When True to Self made its Billboard debut at number one back in June, no one was more surprised than Bryson Tiller himself. After a series of impressive firsts in his music career – his first mixtape Killer Instinct Vol.1, his first Billboard hit single “Don’t,” and his debut album Trapsoul – the 24 year old R&B ace was still shocked by the immediate success of his sophomore full-length.
Despite achieving an epic, universally-accepted benchmark for any musician, the Louisville, Kentucky native is absolutely still on his grind, bringing his studio with him on the road. Catching up with Tiller in the midst of a lengthy European tour, he radiated a chill focus that most of us can barely fathom on a good day. He spoke about his love for roller coasters and breakfast cereal with equal, peaceful enthusiasm, and discussed his desire to better himself and push outside his habitual boundaries in a way that radiated realness.
From living out of his car while working at UPS to selling out concerts overseas, Bryson Tiller gave us the lowdown on his journey from Kentucky to the international music stratosphere, telling us what it was like working with DJ Khaled and Rihanna on their smash-hit “Wild Thoughts,” and what the next chapter of his life is looking like so far.
How’s the tour going?
Smooth, man. It’s fine. It’s been a dope experience. This time, I’ve been really taking everything in and getting out of the hotel more. I’ve really been enjoying it a lot.
Is there anything in particular that you’ve done this tour that was fun and exciting?
I went to an amusement park in Copenhagen called Tivoli Gardens and another one in Amsterdam. Hopefully I’ll go to another one before it’s over.
What’s your favorite kind of ride?
Roller coaster. Have you ever done a roller coaster with VR goggles on? I just did it, it’s the best thing ever. You’ve got to try it.
How did it feel for your album True to Self to debut at number one?
Crazy. Honestly, when they told me it was number one, I didn’t even know what that meant. I was just like, “Number one. Cool, does this always happen for everybody?” I called DJ Khaled and he was like, “Congrats on your number one album,” and I was like, “Dang. What?” I was like, “I know this might sound crazy, but what does that actually mean to have like a number one album on Billboard?”
He said, “Put it like this. Major Key is my ninth album. It’s my first number one album.” So I was like, “Dang. That’s crazy.”
What was it like working with him and Rihanna on “Wild Thoughts” ?
Amazing. DJ Khaled is dope, man. He always told me he wanted to make me a part of something big, so I was excited that he found a place for me in the studio, and it became “Wild Thoughts.”
Sweet. What was the video shoot like? What was the vibe?
The video shoot was cool, man. It was late and it was in Miami, which is my favorite place in the world. I got to vacation a little bit. Rihanna and Khaled were there. I had a trailer. I never had a trailer before that video shoot. So that was crazy. It was super dope. Everything was just smooth – people were like, “Action, cut” and all that.
You’re still living in Kentucky, right? What’s your favorite thing about living there?
It just keeps me grounded. You know what I’m saying? Iit keeps me inspired to want to make it. You know what I mean? To just do better. I love my hometown. There’s nothing better than being able to just drive around and see all the places you grew up. You know what I’m saying? For me it feels really good.
What do you think about Drake’s Kentucky co-sign?
Yeah, he loves Kentucky basketball. I remember when I asked him, he was going to come to Louisville to see the hometown and come back to the show. He was like, “Y’all, I might just have to wear Kentucky on stage bro.” And he might get booed off because there’s a rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky fans.
Me personally, I don’t watch that much basketball. I think I watch a little bit more than I used to because it’s super entertaining. You’ve got Steph Curry, LeBron – those are my people I like watching. it’s inspiring for me to like look at them just like, crying and being on top.
Who did you look up to when you were younger?
Michael Jackson inspired me, man. He had his own video game I used to play all the time. His music was just, I don’t know, you just always felt his presence, like in the atmosphere of his music, you know what I’m saying, so, like. That’s why his music is timeless. I just saw an article that said something about he made like $70 million. Like, even after he passed. I thought that’s crazy. That just goes to show how big his star is.
So that’s the one person that really inspired me because I love video games and you know I love music too, I used to always try to impersonate Michael Jackson.
How would you summarize your 2017?
I’ve just been learning so much this year. I learned so much about myself, about this career, what it takes to be great. I’ve just been studying more. I’m supposed to be a student to the game. A lot of people that come here and just expect to at the top. And I ask myself, “Why am I not at the top or why am I not where I want to be?” And it’s because you’re not putting the proper work in.
It just depends on how much work you want to put in. Michael Jordan was the best basketball player in the world, at that time. He had to put the work in and get to where he is now. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been grinding in the studio more, bringing my studio to every city we go to. Recording in hotels and stuff.
It’s so hard. Don’t force it, is what I say to people. If you’re like, “Alright I’m going to record every single night, I don’t care what.” You’re not going to actually want to record every night because sometimes you’re tired after the show, sometimes you’ve got the after party. I can only work when I’m inspired, anyway.
What’s been inspiring you lately, especially when it comes to new music that you’re working on?
I’ve just been challenging myself. In the studio, I was like, “You know what? I know I can do this and that, but let me challenge myself to try new things.” Not necessarily like a new style of music, but more so push myself. Instead of simple cadences and simple flows, I’m switching it up, kind of like I used to do. Just vibing out. Just trusting myself.
What’s been your favorite music that’s come out this year?
Definitely Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Lamar’s album is amazing. Jay-Z’s album. Future’s album – his self-titled, Future. I went on tour with H.E.R. In the US and she dropped a bunch of amazing music this year.
In your song, “Don’t Get Too High,” it’s pretty clear you’re addressing someone, but was there ever a time when you got too high and crazy shit happened?
it’s not about being too high. It is, in a way, but I’m trying to say that once you smoke too much, drink too much, party too much, you get distracted from all of the important things in life.
But yeah… I have gotten too high.
I read recently that you’re trying to take better care of yourself, what are some things you’re doing to make that happen?
Go to the dentist a lot more. Work out more. Obviously, eat better. That’s my main goal because I eat something like 10 boxes of cereal a month. Probably 15. Who knows?
What’s your favorite cereal?
At the moment, it’s probably Rice Krispie Treats cereal.
While you were working at Papa John’s and for UPS, how did you stay motivated to work on music? What kept you motivated?
The struggle. Sleeping in my car and not having that much money. You know, riding a bike to Target to get diapers for my daughter, it sucked. It was enjoyable sometimes – at that point everything was just so simple. I was still having a good time, but that struggle right there, like made me be like, “Yo, I got to get out of here and get it.”
One night I looked at my daughter and she was sleeping in her crib in her room so peacefully. And I was like, “Wow, like this person depends on me. This person needs me.” She’s here sleeping, and I have to, I’m here to protect her. The fact that I’m even able to give her the best possible life right now is the most rewarding thing for me. I thank God for it every day.
How do you stay sane when you’re on the road and in a different city almost every night?
FaceTime with my family. Talking with my friends. I play a lot of video games. I just try to think about the positive things that are going on in my life because the more and more I start thinking about the negative, that’s when I, that’s when I start to feel depressed.
Tell us about those custom Nikes that recently popped up on your Instagram.
I just customized one of my favorite shoes in my favorite color. It’s a really comfortable Air Force called the Ultra Force. You should get a pair, for real. Super comfortable, like Yeezys.
Beside those customs, what are your favorite sneakers to wear?
Yeezys. These Adidas. I love Reeboks now. I wear a lot of those. That’s really it. Nikes. A bunch of stuff.
What’s coming up next for you after this tour?
Next, I’m just going to lock in the studio. My daughter is starting school next year so I’m about to get her ready for school, giving her homework and stuff. Getting her ready to be in around all these different kids. You know what I’m saying?
For more of our interviews, check out our Q&A with U.K. Grime producer Visionist right here.
- Photography: Sony Music Germany