Ty Richards Talks Upcoming Zillion, Creativity, and Dream Collaboration

With his debut full-length EP Zillion on the horizon, Austin’s notable and talented Ty Richards has been incredibly busy as of late. His blend of genres is not only unique, but it’s stand out and has been garnering praise both in America and across the pond. His video for “Spaceman“, in fact, takes you on a departure from the norm as he roams around in a space suit in brilliant technicolor, the backdrop a psychedelic twist on futuristic music.
We’ve been intrigued by him from the start, but the world needs a little introduction. Read below for our extensive interview with the man of many talents!
What’s your official origin story?
Howdy, my name is Ty Richards and I’m basically a “one-man-psych-rock-band” from Austin, TX. I moved to Austin as part of my own personal pilgrimage into weirdness I guess. I came here on a whim and accidentally started to lean into and embrace who I really am. This move represented my own personal rebellion against my old yuppie ad-agency self. I started working on some demo recordings and then my friends kept telling me “dude, these are pretty good for demos”. So I just kept going and before I knew it I had an album. I’ve written a couple hundred songs over the years, but ‘Zillion’ is my first attempt at what I would consider true “art”. Also I got tired of waiting for the stars to align with the “right” band, and finding a label, etc so I just decided to take things into my own hands. As narcissistic as it sounds, this album is almost 100% me. I’ve always wanted something that was just me though – a sort of self-portrait, a snapshot into this season of my crazy life. I wrote, performed, recorded, produced and mixed the whole thing. My lovely wife is featured on a couple of the tracks and one of my good friends, Justin Anthony, plays drums on a track too.
What’s the earliest album you can remember listening to, and who introduced it to you?
The first album I ever listened to was some random greatest hits cassette tape of The Lovin’ Spoonful I found when I was 8. To this day I haven’t been able to find the particular tape. It’s funny you asked because I just recently put together my own playlist to try to recreate the tape from memory. Here’s my best recreation of the tape. I remember my mom and dad telling me to pack for our annual eight-hour road trip to Amarillo, TX to see my grandmamma and grandaddy. In an effort to not be bored out of my mind the whole trip I dug through an old drawer and found the tape, having no idea who it was. I didn’t know anything about the band, and didn’t think to ask my parents either. I didn’t know if it was 80’s or 60’s or 40’s music, I just knew that I fell in love with these songs while I was watching the tape wheels spin for 8 hours. It was the first piece of music that I really got to spend some real time with and get to know. I listened to it over and over again. It had songs like “Daydream”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, “Make Up Your Mind” and “Summer in the City”. Pure 60’s pop goodness! The Lovin’ Spoonful were my Beatles early on. I didn’t really become exposed to the Beatles, Beach Boys and the Stones until college. Moving into middle school I got completely committed to rock and roll though, marrying myself to Led Zeppelin, Toadies, and Third Eye Blind. A good mix of 70’s classic rock and 90’s post-grunge. I’ve always been a real sucker for guitar hooks.
How do you stay inspired to continually create new music?
I’ll start by saying what doesn’t inspire me and stifles all creativity for me. Media, News and Facebook for me are the biggest waste of brain space and murderers of creativity. Nothing sucks the life out of me like negativity and complaining. It’s like watching daytime soap opera’s or something. At least once a year, I inevitably find myself joining in with the masses thinking “Oh my God, I can’t believe so-and-so said that. I’m soooo offended. Let me discuss this with internet trolls for the next 3 hours.” When I’m jonesing to write and record, the first thing I do is a media black-out, delete the facebook app from my phone, put my phone away altogether really,  and just start making shit that matters.
So once that noise is gone I just start making music, good or bad, I just start. I really like recording and writing at the same time. I’ve already put in 15 or so years of crafting songs on paper and guitar, only to rehearse the life out of them before I record. It’s nice to capture it as it’s happening. And changing my creative process has proved to instantly break any writer’s block I’ve had. As far as instruments go, guitar has always been my go-to. So this time around I bought an old Ludwig kit and a late 70’s fender P-bass. My method this time was to just start recording drums and bass, something with a good groove and then build out the songs from there with synth or guitar or whatever. I wouldn’t even think about the melody and lyrics until the song was done. Half of the songs lyrics started out as “mumble tracks” that I translated into real words later. I stole this writing trick from Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) after reading an interview he did with the Atlantic called Jeff Tweedy’s Subconscious Songwriting. It literally worked the first time I tried it with my song “Shoulda Coulda Woulda”. I was like “holy shit, this actually produced a good song”. It’s like a freudian way of songwriting, I thought it would come out as total nonsense but there is more meaning in those songs than with my more traditionally written tunes for me, by a long shot. And it takes the pressure off to cook up lyrics that are “cool”. It feels like real art to me.
Also I just  listen to a lot of records. I’ll look at artists that I follow like Jeff Tweedy Wilco, Beck, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and figure out who they listen to and then go and listen to those people. I’ll read and listen to interviews with the artists I really like. There’s kind of a family tree of artists that I love and respect. I read a book by Austin Kleon called Steal like an Artist around the time I first started this upcoming record and it really helped me embrace my influences and lean into them instead of hiding from them. I’ve had this notion my whole life that being “original” is the holy grail of artistic feats. I think that’s bullshit now. I’ve finally come to terms that even when I reject my influences, my music still comes out sounding like something. I don’t exist in a vacuum. And even if I blatantly copied someone else, the music will still sound like me because I suck at replicating anyway, so there is nothing to lose.
Not to mention this record I’ve compounded all my musical influences with my wife’s influences too. She has really rubbed off on me helping my music be less “white”. She grew up with a better catalog in my opinion – stuff like MJ, Stevie, Zapp, Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Rapper’s Delight and Men Without Hats. And me, on the other hand, someone who grew up on the whitest music ever –, Zeppelin, Tom Petty, ZZ Top,The Eagles, Metallica, Skynyrd, and all things 90’s Post-Grunge – she literally completes me musically. She’s by far my biggest inspiration. I’m doing more with music now, being married than I ever did as a single guy.
Is there a particular track you find that stands out on Zillion?
Hmm… These songs are like children to me at this point. Whichever one I’m in front of at the time is my favorite 🙂 I think the song “Naked Girls” is the tune that sticks out to me the most. It is so ridiculous to me, and makes me smile every time. The meaning of the song can only be misinterpreted, and that’s why I love it. It started out as a joke song and accidentally graduated to be a real song. It’s still a joke to me though. Ha! The lyrics are:
“Naked girls, naked girls
Naked girls are all around me
Naked girls, naked girls
Naked girls are trying to get me”
I pulled something from an ordinary part of my life and blew it up to be ridiculous nonsense. I come up with stupid songs every day about anything from taking out the trash, to walking by a dead squirrel in the road. This song just happened to be formed while I was playing drums and all 3 of my little girls were running around my drum set completely naked after bath time. Unless they read it in this article, no one will ever know the origin of this song and I like that. I’d rather people see me as a gangster rap artist anyway. I was listening to a lot of James Murphy when I did that song. I love that guy.
Zillion comes out on Feb. 3rd. What’s on your mind until then? Are you anxious at all?
Well, I’m a busy-body. I’m already getting ready for record #2. I’m more anxious to just keep putting stuff out. My greatest fear now is that I’ll be one of those artists that puts out a great record and then you never hear from them again. I want to be buried with at least 30 records under my belt. As a perfectionist who’s been sitting on 4 or 5 records of material for 10 years because it wasn’t “good enough” to release, I’m so done with that shit. Let’s get this out. It’s not art to me unless it’s released for the world to see it, love it, or hate it. In a perfect world I would love to put out another record in the winter of 2017, 2 albums per year every year forever. So that’s what’s on my mind. I just bought a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel recorder and I’m ready to get number two going.
What’s the ideal state of mind for a listener to best connect with Zillion?
This record would ideally be for someone who is comfortable making fun of themselves. Zillion is for the kind of person who could get in a fender-bender on the way to work and just laugh. It’s for the person that it’s hard to ruin their day. But it could maybe be for the person who can look back on a horrible event in their life and see at least a little humor in it.
What’s your dream collaboration?
One name. James Murphy. I don’t know if you are out there man, but if you are reading this, call me. Also Jimmy Page guitar cameo would be amazing.
How do you handle feedback, positive or negative? Does it influence your direction?
I really enjoy feedback of all kinds. I especially enjoy negative feedback, constructive or not because it takes more courage to critique someone honestly these days in the age of niceness and political correctness. It’s refreshing to me when people just speak there mind, even if it’s rude or whatever. I’m a big boy I can take it. Someone chimed in on facebook earlier amongst some fans and criticized me to say that I wasn’t taking enough risks that I should push into stranger sounds and ideas. Kind of calling me a wimp. That was my favorite comment and I use that as fuel to not be an artistic coward and lean into the stupid risky things that I know I want to do. So it does influence me from time to time. If anything negative feedback influences me more often. Positive feedback isn’t usually practical feedback that I can act on. Someone saying “sounds good!” doesn’t really give me a direction to travel. I invite honest feedback, even if you hate my music.
Marvel, or DC, and why?
I’m mostly a Marvel guy. Although I’m not huge into most current comic movies with the exception of X-Men, Spiderman and Christian Bale related Batman movies. There’s just too much shit going on for me to keep up with the 40 Avenger movies that are out. I just don’t care enough about the random superhero’s like Thor and Iron Man. As a kid I was very into the Saturday morning X-men and Spiderman cartoons of the 90’s, along with Marvel trading cards. But I’ve always had a place in my heart for Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989 (Christian Bale takes a close second). If there is a “comic-orientation” to the upcoming record Zillion, it would be Marvel also, only because one of the songs is actually about Peter Parker. I’ll let you guys figure out which one it is 🙂
Anything else you’d like to let our readers know?
I love you. I love good records. I hope someone finds this record to be a good one to them. I’m honored to be a human that gets to make records. I just listened to myself on vinyl for the first time a couple weeks ago and it blew me away. Zillion will be available everywhere you normally buy music and through my site on Vinyl. And I’m going to say this in print so you all can hold me to it and call me a liar if it doesn’t come true. Zillion will be the first of many records. I can’t wait to get it to your ears and I can’t wait to start the next record.
Keep up with Ty Richards here.