TeawhYB, the Eau Claire-based alternative/R&B/hip-hop artist, has displayed a flair for feel-good party music. On a new project he expands his art by getting deeper and more personal about himself and relationships.
“Basically I was in this stage of life where I really wanted to make something a little more impactful than some of the other stuff I’ve done,” he said of “What We Were,” a five-song EP that came out Friday. His older songs, he continued, “are more like happy-going, more clubby, more dancey. I really wanted to make something true to self.”
TeawhYB (given name Tyler Baumgart) got the disc’s material rolling with “Controller 2,” the critically praised single. “I had that for about a year,” he said. “Actually I sat on it; I waited on it. It just didn’t feel right to release it as a single right away.”
Periodically TeawhYB would compile similar sounds to that song, which helped open the floodgates for his writing.
“I made ‘Controller 2,’ and I started thinking about some of the relationships I’ve been in in the past, if you want to call them relationships,” he said. “Kind of thinking about my own personal identity and how I came out and kind of the struggles I had to go through in order to find somebody who was compatible and willing to share their life with me.”
From that individual perspective, TeawhYB expanded his outlook. “I started thinking about the ambiguity of modern dating culture,” he said, “and how a lot of people never really know where they stand with somebody because either people don’t want to be honest and upfront about it or they don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings.”
Seizing upon a theme, he continued to make songs, coming up with about seven others, ultimately choosing the four that completed the set.
As TeawhYB illustrates on the website for the project, teawhyb.com/whatwewere, each of the songs explores a stage of unrequited love: denial (“Controller 2”), grievance (“Ms. You”), recklessness (“Restart”), acceptance (“Sharpie”) and, ultimately, hard-won optimism (“Cherry on Top”). The site has links to the songs and artfully created photo portraits of TeawhYB by Alak Phillips of Ivy Media.
With such a personal project, TeawhYB wanted fewer collaborators than he might with other records. He does have one guest feature: his friend Miles Blvd, an Eau Claire rapper who put out his own EP this year, “Update From Isolation.” Miles Blvd (given name Phil Faucett) appears on “Sharpie,” which they had recorded as part of a planned duo recording. Things got busy for both of them with their respective projects, but TeawhYB found that the song captured what he wanted to express on “What We Were.”
As Miles Blvd explained, “It was such a great song that we were like, ‘I feel like people really need to hear this.’ And then he was like, ‘Dude, it totally fits the record that I’m making right now.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, throw it on there. If you would have me on it, I’d be honored to be the only featured.’”
Their full duo record remains in the works; TeawhYB said they just finished the first song for it and are hoping to put it out sometime this summer.
Along with the thoughtfulness and sometimes pain evident in the lyrics, the music throughout “What We Were” gleams with a sunny, poppy vibe.
“As far as the sound that I wanted to go with, I wanted it to be somewhat nostalgic of the 2000s pop punk kind of scene, your Blink 182s, your Sun41s,” TeawhYB said. “I kind of wanted to base it off of that, blend it with modern hip-hop and kind of the music that I typically make.”
Even as “What We Were” takes a more serious lyrical tack, TeawhYB enjoys working in contrasts between the words and music. “I like putting these really heavy topics in these kind of radio ready pop songs,” he said.
That contrast stood out to Miles Blvd. “I feel like he does a great job of taking a more serious tone on the topics,” he said. “It has a lot to do with his personal relationships. You can really hear the soul behind it on this record. But it still has his pop appeal that he is known for. He does a really good job of still progressing his sound but still sticking to what makes him him. And it’s pretty hard to do that.”
Getting the word out
To help build excitement for “Controller 2,” which was released in April, TeawhYB ran a campaign in which friends, family and other listeners shared the song’s video on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
“I had over 200 people agree and put it on their story, so the release day was really special,” he said. “It was really nice just to see people contribute and participate and kind of join in with me while they’re listening and watching.”
The sharing paid off: A number of music blogs praised the song. For instance, here is the take from Elevator: “Alt-hip-hop artist TeawhYB (T-Y-B) represents a brand of authenticity and ultimate connectivity, providing heartfelt-melodic commentary over guitars, synths, and drum kits.”
Needless to say, TeawhYB was delighted by the attention. “It’s really hard to come by,” he said. “There are so many artists out there, so much music. So I was really blessed and fortunate people are giving me a chance.”
Music videos will bring to life the four other songs as well.
In another plug for the project, TeawhYB put up a billboard promoting the EP in a visible place: at the top of the Madison Street hill where it connects with Birch Street.
“I feel so passionate about this project that I just want to do everything I can possible to get people to listen to it and take it serious,” he said.
TeawhYB got another career boost when he was invited to this year’s prestigious South By Southwest Music Festival last March in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse, as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated cancellation of SXSW.
The honesty TeawhYB shows in his music came through as he talked about that disappointment as well as determination to move forward.
First, he acknowledged how tough it was. “I was really disappointed; it was a really hard time,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. I definitely cried about it. You make all these plans and then you do all this research. It was my first time being invited there, so there was so much to learn and so much to soak up, and all that comes crashing down within a second of the announcement.”
But consideration of others helped him reach acceptance.
“It’s really hard to hold a grudge or hold onto that when everybody has been affected by what’s going on in extreme ways, many of which are way worse than my circumstances,” TeawhYB said. “It’s kind of like you take your loss and you keep it moving, but there’s people out there that missed out on championship games, they might not get a scholarship because they weren’t able to finish their senior year. People out of work and stuff like that. I think the world has a way of giving you what you put in, and I know that the work that I’ve been putting in is setting myself up for another opportunity. There’s no guarantees in life. I sure hope to be welcomed back, but we’ll just have to play our cards right.”
The right words
Fittingly, the title of TeawhYB’s new project encapsulates his personal spark of creativity and real world events. He chose to call it “What We Were” about two months before SXSW was canceled, “but it’s funny how everything is playing into that,” he said, elaborating on the various angles from which it can be viewed:
• One influence is modern dating culture. “So once you complete the project the title kind of makes more sense, of like, ‘Oh so he’s talking about ‘we’ as in, whoever he was talking about (in the songs), what they were basically.”
• A deeper meaning is reflected in the following lyric from “Ms. You”: “Girls trying to turn me straight.”
“When I think about what we were, like growing up uncertain about your sexual orientation and stuff like that,” TeawhYB said, “it’s kind of like … I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know where I fit into society, I didn’t feel comfortable going to prom with another girl necessarily. People like me who grew up like that, we don’t know what we were, we don’t know what we are, we don’t know where we stand, and I wanted to incorporate that as much as possible.”
• Finally, the title serves as a sentiment for how the world is shaped and shadowed by the pandemic.
“The world is changing, it’s plagued with sickness and we’re just kind of being strung along by a society and kind of what’s happening,” he said. “We really don’t have any control, and things are going to change drastically, and we don’t know when things are going to go back to what we knew as normal. So it’s just a reminder that I want everybody to remember what we were before this, before this all happened, and try to hold onto that sense.”
TeawhYB made that comment in an interview before the killing of African American George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. But in a more recent conversation, he suggested what could be seen as another way the title can resonate.
“There’s just a lot of things that have been on my mind with regard to recent events,” he said. “I just want people to show empathy toward each other and look at what’s going on and really think about what we can do to make everybody feel welcome and recognize injustice when it occurs.”
The comment suggests he’s not only looking at what we were collectively, but what we can be.