worn-tin's new album is full of psychedelic love songs and weird obsessions
The LA-based musician tells i-D all about being class clown, writing 'Cycles,' and his outrageous onstage antics.
Photo by Sadie Jean Spezzano.
Warner Hiatt a.k.a Worn-Tin ends each of his sets by smashing a glass beer bottle against his head and falling to the floor. He compares this climactic moment to a fuse overheating — as if in that instant he blew up and just died. While it all started during an opening set for Car Seat Headrest at the Bootleg a couple years ago, this stunt has since become routine in his live show. Sometimes it prompts audience members to almost call 911 or even try to give the songwriter mouth-to-mouth. It’s hard to imagine, given Warner’s mellow demeanor and the fact that he nearly fainted, earlier in the day, from drinking a single cup of coffee. But these crazy onstage antics, soundtracked by his psychedelic, laidback love songs, have solidified Warner’s reputation as a must-see musician on the LA scene. And today, Worn-Tin releases his latest album Cycles, which explores obsession in its many forms.
As “the funny kid” growing up in Santa Monica, Warner always wanted to be a comedian. He idolized Chris Farley and John Belushi for their raucous, slapstick style humor. Even though he has showbiz in his blood, there was always something about performing stand-up that had Warner on edge. “I just wanted to entertain and make people laugh,” he says. “But with comedy and acting, that kind of made me nervous. I was like, ‘What if I’m not right for the part?’” Warner’s since slipped into his rightful role. After all, the 25-year-old musician’s played music all his life, starting out on drums and slowly accumulating both the skills and instruments to fill his tiny, backyard studio, which he lovingly refers to as the Tin House. It’s in this closet-sized space where Warner wrote, produced, arranged, and performed all the tracks on his new album. “If I couldn’t play it, I couldn’t lay it,” he says. Cycles was mixed by Riley Gear and mastered by Josh Bonati (Sufjan Stevens, Mac DeMarco, HOMESHAKE, etc). The result is a collection of stunning songs that might make you want to cry, break out in dance, or even start a mosh pit. Though it’s practically guaranteed you’ll want to play them over and over again.
i-D sat down with Worn-Tin to find out what keeps him going, what inspired Cycles and why this charming LA musician is worth obsessing over.
How are you feeling now that you’re about to release your new album?
Oh my God. This is insane. Today, I picked up my first vinyl and held it in my hand. Musicians don’t usually talk about the first moment they saw their music on vinyl, but I honestly thought I was going to cry. I collect vinyl. It’s the kind of thing though where you’re never really ready until you’re there. I feel so unprepared, but I don’t think I could do anything to be more prepared. I’m really excited because I just want to play more shows and do more music.
What are some of the things that you were thinking about at this time that come through on the record?
I want to work so that every record tells a story or every record is kind of themed. At the time, I was living in West Hollywood, right behind the Supreme store, and these kids would line up day and night for the new release and I was just like, this is so strange that they’re selling these clothes like this and people are camping out overnight. Each song is talking about a different scenario or situation where there’s obsession involved. “New Slate” is about driving on the freeway through this desolate town and just wondering how these people do it. And the community of a religion — that’s a game changer. That would be everything if you lived there. “Stolen” is about my buddy who’s very much a nomad and always traveling. He has this backpack and some kid stole it. He chased him for three or four miles because his whole life was in this backpack! I’ve found my obsession has been with lovers in the past — this obsession that I’ve got to have them or I’ve got to be with them. And it’s kind of weird to talk about because no one wants to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m obsessed with that person.’ But I’m a very emotional person and I’ve just found myself very obsessive. And on this album, I’m going through a break-up. It’s called Cycles, because when that obsession ends…
There’s always another one.
Yeah, I think there’s another one. And there are people with crazy weird obsessions. Maybe they’re not weird to them, but really interesting. And it helps your drive, to try to get to whatever you’re trying to do. A big negative is that you get that withdrawal if you don’t have that thing.
Another thing is being obsessed with technology. We’re all on our phones and we all know it. It’s dating apps. It’s Instagram. Instagram, I think, is the biggest one. I always find myself searching for something and I don’t even know what I’m looking for... It’s another thing that people don’t really want to talk about because it’s kind of embarrassing.
Are there certain songs on the record that feel particularly emotive to you?
Yeah. “Same Joke” is me just like, word barfing how I felt at the time. And “Alexis,” is about my best friend in the world. I went to this music festival in Colorado and I found out that my ex was seeing somebody and my friend Alexis was in the car with them. It was really weird. I can’t explain it now, but I had this anxiety that I’ve never had — where I was just like — I need to talk to them. That song is about how I felt that night.
Do you write a lot of songs in that reactionary way?
Absolutely. For “Stolen,” my friend told me his story and immediately after, I was like, I have to go home and write this. This story is amazing. But that didn’t even happen to me. I just felt moved by it. Usually most things are about what’s happened to me. I write very weirdly. I mean, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way, but I write the music first and then I write the lyrics a month or two months later. I’ll lay down a vocal melody or like, fake lyrics, and then I’ll write real lyrics about whatever I’m feeling in that moment. I kind of lose track too. Like, ‘Oh I titled this song ‘You’re Never Coming Back,’’ but now this song makes me feel like I want to go to the beach and have some ice cream.
Did you approach the album any differently than the previous one?
Yeah, Thanatophobia was about this one concept. I was in a car accident with my good friends. Our car flipped and it was on fire. But we got out with not a scratch on us. Totally fine. All three of us. I developed this idea where I was like, ‘How do I know that I’m still alive?’ The car looked like there was a fatal accident. It was on its side. We rolled. I hit the airbag. I wrote that album as if I was dead. I’m in the hospital in a coma, almost like a vegetable, and this reality is kind of what I’m dreaming. That was just how I was feeling.
How do you approach the live show?
Remember being in high school, in the drama department, and there being the sad face and the smiley face logo? I noticed in high school, all the kids that were super outgoing or super silly and everybody loved them, they always had a dark side to them. I like that. I just like that contrast, essentially, and I find myself very much like that. When I get in front of people, it becomes this silly, crazy, got to entertain kind of thing. That’s how I want the shows to be. These songs are very personal and somber. The lyrics are usually kind of dark, but the music’s fun. I always want to put on performances where you go home and you’re like, ‘What?’ Or, ‘That was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.’
I was working on [The Eric André Show] and I’d always have to make the prop runs. So I’d be getting a desk that was going to break or a glass bottle that was going to shatter, and I was like, ‘Damn, what if I did this at one of my shows?’ So, I played a show where I took a beer bottle — it was fake — smashed it against my head and fully passed out on the floor. And I was like, this is great. I’m going to take this further. I’m going to get naked and I’m going to run around. We also have a kid who plays Nintendo at every show, unless we do acoustic. His name is Richard.
And you have some especially weird things planned for the release show?
Every show is different. That’s the cool thing. There are always outfit changes. You don’t know what you’re going to get yourself into. We just kind of go with the flow. We played a show in San Diego where the theme was spa day, so we all wore crocs, bathrobes, and had what is it… face masks on. That was really fun. Really messy though… I try to go as gnarly as I can. I try to push boundaries. Venues have a lot of rules, so it’s a fine line. Sometimes I tell them what I’m doing. Sometimes I don’t because I know they’ll say no, but I’ll get away with it. I like to do confetti, but some venues have a confetti fee. If you’re going to use confetti and it gets anywhere you have to clean it up. So, I always bring my own broom.
If you happen to be in Los Angeles, catch Worn-Tin’s record release show on February 26 at The Echo. Tickets are available here.