An easier term to describe Ted When’s music instead of “genre-defying” (which seems to be the term du jour that journalists seem to pin on him) would probably be “segue music.” Existing at the intersection of electro, R&B, hip hop, and pop, his songs can bridge Disclosure to A Tribe Called Quest… Icona Pop to Le Tigre… The Postal Service to Ke$ha… Mac Miller to Bjork. Sure, it defies genres, but it also ties them together.
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His new single “Good Things” has the trappings of chill out downtempo electro but merges with a propulsive locomotive beat that pushes it along. It’s the blending of these two worlds that makes him an interesting and compelling artist to keep an eye on. His textured voice slides into layers of the music, neither upfront nor buried, striking an interesting balance that keeps everything rather even-keeled and coasting atop a beat-driven plateau. The beauty of “Good Things” is that even though it doesn’t adhere to a singular sound, it never loses the plot either. It remains stylistically cohesive and not chaotic. It’s chillout music for the easily distracted.
“I recorded ‘Good Things’ when I was living in LA at my buddy David Ott’s studio Furaha Studios,” he recalls. “The song took on a life of its own after I started collaborating with Berlin-based [producer] Christian Rich (Mac Miller, Childish Gambino, Vince Staples).”
Mirroring his music’s diversity, When’s own life has been a mixed bag of casual connections and massive jumps in scenery. Having moved from Cedar Rapids, IA to Los Angeles to Nashville (where he lives now), he’s traveled in the same packs as Chiddy Bang, Pharrell, Wiz Khalifa, and Foster the People which undoubtedly helped color his musical palette.
It’s surprising then to uncover that one of his inspirations is so grounded. “I admire Nick Drake,” he says of the somber folk musician who was a keystone to the singer/songwriter movement. “His down-tuned hypnotic guitar playing coupled with his fragile and intimate voice always seems to invoke an emotional response in me, no matter how many times I’ve listened to each song.”
Like much of Drake’s songwriting which was mired in his loneliness and depression, When’s songwriting for his single also has a dark core. “’Good Things’ came from a place of struggle and the question of giving up,” he explains. “Sometimes, it seems like we’re doing damage to our future selves by pursuing lofty goals which take financial, temporal and emotional sacrifice.” But where Drake and When diverge is where their music ends up. While the former’s musical narratives stays mired, the latter’s songs take flight. “It’s those same goals and sacrifices that make us who we are and who we should become,” he continues. “I wrote ‘Good Things’ with that sentiment in mind.”
Thankfully, When’s future points to a much brighter outcome than Drake’s untimely end at only 26. With a promising solo career on the up and up and his new EP morning freshly released, he’s about to move up to the big leagues. But lyrically, he still drags his feet, seguing back to a slightly more depressing topic. He concludes, “I think about the people I’ve loved in the past, where they are right now, about unrequited love – that theme is in a lot of the songs.”