We sit down with American newcomer Kyler Slater to talk about his new track ‘Black Eyes’ and much more.
Californian singer and multi-instrumentalist Kyler Slater is pushing R&B to new places by mixing melancholy indie-vibes with that sound so familiar to us in 2015 from the likes of The Weeknd. On ‘Black Eyes’, emotionally charged and lusting lyrics are set up against a b-side by EvE that is replete with cut-up drums, a jerky baseline and the sound of clinking chains to produce an evocatively claustrophobic atmosphere.
Playing since a young age, Kyler originally favored a conventional band set-up and guitar based melodies, but his sound progressed when he struck out on his own at the age of 15 – his varied and sometimes dark life experiences have played an important role in the evolution of his unique and deeply personal style of music. With a debut live show supporting Jonny Craig at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood coming soon though, things are looking bright for Kyler’s future, and if “Black Eyes” is any indication of what’s to come, this won’t be the last time we hear from the rising-star.
In a revealing conversation with Wonderland, Kyler talks about his past, his influences and what’s next in store.
Your sound feels unique but also very current: who would you say are your all-time favourite musicians?
A lot of people expect me to name off musicians in my genre of music, but I am honestly in love with bands like The National, Death Cab for Cutie, and Ben Howard. The Weeknd’s trilogy definitely made me fall in love with his music. FKA twigs is incredible in all aspects. From the records, to the live show, to the aesthetic. I love it all. Honestly, it’s super hard to name all of my favorites. I listen to everything, those are the ones that just come to mind.
As someone who could be vaguely described as nu-R&B, is it old-head, lover-boys like D’Angelo or turned-up, sometimes vacuous hedonists like The Weeknd who influence you more – perhaps a combination of both…?
Well, my mom would always jam to Keith Sweat, R Kelly, and Usher, which is the only reason why I love modern R&B so much. FKA Twigs, The Weeknd, and Gallant are definitely some of my favorites because I was introduced by the oldies. It always brings me back to when I was a kid jamming to those old records with my mom. So, I would definitely say that the older stuff is still what gets me.
Outside of music, what else inspires you?
Travelling is the biggest one. Basically just going somewhere new where I don’t have control of everything and I don’t have any friends to distract me. Making myself uncomfortable for the sake of finding new inspirations and new things to do. Anyone that knows me can totally agree. I’m always on the go. Plus, I don’t just go visit somewhere for like I week, I move to a different state and completely start over. It’s kind of fucked up. It makes my life very interesting.
Fifteen seems young to be travelling around the US on your own, can you tell us a little bit about this time and how it affected your sound?
Honestly, I had a rough upbringing that led me to be on my own. Lots of family issues led me to try and find refuge elsewhere; I was super depressed and had a tough outlook on life because of this. I was also a young kid that had his own agenda; I didn’t really want to be under someone else’s rules. I definitely think you can hear the darkness that comes from my youth in my songs. Music is definitely my escape and therapy, though; it’s what keeps me happy.
“Black Eyes” is an intense track lyrically – then there’s the bag-over-head claustrophobia of the single cover – is there a story behind the song?
The song is about a very unhealthy relationship that was based on lust. Falling in love with someone, coming to a point where you are at the lowest, and realising you have to detach yourself from the emotions connected to that period of your life in order to move forward. I definitely felt trapped because I didn’t want to be alone, so I was willing to deal with that for far too long.
I’m super excited and super nervous! The single is just basically an ad to get you to the shows, and that’s where we really want to win over people’s attention. I’ve always loved a band ten times more, that killed it on stage.
“When you are at the edge of destruction and loss, you are inspired to write songs that, without diving too deep, can help you process emotions and move forward.” Writing music is obviously very important to you so I’m interested to know when you first began writing lyrics?
I was around ten years old. Like I said, things at my mom’s house weren’t always the easiest, so that was my escape. I soon learned it would just be my therapy for the remaining years of my life. Real life experiences have definitely kept the lyrical content genuine, even if it’s not the most clever or witty.
What can we expect next from you – an EP perhaps?
Another single that we are shooting a music video for. When I release a bigger project, I want people to be ready for it. I don’t want to spend all this time and hard work on a project that only a few people are going to listen to. So, hopefully everyone can hang tight for a couple singles.
Where, ideally, would you like to be in five years?
Truly happy with myself, helping others, and pursuing my dreams. Hopefully breaking boundaries musically. Honestly, if I’m not figuring out ways to better my community, then I’m not doing it right. I was born to serve people and help in whatever way that I could, I definitely want to have my plans executed by then.
Lastly, who is your dream collaborator?
If I could write lyrics with Ben Gibbard, I would lose my mind. Out of all the living musicians in the world, he’s definitely inspired me most. Just listen to the Plans record. Also, a project with Rick Ruben would be pretty bad-ass. I would love to work with that guy and pick at his brain. That’s obviously a dream for a lot of musicians, though.
Words: Benji Walters