Interview – Tyler Smyth of Dangerkids

Sometimes when you least expect it, fantastic things can happen. Grounded and looking at success as improbable, the Dayton, Ohio Rock hybrid known as dangerkids have risen to high places in recent years. A promising young band, they have already toured extensively, been run through the ring, and learned valuable lessons about life in the music world.

With proud footnotes such as a stint on Vans Warped Tour in 2014, a new record deal with Paid Vacation Records, as well as a spot touring alongside Falling In Reverse, Issues, and Motionless in White early in 2017, the sky is the limit for this talented group of musicians. On the heels of releasing their exciting sophomore album, blacklist_, we caught up with Co-Lead Vocalist Tyler Smyth to talk the progress of the band, their outlook toward creating, plans for the future, and much more. – Dangerkids has been taking major steps forward since their inception in 2012. Making a big impression with the 2013 debut album, Collapse, the band now return with your new album, blacklist_. First, tell us, what has the last five years been like for the band?

Tyler Smyth – It’s been great. It’s been a lot of ups and downs and, lately, a lot of ups. Seriously, really high right now. Everyone’s just really happy and relieved to finally have the new record out. I don’t think we ever anticipated anything to begin with. The idea that we’d ever put out a first record or a second record, even that first record that took us around the world; we headlined Japan, played Australia and Europe, Warped Tour. Just things that you never think of when you’re just a guy sitting in a room writing songs with your friends. A lot has happened over the past few years, all of it completely unexpected. Lately, things are really great and seriously really high. – That is positive to hear. When you least expect it, great things happen much of the time. It can be a roller-coaster ride of emotions, ups and downs of everything you are going through.

Tyler Smyth – It does feel that way, yeah. I think part of it was just our own journey to find ourselves and decide what dangerkids sounds like, and to decide what type of music we really want to make; what impression we want to leave people with.

Rise Records
Rise Records – Speaking of the band’s sound, it is quite a mixed bag of Electronic, Metal, Rock, and Hip Hop; there are a lot of different elements in there. Beyond labels and genres, what has been the inspiration behind the artistic direction of the band?

Tyler Smyth – I think, in the beginning, it was an innocent desire to create something that would surprise our friends in Ohio (laughs). Again, we were never meant to play shows or, definitely, never meant to go on tour or be signed. The goal originated with just having fun and thinking what can we do musically that would surprise our friends, maybe even leave them cracking up laughing. That’s sort of how the whole thing developed.

What I think we ended up realizing, as things started to progress and the band grew, we were making music that not only we enjoyed and other people enjoyed, but we were also making it for really innocent reasons. That was just to get back to that place where music is a fun, creative thing. We never once considered what do people want to hear and what would help us sell records, what do record labels like.

If we were considering those things, I assure you that I would never be a rapper (laughs). At the time, it was just sort of, I just wanted to do what was the last thing that people expected of me, and I’m coming from being a guitarist. So I thought, “Oh, instead of a guitarist in a Pop band, what if I was in a heavy band? What if I rapped? It would surprise so many people.” Fast forward a few years and it’s outgrown all of us and become something much larger. It’s really cool. – It is really cool to see where things have gone over the past few years. As you mentioned, the band has two vocalists – both rapping and singing vocals. Being the rapper in the band, how do you decide where the vocals are going to go and how they are going to be distributed throughout the songs? That could be a challenge between mixing the singing with the rapping and finding their right places.

Tyler Smyth – Sure. In the beginning it was a lot of trial and error, because it was all new turf for us. It was like exploring a new area, musically, that none of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into. These days it’s sort of like we spend a lot of energy and a lot of effort just trying to create something that’s just one degree or two degrees different. We just want to take something, maybe even a sound, that we grew up with or bands that really inspired us growing up, and click the dial forward one or two times. Have it leave off with an almost eclectic, very contemporary feel at the same time.

When it comes to placing who does what where, it’s just an experiment. We usually like to take the obvious choice and flip it on its head and try the exact opposite and see what we get. A lot of times we’ll arrive at a much more unique sound. A part that might obviously beg for singing, we’re like, “Oh well, what if we rapped it? That’s weird. Let’s try that out.” Then we end up with something that we’re all really proud of, and it surprises us as well.

dangerkids live at Amityville Music Hall Amityville, NY 7-26-15
dangerkids live at Amityville Music Hall Amityville, NY 7-26-15 – That is pretty cool. Experimentation is important for a band, though some bands are a little more reluctant to experiment, it is a big risk. It is great that dangerkids are open to that experimentation.

Tyler Smyth – I think our band is grounded in it in a lot of ways. If we weren’t experimenting so heavily ourselves in the beginning, I’m not sure that it would ever have come to be what it is, or be anything at all. I think we’re always on this mission to get back to that place where we’re just a bunch of guys in a room, purely creating. No rules: not worrying about what anyone is going to say or think. Just getting it back to that innocent area where you’re just…I don’t know a better way to say it: just pure creation. It’s really fun and I think that’s where a lot of the best ideas come from. – Absolutely. Speaking of great ideas and music, dangerkids are back with this new record, blacklist_, which came out on January 27th. It is a really fantastic collection of well-composed songs. What was the writing and recording process like behind this new album?

Tyler Smyth – The process never really changed too much from the beginning. It’s always been largely based around Andy and I getting in a room, and we always have an abundance of things we want to talk about – issues or concepts that we want to address. We try to do it, like I said before, in a really unique way. A lot of times it involves writing something and then we will rewrite it from the complete opposite perspective or take a phrase and try to turn it on its head.

As far as the recording of everything, in between our search for different homes for this record, we never stopped demoing ourselves. What ended up happening was the record you actually hear is actually all done by us ourselves. I actually recorded it, mixed it, produced it, mastered it, and everything (laughs). It was never meant to be that way, it just sort of fell that way because we’re not the type of people to sit around.

We pride ourselves on being very self-sufficient, not that it’s a goal, but when something comes between us and our music, such as waiting on a label or budget or whatever, we just don’t have to do that. We don’t want to do that. You can’t always decide when the creative juices at four in-the-morning are going to hit you. I think the record grew out of Andy and I getting together a lot, starting with that concept, then creating something musically that fit that lyrical concept with the rest of the band. – It seems to have worked out well. This record has a lot of potency in it, meaning the music and lyrics are very potent together. How would you sum up the theme of blacklist_?

Tyler Smyth – That’s a tough one. I would say one big, overarching theme that we tend to write about a lot or address in different, small ways is this idea of not giving in to your shortcomings, facing your opposition. With Collapse, our first record, we sort of feel like those records are very reflective of our journeys, especially at that time during those years. Where Collapse was this way of addressing the demons within, like you being your own worst enemy or your own flaws.

Blacklist_, again is turning it on its head, is the opposite of that: it’s the outward forces that wants to stop you or slow you down. A lot of it was reflective of us – looking for a home, looking for the right team, making tough calls in deciding all these other bands did tours like this, well we want to tour like that. We want to play music like this when everyone else is playing music like that. Blacklist_ became this whole concept of deciding not to be stopped and just to do you despite whatever things stand in your way. Finding a way to rise above that.

Paid Vacation Records – That is a very positive theme. It definitely reflects in the music. It is important to stick to your artistic vision. It seems like you may have had a couple of road blocks over the past few years, as far as what direction you want to go. It is great that you stuck with it because it pays off when you stick to what you want to do as an artist.

Tyler Smyth – That definitely was the case. I can see how other bands would get caught up in that, and you sort of get this little bubble around you of industry and you want to please those people because they matter to you. In a lot of ways you feel like they control your fate or your destiny. I think, along the way, you forget what it’s like to be an artist and create art.

Again, just be those guy in a room with that innocent mindset of, “Oh, let’s do something crazy. Let’s just make music, let’s just do it,” and not worry about what does our manager want to hear, what does the label want to hear. I understand how that comes to be and it’s harder than you’d think to decide very consciously to respect that, but at the same time remember why they picked you up in the first place or remember why they got behind you in the first place. It wasn’t because you knew they were going to come along, it was because you made music that they loved. I think if you’re going to make the best, most genuine piece of music, it’s gotta come from that place. – No question at all. Now, besides the album, you guys are actually in the midst of a really cool tour with Falling in Reverse, Motionless in White, and Issues. It is a good mix of bands, everyone is a little different from one another. How has this tour being going thus far?

Tyler Smyth – It’s been excellent. All the bands are incredible and we never thought in a million years that we would get a tour like this, but it’s been really cool. Like you said, it’s such an eclectic mix. Every band is bringing something different. Before leaving on this tour, we thought how can we set ourselves apart, how can we give our own identity, because the last thing I want [fans] to think is “Oh, they’re great but they’re not as heavy as Motionless In White,” or, “They’re great but they can’t sing like Tyler Carter [of Issues].” All of those things are true, but I think that our goal is different. We have our own sound and this was an opportunity for us, if we do it well, to share what that sound is to a large audience. Slowly start to cultivate our own identity among all these bands that are incredible. – Agreed. Diversity is something that I think is becoming more prevalent in music, especially with listeners, it seems like people are open to more diverse sounds. A tour like this is not too far out-of-the-realm of possibility.

Tyler Smyth – I agree. It might not have even happened ten years ago, or five years ago even. Like you said, more and more, I think people are open about being influenced by all different genres. That’s really cool. The challenge for us again is how do we separate ourselves in a really positive way? How do we show that we’re not competing with these bands, we’re just offering a different sound.

FIRMIW_tour – Exactly. It is an exciting run of shows and it will be great for the band and the record. Being a young band, you have already attained a great deal of experience in a short time. Good and bad, but experience nonetheless. You were on the Vans Warped Tour in 2014, and now you are on this tour. Your sophomore record is in stores, and the band has a new record label. What are some of the more important things you have learned over the past few years?

Tyler Smyth – That’s such a tough question. It sounds so silly, but I think that we’ve only in the past six months, even back to the creation of the new album, had to learn what it takes to be a real band, to be a unit. In the beginning, when we got signed, it was really great, something we never expected, but we felt like we were always playing catch-up. When we got signed, we had three songs out. Then it became, “Write more songs, write more songs” and every song we wrote went on the record, and then it was tour, tour, tour. So we went out and we started touring. We never really got to figure out making the decisions that we made this time around.

The decisions that we made this time around, we had the luxury of sitting down and asking ourselves hard-hitting, creative questions with no wrong answer. You feel that pressure of, “I better not mess this up, but I could be onto something great.” I would say we learned how to be a band and a unit, and we learned who we are and what our identity is.

I think every great band probably goes through that process, especially as they grow and release records and they slowly develop, not even their own sound, but sometimes their own culture. We’re just taking that very first step of deciding what does a dangerkids’ song really sound like, what impression do we want to leave on people. I would say all the lessons that lead us to that have been the most difficult and the most rewarding so far. – Those are important lessons to learn. Would you say that these lessons have also brought you closer together as friends?

Tyler Smyth – Absolutely, 100% percent. You can’t open yourself up to that type of scrutiny without being worried a little bit about what you’re going to think or are you risking it; are you over-thinking or under-thinking these decisions. That takes a lot of trust in each other and something that maybe we didn’t realize that we didn’t have before but we certainly have it now. Absolutely, our band is like one unified voice when we make these decisions.

dangerkids live at Amityville Music Hall Amityville, NY 7-26-15 – That is fantastic to hear. It will hopefully lead to many years more of dangerkids’ music. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?

Tyler Smyth – Oh definitely. I would have to agree with Andy, one of our favorite Sci-Fi movies, it is really just a little bit of a classic just for us really, but it’s a movie called Sunshine. It has got Cillian Murphy in it. It’s a Searchlight Films movie, flew under the radar. I like it because it’s a little bit of both genres you’re talking about, without giving too much away. It has Horror elements to it but it’s very Sci-Fi based. I love Cillian Murphy and the soundtrack is one of the most famous music soundtracks in film. You’ve heard the theme song reused in a million movies, but it was originally created for this movie Sunshine.

It’s sort of funny because I think that movie dates back to when we were really creating dangerkids and we were just watching it in a room. Even musical influences…It’s a Synth-y, Industrial, orchestra-sounding movie and I think we pulled a lot of early influence from that. To us that’s a classic, we’ve watched it a million times. It’s just a very different movie. I would love it if it got a little more attention because it’s really great. – That is a really cool story. It sounds like a film everyone should check out. 

Tyler Smyth – It’s mostly Sci-Fi and in the end it turns a little Horror in parts. It’s maybe twenty-percent Horror and the rest is Sci-Fi, but it’s very cool and it really does feel like it jumps genres a few times during the movie and I liked that. I don’t mind a movie that’s a little different, not that it’s crazy different. It was just a movie that was recommended by a friend and I watched it and thought, ‘This is so good, how could this not become a thing?’

We actually created a song on our first album that had quotes from that movie in it, and we had to pull the quotes out because we couldn’t get the rights to use them. We actually still use [the song] in our live set sometimes. We have a couple different intros and transitions, and some of them have audio that I made where I pulled dialogue from the movie. It’s just a really wicked theme for a movie. – Speaking of movies that you recommend, have you ever seen It Follows, if so, what did you think of it? 

Tyler Smyth – I thought it was cool. Again, it’s different. I only saw it once but I remember it being a little bit more of that eerie-type of suspense kind of movie. I appreciate a good…this is kind of silly and petty of me, but I love a good concept that is really practical. Where the whole movie is based on just an idea that’s really cool, and it’s not necessarily difficult to film and doesn’t necessarily cost a bazillion dollars.

You know, the Japanese belief in Horror films is that nothing is scarier than fear of the unknown, and it’s pretty easy to shoot something that is unknown (laughs). I always love that effect where you don’t have to show the monster and the monster doesn’t have to be super-scary. You can be way more effective doing far less. That’s what I think about when I think about movies like It Follows.

Honestly, it’s something I try to think about in our music, as well. A lot of times when we’re doing music videos, I think, “Let’s have a really good idea that’s simple, practical, and cool.” It doesn’t have to be crazy, cost a bazillion dollars, or have all these extra effects. So yeah, I enjoyed it.

Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight
RADiUS-TWC Dimension Films
RADiUS-TWC/ Dimension Films

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