Michael Seyer's bandcamp bio says, "I am a kid that records shitty music in my bedroom."
I disagree with Seyer's review of his own songs, of course, but the statement is a fitting introduction to the charismatic 22-year-old behind the music. Part of it is true: Seyer does record everything himself in his bedroom—whether that's at home in Gardena, California or in his college dorm room in Long Beach. "I'm usually just on my laptop," he says. "I have like one interface with one input. I just do it piece by piece. I'd like to say that I know what I'm doing, but I really don't. It comes out differently every time and it's kind of scary, but it's cool."
And the "shitty music" part? Well, that's just the kind of guy Seyer is. A quick look through his Twitter account @uglydickmichael reveals a goofy personality sitting behind most of these sad, serious songs. Throughout our conversation, he's quick to poke fun at himself—referring to his go-to genre as "Mom R&B" and recalling his "super cringey" early work.
Don't let Seyer's self-deprecating sense of humor misguide you, though. While balancing college classes, he's built an impressive following of fans who are drawn to the warm, genre-defying sounds coming out of his bedroom. Influenced by everything from '50s soul to 2000s R&B and hip-hop, his style is shaped in part by feeling like an outsider after moving to California from the Philippines as a small child.
"I was basically on the outside looking in," Seyer says of his early days in California. "This wasn't the culture I was familiar with, so I really had to adapt. I think that shaped me as an individual and as a musician. A lot of my goals as a kid were to better articulate myself—just because my speech was so different from others and I felt so different." He adds, "I'm a big fan of genre-bending. For me, that's something deeply rooted in what I've grown to do as a person who's not of American culture. I was really into rock and roll and I was interested in it because it was so distant from me. A lot of my songs involve me trying to pay homage to that."
Outside of dropping two solo EPs and a full-length project called Ugly Boy, Seyer has been playing guitar with Bane's World and studying creative writing in college. Not looking to slow down, he's currently readying the release of a new album. Hear his new single "Lucky Love" below and continue for our full conversation with Michael Seyer.
Let’s start at the beginning. How'd you first get into music?
I first got interested in music because of my dad. He was kind of a classic rock junkie. He loves the Beatles, the Who, and Queen. As a young kid, he just turned me on to that and he would play guitar every now and then. I would try to jam with him, but I was really bad at it. What really drove the fire under my ass was my brother and my cousin would play together. They would jam and I really wanted to jam with them, but I really sucked. So I just hid myself in my room for awhile and learned until I could jam with them. It was out of pure jealousy. That was it.
Did your first music sound like the stuff you’re putting out now? Or did it take you awhile to evolve and find your sound?
It took a bit, just playing around with different genres and sounds. When I first started taking music seriously, I was playing around with hip-hop a lot. I would make beats and rap and stuff, but that was super cringey. I was just really into hip-hop back then, but then I picked up the guitar again. Since I was making beats and recording myself rap, I already had the tools to actually record myself playing instruments. Just experimenting overall with different genres and recording techniques helped me find my voice.
You play everything but drums, right? Why not drums?
Yeah, I can't play drums for the life of me. [Laughs]. I really want to learn how to play drums. I want to get a drum kit soon and just really try to put my nose down and learn some good grooves. But it's something I've yet to accomplish. I usually play guitar, bass, synth, and vocals. I take on most of the aspects of my music except for drums. Sometimes I'll use a drum machine, but usually I'll get my drummer Antonio Aiello to track drums for me.
I heard you record this all stuff yourself. What's your set-up like?
My recording stuff is pretty DIY. I'm usually just on my laptop. I have like one interface with one input. I just do it piece by piece. I'd like to say that I know what I'm doing, but I really don't. It comes out differently every time and it's kind of scary, but it's cool. I'll just record everything in my bedroom, track-by-track. When I have a really definite instrumental—I'll record everything on a metronome and then I'll go to my friend's house who is like a gearhead. He has a way better set-up than me in his bedroom, so that's where we'll track drums.
How has balancing college and music been?
Oh man, it sucks ass. It's really a balancing act, man. I'm sure you remember back when you were in college and trying to nurture different aspects of your life. But it really sucks. I'm used to it now that I've been recording this album for a year. It was definitely the last two semesters that I was really trying to balance school and music. Now I'm playing a lot more shows, especially with Bane's World. Sometimes I'll put school on the back burner a little bit, but overall I'm a pretty good student. I like school.
What are you studying?
I'm a creative writing major. English, baby.
You were born in the Philippines. Do you remember your time there?
Yeah, I moved to California around when I was three. I honestly don't have lots of memories from the Philippines. I wish I did, because I feel so detached from my original culture. Everyone in my family speaks Tagalog, which is the Filipino language, but I don't know how to speak it at all. I can pick it up listening here and there, but I'm not conversational.
Transitioning to America was tough, though. My experience was kind of as an outsider. I was basically on the outside looking in. This wasn't the culture I was familiar with, so I really had to adapt. I think that really shaped me as an individual and as a musician. A lot of my goals as a kid were to better articulate myself just because my speech was so different from others and I felt so different. I'm an English major now because in trying to develop my articulation, I just grew an intense fascination for English. I definitely think that's a big aspect in my music.
You know how a lot of songs from the '50s are about love? This song ['Lucky Love'] is kind of un-love.
As a kid, that probably felt like a disadvantage, but do you see it as an advantage to you as a musician now?
Definitely. It impacts my music now because I'm a big fan of genre-bending. For me, that's something deeply rooted in what I've grown to do as a person not of American culture. I was really into rock and roll and I was interested in it because it was so distant from me. A lot of my songs involve me trying to pay homage to that.
I’ve noticed several cool artists pop up from Long Beach lately. Would you say there’s a scene down there? What’s that like?
There's definitely a scene. I can't really speak for Long Beach. That might be more Shane [from Bane's World]'s department because he actually lives in Long Beach. I just go to school there and I'm not really familiar with the area. But I do think there's a scene going on. It feels kind of weird to call it a scene, because it's just my reality. But yeah, I met Shane through a good group of friends that I used to be in a band with. Some other close musician friends, Inner Wave—I went to middle school with half those members. It's not like we found each other on the internet or something, it's all been organic. It's super cool.
When I interviewed Shane from Bane's World, he mentioned that Tyler, The Creator found his music through you. How did that happen?
I couldn't really tell you, man. I don't really know him at all. Shane told me that. I think he's talked to Tyler more. That's super cool, though. I was really stoked when Shane told me and I got to meet Tyler. I said hello when he came to a show at The Observatory. We just shook hands and it was very formal. But it was a really cool experience, because I love everything he's doing. He's doing really big things in music. For someone that I really look up to, to say they found my music is really cool.
Did Tyler say how he found your stuff?
He didn't tell me personally. I think he just found it on SoundCloud.
I've been listening to a lot of 2000s R&B, like Ja Rule and Ashanti and Ginuwine. I'll always go back to that. That's my go-to genre. It's like Mom R&B.
Tell me about "Lucky Love."
I've always wanted to make a '50s high school prom song. You know that song "Put Your Head On My Shoulder"? I love that kind of '50s sound. So I went for that, but I wanted to write it in a different mood. You know how a lot of songs from the '50s are about love? This song is kind of un-love. It's still very love-y, but it has a lot of different aspects compared to a classic '50s love song. I wanted to bring it to a more modern context.
This new project sounds like a big step forward. What you were going for on this new album and how is it different from your previous projects?
Yeah, I definitely think it's a lot different from my last full-length, Ugly Boy. I didn't really know what I was doing with Ugly Boy. I love that project because it's very personal. All my music is pretty personal, actually. But I think with this new project, I have a lot more recording experience and I really tried to hone in on the writing. I would like to see this album as a lot more matured than the last full-length. I think people enjoy seeing that—going to an artist, listening to their whole discography, and seeing them mature through the progression in the music. But in general, I was trying to incorporate a lot of my inspirations. We've got some '50s in there, some R&B, some soul, some classic rock...
I know you've listed Mac DeMarco and Homeshake as influences of yours, but I'm curious what inspires you outside of music?
I love reading in general, so sometimes I'll pull from books. And I love watching movies, so sometimes I'll see something in a movie and I'll try to write a song if it inspired me. And definitely life experiences. A lot of this album is just me reacting to personal emotions. During this album process, I was trying to figure myself out after a breakup from a pretty serious relationship.
When you sit down and make music, what feeling or mood are you usually trying to get across?
Generally when I'm making a song, it's because I'm feeling an emotion. I feel like songwriting is like taking that emotion and intensifying it to its most extreme form. At least for me, that's how I write music. If I'm feeling sad, then I'll write a song about it. Sometimes I don't even intend it, but the song ends up becoming a caricature of the emotion. But sometimes I'll just want to write a really happy song or a really sexy song. It really just boils down to me trying to express an emotion.
I want to say it's bullshit when people are like, 'I wish I was living in the '60s when music was so good.' Because we have it the best ever right now.
You said you're inspired by generations of the past, but I was curious: What do you like about being a musician in 2018? What advantages do you think you have over musicians 30 or 40 years ago?
To start off, I want to say it's bullshit when people are like, "I wish I was living in the '60s when music was so good." Because we have it the best ever right now. We're in 2018. We've got streaming services where you can listen to Elvis Presley and then Lionel Richie at the drop of a hat. We have all this music at our disposal and I feel like that's really telling of the music that's coming out. It's in one breath so nostalgic, but also so fresh. A lot of the artists now are genre-bending. In its own respect, that's something really different. I think that's all thanks to being able to listen to the music that you want to whenever you want.
What have you been listening to lately?
Well, I have this DJ set on Wednesday, so I've been trying to come up with a good playlist. I've been listening to a lot of 2000s R&B, like Ja Rule and Ashanti and Ginuwine. I'll always go back to that. That's my go-to genre. It's like Mom R&B.
I'll finish with a really corny question that I always like asking. How would you describe an ideal setting for someone to listen to your music for the first time?
Ok, it's really cold and you're in Japan. You're not in Tokyo. You're in the rural part and the air is really nippy. It's December 31 and the countdown is ten seconds away from the new year.