- Vancouver, British Columbia - Tylor Piffer came to my attention in October 2010, when someone suggested I check out the tunes of his band, "The Light Machines," which is comprised of Tylor (vocals and guitar), Jeff Zipp (lead guitar), and Nick Beddow (bass). Usually when friends tell me to check out a new and up-and-coming band, I listen to a few of the band's tunes and am largely disappointed. Very rarely do I hear anything new or unique, even from new upstart bands. Furthermore, the talent is still often in development, so my track record for enjoying the new bands that my friends try to get me to check out has not been great. I've always wanted to support the local music scene, but too many musicians seem to be more interested in being in a band than making music. Then I heard The Light Machines and was quite impressed. Here was a band that actually seemed to have some presence, creativity, and a solid voice to lead it. I decided that Tylor Piffer would make an interesting interview for discussing the state of the music business, as the front man for a band still trying to make it big. The music business has changed so much since music went digital and in many ways, we've seen positive changes, but there have also been some negative consequences. We discussed this in the interview, so I hope you'll enjoy!
Joel Bain: Hey Tylor! Thanks for meeting up! How's it going today?
Tylor Piffer: *laughs* It’s goin’ okay.
JB: Just okay? The life of a rock star getting you down?
TP: Umm, it’s not very rock star at the moment. *laughs* Define rock star lifestyle?
JB: *laughs* Well, rock stars all have to start somewhere, I guess.
TP: That's true. I guess so far, it's kind of cool. On a couple of occasions, I’ve had people come up to me or Jeff and say, "Hey! Aren’t you in The Light Machines?" That’s about as rock star as it gets.
JB: Sweet. What's that like when people seem to recognize you?
TP: It’s kind of cool.
JB: Have you any sort of other rock star treatment thus far in your life with the band?
TP: Not really, other than shared green rooms. One of the reasons I want to be a musician is to be famous.
TP: *laughs* Yeah, a tad narcissistic, but that’s okay.
JB: What is it about being famous that appeals to you?
TP: Mostly meeting new people and getting the opportunity to meet some of my idols; plus, I like when my reputation precedes me.
JB: Which idols have you met so far?
TP: None. *laughs*
JB: Oh, so this is a future opportunity to yet come?
TP: Yeah, it’s just a dream right now. I like meeting new people, getting new information, and learning. It’s what I live for.
JB: Do you feel like your dream is within reach soon?
TP: Yes and no. Sometimes I get excited because of the opportunities we've had. And other times, we've had to deal with so much crap that I don’t think anything is going to happen, but I guess that’s what you have to go through when you're trying to start any business.
JB: I think something I've felt and experienced, as a writer, is that without the challenges and the crap that you have to deal with, there is no glory in the end. Almost like without it, it wouldn't nearly be as fun and it would seem like it was all too easy. Would you share that sentiment?
TP: I agree 100%. I’m definitely more proud of where we are, because of what we've had to go through.
JB: What have some of those challenges that you guys have been through as a band trying to make it big in the Age of iTunes and digital music downloading?
TP: Well, the majority of challenges we've faced had nothing to do with iTunes or digital downloading *laughs*
JB: *laughs* Do explain!
TP: I don't even think we're that far in our career to have that effect us. Right now, any way that people know about us is good. The challenges we've faced mainly: flakey first drummer; he was extremely flakey, terrible with his money; and he was a Prima Donna.
JB: Sounds a bit like you! *laughs*
TP: Oh yeah, I’m such a diva! *laughs* Also, the owner of our first practice spot was a nut job. He was an ex-drug addict turn born-again Christian, but still with the temper, stupidity, and irrationality of a drug addict.
JB: Did he try turning you guys into a Christian band?
TP: No, not at all. *laughs* He was a psycho basically.
JB: How long did you last there?
TP: We were there December of 2008 to summer of 2009 after being kicked out twice and being threatened on countless occasions.
JB: That's a long time to hang in there with a psycho.
TP: We needed a place to practice; plus that summer is when we met Jonathan Fluvog, so we got out of there as soon as possible. That’s also when we kicked our drummer out of the band for good. He decided to go to Christian camp and not tell us right when we were about to sign a contract with Jonathan. He was a lot of fun, but not as a drummer.
JB: How did you find your new drummer?
TP: Umm, the first new drummer, Tim, was recommended by a friend of Jonathan.
JB: Good to have those connections. On a more personal level though, do you remember the moment that you discovered music as a child and whose music it was?
TP: *laughs* Funny story. The first music that I listened to was mostly Country and Boy Band Pop. I sang along to them and that’s how I learned to sing.
JB: Which boy bands specifically?
TP: Backstreet Boys, N’sync, Savage Garden, etc. etc. *laughs*
JB: Oh wow, you really didn't hold back as a child. *laughs* I want to say from viewing some of the concert footage that I've seen of you guys, David Bowie figures somewhere in there in the development of your taste for music?
TP: *laughs* Oh yeah, but David Bowie didn’t happen until later. I’m still finding my stage presence and that show was kind of rough but Bowie is still a huge influence.
JB: I still feel that your stage presence is far more developed than a lot of new bands that I've been exposed to. I mean, as a university student, I remember the professors always said about presentations, "do not ever just read the text, when giving your presentation. Make eye contact." Some bands I see, I feel like they are doing the equivalent for onstage performance. They make no interaction or connection with the audience; they just jam on a tune standing still and get off the stage.
TP: I agree with what your professor said. I had that drilled into me. *laughs* "Always look people in the face!" “Don’t look at the floor!" "Connect, connect, connect, and connect with the audience!" and now I do.
JB: What is it about David Bowie that appealed to you as a music lover and also as a performer?
TP: Umm, David Bowie is the god of the stage.
JB: I think that is still something rare to see on the stage. I used to go to about 20-25 concerts per year (when I had money) and I was surprised at how many of even the "successful" bands have terrible stage presence, so in my view, it feels like you guys already have that advantage.
TP: That’s definitely the most important thing. Your music can suck, but as long as you connect, people will like you. *laughs* And vice versa but Bowie, incredible. I liked him and then I watched "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the Motion Picture.” 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon, it was the last show he did as Ziggy Stardust. Incredible! With his incredible outfits and his incredible makeup, his presence was godly.
JB: I've always felt like he looked like a rather unattractive dude in most of his outfits and make-up, but there is something endearing about him nonetheless.
TP: I think it’s all incredible. Nobody was doing that and he had the balls to do it and push boundaries and not give a shit what people thought.
JB: Do you think anyone is pushing boundaries like David Bowie today?
TP: No, not at all. There’s people trying but it's never going to happen. Everything’s been done now. That’s the hardest thing about music nowadays.
JB: You said that you aspired to be famous one day....would you say that there is a certain legacy that you would hope to achieve with your music, or is that just too lofty to talk about?
TP: Umm, yes, I think most people try in some way or another to leave a legacy. I have something to say with my music, and I want people to be able to connect with it and have it relate to their lives in one way or another, be it musically, lyrically, or both.
JB: Have you had anybody tell you that they've connected with it like that yet?
TP: No, not really. I’m still developing my writing and up until now, I personally feel that it has been a bit shallow, but the last couple songs I’ve written have been a bit deeper. Well, not all of them have been shallow.
JB: If you want, I give you permission to write a song about how you feel about me. No royalties required.
TP: *laughs* Joel, oh Joel,
you're really whacky,
with your groovy soul.
TP: That’s the best on the spot I can do right now *laughs*
JB: Sweet! I'll wait for it to show up in one of your sets.
TP: Okay. *laughs*
JB: Back to the music though, has the way that you've discovered new music changed much over the years? How is it that most people discover your music, as best as you can tell?
TP: Yeah, at first I discovered music through my mom. *laughs* Then through friends and top 40 radio. Now it’s through the Internet, friends, and a little bit of radio.
JB: Do you spend much time actively searching out new music, or does it find you?
TP: If I get bored of my music, I’ll look around. Sometimes it finds me but recently I've been anti-21st century and have been listening to one band.
JB: For how long have you been digging them?
TP: I’ve been super into them since the beginning of December. I think the thing with me is, I'll like a band and then I'll watch a video of them performing, and watching them pull it off live is what completes it for me and so with David Bowie and Radiohead, I’ve been taking a lot of notes. After all, bands make the majority of their money from live shows and merchandise sales.
JB: Definitely. What are some of the ways that you, as a band, try to promote your band as an independently distributed group?
TP: Facebook: the best promoter ever.
JB: Is that how you guys have creating the most buzz so far?
TP: Pretty much. I mean, yeah, we have Myspace and Bandcamp but we use Facebook to show people those sites because you post a video or song of yours on a few friends' pages, and all their friends see it, whether they repost it, comment on it, or just watch it. They see it and more people know about your music.
JB: Facebook aside, what has been the most difficult part in getting noticed? If you were to put a percentage on the amount of time spent trying to promote yourself, what would it be? 20% performing, 30% writing and rehearsing, 50% promoting?
TP: *laughs* Yes, pretty much or actually maybe, 40% writing & rehearsing, 40% promoting, and 20% performing.
JB: Is that a product of the Age of iTunes, or do you think it has always been that way?
TP: I think it’s always been like that. Nobody is going to listen to you if they don’t know who you are.
JB: True, but do you feel like the music business has been changed very much because iTunes and downloading?
TP: Oh yeah, absolutely! Promoting is done differently and money is made mostly from the shows and merchandise and you have to be less godlike now.
JB: Would you say that it has changed for the positive?
TP: Yes and no. You're able to hear music from around the world, whereas before, you weren’t able to. That’s why there are metal heads in the Middle East and you can have a black guy playing Irish folk music. It’s the music revolution! *laughs* That sounded cheesy but it's kind of true. Everybody in the industry is working together and if you don’t, it’s going to be a lot harder to get into it.
JB: It sounds like from what you're saying, the music industry has evolved way from being an industry itself, but is now more of an artist community?
TP: Yeah, kinda, I think right now it is at a middle ground. The old guys and the new guys and the way it’s going, it will turn into a community 100%.
JB: Is this more of a genre-specific assessment of the industry, or would you say that it is the same as it has ever been with singers and bands with stronger pop sensibilities?
TP: It’s everybody.
JB: Cool, so with this in mind, how do you feel about people downloading your music (or one day downloading your music) without receiving any financial compensation for it? Is it something that you are comfortable with, or you've just come to anticipate?
TP: I'll be comfortable with it. Most CDs now, come with a special something like a movie on the CD or pictures or a personal message kind of thing. That’s where the CD side of music is going and that’s why people are still buying CDs; plus, people like having a hard copy.
JB: So the prospect of getting noticed or making it big by being illegally downloaded rather than through the radio charts doesn't bother you?
TP: Not at all. I’m happy if people listen to our music, legally or illegally. I mean, people are still collecting vinyls.
JB: Like me! I love having a hard copy to collect. We kind of touched on this early, but this kind of makes the live performances so much more important, doesn't it? If that's where you can expect to derive most of your income, no?
TP: Yes, live shows are 60-70% performance. Well, from the audience point of view and that’s the case for most shows. There are obviously some exceptions like with Fleet Foxes or Joanna Newsom. They are folk musicians but their music is incredible and they don’t really need to have an amazing visual side of the show.
JB: Do you guys derive much income from your live shows then?
JB: Not asking for dollar amounts or anything. *laughs*
TP: The majority of our income is the shows. We've made a few dollars from our music on Bandcamp.
JB: Oh, I meant personal income; like I know you've got a job on the side.
TP: Oh, all the money that we make from the shows and merchandise goes directly back into the band. We aren’t making enough money from music to use it for personal things.
JB: Gotcha. How important is the financial aspect of the music business to you? Does it play a larger role in your music career than you'd prefer? How necessary do you feel it is for future musicians to have a side profession to support their music with?
TP: It’s extremely important to have something to fall back on. You can’t be a billionaire any more just by being a musician unlike the musicians back in the 1960s and 1970s. You have to be a businessperson now to make a living on music. You have to incorporate the business side.
JB: Are there genres, which you think, are easier to break into, financially speaking?
TP: Pop. If you are willing to go with what’s popular, you will win but you have to put aside all musical integrity to do that. That’s the hardest part about the music business.
JB: A huge part of pop music definitely seems to be based on appearance; do you feel like there is much of an importance on your appearance in your genre?
TP: Yes, it comes back to the whole performance thing. All bands have a "look" and people will judge you.
JB: How would you describe your look? I've seen your Skeleton pants. Jeff seems to be doing something a little different than you, but not shockingly different.
TP: He's more of the edgy Keith Richards look.
JB: Sans sunken drug-addict cheeks?
TP: Well, yeah. *laughs*
JB: And more youth, I'd say. *laughs*
TP: *laughs* For sure.
JB: For awhile between 1995-2003 or so, it really seemed like most bands looked about the same, do you feel like there is any more originality today, or it is about the same?
TP: There's always going to be a bit of originality floating around in the music scene but the majority of artists don’t have it in my personal opinion.
JB: Too many are perhaps being directed by record executives rather than by themselves?
TP: Exactly. Most "rock bands" now have the “black jeans, white v-neck, and unbuttoned vest”-look but even unsigned, unrecorded bands.
JB: Would you be talking about Hedley by any chance?
TP: Kings of Leon and a few bands that I’ve played with. Oh, and every once in a while, you have got to throw in a fedora.
JB: *laughs* Do you feel like rock or alternative music, as a genre, has diminished in recent years?
TP: Yes, rock is dead. Dead! And anyone who plays "rock" music is doing a terrible job.
JB: Any time I turn on the radio, particularly Virgin 95 or 94.5 The Beat in Vancouver, I NEVER hear a rock song...and even on the 99.3 The Fox, I don't know what it is that I hear, but it sure doesn't sound much like rock. I get the feeling that record executives are staying away from signing or developing rock acts, but instead focusing on pop stars, since they seem to be a "safer investment" for labels.
TP: Absolutely. Are you sure you don’t secretly work in the industry? You seem to have a very good insight into the business. I had to be told these things, but you just know. *laughs* I’m impressed.
JB: I think it comes from a desire to understand how businesses work and how they can be potentially changed except I just don't really have a position to change any of it.
TP: Too bad. I think you could do some good.
JB: What about your favourite bands though? Have you noticed any sort of trends with them? Is there still any longevity for bands today, or can today's bands only look forward to a flash in the pan?
TP: Well, I haven’t really noticed any trends with the bands I like, other than talent, I’m sure that there is a trend there, but I haven’t seen it yet. *laughs*
TP: Oh, also they have to have drive and they work hard. *laughs* But I guess they wouldn’t be where they are without it.
JB: It just seems like we aren't seeing many bands developing beyond maybe a hit-song or a one-off album, particularly in the rock or alternative genre.
TP: I wouldn’t say that’s fully true as long as the bands keep up with promoting, keep in touch with their fans, keep pumping out good songs, and keep putting on good shows, they'll survive so long as they don’t give up. Don't give up! *laughs* Same with everything.
JB: *laughs* So overall, how do you feel about the shape of the music business? Is it healthy and vibrant, or dead and decaying in your view?
TP: It’s healthy and vibrant but in a dangerous way. If the music industry doesn’t evolve with the digital age, it will die as an industry. There will always be music but the industry as a whole will die.
JB: And then it'll look a little more like the artistic painting community? ie. no money in it and you'll only be famous after you're dead? *laughs*
TP: Yeah, exactly, but if that happened at least pop music will die.
JB: Which could be God's gift to humanity? *laughs*
TP: One can only hope.
JB: Do you feel excited and inspired about the potential for your own career within the current state of music?
TP: Yes, yes, and yes. I think we have a good chance in the future.
JB: What advice would you have for any other bands trying to get their start in the industry?
TP: Keep at it and write good choruses. Don’t expect to become a billionaire, but work hard. *laughs* I don’t know, just don’t expect too much and you'll get better than that.
JB: Melodies seem like a lost art or at least a forgotten art these days.
TP: At least in popular music, unfortunately. Don’t worry, we still have good melodies and more on the way.
JB: Good! When I contacted you about doing this interview, I promised that it wouldn't be a typical music interview, but I did want to close with one last "typical" question, mostly because I've wanted to know. Where did the name, "The Light Machines," come from?
TP: It came from a David Bowie song called, "Hang Onto Yourself," and in one line, he says, "come to the show tonight, pray to the light machine."
JB: Alas, David Bowie's influence is felt throughout the band itself?
TP: At least through me. *laughs*
JB: So it was your idea?
JB: Did you have other options in the running? You don't have to share them.
TP: Rolling Troubadours or Treewood.
JB: Really? *laughs*
TP: Stupid things. *laughs* That first one was a joke one…kinda…but it was half serious too.
JB: *laughs* Just shows that you don't take yourselves too seriously, I guess. Well, Tylor, thanks for doing this. I can say that we'll be looking forward to checking out your new album. It comes out in February, correct?
TP: I sure hope so. *laughs* And you're welcome, Joel. Thanks for digging our music enough to want to get to the bare bones.
JB: No worries! And we'll be sure to review it for our readers and hopefully help you guys get some more attention on it!
TP: Thank you, Joel!