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Photography Tyler Mitchell

premiere: demo taped discusses david lynch, mental health, and his new ep

Emily Manning

On ‘Momentary,’ the 19-year-old Atlanta musician collaborates with Frank Dukes, How to Dress Well, and his dad.

Photography Tyler Mitchell

It’s been three years since Demo Taped (Adam Alexander) released his first EP. Three-track Heart was created as a Valentine’s Day gift for his then-girlfriend. When they broke up before the big day, Alexander’s depression spiraled. His decision to share Heart with the world became a critical act of self-love.

Alexander’s compositions are still profoundly shaped by love. For himself, his family, and his generation. On his new EP, Momentary (which debuts in-full on i-D ahead of its official release tomorrow), the bedroom producer blends his playful, woozy electronic beats with rich funk grooves and honeyed harmonies.

“I take my approach to music creation as if I’m writing a stream-of-consciousness poem,” Alexander tells me. “I do a lot of weird exercises to get out of my conscious mind, reach into the lid, and figure out what message and emotion need to come out.”

On Momentary, he tried a new approach. The night before one session, he watched The Art Life, a documentary in which David Lynch discusses his paintings while sharing his life story. “After I watched it, I wrote down every idea, question, thought that came into my head. I told myself: ‘I’m not gonna censor myself. I’m not gonna let shyness, shame, or fear get in the way. I’m just gonna write.’ I took those notes in with me to each session.”

The result: five tracks that feel fresh, and focused. Below, Alexander breaks down Momentary track-by-track.

Tell me about the EP’s name.
Things we all experience — pain, doubt, joy, happiness — are momentary. You may have a bad week, a bad month, a bad year. But it’s momentary; it’s not lasting. This world is momentary. The things we do, the time we have. So I’m gonna live the best life that I can. I’m gonna show the most love to everyone I can. I’m gonna get out there and represent something bigger than me. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to leave this world without making some sort of impact. It’s all about perspective, and the way we view things.

I have a feeling those thoughts haven’t always been with you. How did you get to this place?
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since seventh grade. I had a very negative view of myself, and the world, for a long time. And it comes back. That’s something I want people to understand: caring for your mental health is an ongoing process. You can’t just take the pills and expect that’s the end of it. You have to keep up with things. Talk to someone, or at least write it down. Learn coping skills and mechanisms, and keep going on your own. So you’re right: I wasn’t always thinking this way, that the sadness is momentary. I thought that was it — that’s what my life was gonna be in the long-run! That didn’t begin to change until I started taking better care of myself, reading more, talking to a therapist, and doing a lot of thinking on my own. And seeing things from this perspective doesn’t mean I’m forcing my happiness. I’ve just learned that you have to keep moving, no matter what. Actions have consequences, but inaction does, too. Are you living, or are you just existing? I still ask myself this question often.

"Insecure"

You recorded elements of this song in the church where your grandfather has pastored for almost 50 years. Tell me about that experience.
What really motivated me to do “Insecure” was that my grandfather wanted me to do a gospel song. Just for him, really. He never asked me to release anything. Two weeks later, I got a sample from Frank Dukes — this gospel sample that was deeply layered. It was one of those ‘You have to do this. This happened for a reason’ opportunities. I took it, and ran with it!

There came a point where I had every element of the song — the vocals, the sample — but it was still missing something. So my dad and I recorded some bass parts in my bedroom studio. That was a great moment to share with him, because we were trading ideas, talking about the structure of the song, getting really into it. The next day, I told him I wanted to record live drums and organ. He’s the Musical Director of the church, so he asked the band members if they would want to lay some stuff down. They were ready and happy to do it. These are extremely talented musicians I’ve grown up watching every Sunday for years, and who I really look up to. To collaborate with them was a dream.

I remember walking into the church on the day we were doing the organ — the last instrument I needed. I remember setting everything up as all this natural light was coming in through the windows. I remember sitting where my dad sits when he plays bass every Sunday. I remember being so nervous as I was trying to mic the organ correctly. Then Paul started playing, and I instantly knew everything was right. It was a beautiful moment.

“Chemical (Blue)”

“Chemical” is about feeling emotionally tired. About a changing world view — what happens to minds when cynicism takes over. About taking medicine, being upset about that, and learning to cope with it. I used to be ashamed of taking medication. I used to think that because I took it, it wasn’t genuine happiness, somehow. It wasn’t my happiness, and I didn’t want that. It’s such a skewed, but very common view. It took time to realize that. If I were diabetic, I wouldn’t deprive my body of insulin — the thing that helps my life, that helps me to live. That’s the way I see medicine for mental illness. It is urgent, and we need to make that clear.

“Own It”

Young people are always told that they don’t know what’s going on. That’s true, to a degree. You might not have experienced as much as others. But to be told that your ideas don’t matter, or your emotions are invalid, is totally wrong! “Own It” is about the frustration of living with that, and being a part of a world that still does that. It’s about trying to escape that. About being a sensitive person in a world that says you need to man up, and get it together, because this is life. About being empowered to challenge an old way of thinking.

The lyric “man enough” stands out to me. You sing it with tenderness and power. Tell me more about that.
As a person of color, you’re taught this world is going to be a lot harder for you. The things you do, the things you try. And you’re taught that from a very young age. You’re also told that people hate you! That don’t even know you! You don’t know them! All because of the color of your skin. It tears you down. Just knowing it really affects you mentally. There’s a lot of confusion, anger, anxiety, and pain. You’re expected to have this toughened — “macho” for lack of a better word — exterior to take all the racism. You’re expected to keep going, to endure. So sometimes, you don’t address the problem, you don’t address the feelings. Mental health takes a backseat. I want to express that being a strong person doesn’t mean you can’t experience emotion. You can be strong and cry.

“Pack of Gum”

I love this music video!
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an animator. I’d pause episodes of Spongebob and draw frame-by-frame, trying to make flipbooks. Then I started watching more live action films, and things that took on darker subject matter. I was completely hooked! I wanted to be a director — to be the one orchestrating these beautiful shots. My brother went to school for film, so he would show me movies from the French New Wave when I was in middle school. I’m so grateful that I got to see some of the best films that were ever made at this really young age. It got me even more interested in the different parts of making a film: cinematography, screenwriting, sound design. My first time in L.A. was to visit colleges with my family, and I was looking at film schools. Then I went through my first real breakup.

I used to make my then-girlfriend mix CDs, and at that time, I was working on songs for her that I wrote and produced. When she broke up with me, I went down a spiral. My depression and anxiety got worse. I’d walk into the school and get physically ill, so I’d carry around a pack of gum as a kind of safety net. The music I was working on was meant to be just for her, but my friend Jack encouraged me to release it. It became Heart EP, my first project. People liked it! Which was eye-opening. It showed me that I could do music as a full-time job, not just a hobby. But I have not thrown film out of my mind. I still write screenplays. Recently, I’ve been taking videos from the public domain — educational videos from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I let them play on loop, and score them. I’m combining the two, and having fun.

“WINTER SOON”

It’s my favorite song on this EP, and I worked on it with How to Dress Well. Which is insane, because his music was on one of those mixes I made for my ex. So to go from that, to flying to L.A., meeting him, having conversations with him, was surreal. “WINTER SOON” is about how I got here. About being with my father on the way to school, and the music he’d play for me in the car. Just looking back on those moments, and seeing that’s what shaped everything, really. How I think, how I’ve grown. Seeing the spark that ignited everything was emotional. I’m so happy with how the song came together.

‘Momentary’ is available on February 23 via 300 Entertainment.