By Thomas Dunlap
Robert Tilden is a 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles, California. Under the moniker of BOYO, Tilden creates existential psychedelic-pop that is characterized by harrowing vocals, melodic chord progressions and weathered production. Releasing music at a breakneck pace, Tilden has put out a self-titled EP, a full-length album and a barrage of new singles in 2019. Tilden tours extensively, having supported acts such as Vansire and Hot Flash Heat Wave in recent years and even has an upcoming tour with Broncho in November.
This past July, I caught up with Tilden before his performance at the Paper Tiger in San Antonio, Texas. He greeted me outside of the venue and we quickly got to discussing a variety of subjects in the sweltering summer heat. The following is a transcription of our pleasant, if not sweaty, conversation…
Thomas Dunlap: What was your first experience with music?
Robert Tilden: The first one I can remember is probably watching “A Hard Day’s Night” as a kid. My dad was very Beatles influenced. He was of the generation that saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. I think he wanted to pass it on to me. I saw that and I thought, “maybe that’s what I want to do.” I was really young at that time so from there I kept messing around with instruments informally until elementary school and then I learned chords.
TD: When did you realize that a career in music was not only something that you wanted to do, but something that you could do?
RT: I’m still figuring out that it’s something that I can do. It’s just starting to become something semi-sustainable. But I realized it was something I wanted to do probably when I watched “A Hard Day’s Night” when I was little. When I realized it was something that I could do was when I started going to this DIY venue called The Smell in L.A. and I saw bands that seemed accessible and didn’t seem like they were the enigmatic figures that you couldn’t talk to. They just seemed like they were also kids in their basement making stuff. I just thought, “this is really cool,” and I jumped on that bandwagon for a little while when I was younger.
TD: Was a career in music your intention? Or did having fun with music just escalate into something more?
RT: Oh it was always my intention. I remember when I was in second or third grade I would draw a fake band that I wanted to be in and a band name and a track listing to go along with it. It was just this monolithic idea and I thought it was the only thing I could do. I told my parents “I’m sorry I’m not going to be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever, only a musician.”
TD: I know you’ve played a lot of shows with contemporary indie bands. Do you have any kind of relationship with these bands outside of playing music?
RT: Yeah I do, but it’s hard because everyone tours and everyone’s life is so erratic. Hot Flash Heat Wave, which is a band I’ve toured with a bunch, we have a relationship outside of music just because I was touring with them and sitting in a van with them and when you’re in close quarters with each other for so long you’re kind of forced to create a relationship with them. We were all grizzled by the tour life at that point so we knew what was up so we just bonded and played the shows and it was really inspiring to watch how tight and proficient they are. Really made me want to step up my game.
TD: I really liked the Dance Alone album, and I would like to know what place you were in as a person and a musician during its creation.
RT: As a person I was experiencing a lot of medical issues. I wasn’t diagnosed with it yet but I was experiencing symptoms of epilepsy and I was having seizures randomly and I would have these weird moments where my brain would just pause. It was kind of like when your video game system just crashes and my brain would just crash like a software. But I was also having fun at the time and playing bigger shows than I had ever played before. My life was so weird at the time. I was like “what the hell is happening with my brain” but people were also starting to care about my music more. The name Dance Alone comes from the saying “dance like nobody’s watching,” and I liked that. But it’s also kind of sad to dance alone, and I liked that too, and I really liked that dichotomy. On the album, some of the songs are kind of sad but you can still dance to them. So that was the place I was at, happy/sad.
TD: I caught your solo set at SXSW this year and I was wondering how performing solo compares to performing with a band?
RT: When I play and there’s a sampler and I don’t have to play an instrument, I definitely get a little bit more turned up. And it’s a little weird too because it’s almost like you’re doing karaoke to your own music. A lot of the nights I would get comfortably tipsy so I could really feel myself on stage. But when I play with a band, since in this iteration of the live band I play bass and sing and do a lot of pedal work, I don’t really do that at all. But I think I prefer it with a band because you can look at each other and say “that was cool” or “that was bad and we need to change this.” But when you’re performing by yourself you don’t really have any feedback.
TD: How is it that you are able to release such different sounding projects at such a quick pace?
RT: When I’m home from tour I don’t leave my house very much because I just want to be home. I have a lovely girlfriend and we just watch movies all the time, we stay in and hang out and I just record. Everyday I make it my job to record. It might not be great, because it’s forcing creativity, but sometimes bad stuff comes out and sometimes good stuff comes out. I feel worthless if I don’t work on something.
TD: What is your history and relationship like with Danger Collective?
RT: A deep rooted one. I think a tape from my old band, Bobby T and the Slackers, was the first release that Danger Collective had ever put out. But yeah Reid and Jay, who run the label, are some of my best friends.
TD: Do you find yourself just listening to your friends’ music all the time?
RT: I do listen to my friends but recently I’ve been trying to listen to everything that doesn’t sound chill and indie. Just noisy messed up stuff. I don’t know, I just want brutal stuff in my life. It’s just because I make such laidback stuff that I really have to listen to the other side of the spectrum.
TD: Do you make music that you want to hear? Do you listen to your stuff often after finishing it?
RT: Yeah sometimes after I make it I’ll just bump it in my basement and I’m just like “hell yeah.” I’m sort of making it for another hypothetical me. There’s a lot of times I’ll be listening to a Spotify playlist and one of my songs will pop up and I’ll be like “oh cool, I forgot about this one.” But I have OCD with mixing, since I do all the mixing myself, so sometimes I will just stress about the mixing of one of my songs and I’ll have a hard time listening to it. It’s almost like looking at a picture of yourself in an outfit you wore and you’re just thinking “oh man that belt could have been cooler. The shirt was cool, but maybe I should have just worn a regular belt instead of a studded belt.”
The music of BOYO is available on all streaming services and in limited physical supply on Bandcamp (https://boyomusic.bandcamp.com/merch). For more information, check out Tilden’s social media on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/helloboyo/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/hello_boyo_/?hl=en).
Featured image courtesy of Robert Tilden and Danger Collective.