From backseat drumming to touring at age 13, the Philadelphia-based artist on breaking down, breaking stereotypes, and the power of sound to bring you back home again.
OddKidOut’s debut EP, Within, is a fierce, unapologetic record; a meditation on loss, change, and the way in which sound changes us. He brings us into his head, inside his experience, and invites us to explore his hometown. As Within approaches 500,000 downloads and streams, we caught up with the producer to talk about the making of the album, the sound of Philadelphia, and what happens to your phone when 10,000 people add you on Instagram simultaneously.
How did you get started? What drew you to music, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?
So when I was a wee little child and was still in my car seat, my dad looked in the rearview mirror and saw me air drumming. He immediately asked me if I wanted to try to drum, and that was basically the beginning. But I’d always been infatuated with music as a kid. The only thing that would stop my bouts of crying was if my mom would drive me around and let me listen to music, specifically jazz. Music has always been a part of my life.
I continued with the drums, to this day. I started taking it seriously around 13. I’ve been touring since a drummer since 9th grade. And when I started producing my own music, it opened up a new drive inside me. (And yes, this has all been in between school, so it certainly has gotten stressful, and will continue to be stressful.)
Within is an autobiographical record. Why was it important to start with your story? What themes were you interested in exploring in this EP, and in your work as a producer?
When I was thinking about releasing my first project, I didn’t want to fall into the same category as what’s become the norm. I didn’t want to release something that was just a brain dump of music. I wanted to put something out with a strong storyline; something that had a skeleton, and something that made people think.
I also wanted it to provide a sense of comfort for others who have suffered traumatic experiences. For me, making this EP was extremely cathartic. It really helped me get through the past couple years of my life. If I can transfer that positive energy to others, it would make me insanely happy.
I wanted to highlight the events in my life; divorce, my dad being diagnosed with cancer, etc, which all just encompasses trauma. But I didn’t want it to be all about me, so I took that theme of trauma and tried to make it as global as possible: so that listeners would be thinking “Oh, this is something I could experience” rather than “Oh, that’s what happened to OddKidOut”.
The Sound of Philadelphia is something that you’ve cited as an influence, and it’s felt throughout Within. What is it about Philly music that inspires you? At a time when music scenes and aesthetics from around the world can be dragged and dropped into a recording, when so much music is at your fingertips, what brought you home?
I always seem to circulate around the Sound of Philadelphia because I was raised in a musical environment that constantly preached its importance. And to be able to work so closely with the legends who have created and propelled the Philly sound into the national spotlight has always pushed me to be better. It’s just engraved in me as a Philadelphian.
But it’s not just all about it being fed to me. I can really feel something inside me when I listen to or play things that are in its realm. It feels like when you return home from college and eat a home-cooked meal from your mom or dad; it’s just so comforting. I certainly love to push the envelope and incorporate other worldly and ephemeral sounds, but the “in the pocket” Philly soul groove is just what makes me feel truly at home.
What other artists, scenes, and sounds inspire you?
The most influential musician to me is J Dilla. The first time I heard his beats, a million different things were firing off in my head. I listened to only him for probably 6 months in high school. After studying him, I moved on to other greats such as Pete Rock, Madlib, DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, and even Timbaland and Pharrell. But aside from producers, Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington, even Art Blakey; Jazz has really influenced me. And beyond that, rock bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s really everything, I can be enamored by forks and spoons on the table if I’m feeling it.
What has been your approach to building your fanbase?
So before I even thought about making this EP or anything, I knew that my producer monicker had to be something that people could latch on to. I realized the importance of reaching out and connecting to people, so I crafted the name “OddKidOut” because I knew a million other people probably feel and felt the same way. I wanted to create a community of people who felt different than the norm to help eradicate them from the stereotype of being “weird”. So building that fan base has really been a big part of the foundation of everything I do. And it certainly incorporates people who do feel a part of the norm, but just love listening to good music.
To establish that connection, I initially had the idea to put my MPC videos up on Instagram so that people could watch me make beats live. There are a lot of really talented producers who post their stuff online, but not many who actually do all the instrumentation live. I figured that just my little circle of friends would find it cool, but to my amazement it really picked up traction fast and has accrued me over 64,000 followers in less than a year. So Instagram has been a HUGE help.
What do you see as some of the biggest opportunities young artists face? What do you see as some of the challenges?
I think the best opportunity that young musicians have is the ability to put their music on the Internet and literally reach millions of people. That is a huge advantage that our generation has. We also have the luxury of “in-home” studios. Back then, getting into a studio and recording a track was more of an exclusive thing. It limited the amount of music that could be created. Now, for example, kids like me can create an entire album in their bedroom.
One disadvantage our generation faces, though, is that we rely on technology too much. I feel as if live instrumentation is less popular. To me, that’s not a good thing. I believe there is a natural feeling and connection between the mind, the soul, and an instrument. Some of that gets lost behind the quantization of computers.
The other challenge we face in this day and age is being trapped in the middle of the current evolution of the music industry. With the introduction of streaming and other services, the entire face of the music industry is changing. That is something we need to pay close attention to, because the future of our music and its success relies heavily upon it.
What's been the coolest or most holy-shit moment of your career so far?
I think one of the coolest things to happen in my very young career thus far was being featured on Instagram’s main account. I woke up to my phone literally flashing Instagram notifications. I opened up my profile and had 10,000 more followers than I had the night prior. And I was getting roughly 100 likes on all my pictures every minute for an entire day. It was really crazy, I ended up with like 45,000 followers at the end of the day. That was definitely a cool experience; it opened up my musical audience very widely.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2016?
Now it’s just time to work even harder. I feel like with the release of this EP, I have a foundation to build upon. I want to follow up my EP with an album, and that process has already begun. I hope to just get my name in front of more people so that I can share my brain with all of you, and to create a musical and business entity that supports the out-of-the-box, creative thinkers and listeners alike.