Interview: Storyteller and Songwriter – Tyler Lyle

I posted about Tyler back in late April when he released a song off of his newest record, The Native Genius of Desert Plants which came out earlier this month.The track was “Winter is for Kierkegaard” and it left lingering anticipation for the rest of his record. Click here to check out that previous post!

A few weeks ago I sent Tyler some questions about how he conquered his childhood resistance to starting a career in music, his new record and how it was inspired by a trip to Joshua Tree, influential people and moments in his life including his time in Paris and many other things. Keep reading below to get all the details.

MFL: I read in the bio on your website that you promised to never pursue a musical career. Clearly that hasn’t worked out for you! How and why did music overcome your childhood resistance?

TL: My sister wanted to learn guitar, so my dad sat her in the living room- she was probably 12 and I was 14. She learned G, C, and D and by the end of the lesson, I was in the living room next to her. I learned the chord Em later that week and it was all over. I lived in rural Georgia, about 30 miles outside the nearest town so we got the Internet around that time and I started learning tabs online- Dave Matthews, POD, Jars of Clay- those were the early days. 

MFL: What or who are the top five influences (if you have more…go for 10) on your music? They can be past or present and friends, family, musicians, life events etc.

TL: 

  1. My dad- his ear tends toward 80s country, but I still hear his voice in mine sometimes. The first song I learned to sing was “Honky Tonk” Man by Dwight Yoakum when I was two or three.
  2. Paul Simon- Dylan started strong, but Paul is finishing strong. I heard him last year in LA and he still has his golden voice and is still writing songs that utterly destroy me.
  3. Growing up in church- my dad was the minister of music in our small country Methodist church that my great great grandpa built, then I started playing in a church band at the big Baptist church in town- it did some good and some bad, but early on I felt that a genuine performance was more a channeling than a production, if that makes any sense. I view it in different terms now, but it still feels like some sort of mystical ritual to be on stage.
  4. Paris- I moved abroad with some student loan money I was able to procure even after I’d finished my college credits and I moved to Prague to get certified to be an English teacher. I moved to Paris shortly after and it was like an explosion. I saw what it was for a society to truly value art and music. Arts education is always the first program to be cut in the U.S., but if the world was ending, France would give up art last. That’s where the seeds of my career were planted- Monday’s at the Tennessee Bar in the Latin Quarter and Wednesday’s at the Highlander Pub across from Pont Neuf. I was writing a song a day and learning how to perform them in front of strangers. It was Paris that first made me fall in love with the world in a new way- instead of viewing it as something that was to be tolerated till all the good people got to heaven.
  5. My wife- it’s hard to overstate the importance of stability for an artist. I have eight hours a day to get it right, and then the valve gets turned off and I get to be a human being for a few hours. I love my wife so much and I enjoy spending time with her, and I’m so grateful not to have to live and die by my art, and because of that I get to enjoy it more. I’m accountable, I’m responsible for this partnership. I value it and it frees me up to catch things I would’ve missed otherwise. Tom Waits has a story about driving down the road when a good idea pops in his head and he shouts at the sky “can’t you see I’m driving?!” It’s that, it’s putting a tap on the stream and trusting that it’ll be there when you return- there are other, more important things.

Tyler Lyle 320

MFL: What is your favorite musical material to write about and do you write songs about your own life or the life of fictional characters?

TL: A good song is a well narrated hallucination. There is an emotional kernel of truth, but you don’t betray that by naming it- you write around it. I’m not great at this yet but I’m getting better. As far as subject matter, I don’t have anything that I prefer over other stuff- most art is sex and death, and my songs aren’t any different. I also don’t write songs just for me. I want them to be malleable for the listener. Everyone knows love and loss and the fear death and the pain of waiting. The way I approach my lyrics is just the way that I think about the subjects. I think Hollywood Forever is a good example of this. It’s a plane ride I’m taking from Atlanta to Los Angeles thinking about The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which you may or may not get from listening to it, but the theme is universal- how do I reckon myself with my insignificance?

MFL: Your second full length album, The Native Genius of Desert Plants, seems more “plugged in” and it has a different level of energy compared to your previous work (“Against the Dark”, “Ditchdigger” and “Start of a Love Song” especially). What inspired the different sound and the album title, for that matter?

TL: The title of the album came from a solo camping trip to Joshua tree. I was depressed about the state of my career, and I was transitioning into this relationship with somebody that I cared for, and wanted to be able to provide for. I saw a patch of trees in the 49 Palms Oasis that had been caught on fire. I was upset because I thought it was vandalism. I walked back to my car thinking how pointless life was- how stupid we were to set fire to the trees- completely despondent. Then I started Googling. I found out that there are fires in the desert all the time, and that these plants or just engineered to survive them, but they survive, in the case of the Fan Palm because of them. It helps seed production. It helps clear out the underbrush that competes for water. It disposes of the dead palm fronds. It’s nature’s gardener. The fire was not an accident. Nature knows what it’s doing, and I know this deep down. The struggle is to remember.

Stylistically the shift was inspired by something a nice lady who wanted to sign me to her label said “we already have Paul Simon. He already exists.” I took that to mean “white guys with acoustic guitars all make the same music and you’re no different.” And that’s totally true! Americana or Folk or whatever you want to call what we do is uninteresting from a production standpoint. I love the purists who record everything to tape with no overdubs in a barn and one microphone (that sounds condescending, but I do love these albums) but I also listen to everything and am attracted to different things. I want to be able to con someone who doesn’t listen to lyrics at all to sit with one of my songs for three minutes. I wanted a pop producer who could stretch me and who wasn’t afraid to throw some things against me and see what stuck. We tracked live with a full band for two days, but we spent six months tinkering and trying things. We came up with a hybrid production that I’m incredibly happy with. Heaven knows what the purists think.

You can stream and PURCHASE Tyler Lyle’s work at Bandcamp:

MFL: What is your favorite track off of your new full length and why? “Ditchdigger” is my favorite. It’s such an awesome opening track!

TL: Thank you! That song is my one of my favorites too- my grumpy, happy stoic manifesto about finding satisfaction in the daily labor of life. My favorite is “Eighteen.” It’s is a totally earnest song wishing that I had a whole life to love my wife instead of just whatever fifty or sixty years we have left. It’s not enough.

MFL: I see you start your tour June 10th in LA! What destinations are you looking forward to the most?

TL: I’ve been to all but six states and they are almost all in the middle of the country- Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa. I’m most excited about those.

Major “thank you” to Tyler Lyle for taking the time to procure such insightful and thoughtful answers to my question. Nothing like getting a peek into the brain of a truly talented musician. Tyler Lyle is currently on tour with Lissie so get out there if he’s coming near you!

7/11 – West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour**

7/12 – San Francisco, CA @ The Chapel**

7/14 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge**

7/15 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater**

7/16 – Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room Lounge**

7/27 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall**

8/4 – Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom**

8/5 – Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theater**

8/7 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley**

8/8 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West**

8/9 – New Orleans, NO @ Parish Room, House of Blues**

8/11 – Austin, TX @ The Parish**

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