Why Classixx Loves Working With Female Singers
Together, childhood friends Tyler Blake and Michael David make up LA production duo Classixx.
After almost a decade of making music, Tyler and Michael, whose relationship stretches all the way back to the sixth grade, released their debut studio album, Hanging Gardens, in May of 2013. And now, three years later, the duo have released their sophomore studio album, Faraway Reach, a 12-track record featuring artists like T-Pain, Passion Pit, How to Dress Well, and Panama.
We caught up with Tyler, one half of Classixx, to talk about the process behind the new album, what it’s really like making music with his best friend, and the best part about working with female artists. Here’s what he had to say:
Download Faraway Reach HERE.
Mallory Llewellyn: I do a lot of work with one of my closest friends and she’s super outgoing and I’m more on the quiet side, so I’m curious… do you and Michael have similar personalities or are you total opposites?
Tyler Blake: Yeah, that’s totally our dynamic too. I mean, I think Michael is really funny and very charismatic once you get to know him. But at first, if you were to just meet us, I’m definitely the more outwardly talkative and outgoing guy. He’s a bit more reserved in the beginning.
What do you guys do when you’re not making music together?
TB: We have such good friends here in Los Angeles. We’re still friends with all of the people we grew up with since we were little kids, including each other. Michael and I have been friends since we were in middle school, and it’s funny because a lot of people lose touch with people they grew up with later in their lives, but we just happened to grow up with such a great group of friends that whenever we’re not working or on tour we try to spend as much time with them as possible. Also, we try to take in all of Los Angeles — we love this city.
I’ve read a few interviews of yours where you’ve said that timelessness is really important to you when you’re picking sounds for your music. So, who are some current artists who you feel are timeless?
TB: It’s funny because we’ve made a lot of friends through touring and just being around music all the time, and a lot of the people that we become friends with are people we have mutual respect for, and those friends of ours are making timeless music. I think our friends Holy Ghost are making timeless music that could have been made 10-20 years ago. It sounds just as fresh and will 20 years from now. We respect and admire that kind of ideology.
What’s your thought process behind creating new sounds? Maybe sounds that haven’t been heard before?
TB: There’s a big aspect of being subversive and experimental and making sounds that nobody’s ever heard before. There’s great examples of that too. When I was in high school, Radiohead started getting into the electronic genre. They went a ways from just making guitar music to making electronic music, and I think they did really well at both. Plus, they are still doing that. So yeah, there’s a way to create interesting new things while remaining timeless.
How do you listen to new music?
TB: I really try to disconnect from having a preconceived idea about something before I’ve even heard it. There’s so much music that, in my life, almost everybody I’ve talked to hates, but I totally love. And then vice versa.
How does this album feel different from your last one?
TB: There is definitely a different sound. And there was a lot more focus. For our first album, we really were just trying to make enough songs to be an album. This one felt like we had enough, we just had more music to choose from this time. And it was a little bit easier to narrow it down to what felt like a body of work. Also, we traveled around a lot and recorded in different places.
Where’d you go?
TB: We went to South Africa, and Michael was actually born there. We had this idea to go on a trip to South Africa — on one end it was because he’s my best friend and he knows my family and where I came from, but I had never seen where he came from. Then on the other hand, we thought it’d be cool to utilize the great musicians and singers that live in Cape Town and Johannesburg, so we set up some studio time to record a few things. It just felt really special.
As an artist, are you always proud of what you make?
TB: I’m proud of what we put out. Michael is a really good detector, because I can always check and see whether he thinks something is good or not. I think we both check in with each other on that. And if it’s something we both think is great, then we’ll put it out. But we definitely make a ton of music that nobody hears, which I’m happy that nobody hears [laughing].
You guys have been friends for forever… basically, so I’m curious, when you’re collaborating with other artists like you did a lot on this new record, is there ever a struggle meshing a third person into you’re already well-oiled machine? I’m sure by now you guys can really just read each others’ minds.
TB: That’s true, you make a good point. I mean, we definitely have an unspoken understanding of each other and that makes things go very quickly. When you throw somebody else into the equation, it can be a struggle, but we try to choose people to approach that seem like they have similar mentalities as us and similar tastes. Sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does, but so far it’s been okay. A lot of the times we work with friends, so we kind of have that same mentality of experiencing things together and learning about bands together and listening to records together. That’s when it all comes together.
Did you work with anybody on this album that you’ve never worked with before or even met before?
TB: We did. I think the perfect example is the song we did with T-Pain, which is out right now. That song came about because we had a list of people that we wanted to work with for each song, and T-Pain was at the top of that list. We have always liked his music. I think a lot of people think of him as an ironic artist, but we have always been huge fans of his sense of melody and harmony and song writing. I think as musicians we were able to see that. So, we hit him up and figured that there was no way it would happen. Our manager sent him this beat we had made and a couple of weeks later he sent us back a demo he had made using it. It was basically the vocals that are on the song now. We were blown away, but we actually never met him until recently when we did a music video with him. By that point we had talked over email and built up a friendly rapport, but we got along really well at the music video shoot and he’s totally hilarious and awesome.
When you’re in the studio with a female musician, what’s a quality in her you might enjoy that maybe you don’t get when you’re working with other male artists?
TB: That’s a good question. First of all, we love female vocals. And being in a band that we’re not the singers of gives us the freedom to embrace both the masculine and feminine sides to our music. We’ll be like this song feels like it should be sung by a female artist because there’s a feminine quality to it and might feel inappropriate with a male singing. There was also a song on our last record called “Stranger Love” we had originally put male vocals on that then our friend Sarah [Chernoff] came in and sang on, which gave the song a completely different meaning and a completely different tone. At the end of the day, it was just a better feel.
Personally, I really enjoy music where the beat feels masculine but then there’s female vocals on it.
TB: Yeah, that’s always interested me too. Prince, rest in peace, he did a lot of that. He did it better than anybody else, and that’s always been really interesting to us.
You have an LA show coming up! I’ve spoken to a lot of artists who are from LA and they’re always like “I hate performing in LA because it’s so stressful and all my friends want to come.” But for you, do you enjoy performing at home more than touring?
TB: We do, we love being at home. I think back to being a teenager and romanticizing touring and thinking that it would be the coolest lifestyle. In some ways, it is really rewarding and you get to travel the world and experience places that people who are sitting at a desk job might not get to experience. But at the end of the day, we do really love playing at home.
What’s the support from your LA fanbase like?
TB: It takes a long time for your hometown to accept you, because if anything, you’re right in your own backyard. You have to kind of win those people over more than like… I don’t know, some band from Paris. It’s weird. In sports you’ve got the home court advantage, but in music, artists really have to earn that. But with that being said, I think we have earned it. Now when we play at home, which we try not to do very often, we always want to make it special. I think we have such a great hometown following that come out to each show.
As producers, do you enjoy live shows in general?
TB: Yeah, we love it. We’re always trying to think of ways to make our live show more exciting and special for the people that come and pay to see us. It’s stressful and sometimes it’s hard work getting it all together, but when it pays off, it really feels great. Feeling the energy of a receptive crowd is a really special experience.
Download Faraway Reach HERE.