Tyler Despres of Science Partner on how a really good melody should be like a nursery rhyme
Science Partner had its origins as a solo side project of Tyler Despres of Dualistics. When that band split up due to half the band moving out of state for work and the like, Science Partner became Despres main creative focus. The early shows may have been more acoustic affairs, but last year, by the time the act released its debut full-length, Rocky Mountain News, Science Partner had become a full-fledged pop-rock band, one that didn't shed the experimentalism present in Despres's songwriting in Dualistics. We recently spoke with Despres about the trajectory of his creative endeavors and how the economic downturn presented him with the time and opportunity to focus on his creative life and his songwriting.
Westword: You've talked about being into the Counting Crows, which might surprise some people. What is it about them that you like?
Tyler Despres: Oh, I love their melodies, the musicianship, the production on August and Everything After, kind of the complete package. People give them a lot of flak. It takes me back every time I listen to it. Their new stuff, I could take it or leave it. But that album and Recovering the Satellites, I played the crap out of those albums when I was younger.
When did you start playing music of your own?
I started playing piano when I was ten or so. Then I picked up the guitar around eleven or twelve. I got all the theory for piano down and picked up the guitar and finished learning my theory on the guitar. But I'm self-taught, though. I didn't take lessons for more than a month after I started playing guitar. I started writing my own music and playing the guitar at around the same time.
That first year, the songs I wrote were horrible. A lot of them were about girls, and I hadn't even kissed a girl at that point. It's always funny when child stars sing songs about romance. They don't know what they're talking about. They have no platform from which to speak. The songs were pretty awful for the first five years, I would say. I wouldn't want to play any of the music I wrote before I was eighteen and nineteen.
Did you record that stuff?
Yeah, experimenting with multi-tracking. What I would do is record it on to a tape and play it through some speakers and record with another microphone and layer it like that. I have a lot of strange recordings from that era. You're making me all nostalgic. I want to go back and listen to some of those. Maybe get a new idea out of it or write a new song.
What was the turning point for you, then?
I'd had a little more life experience at eighteen or nineteen. I dropped out of high school when I was seventeen. I was living on my own at eighteen or nineteen and had a legitimate recording device with a Boss BR-8 with the zip drive. When I got that, I started developing my own style and experimenting with effects and playing with phasers and stuff on my voice. I got into an experimental phase for a few years and maybe finding my sound a little bit more and developing my guitar skills.
Unless you're some sort of child phenom, you don't really develop your own sound until you're a little older and you've been playing your instrument for three or four years. Otherwise, maybe it's just me, but it's going to sound derivative. Everyone's derivative of something these days to some extent, I suppose. But you find out what you can sing, what you can't sing, what your range is, the style of music your body will allow you to play. For instance, I would never be able to thrash some crazy guitar solo, but I can play a melodic guitar solo. You hash out what you can and can't do, learn your confines and then you can go from there and develop as an artist.
Why did you drop out of high school?
I was just a horrible student. I'm a much better student now. I was naive, and I didn't think school was important. But I have a completely new viewpoint about it now, and I want to become a teacher. It's funny to look back on those days, but I figured I could read and learn whatever I wanted. I wasn't going to any of my classes and ditching school all the time, and one day my mom just asked me, "Do you just want to drop out and get your GED? Take a year off and go to college?"
When you moved out on your own, did you move immediately to Denver?
No, I moved into an apartment in Thornton with a couple of friends, and it really sucked. But it was also great because I had my own place where I could drink and do all that stuff. But in hindsight, I definitely wish I would have moved into the city and got more into the scene and met musicians and gotten started playing around town more sooner.
I was probably 23 or 24 before I really started playing shows around Denver. That was in the band called Mr. Coyote, and then we changed our name to The Mimetics. That was me and Charlie Hine, who was also the guitarist in Dualistics. I wish I'd been playing at eighteen, but I was fucking around up in the suburbs getting drunk. Some of my friends got into the scene as soon as they could, and they're so much better for it. It is what it is, and I feel pretty entrenched in it now.
Where was your first show?
If you don't count school band stuff, I guess it would have been in one of my first bands called Gasoline Choir at this place called the Loft in Broomfield. It was this kind of youth center where kids could stay the night if their parents signed the waiver. I would have been maybe fourteen or fifteen. I played a couple of shows there, actually.
What was the first Dualistics show?
Well Jimmy Stofer and Scott Russell had already recorded an album, so Charlie and I learned the song and played them at Leela's European Café. But we were not playing anything we had written, we were just there to help Jimmy promote. We did a couple more shows like that, and then Charlie and I started writing songs, and we took a different direction.
How did you meet Jimmy and Scott?
Charlie met Jimmy at CU Boulder. They were in a band with Crosby Loggins, Kenny Loggins's son. I met Charlie and Jimmy at a battle of the bands at CU Boulder. I was in a band called the Kildren. It was sort of a really progressive band. Not a lot of singing, just a lot of crazy guitar riffs. I got Charlie's number and we started Mr. Coyote not long after that. We got third, they got second and this crazy metal band called Anomy got first.
When did you form the Dualistics?
Late '05, something like that. We played our last show in July 2010 at the hi-dive. Toward the end we were playing with Nate Barnes of Rose Hill Drive. When he joined the band in that last year, year and a half, it took on a more of a poppy sound. which is sort of what Science Partner has become -- not power pop but big, rockin' pop.
That's where Dualistics probably would have continued to go had people not moved to different states. Now Charlie lives in San Francisco, and he's flying out for this show because it's a CD release. Normally John Evans plays with us. I was lucky enough to convince him to play with us. But our shows are so rare that Charlie could potentially fly out each time, seeing as we play once every five months or so.
Charlie lived above the Meadowlark with me in our two apartments up there, and that's where we recorded the album. We had the whole top floor; sixteen, seventeen foot ceilings, wood floors -- just a great room for tracking drums. So he was very much a part of the recording process because it was all done in his living room, essentially, on his computer. So he had to come back for this show, in particular, because of all his input on this album.
When did you start Science Partner?
It would have been in 2009. I had just lost my job and living on unemployment, so I had a lot of free time on my hands. I had worked at a financial company, and I managed people, and I hated it. They let me go, and I was able to take some time off. Right around then, I had been playing at the Meadowlark open mike a lot, and Jonathan Bitz said that he really liked my music. He inspired me to pursue my solo stuff. At the time, I was still in Dualistics, and a lot of my creative energy was going there.
I started playing with Carl Sorenson and Charlie, and the three of us started working together writing some songs, and then, somehow, we convinced both Jess DeNicola and Maria Kohler to sing probably six months after that. Luke Mossman joined last year. So the six year incarnation, it is now has been together for a year and a half. I credit them with 75 percent to 100 percent of what we sound like.
"Beautiful Beam (For Carl Sagan)." Why Carl Sagan?
I'm sort of stealing a phrase my brother said one time: He's sort of an "intellectual deity" for me. I'll leave it at that. I appreciate everything he did. I watched Cosmos when I was a kid, and it came out before I was born. I've always been fascinated by space, and his way of talking about the universe in general.
I was writing the song, and Cosmos came into my head, and I just started writing these lyrics about how Carl Sagan isn't with us on earth anymore but back in the energy he was always talking about, sort of this cycle of energy that is the universe. I thought it would be appropriate to write a song to him because he's become what he believed the universe was. The word "Cosmos," I kept on singing when I did that melody, so it just made sense.
Your album is called Rocky Mountain News. Obviously there are resonances with the name of the defunct daily newspaper, but what is the significance to the name?
Charlie, Luke and I sort of started this epic rock band called Rocky Mountain News. It was right after, maybe six months after, the paper went out of business. Then one day Charlie and I just thought we should get Luke on board to make these big, epic rock songs, and we just combined it, so we thought it apropos to call the new record Rocky Mountain News, because it was familiar to a lot of people from Denver. So it was an homage to that, and an homage to the two bands that sort of converged into Science Partner.
Why did you write a song called "Child Stars"?
Charlie and I had [gotten altered] one day, and we started playing that riff and came up with that melody. Jess, Marie and I in Science Partner had already been singing a song about Miley Cyrus, and for whatever reason, we kept singing that chorus, and we wrote a song about child stars. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek, so there isn't a lot of wisdom behind it. But our friend Bonnie Gregory, who is in a band called Horse Latitudes, helped write some of the lyrics.
We recorded the first version the first day, and when we did it for the album, we re-recorded it. There wasn't a lot of effort that went into it as a song. But it turned out to be one of the catchiest things we've ever written. "Miley Cyrus" just fit in phonetically with the riff. So we wrote the song around it. That happens with a lot of the songs I write. You repeat songs or phrases. We couldn't get that song out of our heads so we kept it.
Were there other child stars you referenced in any way?
Not really. Just the notion of fleeting fame -- how it's all just an act and generally not very artistic and it's someone else telling these kids to sing or be a certain person. It's this fake thing, and unfortunately those people end up becoming role models for children. But we don't really go into that when we wrote the song. But we could have. It could have been a more thoughtful song instead of just kind of a fun stab at that.
Who came up with the name Science Partner?
Charlie, Carl and I went to Illegal Pete's one day with the sole intention of coming up with a band name. So we were just throwing out a bunch of names. We had our iPhones out there for half an hour and talking about stuff that people could relate to. Like Locker Partners, the video production company. I forget some of the names, but it was things you associate with childhood.
Charlie said, "Science Project" and I said, "Science Partner." We looked it up on the phone to see if there was a band with that name and there wasn't. It's easy to remember and the kind of cheesy explanation being that we're all in this experience of life together. In this science, we're your partners. More importantly, it's just a fun, throwback name.
Why did you want to hearken back to childhood in some fashion?
It's something Charlie and I have often talked about. When you write a really good melody, it should be like a nursery rhyme. It should be not repetitive, but primitive. Those are the melodies that really stick. So we were thinking the same thing with a band name: something memorable that you can relate to. Almost everyone has had a science partner in their lives -- maybe not some home schooled kids or private school kids in some places, but the majority of people have. It's just kind of a fun, memorable, relatable name.
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