I decided to do a more unorthodox type of artist interview than I am usually used to conducting. I have a friend whom I met back in college whose musical stylings inspired me when I first heard them. Something about Cowp and his music was different in the most authentic and fascinating kind of way.
The crazy thing was that I was not even fully aware of the fact that he even composed music until I saw a simple Facebook post on a recent track he released on SoundCloud.
I followed the piece to the site and found there to be an array of songs that were just humbly listed there, for people to hear if they so happened to stumble upon it. I took one listen, and that’s all it took for me to instantly fall in love with the sound this producer, a young 22-year old living in Boston who attended Boston University like me, created.
Speaking with Kyle Cowper about his passion for music and where it all began was so interesting. I was curious as to how he was able to make every song so unique, utilizing only the simplistic sounds of the everyday noises circulating around him.
It’s as if he accumulates the white noise surrounding and molds them into this shape that is a track all of its own persona and charge. Best of all, they blend perfectly together. Every ingredient is a particular sound holding up the beat, the melody, the harmony, the energy and the rhythm. Vocals create a little map to the song to guide you on this electric, mysterious and catchy tune of chord progressions and musical episodes. Because though it may sound like it follows the original format of a verse-chorus-verse pattern, if you listen closely you’ll find hidden gems snuck into the composition. The instrumentals are metallic, the rap is consistent and well-delivered, and best of all it’s so vibe-y. It’s chill, it’s lax, and it’s borderline smooth af.
Suave doesn’t even begin to describe this sophisticated yet casual lounge sound that as he hopes it to be is “pensive (but trying really hard not to be pretentious!).”
My particular favorite songs by Cowp are “Neon Lights,” a sweet, poppy, tranquil mélange of smooth vocals, synths, and alarm sounds; and “Red Rover,” which he used sounds from his friends to make the dialogue and an epic, jazzy, exotic transcendence into your own dimension with speaking voices, automaton-like directions, and rap verses dancing to your thoughts. You can listen to these in the SoundCloud link below.
So, enough intro; let the man speak for himself.
Here is our interview:
Hi Kyle! so long time no talk! How is everything going? I know you just graduated from Boston University, how does it feel?
How’s the aftermath, post-college life?
I’m sad to leave BU, but I’m incredibly excited about starting the next chapter of my life. I landed my dream job and got a sweet apartment in the South End of Boston so life is really great at the moment.
What did you study?
I majored in Business Administration with a dual concentration in Operations and Marketing, and I also got a Music Minor from BU’s College of Fine Arts.
What got you started musically producing?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 10, and I was always into a wide variety of styles. I grew up playing anything from smooth jazz to metal, and late in high school during the rise of dubstep I found a new interest in electronic music. I downloaded Logic Pro 9 in 2011 and have been producing a pretty broad range of music since then.
So, who influenced you? Because your sound is so unique. It’s just so amazing.
Thanks I really appreciate that! The answer to this type of question can often change depending on my mood, but there are a few people that have influenced me heavily for many years. Production-wise, I gravitate towards people like Mr. Carmack, Tennyson, Sango, Flume and other people like that who have a knack for pushing boundaries and innovating. In general, I get a ton of energy from artists like Maynard James Keenan (lead singer of Tool, APC, Puscifer), Mac DeMarco, Toro Y Moi, CunninLynguists, and countless others from a weirdly fragmented selection of music I call my iTunes library.
How do you know what vocalists to use and how to make them match the tune?
Well first of all, shoutout to Jack Graham for being so damn consistent and talented. I think every vocalist I’ve worked with has been through the recommendation of a mutual friend. Typically I’ll check out their tracks and see which one of my WIPs their voice might work with, send them a file or two and invite them to give it a whirl. Sometimes it works great and we mesh well, other times it doesn’t.
So, I’m sorry for this one criticism, but how come you’re not pursuing this right now?
Music has always been a huge part of my life and self-identity, and I’ve found that self-expression is a major source of fulfillment that keeps me sane. The reason I’m not pursuing it full-time (besides the fact that I love my job) is because I don’t find fulfillment or satisfaction in trying to make it my “job”. If I came out of school and suddenly relied on music to make a living, I’d likely start thinking “what do people want to hear” rather than “what do I want to make”. I’d feel too much pressure to cater my music to the audience that I would need in order to keep myself afloat, plus I’d probably have to start spinning Top 40 at clubs 4 or 5 nights a week just to make ends meet (nothing wrong with that – just not my form). I could see myself being a professional musician, but it would have to be in a very organic fashion where I’d grow a large fan base organically by staying 100% true to my own artistic inspiration and, when it was finally feasible for me to make a true career out of it, I would. The key ingredient for me is maintaining the no-strings-attached philosophy of self-expression since it’s such an important part of my life and happiness.
Has your family always been supportive of this musical side of you, and the possibility of taking it on fully?
Yeah, my family has always been super supportive. My mom is an art licensor and my dad played a big role in developing my musical taste as a kid so they’ve always been happy to help me express myself creatively.
What do you want your music to be?
I want my music to be something unique to me that never stops progressing. It all comes back to self-expression; music is a way for me to communicate a feeling, practice a new skill, relieve stress, and any number of other things that really make me enjoy life more. I think the fact that a lot of people listen to my music is really special too. Music is such a personal thing and it means a lot to me when other people respond well to my songs.
How do you plan to make your sound stand out or make your name at least stand out, because I do think the music itself is already something refreshingly different, and vibe-worthy.
For someone that studied branding a lot in college you’d think I’d put more effort into my own brand lol… I’m gonna keep my sound fresh by constantly blending all of the different styles I’m passionate about and carving them into my own musical voice. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Fleet Foxes, Kaytranada, and Deftones so I’ll be approaching new tracks with some indie, hip-hop, and metal flavors all at once… should be interesting! Who knows if those projects will ever see the light of day.
What is your favorite song/who is your favorite artist right now?
My favorite song at the moment is probably Bonedigger by Adult Jazz. Soooooo crazy unique and beautiful I love it. I’d say my favorite artist right now is Anderson .Paak. Love his sound.
Do you and your friends still plan on making music?
Absolutely! I’m definitely gonna slow down for a bit so I can keep up with my new job and social life, but making music will always be something I do.
Which label would you want to be picked up by if given the chance?
Definitely OWSLA. Skrillex has done such a good job at getting a really dynamic and inspiring roster together on the label so they’re definitely a favorite of mine.
Which artists would you want to collaborate with if you could?
If I had to pick 3 I think I’d say Mr. Carmack, Hundred Waters, and Eddie Vedder.
Do you plan on constructing an EP?
Not anytime soon. I enjoyed making the Field Trip EP with Jack Graham because we put a lot of thought into the songs in a way that made the entire EP a work of art in its own way, which was fun. Beyond that, I don’t see much point in uploading a bunch of songs at once because they might tend to overshadow each other more. If I had 4 tracks done, I’d rather put out one every week or two just to keep things interesting.
What would you want to do with your music?
I just want to keep making it! If that evolves into something more, then that’s cool too!
How was it being a student and a musician?
Very fun – I’ve always enjoyed school (particularly business academia) so it was nice to live in a nice bubble of security where school and music were the two things I got to focus on the most.
Do any of the songs that you have made relate to anything in your life? Or are they meant to mean anything or make people feel a certain way? I know for me, your music was always so inspiring, and how humble you are about displaying your work was even more mind-blowing.
Thank you! Humility is dope, so I’m glad you think that. I attach certain sentimental memories and feelings to certain songs depending on what’s going on in my life when I write them. I recently wrote “Glide” almost entirely in airports & on planes. I felt like the chord progression was a pretty good translation of how inspired and optimistic I felt about the future in terms of all the different directions I could take in my life. I also decided to plop a guitar solo on there because it made it feel a little more personal too. Most tracks I make have some sort of vague emotional journey attached to them. I don’t typically start a song thinking, “I want to make someone feel ____”, although that’s a really cool outcome if it happens that people’s emotions are triggered in any way by my music.
So, why not be more expressive and push to make your music well-known? You’ve got the talent!
Thanks again! Given where I’m at, it’s just not what I want for myself. Maybe someday. For now I’ll let my art develop organically, since it develops better that way anyway.
What were some of the challenges you faced in college?
The typical balance of academics, social life, personal passions, family issues, etc. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Do the ladies love the music? (Yes, serious question here).
LOL. I’m not the type of guy to play Wonderwall at a frat party so there’s a good chance my musician-status isn’t on the radar of most ladies… oh well.
As a kid, were you always into music?
What catches your attention about this particular genre that you play?
Lately I’ve been really into weird jazzy chord progressions with old rhodes keyboards followed by spacious reverby pianos… I feel like the sort of chord progressions I’ve been going after are fairly unique so when I combine them with big pianos, weird synth or sampled vocal leads, and hip-hop/house drums, it starts to sound like a pretty distinct musical Cowp voice.
What is your dream (in general)? Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
My dream is to use my career to travel the world and fund my expensive musical passions. I’m determined to live in Sydney, Australia for a few years, and I’m also really intrigued by the idea of living in cities like Singapore and London. I think that we grow as people more when we step really far outside of our comfort zone and immerse ourselves in unfamiliar environments, so I want to explore as much as humanly possible over the next 10 years (geographically, artistically, and personally).
If you could describe your music in one word, what would it be?
Pensive (but trying really hard not to be pretentious!)
So, now a little about you. Where are you from?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon.
How old are you?
What’s a fun fact about you, besides the music and business side?
When I was in high school, my stepmom signed me up for the Portland half marathon but accidentally registered me as a woman… I got first place in my division.
What is one ridiculous thing you have ever done, that you wish you hadn’t?
One time I went snowboarding on a sunny day without sunscreen and got a goggle burn so bad that it was a proper second degree burn… blisters and everything but pasty white around the eyes. Not chill.
What is your favorite type of food?
Chicken sandwiches! Chick Fil A is dank and Cheesecake Factory low key has really solid chicken sliders.
If you could travel to one place in the world, where would it be?
Back to music, what have you done to practice, perfect, and exercise your musical talents?
I constantly work on drastically different genres so I don’t get stuck in artistic slumps. If all I do is make trap for 3 weeks I’m gonna get pretty damn bored and need a good week of just playing guitar to reset my ears. Beyond that I invest a ton of time into it and don’t worry too much about how anything sounds during the creative process. If it sounds good at the end, then cool. If not, oh well! I probably only publish like 10-15% of the projects I start…
What is one piece of advice you would give to people out there, our age, aspiring to make the music known or to get good at making such music?
Stay true to yourself, but don’t be afraid to copy other artists in order to learn their techniques. Obviously don’t be a Carmack copycat or anything, but try to recreate elements of songs that capture you’re interest, and then figure out how to make that skill a part of your compositional toolbox. Eventually you’ll have such a wide variety of tools from so many sources, it will take shape in a completely new and unique sound. Yaaaay.
AND would you change your name to a stage name if you got famous, and if yes, what would it be?
Oh HELL nah! My friends have been calling me Cowp since I was like 12. That’s who I am!
^So, that was our interview in a quick burst for you all to read. It was a really great interview with a campus influencer, and I had fun getting to know a friend and his music a lot better.
Want to hear his stuff? Ya, you do! Check out his SoundCloud now here below: