ILYSM ZINE: No. 002
Interviewer & Photographer: Jenna Elizabeth
That’s amazing. My dad used to play “name that score” when he would drive us to school. We’d get 5-10 seconds of a score and would have to name the composer and the movie. I was always pretty bad at it.
♡: Hi Theo
♡: Where am I catching you?
Will also accept photo responses
TS: Well I walked to the L but it wasn’t running so now I’m kinda just wandering around aimlessly
Currently in Mast books *ILYSM hearts*
(Theo hearts image)
Saving you a ghost seat
TS: Thank you, I won’t forget this kindness
♡: I’m chuckling
This is the worst non sequitur but I feel like the best place to begin... What is your earliest memory of music?
TS: Hmm that’s a good question
My mom used to sing me to sleep
And she would sing I Gave My Love A Cherry
♡: I love that. Do you still use music to fall asleep?
TS: Not really but if I do I listen to Max Richter’s Sleep
That was basically a Dos Equis commercial *ILYSM HAHA*
♡: My mom would quiz me growing up. She would play something and make me guess the artist. But my grandpa was a jazz drummer, and he would ask tougher questions like what is the name of x tempo or rhythm. I always envy people that are able to talk about music in a concrete sense. I feel like the only way I can articulate music is through a mode of comparison...
TS: That’s amazing. My dad used to play “name that score” when he would drive us to school. We’d get 5-10 seconds of a score and would have to name the composer and the movie. I was always pretty bad at it. My drum teacher in high school would also give me a tempo and make me guess it, or name a tempo and make me play at it. I was always pretty bad at that too actually (ILYSM !!)
I feel like most musicians never speak of music in concrete terms though
Like “can you make the snare a little fluffier” or something. It’s all pretty abstract but it’s often the only way
And I find people usually end up on the same page pretty quickly anyways, especially after years of employing or interpreting all the abstraction
♡: I’m adding snare fluffer to my resumé
TS: For the record I’ve actually never asked for a snare to be fluffier, or heard somebody ask for that
I made that up
But I’m sure that somebody has asked for that
♡: I appreciate your honesty
TS: Candor is a specialty of mine
♡: What was the first song you remember having a charge to as a kid?
Do you remember that old station where you could order music videos on demand?
I don’t remember what it was called
I need to go back in time just to find that
♡: But I ordered Ween “push the little daisies” and kept trying to record it but it had an interception thing where it wouldn’t allow you to record *Theo hearts*
TS: I honestly can’t remember the first song I remember being drawn too. I was obviously a repeat requester of I Gave My Love A Cherry
But in my head it’s all radio
♡: That’s fair
When did your passion of music turn into something you wanted to explore professionally? Or was it more of a natural evolution?
TS: There definitely wasn’t like a switch-flip moment. But luckily my parents are both artists so I grew up in a household that encouraged artistic pursuits and validated them as professional careers
♡: That’s interesting- I definitely had switch-flip moment, inside of my dog Pete’s doghouse (where I also ran a detective agency)... But I remember specifically thinking I could be a veterinarian or an FBI agent OR I could just write a script involving mystery and animals. (Theo hearts)
TS: Pete is a great name for a dog, and you would be a great FBI agent
And probably a pretty good vet, I saw you pet a dog
♡: But the FBI obsession became a much bigger reveal later in my life in a poignant way bc I realized the reason I was obsessed with the FBI was largely because of Silence of the Lambs. To Jonathan Demme’s credit, created a part so powerful I not only wanted to be Clarice but I wanted to create the world in which she existed.
TS: Where there was a dude just straight up eating people??
♡: Were you in band in school?
TS: I was
I was in a thing called Rhythm Section in junior high where we basically just covered rock songs
This is what came to me while talking about eating people so thanks!
TS: I played the solo in I Wanna Be Sedated, which is all just one note *ILYSM hearts*
♡: Did you have any say about which songs you covered? Or did the school dictate that
TS: We definitely had a say. I’m pretty sure the kids chose The Ramones. Our teacher would make some suggestions which is how i ended up playing Lookin’ Out My Back Door. I definitely wasn’t 12 and super into Creedence. But, actually then I was I guess *ILYSM hearts*
And in high school I was in jazz band
I was doing double duty playing both guitar and drums, but after a while I switched to just drums because the charts were easier to read
But I actually was chosen to be in a small band to play with Herbie Hancock when he visited our school, so I guess it paid off
We had a crazy teacher who definitely felt like he did way too much acid in the 70s and he was always yelling at me so I was surprised he chose me
Also my best friend Ben would get to class early, sit behind the drums, and play the intro to that Joy Division song Disorder
And somehow I would always get blamed
There definitely wasn’t like a switch-flip moment. But luckily my parents are both artists so I grew up in a household that encouraged artistic pursuits and validated them as professional careers
♡: That’s always the way it goes though. I feel like the teachers who were hardest on me, worked my potential.
Where is Ben now?!
TS: We are still friends and both still musicians. He’s an amazing bassist
Everybody should hire Ben Flesch
♡: Also, I’m still processing all of the above. That’s impressive for anyone let alone a teenager.
Do you have a photo of you and Ben?
TS: I mean I’m sure Herbie himself wouldn’t have chosen me in literally one million years
I’m sure I do but def not on me
Maybe I don’t. I hate taking photographs oddly enough
I know that sounds insane in this context
♡: What was the first original song you wrote?
♡: Not insane but questionable!
Because I’m inclined to think you photograph well
TS: It was called “if I was a superhero” and I wrote it cuz I was sick of my band just doing covers
TS: I also rhymed superhero with “brad Pitt or Robert deniro” so that’s fun
It was a bad song
♡: Please tell me there is a recording somewhere?
TS: I think there is
♡: Does Plan B need an intro song over their title card?
TS: We also did a cover of mmmbop, but we had a very finite window of time to record it cuz we were all going through puberty and our voices were dropping
There are some very beautiful voice cracks in the recording
And we also did Only In Dreams by Weezer
TS: Oh the song is called “superheroes” and yes I have it
I also have the mmmbop cover
♡: If you don’t send me at least one of those recordings I’m cutting this off
TS: I’ll send you both but I need to get back to my computer
One of the things I’ve always been intrigued by is the weight music carries in relation to memory. I think there’s a tremendous sense of immediacy that comes with it, almost a form of time travel. That’s a really sacred exchange. Is there a moment you’ve had with music that acted in that way?
It’s like a spritz of cologne - can just bury your head in a memory for a fleeting moment
TS: I’m sending you these songs btw
♡: I expect nothing less
(THEO, DEEPLY EMBARRASSED, SENDS SONGS OVER)
TS: As far as music and memories go, I totally agree
To the point where I’m very choosy about what music I’m listening to in certain situations because I’m hyper aware of how much it will dictate the memory
We also did a cover of mmmbop, but we had a very finite window of time to record it cuz we were all going through puberty and our voices were dropping
♡: That’s interesting
But makes sense, because once there it is crystallized
TS: Particularly when abroad
Or out of your usual setting
♡: I think it’s also interesting that as a creator of music, once you release it - people are having their own experiences and life in relation to your songs that they are able to carry your work discreetly with head phones or very publicly. Whenever I come back to NY I like to think about what people are listening to, and there is something humorous and soulful in a way about all of these various worlds of music coexisting together on one subway ride... (Theo hearts)
TS: I was just in Europe alone for a month and that trip was When You’re Alone by Bruce Springsteen the entire most recent Amen Dunes record and Falling Down by Tom Waits
Yeah, I always wonder what people are listening to by the way they tap their feet
The songs I sent are from when I was 13 by the way, the same year I learned how to play guitar
Like a month before I discovered The Strokes
♡: LET THE RECORD SHOW - THEO WAS 13 *Theo hearts*
TS: I should say we, because we were all obsessed then (ILYSM hearts)
♡: That really was a moment. It was the perfect synergy of sound and Roman Coppola’s visuals too.
I feel like it tapped into this nostalgia while still creating something new and immediate of the times
TS: Last Nite and Hard To Explain are two of my favorite music videos ever
♡: How has your sound evolved in relation to your different creative partners?
TS: Well working with Sasha, whose voice is powerful amazing and beautiful, I found myself subsuming some of my natural instincts in order to fit into this semi-pop world we were creating
So instead of being the furniture in the room, I opted to be the wallpaper
♡: Well put, and agree her voice is really striking.
But that’s cool you were able to adjust in this way that highlighted that. Says a lot about you and how you collaborate
TS: When i sent our new album to my friend lexy he called it mature-ass guitar which I thought was funny
But in bodycam there are guitar figures all over the place
And in my solo stuff the guitar is mostly the skeleton around which everything else is built. Integral but not usually all that visible
♡: *To those just tuning in, Bodycam is another band of Theo’s
How do you know when it’s time to graduate or move on from another persons sound?
TS: It’s not so much moving on as it is adding more books to your shelf
♡: I like that
Are you more critical of yourself or others when working?
TS: With all these analogies can you tell I’m redoing my house? *ILYSM hearts*
♡: Did you realize as a kid that you heard things in a pronounced way? I have a friend who refers to it as having “dog ears” - like a super power...
TS: I’m never all that critical of others, always hyper critical of myself
♡: I’m like that I think more on a mixing and visual level, I would see things no one else could and in order for me to show people I would have to show them numerically as the color would change.
TS: I’m intensely sensitive to high frequencies. In high school I was in band practice and al of a sudden there was this insane feedback and it made me faint
Luckily I fell backwards onto a couch
But I believe that
TS: My ears are definitely super sensitive but also I say “what?” like 87 times a day
♡: I’m laughing on the sidewalk to myself over that
Old man Theo
I wanna go back to Bodycam for a second *Theo hearts*
TS: On the sidewalk in LA!
♡: You mentioned to me at lunch that you involved a social component - where every performance was/is building activation and financial support to causes. I’m leaving this here but can you elaborate more on this, and how that came about?
TS: When I moved to Greenpoint I had a housewarming party, which is the last party I will ever have. But right at the very end my friend Trevor sort of pitched me on the idea. I can’t take credit for the genesis of it at all
But I loved the idea so much that I said yes immediately. I also said I would do it on the condition that I could play bass, but that didn’t happen *ILYSM hearts*
But I was dually enamored by the activation and call to action for causes that were close to my heart and also taking the commerce out of art
♡: How can people support Bodycam - is there a site or is it all done through social media?
TS: Can I put a pin in that?
I think this topic lends itself to the following — Did you ever have an interesting fan moment in terms of someone having your music act as a transformational experience or awakening?
Well to back up, I wrote a song called Tokyo Phones about adoring somebody but not loving them, pretty much. It’s a breakup song. And when it was released I sent it to a friend, who happened to be in Tokyo at the time with his girlfriend. And I think the subject matter sort of struck a chord with him because a couple weeks he broke up with her. Apparently it caused him to feel some type of way that he couldn’t shake
I honestly feel pretty guilty about that
Yeah. I think that it was maybe Jimi Hendrix who said something that has become something of a maxim in the music community: happy music, sad lyrics; sad music, happy lyrics
♡: Perhaps just an unveiling to something already there that needed a moment of clarity and or mediation. I think art - allows us to have these pauses and the space to process conflicting emotions.
TS: That song has demonstrated all manner of weird cosmic qualities that are all very bizarre
Hopefully, I think it tries to give a voice to emotions that are sometimes voiceless, or sort of crystallize something that is sort of formless, in the ether
♡: I was reading a Criterion interview with Nicholas Britell and he was talking about this idea he had theorized growing up, about sound in relation to emotional scales, a “lexicon of harmony” - various chords tied to certain moods etc but he said as he got older he realized that idea was challenged by one’s visual environment. He listed an example- sometimes a contradictory feeling of happiness in a sad setting made something actually feel more tragic because it heightened the lack of happiness.
TS: Yeah. I think that it was maybe Jimi Hendrix who said something that has become something of a maxim in the music community: happy music, sad lyrics; sad music, happy lyrics *ILYSM hearts*
♡: I find that fascinating and I think it’s true of some of the best bands or artists, they’re able to create that nuanced emotional sensation with a unique juxtaposition of chords and harmonies. I feel like that’s something you’re quite aware of, in terms of exploring contradictory sounds in relation to mood... What is your approach to creating such distinct layered emotions in your song writing?
TS: I don’t think I have a very studied or deliberate approach. The best things for me are the things that come out before you have time to think about what you just said or did
In music, in life that has not worked out for me so well
But it’s a little boring for me to keep hitting the same emotional note over and over again from all different angles
♡: Do you journal?
TS: Not really, I always try to start I’m just quite bad at habit forming.
But I’m always writing down spare thoughts and stuff
♡: I’m more of a note taker - anywhere I can find. The back of trash mail, my phone, audio notes, napkins
But I do find it helpful to exercise a thought
TS: I wrote my bar mitzvah speech on a napkin while I was waiting for my dad to finish a meeting lol *ILYSM !!*
♡: I hope it’s framed
TS: I certainly don’t have it but my parents might
♡: Okay last question-
TS: I was having so much fun! *ILYSM hearts*
♡: Something I didn’t know about you until you shared recently was that you worked on SNL booking the musical guests... What is your music sifting process like? I feel like it’s easier for me to find older music than new music... I need your ears!
TS: Well not to get too deep into the habits and practices of SNL but they certainly aren’t going to book a complete unknown, y’know? So to an extent with that job most things I booked would be on your average music-lovers radar. When I was running public arts though it was much different. I had a lot more latitude to go digging and searching
A friend just reminded me of when she came to visit me and saw Billie Eilish soundcheck. That was summer 2017. We had Alex Cameron too who I reached out to and asked to play. Jamila Woods
But like when I booked chance for SNL he certainly wasn’t like unknown at that point but he definitely wasn’t as well known as he is now lol
Public arts is about a 250 cap, for reference
♡: Right - it’s a different orbit relevancy rotation when you’re dealing with SNL. I have a lot of respect for Billie Eilish, I’ve never met her but going back to our earlier point about contradictory moods she is quite masterful *Theo hearts*
TS: I think it’s a teenage specialty
That sounded belittling and was not meant to 🤭
♡: I didn’t read it that way ️
TS: Ok good
Literally teenagers 4ever (ILYSM hearts)
♡: Theo until our next 1:99 appointment it’s been lovely
TS: The future
I’m fixin to build you a clock that includes 1:99 *ILYSM !!*
♡: *1:99 was a fake time where Theo and Jenna agreed to meet while in NY and misinterpreted said time