above us and he reached out to 9th and asked him for some of that good feel. So he came on down and 9th immediately called me when he was on the way to the studio, like “Yo, I need you to write these records!” So I didn’t really have any time to prepare and so I came into the studio, and Chris was in there, new jack city Christopher Williams, we just ragged on him for a good 15 or 20 minutes. *Laughs* After that, 9th put the track on and I started my little improv thing and put together a few nice verses, a little hook and let him hear it. So I referenced it, but he was like “Nah, I’m doing EVERYTHING you’re doing.” It was a real opportunity for me and I felt real blessed to have somebody who’s already been there, he’s one of the greats and he made a mark in history, so that’s really want I want to do to, so it was a really big thing for me. Once he heard it and he did it and he put his Christopher Williams thing on it, it was huge. So I’m looking forward to doing some more stuff with him as well as him putting out the video and making that push with that record and his album too.
YKIGS: Very nice job writing that one, I like that one.
TW: Thank you, thank you.
YKIGS: Are you currently writing for any other artists or have plans to in the future?
TW: Yea I am. Actually a couple of groups out in Europe one is a pop band called US5 and they sell millions of records out there, they’re huge in Russia and Germany and France. Of course a couple of artists out there that I submit records for and hooks like Styles P and Fred Da Godson over in New York. I also play so I’ll be playing a lot of piano and guitars over some projects that I probably shouldn’t say yet because I’ll probably be throwing their stuff out there a little too early. *Laughs*
YKIGS: I know you’ve had a bunch of collaborations with hip hop artists over the past few years, is there one that is most memorable or a favorite you’ve had?
TW: Yea I would definitely say the Styles P joint was definitely one of my favorites because it was very heartfelt and we got a lot of good response on that from the street as well as the industry. It was a really good song with a good feel to it, it was real honest like I like it. So that was definitely one of my more memorable collaborations with a hip hop dude.
YKIGS: You mentioned earlier when you’re doing songs you really don’t write anything down in the studio. Take me through your writing process and how you make a song.
TW: For me when I hear music, being around music so much I immediately get like twenty to thirty melodies in my head. What I normally do is just improv. Growing up in music with my father he taught me about preparation and improv and a lot of times in music and these courses that you’ll take in school and other music schools, you’ll take a site reading class and it’s basically not seeing the music until you’re actually there to be graded. So they’ll turn on the music and they’ll count you off and you’ll go. So I did that for so long I didn’t necessarily write on paper anymore, I would just go in and really just view all improvisation and after that I just kinda build from that.
YKIGS: That’s all of the questions I had, is there anything you’d like to add?
TW: I want to say thank you, I appreciate you for taking your time out as well. My JAMLA family over there, Big Remo, he’s got something coming. Shout out to Heather B. from JAMLA. Shout out to 9th Wonder for making it all possible too, and North Carolina, we’re here baby, r&b and soul are back.