“Fuck it, I’ll take it upon myself to help other people lose their inhibitions”: Channel Tres
As far as introductions go, you generally don’t get much more solid than the low-slung, slyly infectious hip-hop/house hybrid of CHANNEL TRES’ debut single, ‘Controller’. On that track he used his deadpan baritone vocals to hypnotic effect, adopting the role of the DJ, commanding and instructing the dancefloor as its self-appointed “controller” and “promoter” while he lathered hook after hook over a classic Detroit house beat. Listeners had little choice but to succumb to the rhythm as Tres sat above the music, seducing the dancefloor to his will using little but the palpable depths of his pure charisma. He soon followed ‘Controller’ up with the equally impressive ‘Jet Black’, alongside news of a debut self-titled EP and an inaugural Australian tour surrounding his appearance at Spilt Milk Festival.
The history of the hip hop and house genre crossover otherwise known as ‘house-hop’ is frustrating and full of disappointing false starts. The marriage is a genre combination which, on the surface, possesses so much potential and promise, if only because of the logical historical connections between the two styles as political modes of expression by and sites of refuge for minority communities. But it seems that for every ‘212’ or ‘Down on My Luck’ or ‘Raingurl’ or ‘Fade’ that we’re graced with, we’re also consigned to suffering the bastardisation of the genre’s promise by a LMFAO or late-era BLACK EYED PEAS. At its best, house-hop is transient and ephemeral, something major artists seem to flirt with for a single or two here and there without really investing in the genre or realising a full vision for it. Without serious artists seriously willing to colonise and occupy the aesthetic space, it becomes a novelty (just look at the name – ‘house-hop’, as if no one could come up with anything more serious for it).
But, arriving a little under a year since VINCE STAPLES presented a similar future for the genre on his 2017 LP, Big Fish Theory, Channel Tres seems different. Which is to say that he seems like an artist with a real and serious vision for the genre, who’s willing to colonise the aesthetic space and to see it through to its logical end, building a career and a tradition and a future out of it in doing so. This is what’s been most striking about his arrival this year – the self-assured, seamless manner in which he has presented a future for the house-hop genre, weaving together not only the two styles but different historical eras and geographic regions of the U.S., from Compton to Chicago to Detroit. The fact that he’s the latest signing to GODMODE records – a label which, also home to SHAMIR and YAEJI, describes their artistic mission as taking “way-left artists and bringing them slightly more to the centre, or taking way-centre artists and taking them slightly more to the left” – therefore comes as no surprise.
The day before the release of his debut self-titled EP, we sat down with Channel Tres to help illuminate one of 2018’s breakout stars, talking through the history of Chicago house music, life growing up in Compton and Lynwood, and why he wants to help people lose their inhibitions and shake their asses instead.
Preparing for this interview was kind of hard man, because there’s basically no internet trail of you from before this year. So why the reinvention, or the need to re-introduce yourself under the Channel Tres project with ‘Controller’?
I never really had an introduction, I just was making music. I never really had like an introduction and then a lot of the stuff I was making was whack. ‘Controller’ was one of the first records I did as an artist that I really took the time on and really crafted and made it a record.
Are you surprised at the reception it’s received?
Yeah, very surprised.
Before this though, you also wrote for the likes of Kehlani and DUCKWRTH. This is kind of a trend that we’re seeing with more and more emerging songwriters. What is it about the process of ghostwriting or writing for others that allows you to refine your own artistry?
I mean, if you’re working with talented people and stuff like that, I think it’s natural that you take in stuff – ’cause you’re around them. And I’ve always had the goal of being my own artist and doing my own thing, so I just made sure the type of people I was working with were talented people and cool people.
The sound that you’ve presented thus far is one which blends together not only genres but different geographic regions of the U.S. – where do you draw your influences from?
Just like my surroundings and what I’m listening to at the time, whatever kind of sparks my interest. Yeah, a lot of it is just stuff I’m into at the time.
For readers who might not be so familiar with Chicago house music and the Detroit scene, could you talk a little bit about that?
I don’t know much of the history. I mean, I know that house music was started in Chicago at a place that was called The Warehouse and the people that would come. There would be people that dance, black people, gay people, just a lot of minorities. I heard a story once of some teenagers who walked into a party and the cops didn’t mess with them ’cause they knew they were going to The Warehouse. And so that’s like a little history about Chicago, about where house music started. And then, you know, you have FRANKIE KNUCKLES, a lot of cool cats like that. And then with Detroit, I’m more familiar with J DILLA and Detroit. I got into MOODYMANN when DRAKE put a sample on the song ‘Passionfruit’ and it was a Moodymann vocal, and I researched who that guy was and then when I found it just was like, “Woah”. Then I found out about a guy named JIMMY EDGAR from Detroit, and his shit was just really, really dope.
That’s all I really know about it. And then I love dance music in general, just because of like- I grew up in church, and you know gospel music is really physical. That’s just being a black man, like growing up with my family, ’cause in church we were always dancing and it was just in me from a kid.
So what does your Dad’s connection to Chicago, the birthplace of the genre, mean to you now?
It means a lot more now that I’m older and I know more of the history. I means a lot.
You mentioned the church connection – what is the objective in blending together the hip hop and the house styles?
I don’t really have an objective. When I was making the album I wasn’t planning on blending together hip hop and house – I was just making what I felt. So I guess the objective is just always stay true to what I feel like I want to do, and what I feel like is gonna make people feel good and what’s gonna push music and, like, be dope and what’s gonna be quality, you know?
I think what’s really striking about the EP is how tastefully and seamlessly you fuse the two styles. Is there some instinct where you just naturally know like, “Okay this is gonna work, but X or Y isn’t going to work so well”?
We take the time and we really just craft the record and make it good. Once we put it out, it’s out of our hands ’cause you don’t really know what’s gonna do good or what people are gonna gravitate to. It just worked out, I didn’t know – I still don’t know.
With this hybrid style of house and hip hop, how does that inform your rapping style in terms of like flow and cadence and lyricism?
I just do whatever. I just get on the mic and I just let myself go. You know, I’m always writing content, I’m always listening to different things. ‘Cause rapping is really about the cadence and I’m a drummer – and for me it’s not about fitting a lot of words into the song, it’s about just saying something that resonates and that feels good, you know? ‘Cause I could write a lot of words and fit them in, but what is that gonna do? I feel like ‘Controller’ is so simple, and you can repeat it and sing it to yourself and it’s really self-empowerment, honestly.
Yeah. Well a lot of the lyrics in that track seem to me to be quite literally about commanding the dancefloor, almost as if you’re playing the role of the DJ. You say that you want people to “not give a fuck and shake their asses” – why is this lack of inhibition so important to you?
‘Cause I think I’ve struggled with that a lot before. I just had reached a point where I just got tired of giving my negative thoughts and my inhibitions so much power. So I just was like: “Alright, fuck it, I’ll take it upon myself to help other people lose their inhibitions”. And while I’m helping other people, I’m helping myself at the same time.
Is there something spiritual or religious in letting go of the inhibitions through the music?
It could be spiritual. I mean, I think music is spiritual in general. It could be looked at as being spiritual depending on who you are. For me it wasn’t really spiritual, it was more so that I came from an environment that wasn’t geared towards fostering creativity or raising me up to be a good person. I had to learn a lot of this stuff on my own, be exposed to it at an older age. And so when I got around other people who didn’t have the same inhibitions I had, I thought it was like magic or something that they could just DO things and I was like why am I always overthinking? And I just started reading and learning from them, ’cause your mind is always gonna do something but you have to take action.
What was life like growing up in Compton and Lynwood?
It was cool. It was all I knew at a young age, so I thought that was it. But looking back, I thank god that I survived ’cause I was exposed to a lot of crazy things at a young age, and then also I just didn’t have a lot of guidance. So I’m thankful for the position I’m in right now, because a lot of people don’t know, they can’t tell that I come from where I come from. But, you know, I think that just speaks to how cool the human brain is, and how you can really have a certain mindset but if you do the proper work in time you can really change it.
What kind of work did you have to put in to change your mindset?
I went to therapy, I read a lot. I read this book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers. I read this book called The Artist’s Way, which was like a 12 week program helping free your mind and stuff like that. And then I was just like watching a lot of things, like The Secret, really getting all positive thinking ‘cause if you’re thinking positive a lot of stuff aligns when you think more positive about things. Coming where I come from, it’s a very negative output. Like, you could be around your friends and you could say like: “Hey, I wanna do this!” and everybody’d be like: “Look at you, you dumb, you can’t do that, what the fuck”. But really, you can. Based on the environment and the systematic oppression, it makes you think that you can’t do something when you really can; it’s all in your decisions and your actions. So sometimes your mind isn’t there with your potential, but if you do the work your mind will catch up.
How do you reconcile the negativity of the environment with also the rich cultural history that the area’s been able to reproduce?
I don’t really think about that, ’cause I could go down a rabbit hole in my own mind. I did grow up around a lot of negativity, but I’m kind of thankful for the negativity ’cause I wouldn’t be here and then I wouldn’t be that interesting if I had it all together growing up, you know? But I’m thankful that I can grow up in that environment, but then still function around other environments and I can always go back to that environment, and I can understand what they’re saying and then I can understand people on the other side.
A lot of the music and the art is to create awareness and to let people know what’s going on in those areas because a lot of people have never been there. And that’s why I felt like it was very important for me to shoot my first videos in Lynwood and in Compton. Just because I don’t live there anymore and I’m older now, that’s what raised me. I would not be here without those areas. Even though it was hard and it was negative at times, that shit really pushed me to work hard as fuck, to get my mind right, you know.
I wanted to talking about the videos next, because repping your hometown is obviously very important to you – What do you want to give your city in return?
I just want to – if there’s any kids there that necessarily don’t do it the way a lot of other people do it, I just want them to know like that somebody came from their area and they’re different, you know. All those streets that they walk on, I walked on those same streets.
You’re signed to the GODMODE label, which is also the home to Yaeji and Shamir. It’s a label that kind of works in the genre and cultural margins of dance music. They describe their mission as taking “way-left artists and bringing them slightly more to the centre, or taking way-centre artists and taking them slightly more to the left”. What was behind your decision to sign with GODMODE and work with Nick Sylvester?
Oh, shit. They fucked with it, man. They fucked with me. But they fucked with me for me, it wasn’t about… I mean, I had a lot of people trying to work with me and sign me and it was based off what I could do for maybe an artist they had on their roster, but it was never like they wanted to fuck with me for me, you know. Like a lot of people didn’t know I had a voice. But GODMODE was willing to take the time to help me develop and be okay with me going through my process of growing. A lot of people wanted to work with me but they wanted to see the promise already before they signed me, but it’s like, I needed help to grow into that place and GODMODE was willing to help.
Where do you think you fit into their vision?
Yeah, I don’t know. I just make music. I think that we’re a fucking good team, you know. I think they’re geniuses. And I think delegation is really important. If I can focus on making music and develop -because I have a lot of ideas and I have a lot of stuff I wanna do, you know- and to not have to worry about the management part, and I have people I can trust to help me and guide me and work with me, it just makes it a lot easier. And I can focus on art.
And then they’re very smart people so I get exposed to a lot of different things. And, you know, I plan on having my own label one day, so it’s just really cool to see this… It’s dope man, it’s what I’ve worked for a long time so I’m just thankful that I met them.
And so what does the future look like for Channel Tres?
I really feel like hopefully I can have a great impact on the music culture. And I just think I’ll get more creative and people will see me grow, a lot of people will be surprised at the artist I’ll grow into. It’s going to be dope, man. Playing more music, I’m always trying to get better. And I have a lot of stuff in my head, so just letting that stuff out little by little in creative ways, people will enjoy it.
You’re coming to Australia in November – How do you plan on translating all this stuff into a live show? I hear there’s a dance troupe involved.
Yeah, bro, we’re working on it. It’ll be dope. I can’t say much ’cause I want people to be surprised but people will leave entertained.
Channel Tres will be making his debut Australian appearances at the following dates: