Tyler Andere doesn’t ever seem to stop moving. One of the initial founders of the influential Portals music blog, they also work as an A&R rep at popular indie record labels Father/Daughter Records and Elestial Sound. In addition to balancing blogging and A&R work, Tyler has quietly helped launch the careers of musicians that have gone on to reach national and international acclaim, such as Vagabon, Moses Sumney, Mitski and Lomelda. Incredibly humble and refreshingly genuine, Tyler's commitment to uplifting the stories of marginalized artists and drive for finding music that shows "the pulse of the culture,” is both exemplary and exceptional.
photo by tonje thilesen
This interview was conducted on January 16th, 2018 via phone and edited for length and clarity
Where are you right now?
I’m in Gainesville, Florida right now actually, I’ve been nomadic for the past couple of months, I was in my hometown in the D.C. area, for a little bit, then I was in New York for the month of November, and now I’m here in this town called Gainesville, which I’ve been describing to people as the Austin or Portland of Florida. One of my jobs is working for this label called Elestial Sound, they're based here. Gainesville is really cool, it’s got this great artist community and it’s super chill and bikable and has lots of similar vibes to Austin, but smaller.
Tell me a little bit about yourself-- loving music as much as you do, my impression is that you’re basically a midwife to helping artists succeed? Is that correct?
I grew up in the D.C. area, in northern Virginia, the suburbs. And I moved to Chicago in 2008 for college. I actually grew up doing theatre, pretty much my entire life from middle school was acting and theatre. It’s funny, because a lot of the people in the music community don’t know that that’s my initial artistic background, before I had any interest in working in the music industry. In middle school and high school I never aspired to work in the music industry and I was very focused on being a performer of some kind. I went to college at a small arts school in Chicago called Columbia College, and I studied there until midway through my junior year. I got kind of frustrated with the department and the school in general, and was having a hard time fitting in and finding my people, so I left. But I stayed in Chicago. It was during that time, in the summer of 2010, that I started a tumblr page, not with the intention of it being a music blog or anything. It had only just recently gotten popular as an app or something to do. And I started posting some music there, and slowly but surely built up a small but dedicated audience. I was posting under the name Flashlight Tag, which just kind of randomly came to my mind, because when I was a kid I used to play it all the time. But it stuck and I kept doing that for a couple years and built up an audience. Then, at the end of 2011, I got an email from these two other bloggers that were based in Denver, and they wanted to start this site called Portals, which was going to be this music blog collective of sorts, where they would bring together all these different blogs that were kind of likeminded, and we would cover new music every day, kind of on our own terms. It seemed like a really exciting opportunity and the next logical step forward from what I was doing.
So that started in 2012, and that took over my life for a while. Though it’s still very much a part of my life, it’s slowed down and has become more of a passion project, but for a while I was doing it full time. It’s gone through many different phases. It started off as a music blog collective and publication, and it transformed into kind of a more of a serious daily music publication, and then we also started doing events, so we became a production company as well. In 2016, a lot of things changed with the country and with people's aspirations for career growth. So a lot of people who were involved with Portals kind of moved on to different things and it has since slowed down to a more irregular schedule. We do things when we feel like it. The only thing that’s on schedule is the monthly mix that we do every month. We mostly do these longer form pieces on whatever we feel inspired by. It’s a pretty small group of us and we have a small cast of rotating contributors so yeah, that’s summarizing five years of my life. Then last year in October, 2017 I was going through a transition from doing Portals full-time, then figuring out, "do I still want to work in music?" or "do I want to go for something bigger?" and I started seeking out some record label jobs. I’d always been interested in working for a record label. When I first started contributing to [Portals} I was just writing daily blog posts, and that slowly transitioned to me taking on more of a management role. I stopped writing for the site and took over the management end of things and was kind of one of the people there who was leading the discussion on what we were covering at Portals. A big part of my job was finding new artists for the site to cover, and finding new artists for our events as well. And so that transitioned into me doing A&R for these two labels, one is called Elestial Sound, one is called Father/Daughter Records, and I started both those jobs a the tail end of last year and that’s what I’m doing now.
What’s it been like dealing with so much change emotionally?
It’s kind of a mixed bag. In some ways its very exciting to feel like you’ve reached a certain endpoint or feeling with a project and you know you’re capable and ready for something bigger, so that’s sort of what I was feeling with Portals. I’d really cut my teeth in the DIY music community and am in no way leaving that community, but it’s cool to know that there’s even more I can do with these skills and this knowledge I have. So that part of the change is really exciting. It was also really hard because Portals was such a big part of my life. And Portals was such a familial thing as well. When it started, it was 15 different blogs that joined up together, so for a while we were very much like a family. And when we first started there was no money and no sponsorships at all, it was all just kind of do-it-yourself and just for the love of it. And then we got more attention and started working with sponsors and that was a cool experience to have, but also was a peek into what things look like when your passion project gets picked up and commercialized in some way. So that was cool to experience that, to kind of see what Portals looked like in a more professional state. But I think we realized that that wasn't really what we wanted, we didn’t want to grow much more than where we had gotten, and it was time to put a rest to that era. I feel excited about the change, in that I’m working with these two really great labels, and I’m doing more than I think I’ve ever done with my work, but I’m also sad to end that chapter on my life. It was more than just a job, it was like a family to me.
What are your thoughts on success and failure? Do you feel successful or have you felt like you’ve failed? How do you cope?
I mean, I’ve felt a mixture of both. I think working in music or really any creative field, there’s definitely a sense of imposter syndrome. I don’t know if I ever feel like I’m straight up failing, but I do get waves of imposter syndrome where I’m like, how did I get here? And I compare myself to other people, and get in my head that I’m not actually smart enough, or skilled enough or capable of doing what I’m doing. And in those moments I kind of look to other artists and public figures who have had success, whether it be through interviews or podcasts or whatever, and I try to look at the moments when they also felt like they weren’t totally succeeding or they felt like they were struggling with imposter syndrome and I look to that for some guidance. I don’t know, whenever I get into one of those moments, I get a random message from a random person in another country about a Portals mix, or somebody will reach out to me and compliment something I said that was cool on twitter, and that kind of gives me the jolt to keep going again, or a little reminder of, oh I’m not a failure and I can do this, and there are people who respect me and my work, even if it’s only a handful. I think that’s the way I cope with failure or the feeling of imposter syndrome.
In terms of success... I feel successful. I think a lot about how I don’t make a ton of money doing what I do. Often times I tell people I work in music or whatever, and there’s an immediate romanticization of that job. Like people forget that it’s a job. I don’t just hang out and listen to music and not work and worry about anything—it’s a job. And there’s boring stuff and there’s fun stuff and there’s stuff in between. One of the things I tell people is that I don’t make a lot of money at all, but I’m rich in cultural experiences. Which sounds really pretentious of me to say, but it’s true. I don’t make a lot of money, but I’ve met tons of amazing artists, and I’ve gotten to go to all sorts of cool places and had lots of wild experiences, and gotten to be like a fly on the wall. And those experiences are invaluable. So whenever I’m having a moment of measuring my success, or anytime I have a moment when I’m trying to measure success and comparing myself to other people, and getting in my head about that, or thinking I’m not making enough money, or other people are making all this money, I remember, I’m rich in cultural experiences. I don’t have a lot of money, but I have all these cool things I’ve done and will hopefully continue to get to do, and that is a really great thing to have that I don’t take for granted. And those are things that I actually consider, that to me, read as success, or how I define success. Do I have a community? Do I have friends? Do I have people in the community that love me? Is there art that I’m really excited about and want to work with? These things all equal success, and whether or not I’m making a ton of money, it shouldn’t really matter.
What is your routine? Do you have a daily routine or weekend routine?
Yeah it is, in some ways. In a lot of ways this job doesn’t really adhere to a schedule, I don’t work regular hours like a typical 9-5 or whatever, but I do try to keep some sort of routine. Essentially I wake up every day and kind of look through to see what I need to do that day. It changes every day. I might have a day where it’s just meetings, like 5 different meetings or admin work to do, or I have a ton of submissions or demos to listen and go through. Each day I try to set aside two or three hours to just listen to new music. I’m listening for new work, I’m not listening to whatever is new and cool. I’m intensely listening for stuff that’s off the radar, or kind of outsider stuff, experimental stuff. Monday through Friday I set aside two or three hours to just do that. And the rest of the time is filled up with whatever obligations I have that day, maybe some meetings, doing some sort of administrative work on somebody’s tour, or writing somebody’s bio, or just a number of different things that come up when you’re running a label, small little nitpick things that no one would really think of, like typical office work that you would do for any regular job, but you have to do for a record label. So most of my day is filled with stuff with that. And the creative part is just seeking out new music. And trying to find something new.
Do you listen on headphones or on speakers? How do you listen?
I do a mixture of listening on headphones and listening on speakers, I will say too that a big part of the job is going to shows. And as fun as that is, I go to a LOT of shows. Not always for fun, it’s more like constantly trying to work my A&R muscle. The job is to constantly be curious about the culture. So yeah, I’m listening on headphones, I’m listening on speakers, I’ll take the music with me on a walk. I go to tons of shows in houses, in regular venues and everything in-between, and I try to get a feeling for the music in all those different contexts. If there’s something I’m doubting, and I’ve only been listening to it at my desk on my headphones, I’ll be sure to take it on a bike ride with me or take it on a walk with me before I work with that person. I think when your job is to discover new music, and then to be the communication between the artist and the label, you’re making an investment. You’re about to put a lot of time and money into working with this artist, and so you can’t listen to their music in one particular context. I try to feel out the stuff I’m working with in every possible situation, so I know for sure it’s something I want to work on and do. I think you’re not very good A&R if you’re only listening to music in one specific context.
That thought never even occurred to me!
Have you heard of set and setting? It’s a drug related term, but it essentially means that whatever drug you’re doing, weed, alcohol, mushrooms, it’s going to be affected by the set and setting and who you’re with. Even with the softest drug like weed or alcohol, who you’re with can change how your drunkenness is going to be, or how your high is going to be. And I think the same thing with music, what is your set and setting? Is this because I’m in this specific mood at this specific time? What if I was out with people at a house party? How would it feel if I was out on my bike? I think set and setting is really important, for the decision process of, "should I work with this artist or not."
Obviously the internet has played a huge role in your life, how do you deal with the internet/social media?
I don’t really know how I deal with the Internet. I’m extremely grateful for the Internet because it’s given me the opportunity to do the work I do, and I wouldn’t have the job I have without it. And more than my job, so much of my social life is dependent on people I met on the internet and the DIY internet music community. So in that way, I really appreciate the Internet, it’s a really positive thing in my life. I realize that it’s not that way for everyone else. Just like everyone else, I get overwhelmed by the Internet and social media as well, and need to take breaks. I mean, I spend most of my day on the Internet for work, so at the end of the day I’ll try to just put on an ambient album and spend two hours cooking a meal, or I’ll go to the movie theatre by myself. Or go for a long bike ride, or when I was living in Austin I’d go to night swim at Barton Springs and spend three hours by myself or I’d put on a podcast. I try to do something like that every day where I’m not scrolling through a feed, but for work it’s kind of my job to scroll through feeds. Not in the most literal way, but because I’m scouting, social media is an important source for that. And part of scouting is looking on bandcamp and soundcloud, and following the daily conversation about music wherever I can find it. It’s important to know what people are talking about, what's making people excited, happy, not happy, what’s controversial, all these things are super important.
Not to get on a tangent, but a big part of A&R is showing what the pulse of the culture is. The job is not just bringing new artists to the label, but is kind of constantly doing research on what’s happening within the culture, regardless of whether you’re going to work with an artist or not. I can’t really look away from social media, because I need it to know what’s going on, and without it, we would just be living in another time. A&R existed before social media, before social media, A&Rs were going to more clubs and shows than they are now. I think the Internet and social media are a reality we have to deal with, and if you work in music, it’s something you’re going to have to engage with whether you like it or not, so I kind of try to actually have a really positive take on it. I understand there are dark things about the Internet and about social media, I watched Black Mirror! But I try my best to see the beauty in the Internet and the different types of communities and different types of information that get shared through it, and I guess that’s what keeps me sane and allows me to still engage with it quite a bit and not go stir-crazy.
You’ve almost singlehandedly jumpstarted the careers of some of my favorite artists and put them on my radar, musicians such as Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Lomelda, Vagabon and Julie Byrne. Is there a thread or a common theme that draws those artists together? Is there a story behind the music that you like to push or think is important to share with the world and a wider audience?
That’s really interesting. I think all of those people you just named are in a marginalized group in some way or another. A big part of my goal is to uplift the stories of marginalized people. People are doing that work every day in a variety of different ways, and I just happen to be doing it in this independent music community. It seems to me the best way I can contribute to the culture. So it’s definitely a thread. I’m interested in artists whose stories have not really been told before, or have not been as visible as they should be. I’m also looking for artists who are doing it themselves, and who are making the most out of limited resources. I’m interested in women, I’m interested in queer folks, I’m interested in people of color and I’m interested specifically in POC artists who are working in genres that are historically predominantly white. I’m really interested in trying to help break that up a little bit and show to people that people of color are multi-faceted and have a variety of different interests and likes and dislikes and can make art in whatever medium or style they want to. Those all seem to be threads. Not to make it super political, and I wish I could be like, "I’m just finding artists that I love," but it is political. When I think about trying to tell a story, or what I’m actually trying to do, it’s my small way of contributing to the activism, or to any kind of activism, is trying to uplift these people in any way I can. And using whatever platform I have to boost those stories.
That’s incredible. I went to a Mitski show at the Mohawk and it was wild, it was totally packed out, and everyone was completely silent while she performed. Everyone sang the songs with her. It was phenomenal. And it was very affecting. What you’re doing really matters.
She’s really underrated I think, and I think in the next couple of years she’ll really be making some strides.
What is your big dream or goal? Do you have one? Are you flying by the seat of your pants?
I don’t know that I have some set big dream that I’m trying to hit. If I can be honest, I’m not tooting my own horn at all, but I am kind of living my dream. I started blogging 8 years ago, if you would have told me that I’d be working for these two record labels and doing what I was doing I wouldn’t have believed you at all. So it’s hard to kind of fathom something even bigger than this, because I’m like, how did I even get here? This is already so wild that I get to work with artists, and work in different places, and make a sustainable living off of working in music. That already feels like a dream that’s kind of come true in some ways, so I don’t want to jinx myself by dreaming bigger than that. Not that I don’t have ambitions, or goals to move forward with my career, but I almost think it’s better to not articulate what that is. I know I want to keep working in music and I want to keep telling the stories of artists that I love and I only hope that grows. But I also want it to grow in a way that is sustainable.
Not to get too heady, but it’s an interesting question. When you asked me about goals or ambitions-- depending on who you are, blowing up to the biggest thing isn’t always the end goal for everybody, right? Within the context in music too, I meet a lot of artists who think they want to be best new music on Pitchfork or whatever. Or think they want to be doing a national tour with a booking agent. And it might be what you want, but that’s also not everything. Blowing something up to it’s biggest possible size isn’t always the most satisfying thing. When you ask that question, it gets me thinking, yes I have some goals, but I almost don’t want to think too big yet, because I want to take it step by step and not get ahead of myself with my own ambition. It’s a reminder that small things are good. And midsize things are good. And things of a certain size are nice, so that’s the long answer. The short answer is I would love to work for Carly Rae Jepson. If I can be real, I would love to work for a mainstream pop artist like that and be on the creative directive team for something like Beyonce or Carly Rae Jepson or Rihanna. It just seems so distant from me now that I don’t want to set it as a goal, but it would be cool to work in that kind of space. And sort of take the things I’ve learned from the independent music industry, and see how that could apply to the mainstream music industry. And see how I could kind of blur those lines.
I love Carly Rae Jepson.
She’s amazing. She’s so good. So good. And honestly yeah, that’s my dream goal is to work for her in some capacity.
Because I have to ask. Solange is my hero. She’s it for me. Everything about her, she’s it. I admire her so much. What was it like meeting Solange?
It was kind of wild and very surreal and all the things! She played this festival in this weird experimental town right outside of Phoenix called Arcosanti. It’s this festival called Form that’s put on by this band I’m friends with called Hundred Waters, and they’ve been putting it on since 2013. Last year they got Solange to headline. It’s a very intimate space. There’s only about 1200 people who attend the festival, and that’s including the staff and the artists. So there was a good chance that we might bump up against Solange or other people who were playing the fest. The first time I met her, I was in the "media and artist café" and Solange was just there. And it was cool, because she knows she’s famous, but she’s also not above interacting with the common folk or whatever you know? Fun fact—she shows up for the festival and it's on this very destination, hard-to-get-to place, and so there’s only a few rooms and then everyone else camps. And they got Solange this grand cabin maybe 20 miles outside of the city and they got her a hotel as well, just to give her as many different options for sleep as she wanted. And she shows up to the festival and she requested a tent, and she stayed in a tent the entire weekend. And it just goes to show how willing she is to kind of, not be super exclusive or whatever. Anyways, we’re in the media area and she’s just fucking glowing and people are coming up and introducing themselves. She’d just played the night before, and after seeing 3 or 4 people introduce themselves, I just go up and briefly say, “Hey, I really loved your performance last night. It was really great and thank you.” And she was like, “Oh thank you.” And that was it.
Then a few hours later, my friend who was the official photographer for the event was like, "Hey I’m about to go shoot Solange, Moses Sumney and Kelela, do you want to go along as my 'assistant?'" Me and this photographer both know Moses, so that was kind of a buffer, so we meet up with Moses first, and then we walk up to Solange’s tent and she’s in her tent smoking a blunt. And we had to wait for her, for maybe 45 minutes because she was smoking and taking her time to get ready. She comes out with Kelela, and my friend takes a couple photographs. The last photograph, she wants Solange to get in this specific pose and Solange has her phone in her pocket, and she’s like, "can you hold my phone?" And she passes the phone to me. And I’m holding Solange’s phone while they’re shooting the last photo. They wrap everything up, we say our thank yous and goodbyes, she goes back into the tent. And I still have Solange’s phone in my pocket! She comes out of the tent, and she’s like, "do you still have my phone?" And I’m like, "oh my god I’m so sorry!" And I gave her the phone back. It was surreal, it was wild. But it was also great, because I was meeting her in this context, because my friend was the photographer. I know Moses Sumney through working with him through Portals, and so I was still star struck but at least I had these things that were leveling it out a little bit. I wasn’t just a fan, geeking out after the show. It was funny, because I’d introduced myself to her in the artist café or whatever, so when I met her again at this photography shoot she was like, “Oh we met in the café!” and it was just so very surreal, having that "oh we met earlier" and holding her phone it was just like, what world am I living in!? And yeah, kind of the height of my career. You ask me what my goals are? That was it. I’m gonna give up on life now.