Featured Artist Friday with Tyler Nail, Pt. 1
Tyler Nail and I met up on a cold February afternoon in one of my favorite coffee shops. We got our coffees, sat in a corner and started chatting. I was really excited to ask him about his art and I took a really conversational, laid back approach to his interview--as if we were having an everyday catch up. We laughed a lot, got really philosophical, and explored the art and artist that is Tyler Nail. Once I got home, I realized we had talked for forty-five minutes! I'm breaking this interview down into two parts because of its length, and also because there's a really interesting break and change of tone about halfway through. Enjoy.
Maria: Okay so tell me about yourself and what you do and stuff like that. As if I didn’t know you.
Tyler: Right now, in addition to being Operations Manager at a/perture cinema, I’m chief editor and creator of Face Paint Magazine, and performance artist and recording artist through the name Tyler Nail.
Maria: (Laughs) Is that your name, too?
Tyler: That is indeed my name, too. From birth. Some would call it my Christian name. Through Face Paint Magazine I am directing a mini documentary project called Faces. I’m trying to continue to develop my ability to do screen printing, I’ve got a new project underway that’s called Nail American Salvage, where I just take a bunch of old antique shit that I have and try to repurpose it and recreate it and make it appealing again to more people.
Maria: That’s awesome. That’s super cool.
Tyler: And then… is that all I do? Summers I’ve been working with Authoring Action as a musician.
Maria: What is Authoring Action?
Tyler: Authoring Action is a non-profit that is located on Sixth Street. In short, it exists to equip young kids with the skills that are required in the fields of writing, music, and all these things. In the summer they bring me in and I collaborate with these kids and I help them write songs, and I help them perform songs in a big summer showcase.
Maria: How’d you get involved with that?
Tyler: Lynn Rhoades, who I guess... she’s come to a lot of my shows, she might call herself a fan of mine, she asked me if I would be interested, ‘cause it was a paying job and she knows how it is with musicians, so she brought me in two summers ago.
Maria: Cool. Okay so I want to talk about your music for a little bit, because I know you first and foremost from work, and that's when I started learning more about your music. So I’ve heard a few of your songs but I’ve never been to one of your shows or anything like that. What would you say is currently the type of genre of music you’re performing? And how has that maybe changed? Like, were you doing anything differently before to what you’re doing now?
Tyler: Hmm. Yeah, when I finally settled into something that I felt like was “me” a few years ago it was Americana/songwriter stuff. So it was all acoustic and roots-y and kind of like… I did a lot of traditional songs. And that was cool, I did that for some years with the Tyler Nail Trio, that's what we were called. But a little while back I ran into a problem where the two guys that were in the trio with me decided they needed to move away at the same time as each other; one went to Florida, one went to New York. And at that time I was also feeling pressure to push to new artistic territory. My artistic, sort of, taste and my taste, just in my whole life together, were moving away from tradition, moving away from old versions of myself, moving away from things like religion, or like romance—perspectives that involve romance. So with all that, somehow this new thing was born, which is now… it’s what I’m trying to create now. I can’t really think in terms of genres when it comes to creating. More like styles... or you know, something like that. So I wanted to put together a SHOW show. And as I’ve done like an Everyman sort of thing, where it’s like “I’m a human that stands before you doing this,” I wanted to capture something that was more of a presentation, more of a… a trick.
Maria: I mean, that’s super interesting to me.
Tyler: Yeah. Well, so I said, “Okay we’re all gonna wear suits and these are the type of songs I’m writing now, and this is what the show is and this is the attitude it has.” It’s all these songs that sort of take a really confusing position on a lot of things. It’s kinda extreme language that’s describing relationships between men and women, religion, morality, sexuality, all these like, really appealing topics that I’m interested in normally. So I thought, I want to bring them into my music more than I have the past. I wanna just like really put them in the forefront and make people affected by these phrases that I’m writing. And it’s a little intentionally rude or provocative, but I still try to bring in this jazziness to it, or this retro-ism to it. Which is where the idea of a genre comes in. It’s still like, very American-sounding music, but I try to tap into sounds that don’t belong so much in the current landscape of Americana. I wanted to go back to something rocky or groovy—I pulled all sorts of weird influences like The Doobie Brothers or Frank Sinatra, all these weird sounds that I wanted to try to bring back into what I was doing.
Maria: So you mentioned your sort of performance style and what it’s about. Would you consider yourself a solo artist, are you part of a band, do you have a band that just plays with you when you’re doing live stuff?
Tyler: I’m more like a band conductor at this point.
Maria: Ooooh okay.
Tyler: I mean, I have control over the songs but any time I have somebody work with me I try to make sure they have as much creative input as possible. So whoever I’ve got playing with me, I let them dictate what they do to a degree and if it doesn’t work I’ll tell them it doesn’t work. But I leave it up to them to create something that does work. Then as it turns into a performance, yeah then I kinda take the role of… it’s almost like I’m a solo artist with a band standing behind me that I’m shouting at--or that I’m screaming obscenities to.
Maria: Going back to what you said about the performance aspect, which, like I said, is super interesting to me: do you think that any of that performative stuff translates? Like if someone is just listening to your stuff in their car as opposed to live?
Tyler: Yeah. I think the genre I use to describe what I do is performance literature, because like I said, I don’t like using the other genres. But in that way I think that answers your question. It’s something that—it’s good if it’s performed but fundamentally it’s still literature and that’s where the experience still can exist for a listener. It’s a better experience, probably, when it’s live… but still, you can experience the literature through the recordings—which we spend a lot of time on—and they’re better than what I’ve done in the past.
Maria: Cool. So this is something that I’ve just seen sort of floating around Instagram and the community and stuff, but you’re doing something with Grace & Nails?
Tyler: Oh yeah, that’s another one. Grace & Nails is my duo with Molly Grace. She’s more of like, a rad activist than me, but I find that appealing and I find it exciting to sort of twist that into a literary experience as well. So she writes songs, and we both have pretty staunch opinions about the world and we combine those into pieces of performance music. It’s not quite to the same degree of the performative aspects of my own stuff.
Maria: Okay, so I know these are questions that every musician gets asked, but how did you get into music, and what influences did you have, and how does that differ from like, then and now?
Tyler: Well... When I was a little wee kid, my dad was playing drums in the church that I attended. He was a drummer and when he was in high school he was in high school bands. So from a young age, I had access to those instruments, to drums and stuff. My parents recognized, when I was young, that I seemed to be able to play the drums. So they got me some drums and then I… I knew how to play them. So that’s what I did, drums were like my hobby for a long time. And in that environment—I can say at least my dad—he had this massive CD collection that I could just like, go through, and I could find these names that I was familiar with. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Johnny Cash or whatever was current as well… fucking Brooks & Dunn or Tim McGraw or some shit. And, you know, The Chronic, Eminem, all that stuff.
Lots of laughter.
Tyler: He would let me explore all I wanted, and just listen to things, and I would be like “I like this, I don’t like this.” To me, that’s the most formative thing that prepared me the most for becoming a musician later. So when I was sixteen—we already had guitars lying around for some reason, so I’d got my hands on the necks before—but about when I was sixteen I started learning some chords and by that time I was already interested in creative writing. So all this shit, with the rhythm and the guitar, and then the writing, it all just culminated into… it felt natural to take on music as a hobby. And then after finishing school and realizing I couldn’t expect a phone call from Chapel Hill or anybody to play basketball… ‘cause I’m… 5’7” almost… and nobody needed me for that…
Even more laughter.
Tyler: I thought, “I guess I could start taking music more seriously.” So I went to Guilford Tech for a little while and realized that it doesn’t produce musicians, it produces people in the field of performance and stuff. Especially stage lights or sound engineering. But I thought, “eh, this isn’t what I wanna do.” So, about that time, nineteen, I just quit school and started performing.
Maria: So was Guilford Tech the only formal training you had as a musician?
Tyler: They didn’t even train me as a musician.
Maria: Wow, that’s crazy. So you’re all self-taught.
Maria: That’s amazing. That’s incredible. I tried to teach myself guitar, and um… that did not work. Around when I was like, 14 or 15.
Tyler: I love it. I bet you could do it.
Maria: I can’t! That’s why it amazes me when people can actually do that! Alright, so I have a question here, but I feel like we already covered it. I wanted to talk about how you differentiate yourself from other artists, but I think with the performance literature stuff, that’s different to me, at least.
Tyler: I guess in terms of being different, in one way it’s impossible to be the same because we’re all individuals, and in another way it’s impossible to be different ‘cause we’re all doing the same shit. I can’t say I’m different from every musician, but in our community I think I’m trying to do something with the literature within music that I don’t see being done a lot around here—which is like, intellectual progressivism, rather than punk progressivism. A lot of songwriters that come from where I do—it’s songs about like, normal life, and nature, and girls. And I’m trying to get deeper and further from that and create insulting pieces of thought.
Maria: This next one is kind of a funny one. If you could talk to the Tyler Nail from five years ago and tell him one sentence, what would you say? You don’t even have to give me context.
Tyler: That’s a really good question. I would say, “Move out,” ‘cause I was living with like a girlfriend at the time. Or I wouldn’t say move out, I’d say, “Get a place, save money, and be more than just a musician.”
Maria: Interesting. I like that. Okay, before we move on to Face Paint, I wanna ask another sort of fun question. Do you have any live show that sticks out in your memory above the others because of something that went really well or something that went horribly wrong?
Tyler: (Laughs) The last show I had in October, at The Garage, it was the first time I got this new show off the ground—that was a really good moment because the show went really well. But on the reverse side of that, one show that sticks out was a run from—it was between Wilmington and Charleston and another coast town that I can’t remember. But I just, uh… ugh.
Maria: I’m sorry if I’m making you relive a horrible memory.
Tyler: No, we had a lot of shows that were kind of a waste, and this was one of them. No sound guy was there, and we couldn’t figure out how to cut the PA on.
Maria: Oh no, that already gives me anxiety.
Tyler: Yeah right, of course. We were standing there with this PA like, “how do we cut this on?” And then we start like an hour later than what we’re supposed to. We finally take the stage to perform and a dog is in the bar and it just decides to join us onstage... to shit on the stage.
Tyler: And I just unplug my guitar and just walked outside and I was just like, “WHY do I do this?” I just, I couldn’t handle it.
Maria: Oh my god. That’s ridiculous.
Tyler: And in this whole bar of like, Wilmington townies, we’re the laughingstock now. It was no fun.
Maria: Oh my god, that’s horrible. I’m so sorry! In all my years of working in the performing arts, I’ve never heard of that happening. And I’ve worked on shows that had dogs in them!
Tyler: Yeah that’s the worst one I could think of on the spot.
Maria: Yeah that’s pretty bad. Okay so Face Paint! The way I see Face Paint at the moment is, like, a sort of collaborative media magazine, very arts based. But how would you describe it? And can you tell the audience what it’s about?
Tyler: I mean, what you just said is pretty much what it is. It’s a community of artists that are using different types of media to create an online magazine as it is now. The ultimate goal in the future is to let that evolve into being an actual production company in Winston-Salem. It isn’t that yet, so it’s more appropriate to just refer to it as an online magazine. There are a lot of media sources in town that aren’t arts based. They’re what I would call faux-journalism or soft journalism. And it’s not that they don’t serve some kind of good, because people like (for some reason) to flip through a catalog that’s filled with local ads that say, “hey we did a little interview with the girls that work at this salon,” and that’s not evil, it’s fine. It’s not very explorative in the intellect and that’s what I crave. So I figure, there’s gotta be a void in Winston then.
Aaaaand that's the little cliffhanger I'm leaving this post on! Come back next Friday where we explore all things Face Paint Magazine and dive into the philosophy of being, creating, and identity.
All photos by Kristen Bryant (http://kristenmbryant.com/)