Teddy Faley takes a few minutes to talk with me about his process, the up and downs of the fickle music industry, and why his horses look like chickens.
We here at Poppycock have crazy respect for Teddy Faley. We chose him as an inspiring story who also turned out to be a kindred spirit. Project: Poppyc**k is much like the experiments he talks about here. All this has been a leap of faith, of sorts, though the day jobs still keep us in beer and cigarettes. We love his drive, his creativity, and most of all we love his “weird rap.” I was stoked to have a chance to speak with him. As with everything we try to do here–the stuff that actually matters–you can see this is about music, but as with many messages worth listening to there is a little more here than the surface stuff. Check out our long interview with Teddy Faley that was just too damned short. (you can click on just about anything in this post and it will link you somewhere)
PP: So, let’s get a little Teddy Faley background. You’ve been making music as a hobby as far back as ’99. In 2005 you made the leap to full-time artist. What were you doing during your hobby stage and what told you to make the leap to full-time?
Teddy Faley: To be completely honest about that, I lost my job in 2005, which caused me to go full-time. Since then, I have realized that the music business is quite fickle and still have a day job. I didn’t for quite a while, but now I do. I just want to put that out there if you’re under a different impression.
A lot of it was that I had lost my job. I loved my job to death. I always felt that if I get to work in the field I work in, and make music, it doesn’t matter how much money I will make. I will still do that job because I enjoy it. I was let go in 2005. I had a good amount of money saved up. I have always been of the opinion that everyone that paved the way in terms of indie music have hit a point where they had to just make a jump. It was a leap of faith, and that’s what put them in the position for me to find them and support them. I didn’t really have a plan. I knew people who didn’t have a set plan. [They knew] it could work out, but most likely won’t. For them to have any chance for it to work out, they would have to go in blind. So that’s what I did. I’d been in a good place at that time where I was meeting a lot of folks from NY and West Virginia that were getting me a lot of out-of-state shows. Apple Juice was coming out right about that time and I just wanted to see how long I could ride it.
PP: Who in your life has been your biggest cheerleader? Did you get anyone saying, “You are crazy, Teddy. Get a real job.” Or has much of your motivation come from within?
TF: It was definitely mixed, but I think it always will be. To this day, I will run into people I haven’t see in years and they ask, “How’s the music biz treating you,” which is just about the most condescending sentence you can say to somebody. Seriously though, prior to me ever getting any kind of notoriety or recognition about it, my being a musician, and especially a rapper, was just about the most unlikely thing that would ever occur on the planet. Ever; by my own admission. There were tons of people who thought it was the silliest thing in the world, myself included. That was part of my motivation at first, to see if I could do the most impossible thing ever. It was something I grew up loving to death and I wanted to do it.
It’s kinda cliché, but everyone who didn’t think I could do it did fuel the fire, too. On the flip side, anyone that gave me any words of encouragement mattered tenfold more than just simple compliments. For instance, when I met Mike Brown from Brake Fast Records, a man I respected, and when he said he respected me meant the world to me. In later years I had friends around me that said that, too. It’s kinda cool to have people around you that drink the Kool-Aid as well.
PP: What is the process of creating for you? What comes first, the lyric or the beat? Do you scribble on the nearest thing or are you audio recording, keep a notebook on you? Sit down or write on the run?
TF: I have used, at one time or another, every single thing you just named. There is definitely no set way for me to do anything. I will go through periods of doing things a certain way. Every single song on Apple Juice was written to a beat that wasn’t on the EP. With the Dropouts record, I would get like nine beats from Joe, pick one that inspired me at the time, I would record lyrics to that, send it back to him, and then back to me, ad infinitum. It really goes either way. Right now I am in a place where I will record a sample, write lyrics just to the sample, and then record a beat around the sample and the vocals after that.
PP: In your lyrics, there seems to be some very personal and raw topics. How do you feel about letting so much of yourself in to your music? Is it tough to perform some songs that might tear at a fresh wound or bring up old memories?
TF: To tell you the God’s honest truth, I haven’t really thought about that until recently. No, but that’s really never been my issue. In the past, there was a song about my mom that I used to perform with a guitar and a keyboard and there was no beat, so I was kinda doing it a cappella. That was tough to do, but I’ve never been worried about getting too emotional on stage. Cats dig it. I never really though in those terms.
It’s just a natural way that I write and that is kinda what makes whoever likes my little ditties enjoy them in the first place, because they can relate to something, I guess. There are also a whole bunch of metaphors in there, too. So there are people out there who will listen to the most personal song and think it’s about a pair of socks.
There is a safety net [in metaphors]. You don’t have to answer for certain things when you say certain things. Also, when I was learning how to write that was a very natural way for me to write. When I just say something, it’s kinda whack. There’s safety in the abstract, if that makes sense. For instance, if you draw something confusing for somebody, there’s a chance they’ll be fooled and think it’s really dope. If instead I say, “Look at this horse that I drew,” and it’s a horse, but it looks like a chicken, you’re gonna say, “That is the worst fuckin’ chicken I have ever seen in my life.” That’s how I learned to write. It took me a very long time to do anything that wasn’t terrible. Part of it was learning how to say things in what I thought was an interesting way.
PP: Is something ever finished to you? Or do you just have to walk away eventually? I always imagine that the Mona Lisa could have stood to have a few more brush strokes, but at some point you have to walk away. What is your relationship with your music?
TF: No, I’ve never had that “There ya go” moment, washing my hands of it. When I am working on my material, producing the beat and making the song myself, I sit on it forever. I will agonize over an extra snare drum on a 30-second bar. I have hit points where that’s way too much, but for the most part I think it helps. When I am doing something for someone else, like the Dropouts project, I really try to keep my hands behind my back because I don’t want to screw with a collaborative project too much.
Then again, some songs don’t call for a bunch of micromanaging. If it’s just simple kicks and snares and a sample, people don’t want to hear my Goddamned voice stuttering all over the place, being down pitched ever four bars, because it’s a simple fucking song. Sometimes you just rap, make it sound good, and make the beat nice and tight, and there you go. Others songs sound better if they jump all over the place. It depends on the song.
PP: The advent of technology over the last ten years, has made it easier for a guy like you to connect with fans, but it has also made it harder to separate yourself from the cacophony, do you think this has been good or bad for the indie rapper?
TF: That’s something I am still trying to figure out, how to separate myself from everyone else. Just to say to the point, I might be in the minority here, but I say it is for the best. Period. No matter what. I am in a position where I would never have been heard if it wasn’t for everything that happened. Whether it be music piracy or the ease of home recording, I would have never even started recording myself. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Especially nowadays, when I don’t have any new material out, it’s not like I’m pulling in fucking bunch of dough, but the amount of money I have made, and still do make, I am extremely thankful for. Even if everyone was forced to pay for my shit, I wouldn’t have had any money whatsoever if there wasn’t music piracy.
As for separating yourself, I think that happens naturally if you connect with the right people in a networking sense and get your name heard in the right circles. You have to stay on top of it, too. Being a musician is one of the few careers where you can set out to do one thing, but you have to do things that are completely different from that. Like if I wanted to open a hot dog stand. I have the stand, the meat, the buns, the place I want to set up, and then when I’m about to do all that some guy comes up and tells me I have to make a ship in a bottle first. You know what I mean? To make music I have to be a personable person in the internet, Twitter, and on Facebook all the time. As far as I’m concerned, that has nothing to do with making music, but if you don’t do that then you’re fucking shit out of luck and nobody’s gonna know who you are if you’re not putting yourself out there.
I don’t want to sound like I am bitching, though. The me of two years ago would slap the shit out of the me of today for even having the gall to complain about having to do that stuff. But I am the me from today, so to be honest, it becomes tedious to tell you the truth. You need to force yourself to take little break and give yourself some kind of schedule.
PP: Your music isn’t often a “club banger,” do you think that precludes the average listener from connecting with you more than it connects with the population that’s looking for something to really listen to?
TF: Without a doubt. There are certainly people out there who won’t listen to my shit because it’s weird rap, to use terms that have been thrown my way before. It’s a double-edged sword. For every ten people who won’t dig it, there are people who do seek out more experimental shit. Even though you have that happening, there is a market for my kind of thing. It was a market I was in during my early 20’s, and still am to this day. I am also on the other side of it though. I love me some Mobb Deep, old Jay-Z, and Nas.
I do like making the other kinds of tracks as well. The track “Drinks On The House” with Oz. I love that jam. I am doing a record right now with Tom Delay which consists mostly of that sound. It’s got a more mid to early 90’s vibe to it.
PP: You started The Rape with Cubbiebear back in ’08, right? How did that partnership come about?
TF: I really should make up a better tale than this to tell, but as stupid as it is, he just hit me up on MySpace. He just sent me a message that he was from the other side of Baltimore. I would get that all the time, because every single person in the world is a rapper, but he was the first person who I checked out, and not only was his music not terrible, but it was really good. He came over to my place about two weeks after that and we did a song that nobody will ever, ever hear, but that’s how we met. I was at Brake Fast Records at the time. They are the only people that made my music legitimate at the time. They are the reason I got what recognition or notoriety I had, or have, at the time. So it became clear that my type of shit was vibing with Cubbie’s more easily than with Brake Fast, and so I left Brake Fast and me and Cubbie started The Rape up.
First and foremost, The Rape was a collective of people. The Rape was first meant to signify a show that we were doing. The way shows worked back then, there was basically one promoter back then, in Baltimore, and if you’re a rapper and you want to do a show, you go to that dude. He would give you a certain set of tickets to sell. Based on how many tickets you sell, you’ll get a better show next time; opening for larger acts and so forth. So Cubbie and I are learning this independent of one another. After a few shows you start acquiring money. After a few more shows, you start to see that you’re really pulling in a ton of people for these shows and you’re no longer getting what you’re worth, essentially.
This was a big issue for me at the time in the city when I met up with Cubbie. We kind of put our heads together and had the idea to just rent out a venue instead of getting a show through a promoter to open for a larger act. So, we put our money together and straight up rented the venue out and then kept the money that we made off the tickets. 100% of the money minus overhead. That was The Rape, us doing that, because we were essentially sick of being raped for so long. It was us getting to rape them guys for a bit, I guess. That worked out very well for a very long time.
PP: Is there any timeframe for either your next album or Cubbiebear’s?
TF: I don’t want to speak for Cubbie, but I imagine that it can’t be too far off. My next album is very much in progress. I’m in the cycle right now where I am gonna flip out if I’m not careful. There are people out there checking for me, you know what I mean? So, I start to get a little desperate. Then I get sad, I weep, I bang my fists. Then I get inspired, I weep, and I bang my fists. There’s at least a couple months of fury and then I will spit a record out. I am in the middle of that now. I have a few songs done, and I have a lot of songs in the works. If I had to guess, I would say that my EP in about five months off or so, if I had to guess.
PP: And quickly, I see that at your bandcamp site, your albums are free; all of them. What was the decision behind that? People steal it so give it away for free, or what was the idea there that you give away all three of your albums at no cost, like how I acquired them?
It started with me not thinking people would pay for it to begin with. I am not very confident in the marketability of my shit to begin with. It started with me saying, “Nobody’s gonna pay for this shit anyway.” It changed as time moved on, as I proved myself wrong. I addressed it with Apple Juice, but it all started with My Rough Mixes Are Better Than Yours, which was initially a free giveaway through aboveGround Magazine, so I wasn’t gonna charge for something that I was giving away for free. The initial plan with Apple Juice was to sell hard copies and then give out free downloads. To be frank, before Apple Juice I had a little [notoriety], but nothing on the level for me to think that people would go buy it. It is what gave me the name that would call for people to buy my shit. It would have been silly for me to think to charge for that.
My initial plan was to bother every person on the internet to listen to my shit, and then sugar on top was that you could just have this for free. In addition to that, I did put it up on iTunes, Rhapsody, and everywhere else so if people want to pay for it, they can. Not a lot of people do, but I get those checks and that is people going out of their way to make sure I get a little money for it, too. So, it was a conscious decision, but it was based in a flaky, “Fuck it. Let’s just do it,” kind of deal. My record I am working on with Tom Delay is the first record distributed by someone else, where every single copy will be sold. I get to see how that works out, and then wedge that in to the way I do things. The record is called, Bread and Circuses. There is no timeline for that, but it will be out after my EP, for sure.
Thanks to Teddy for taking the time to speak with us. Click on the Apple Juice album cover above for a link to download ALL three of his albums for free. Seriously. Or feel free to pay for them at iTunes and et al. You will not regret listening to his music and you can’t even gimme the excuse that it’s anything but free if you wanna try it out. Download Apple Juice and you’ll be hooked. Then, I command you to spread this shit around like Herpes on a senior citizen cruise. Do it.