Tyler Posey Comes Clean

Tyler Posey’s heart is as punk as they come. From the very first lyric he ever wrote─Today I woke up a different person / Seems like I have no reason to live / Once cool, with a total mojo / No more, 123 go!, he bursts into song mid-way through our Zoom call─to a handful of new tracks this year, the Teen Wolf heartthrob has always found himself drawn back to the music that first fueled him as a kid.

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Thrust into the spotlight at a very young age, starring as Raul Garcia on Pax TV’s Doc, Posey frequently turned to music as an escape. He found himself winding through catalogs of many of his father’s favorite ‘60s folk and rock artists, including Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Derek and the Dominoes, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, who also happened to be his first-ever concert. “It was basically the whole entire lineup of Woodstock,” he chuckles.

When he was eight, he discovered Blink-182, and life forever changed at that moment. “For the first time, I felt like I fit in somewhere. I started acting at a really young age and didn’t feel like I fit in there,” Posey tells American Songwriter. “I didn’t really feel like I fit in with my hometown homies because I had a career and everyone else was in grade school. So there was something about [this group] that made me feel accepted. And I felt like they were my friends.”

Before picking up the guitar and bass at 10, he often asked his older brother Derek to set his lyrics to music. “My older brother is a really good guitarist. I knew I was creative. I was an actor, but I still hadn’t been satiated yet as a creative person. So there was something about music that appealed to me, and I really wanted to try to write and play music.”

His song about “losing your mojo,” he laughs, is only grazing the surface of the kind of songs he wrote in those early days. It was mostly “silly things,” he says, “like losing your mojo and penises and whatever. Looking back on them, they weren’t that shitty─they were pretty cool.”

Once he stepped off the set of Doc, and now with plenty of time to write and play, “it was off to the races, dude,” he says. Alongside two good friends, Posey began playing out, mostly covers, whetting his appetite for what would eventually be his destiny. “My friend played bass, and so he would call himself Mark Hoppus and I would call myself Tom DeLonge. And we would just cover a bunch of Blink-182 songs. But then on top of that, we started writing our own music. And so I started writing music at a pretty young age, too. Then, I got really into the production side. I bought this little tiny 8-track recorder, and I would have to record a metronome and then put the headphones on and then play to the click track that I created myself.”

He soon graduated to “this big 12-track recorder that had a CD burner inside of it,” he recalls. “And so I would write my songs and burn them on a CD. I was like, ‘Here’s my demo!!!’” Naturally, he eventually moved on to ProTools and now Logic to bring his songs to life. “I just got better and better and more experimental. I was always writing pop-punk music but as soon as I got ProTools, I got this little keyboard and found this library has synths and sounds, so I really started experimenting with writing rap songs and writing beats and freestyling.”

While his profile burned brighter and landed him spots on Wolf Watch, Ridiculousness, and Lip Sync Battle, as well as a role in Scary Movie 5, music seemed to elude him. But in 2015, Posey used his YouTube series, Music for Your Ears to Bleed To, to dip his toes back into musical waters. He’d dabbled in various bands before (and still does), from Lost in Kostko (later known as Disappearing Jamie) and punk band PVMNTS to Five North, a two-piece outfit with Kyle Murphy, which released an EP just last year─but nothing quite ignited that creative spark.

In the short-lived series, Posey covered everyone from The Beatles and Third Eye Blind to Neck Deep and Blink-182, of course. “I really wanted to get back to music with the series, but I didn’t want people to think I was pretentious,” he recalls. “I’ve definitely grown as a vocalist, but there are still times, even with my own songs, when I’ll be playing the guitar, and I’ll come in with the vocals and it’s the wrong note. And I’m like, ‘What the fuck is the note?’ I’ll have to find it for a second. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away for me.

“I took a couple of vocal lessons, like literally only a couple, and so I’m not very trained. But over the years, I’ve just learned how to use my voice to my advantage in my own unique way. You know, I blow out my voice all the time, and I’ve figured out how to scream and still go on with the song,” he says. “I scream in a lot of my songs. On tour, I was really worried about how my voice was gonna hold up, but with every tour I’ve been on, I never lose my voice. I think it’s because it’s already pretty raspy. I am sometimes impressed with the notes that I can hit. I’ve come a long way from when I used to record my little demos.

“I have a demo for a recording when I was 18 with my band. My voice was kind of there, but it’s still so juvenile and silly and nowhere near as trained as it is right now,” he adds.

On his recently-released “Past Life,” co-written with producer John Feldmann, Posey showcases his vocal prowess, curled with early-aughts flair, as well as his strengthening songwriting chops. “When I got sober, I was smoking cigarettes a lot, and I liked American Spirits, the yellow ones,” he says, taking a moment to shake a cigarette box into view. He’d written down the opening line (empty yellow boxes, shake them up, reveal the contents) but was unsure where to go from there.

In the middle of writing his forthcoming EP, Drugs, coming this fall, he took the lyric and a guitar riff to Feldmann. “We wrote for a little bit and then separated for 5-10 minutes,” he remembers. It’s like a catnap, a quick recharge to see what they could concoct on their own. Once they reconnected, Feldman “had a couple of lyrics and some melodies that he was hitting me with,” says Posey. In the session, they also agreed to emulate The Used’s “The Taste of Ink,” which Feldman also had a hand in writing, with “the choppiness of the guitar, so he’s basically stealing from himself.”

“We wrote the whole song with each other at that moment, and then the bridge came around. Usually, when the bridge comes around, I’ll go take a break and smoke and think about the lyrics,” he continues. “I went outside the studio, and I’ve never had lyrics hit me so quickly before. The way the song goes into the bridge just set up so perfectly for these words and just fell out of my mouth. That, to me, is the most personal part of the song because it literally tells you the entire story of how I got fucked up and then got sober.” 

When I was a kid, I felt so alone / I had to escape so that I could feel whole, he sings before letting out a rasp-soaked bark. Drift off to a place where no one knew my name / A place you could get to by numbing the taste.

“Past Life” is the culmination of his life and musical story, following previous releases this year like “This Luv Sux,” “Happy,” and “Shut Up,” featuring Travis Barker and Phem, who also happens to be his girlfriend. Posey elaborates, “As a kid, I was an actor. But I hated being an actor. I hated that people recognized me. I hated that my friends picked on me, and also that I didn’t have anything in common with them anymore.”

“20 years later, I drifted off to a place by getting fucked up and numbing the taste of this life and how great this life could be and fell into a major depression and anxiety and was living with that for years. And the only way I knew how to get rid of it was to get more fucked up,” he says. “It was a quick little band-aid that I had. In the long run, it really started messing me up. I didn’t have a routine; I have a routine now. I put down the poison, and I put down the pain. And now I’m ready to feel again, and I feel fucking everything, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Admittedly, “Past Life” is “a big one,” he reflects. “There are moments when we’re writing music, especially lately, and something will happen. And I feel this energy shift and feel this chill. And it feels like a big moment. The energy was thick in the room when we were writing it.”

While the song itself gazes backward upon what feels like a past, or another, life entirely, Posey has yet to hit the threshold where he sees his life as two separate halves. “Maybe down the road,” he says.

“I’m the best version of myself that I’ve ever been. And I wouldn’t have been this if it weren’t for drugs taking me down. In doing that, I’ve learned a lot of shit about myself. But I don’t think even if I was just sober my whole entire life before this, the shit that I’ve learned going through sobriety and going through these programs… It just teaches you how to be grateful and how to be a better person, how to just be the person that you’ve always wanted to be. And I know that sounds corny, or whatever. But fuck, man, it’s awesome. I feel so good.

“Aside from depression and anxiety, there’s a lot of moments where I’m like, ‘I’m happy as fuck,’” he adds. “I’m this happy-go-lucky person, but it’s different. It’s really different. And it’s mature. I’m still able to be like this little kid, and I know how to treat people and myself with love. And I wouldn’t have been able to learn that without going through this really intense一I don’t know if it was near death一but there were a lot of times where I felt like I was dying from drugs. I’m happy that I went through it. It’s all experience, and it’s all part of me now.”

Like many, a global pandemic and forced lockdowns brought personal enlightenment in a way he could never have predicted. “I’ve been struggling, and it wasn’t just Covid that kind of brought this out of me. I’ve been this addict for a long time. As fucked up as Covid was, there’s a major silver lining for me in that I was able to get sober and clean and learn about myself and be with myself. I was alone. A lot.

“Before COVID, my lifestyle didn’t change too much. I was always kind of a recluse. I liked to get high and be alone, whether it was drugs, smoking weed, or drinking,” he says. “I just didn’t like to be around people. I had social anxiety. The pandemic sped up the process of me using to a point where I got really scared about it.”

But Posey was able to take a break, step back, and “really take care of myself. I had nothing else to do. So for me, Covid wasn’t that big of a downfall. I do know that artists struggle and, you know, I’m no different. It’s just nice to be open about all of this. I’ve always wanted to be honest and transparent with what I was going through because I’ve hated social media since it started. And I didn’t want people to feel bad about their lives by looking at my life. So I always wanted to be like, ‘Hey, look, dude, my life isn’t that cool all the time. My mom’s dead. I struggle with a lot of depression and anxiety. I am an addict.’ I’ve always wanted to be somebody that people can look up to and not feel ashamed about their lives.

“I love the conversations happening, but it’s still taboo, though. I see that people are still uncomfortable about this whole topic. There’s still so much shit that needs to be done in terms of making this a natural thing and implementing it into schools and our everyday life. I see a therapist once a week. But there needs to be shit at school. I’m trying to help out somehow. I Have this idea: I raised a bunch of money, and I want to put it towards anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying and create a safe haven for anybody who’s been bullied.”

With a Drugs EP already in the pipeline, Posey readies even what’s to come after that. “After the EP was written, I actually relapsed. I might want to do something along those lines一write about my relapse. So I’ve had a lot of songs on the back burner about that.”

For now, he embraces the moment, and he is absolutely thriving. More than anything, and he learned quite a bit during the writing process, he has come to understand he “can do music without drugs. My whole life, I had connected punk rock to my first experience using with Warped Tour. I was in the parking lot walking through with my friend at 14 years old, and this dude’s like, ‘You guys want a beer?’ My friend was like, ‘No,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah!’ He tossed me a beer. I chugged it and went to go to Warped Tour. Up until this moment, I’ve connected punk rock with getting fucked up. When I got sober, I was like, ‘Fuck, man, am I gonna be creative?’ You don’t need to be fucked up. You don’t need to be this troubled artist stuck in a drug loop. You can still be this badass creative person.”

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