The Internet: Syd The Kyd & Matt Martian talk DIY generation & Odd Future

The conversation had with a musically inquisitive, 20-something friend from Italy shortly before writing this feature [scrutinous but open minded, we regularly harass each other for musical recommendations]:

Have you listened to The Internet’s new album Purple Naked Ladies?
No, never heard of them.
Give it a listen.
I will.
Best songs on it are “Cunt” and “Cocaine.”
Love it already.

Welcome to The Internet

Comprised of writer/producer Matt Martian and writer/producer/singer Syd The Kyd, the duo dubbed The Internet emerge from the West Coast collective Odd Future [known predominantly for brash frontman Tyler, The Creator and compelling singer/songwriter star Frank Ocean], and present their debut album Purple Naked Ladies.

I recently called the pair in LA to discuss their inspirations and how the Odd Future collective came together through MySpace, along with their thoughts on privacy in the internet age, the eclectically soulful DIY generation and the digital beast in which we roam.

Producer Martian takes his soulful inspiration from the musicality of the the likes of the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Jamiroquai, plus the vocal arrangements of Aaliyah and Brandy [“It’s a very wide spectrum of artists that inspire sonically what we do, but it’s a lot of artists that haven’t been out in a while”] whilst Syd’s charming, subtle vocals are to be found weaving lyrically throughout the project, inspired heavily by Erykah Badu and Aaliyah, with a twist of edge to her songwriting a la Frank Ocean, Jill Scott and Badu.

“I don’t know when I really started singing,” Syd, 19, muses quietly. “I recorded my first song when I was in 11th grade, but I didn’t really start singing then – it was just something I did until I could find someone else to do it for me… I started singing when we made this album, honestly.”

Matt adds, “Originally the album was going to be other people singing all the songs – but we realised it was hard to keep a lot of artists around a long time to get to record their stuff…

“I know where I wanna go with these vocals as far as how Syd would take it, and a lot of people wouldn’t understand the type of songwriting and melodies that we do; apart from the person that’s writes them. They’ve very unorthodox. It’s hard to get your average singer to sing some of those things.”

“I need some vocal training because I’ve never had any before. I’m not where I wanna be yet,” Syd shares openly.

“It’s one thing sharing your voice with a group of people from behind a microphone and the comfort of your own home, and there’s another sharing it live in a room full of people in front a microphone. I’m not comfortable enough yet in myself to try that…” She adds, “I could, I’d probably have fun doing it regardless, but I wouldn’t feel good as far as giving an audience what they paid for.”

Once she does feel prepared, the duo plan to embark on a series of shows with a live band. “I grew up on a lot of reggae shows where everything was live, so I have a crazy appreciation for all that,” Syd comments.

With several stars already having emerged from the Odd Future camp, Purple Naked Ladies is the second official release on the collective’s own label, Odd Future Records. But The Internet are riding no coat tails and need meet no demands but their own.

“We don’t sense the pressure that a lot of artists have, where if their album doesn’t do that great the label might drop them – we don’t have that kind of pressure,” says Martian. “It’s a lot easier to work and be creative because we know the people that are running what we’re doing are music lovers, that wanna see something different and want to change the structure of the music industry period.”

“We know the album’s 100% true to ourselves, so if someone has something to say about it you can’t really tell us anything because we did this all ourselves.”

The only female member of Odd Future to date and openly depicting her homosexuality in her music videos [see “Cocaine”], Syd is often yielded by media as the counterbalance [if their ironic lyrics, widespread creative energy and wildfire melodic talents of Frank Ocean weren’t enough for you] to the collective’s controversial elements [“go ahead admit it faggot, this shit is tighter than buttrape” – Tyler, The Creator on ‘French‘], and perhaps viewed as a spokesperson of sorts.

“Naturally I feel a sense of responsibility to… a certain community, that I guess I represent,” Syd comments on this pedestal position, “but at the same time I feel more of a responsibility to myself to remain true and honest and private.”

“I’m trying to maintain a sense of privacy here, so there’s only so much I’m willing to reveal, but at the same time I stand for being real – being who you are no matter what – and so I’m not gonna hide anything. I’m not necessarily gonna stand on top of a mountain and scream it at anybody, I don’t feel an obligation to speak up for everyone at the same time.

“If anything, I feel a biggest responsibility for anybody who has trouble with being themselves. We’re all human, and everyone has the same issues they’re just in different situations.

“So I feel more of an obligation to be a role model sort of for kids who just feel like they don’t fit anywhere. Or kids who don’t like who they are and wanna make themselves somebody that they like. Because it’s a process for everybody.”

It’s hard to tell from our phone conversation whether Syd’s natural but reserved demeanour, in contrast to Matt’s confident laughter, is her being shy or merely quiet. But she is conscious of her need for privacy. How that will fare in the face of fame, time will tell, but she began to deal with it by deleting her public Twitter account some time ago.

“It’s a learning process. I think the first big step I did was deleting my public twitter,” she tells me. “We have one for the group – for me and Matt – but I don’t have a public Twitter. I started noticing that seeing people’s opinions on everything I had to say took a large toll on my mental wellbeing…

“It was spur of the moment when I did it, but I don’t regret it at all – it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” she laughs. “I’m more sane today because of stuff like that – just trying to take breaks from the internet for a while and chill out sometimes.”

…which was an interesting statement, given the group’s name. Her sentiment is shared by bandmate Martian, who concurs, “Me too, Twitter’s retarded.”

He expands, “I just think, it’s not normal for someone to hear not only opinions on yourself but opinions on everything that happens in the world. Before the internet and the social networks blew up, you wouldn’t hear that many opinions ever – because most of the time when people don’t like something you do, they would just not listen to it. But then it got to a point where you hear every opinion that’s being said. It can drive somebody crazy – I try to stay away from it as much as I can…

“I think it’s just a way of keeping surveillance like anything else. Something that you voluntarily get on but after a while you feel like it’s a necessity to check it. But a lot of people just tell on themselves because of Twitter! A lot of people just telling that they selling drugs or they cheating… You feel like you need to share. “

He approvingly references Syd’s choice to remove her public feed from Twitter: “You gotta keep a sense of privacy to keep your sanity. When people know too much then they feel entitled to know everything when something happens, you can’t have it both ways – especially being in the public eye. It’s a double edged sword, but I choose to go on the least sharp end.

So with these new social negatives bearing heavily on today’s internet culture, why did the duo decide to name their musical partnership after it?

“It’s funny, it’s kind of [about] the good part – the pro of the internet,” Matt offers. “You meet really good people. Most of us at Odd Future met on MySpace, all being musicians that kind of thought differently that wanted to do different music but couldn’t really find anybody that understood what they were trying to do.

“Syd hit me up about some of my music and asked me for advice, and she was making the type of music that I like, and you gradually find those people who feel the same way about music that you do.”

Today’s second top social network according to statistic, Twitter’s social characteristics differ in that the service is, “more rapid, so what’s hot one day tomorrow you’re forgetting about it,” Matt observes. Syd adds, “Twitter’s more opinion based, [with] MySpace you were a musician or you just posted pictures of yourself.”

“On Twitter you’d be hard pressed to go to somebody’s page and not form an opinion on any matter. How fast twitter works, I think that’s the difference,” Matt agrees.

What began as information social networking among alternative young musicians gravitating towards each other, has dominated lips and blogs worldwide for the past year following substantial hype around Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, and further members of the collective as each began to release individual songs and projects.

“It’s like a family,” Matt enthuses. “You know you have those uncles and cousins that you see every few weeks, and it’s always love. We might not always be together but I think that’s what makes us work the best. I think if we were always together all the time I think Odd Future would crumble, we would drive each other crazy.

“The fact that we come around when we need to work, or when somebody has a birthday party or whatever, we’ll hang out randomly – but I think that’s what makes it good. Because with this many artists in one group that have this high level of talent, you can’t surround yourselves with each other all the time, it just wouldn’t work.

“We need to have our own individual things going, that’s why it works. That’s why we have people who like MellowHype who might not like Tyler, people who like Earl who might not like Mike G, people who like Mike G that don’t like Tyler…”

Syd directs, “We’re not trying to make it seem like we’re just together all the time and best friends…. We’re a family, like real family – like you know there’s those cousins you hate but you love em, they’re family, but you don’t necessarily wanna be around them all the time? That’s how it is. Everybody has each other’s backs, no matter what.”

“If you get to know each person individually we each have our own personality, I think that’s why it works,” Martian concludes. “When you look up Odd Future, everybody comes up. And that’s how it should be. People might discover Frank Ocean first and might not realise who Tyler is. Everything all goes back to Odd Future at the end of the day, the bigger picture.”

Beyond The Internet and Odd Future, the bigger picture includes a generation of proactive, self-funded independent musicians, singers and artists emerging on the scene some describe as Alternative Soul/R&B. One might include the likes of fellow US singer/writers Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, Jesse Boykins III [whose “B4 The Night Is Thru” Syd remixed last year] alongside The Internet among the current cream of the crop, threaded together to varying degrees by soulful vocals, unconventional songwriting and a passion for musicianship, spreading globally on their own steam. And they’re inspiring many others to do the same.

“Yeah, I might not be a fan of everybody’s music, but I respect that there’s not a big machine behind them and they’ve built themselves up – they’ve all created buzz by themselves,” Martians comments on the scene.

Syd prides, “We’re in an age of DIY, as it should be, and I think music is becoming more about the music now. For a while it was about trying to find a pretty face that you could turn into a star, and now it’s more about sharing something with the world. I feel like, if anything, that’s the movement.

“And it’s more real because within our genre things tend to be more heartfelt and sincere. Jhene Aiko says often that she doesn’t wanna be a big star person, she just want to be a songwriter – which you can’t do anything but respect. And it’s the same with us – we don’t wanna have to put on disguises to leave the house. We like the level of notoriety that we have now.”

Matt chimes in, “and it goes back to the double edged sword: the internet allows you to see the bullshit behind the scenes, sometimes.”

“From the generic artists, you see videos of artists with people exposing that they don’t write their music – but before you would think all these artists that you see on TV did everything that’s in their records. True artistry is developing again and people are grasping that.

“You can hear a song on the radio and hear the beat start and you might not know who the artist is, because they all sound the same, all have the same chord progression – [but] when you hear an Internet song or Frank Ocean song or Jhene Aiko song, you can tell it’s different and it’s more personal than your average run of-the-mill R&B on the radio.”

Syd concludes, “It’s more heartfelt.”

The Internet’s debut album, Purple Naked Ladies is out now through Odd Future Records; iTunes UK / iTunes US.

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