Joey Gatto is a scholar, musician, popular social media influencer and good human being. We had a quick chat about his creative process, future music and more.
R: Firstly some general introductory stuff, where did you grow up and what were you listening too?
J: Grew up in Jersey. Dad put me onto Motown stuff very early. My favorites growing up were Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, The 5th Dimension and The Temptations.
R: Do you remember the first track you made? What sort of sound were you going for when you first started VS. your current sound?
J: The first track I made for real (meaning not a comedy song) was ‘All The Time’ with my friend Chloe Cholaluca. Song is total trash. She sounds great but I was going for some weird high pitch rap voice thing that just wasn’t me and I sounded horrible. The sound is sooo much different now. Took me a few years to find my voice but it was worth the wait.
R: Do you consciously consider the themes of a song you want to make before touching pen to paper - or do you write lyrics based on what you’re feeling and then find the thematic connections organically? (OR do you go beat first?)
J: My methodology is beat, then melodies, then lyrics. I usually get sent a beat. Play it in the car a bunch of times. Sing along random melodies and voice memo the ones I like. Then I go home, try them out and if they work, I place lyrics in that fit the track.
I really don’t worry about lyrics until the end. I personally think its the least important part of a song. Yeah its great if your song is meaningful lyrically (and hopefully it is) but if it sounds like garbage nobody cares about what you're saying haha. Sometimes (like in my song ‘Darkness’) there is a line in there that is total nonsense because I liked the melody so much I didn’t wanna sacrifice it to fit in better lyric. The falsetto part where I’m like "And I said noo, and my heart break. Noo, and its too late..." that literally means nothing. I just thought it sounds cool. Is that fucked up? Sorry if its fucked up haha. ‘Back 2 U’ wasn’t like that thought. I wanted it to be more of a story.
R: My first exposure to your work was through comedy and YouTube, have you noticed a shift in audience since you've started dropping music?
J: I mean I don’t think my shift in audience came from shifting to music as much as it did from shifting my life away from YouTube in general. Interactions are down but that’s okay. I really don’t care. YouTube is so corny. The culture, the people, the work people produce. I don’t enjoy that environment. I really love school and YouTube is going to be a side thing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for that part of my life but its time to move on. My entertainment career will be focused on music now. YouTube is fun once and a while but not as a job.
R: Shit dude, what did it feel like beat boxing for Earl's freestyle?
J: Man, that was really insane. I always joke that, "It sucks to have peaked so early in life". That concert was a secret show put on by Vitamin Water and everyone who was invited was a "social media influencer" meaning... nobody there gave a shit about Earl. I was the only fan in the crowd so he gave me some special attention and eventually handed me a mic to beat-box. The Odd Future guys were my idols in high school so it was really a dream come true at the time.
R: Do you plan on incorporating humor in your music or do those live in separate worlds for you.
J: No. I definitely don’t want to do that. Its hard enough to transition between the two spaces. You want to be a musician not a "YouTuber who makes music". Trying to make a song funny would only make that second view more prevalent.
R: You're currently studying computer science. When you get on your Mr.Robot shit do you think you'd hack your songs to the top of Spotify?
J: Haha thats funny. I don’t wanna cheat my way there! Its tough man I wish I spent as much time programming as I did for my on my other math and science classes. Calc 2, Discrete Mathematics, Engineering Physics... take SO MUCH OF MY TIME! I wanna just start doing AI and Machine Learning already!
R: This year you're trying to put out your debut album, balancing that with school - what has the process been like so far?
J: Uh fucking stupid. I didn’t record a thing the last two months of school. I had no time. Ya boi tryna keep up these straight A's, ya feel? Its hard and I have been really lucky to find producers who believe in me and work with me for free on their own time. Without them I would be nothing.
R: How do you decide which songs are going to make the cut for your album and which get left behind?
J: Uhhhh interesting. I usually scrap a song halfway through if I don’t see it going anywhere so all the ones I put the time into finishing, I think will make the cut. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll just drop an EP with the ones I really love. Most of the songs I wrote were after a bad breakup so I feel like a lot of them aren’t really about the spot I’m in mentally right now which is unfortunate. It detaches me from the project a bit. Maybe that’s normal for an artist lmao idk but it feels weird to me.
R: Are any songs scrapped for good or do you try to re-purpose them?
J: I teased a song called "No Chaser" once and decided it wasn’t my best. Now twitter is always asking me to drop and I’m like CHILL that ain’t shit compared to my other stuff. I would like to re-purpose it. Idk. I like the hook on it. Cool guitar solo. This is a boring answer.
R: Songs like ‘Back 2 U’ and ‘Around’ seem thematically romantic, what subject matter are you currently interested in - what kind of themes can we expect to hear on the album?
J: Uh lots of songs about my ex. ‘Back 2 U’ girl and I broke up July 2016 and I made a lot of the songs in the following 6 months. More recently I’ve been able to produce more fun tracks that are a little bit less lovey (which has historically been difficult for me) so that’s good.
I got this one track all about guns which goes hard as fuck even though I don’t know shit about guns and I’m like super pro gun control. I just think it’s funny. Everyone I’ve showed is like, "This is hot but wtf do you think you’re talking about??" hahahaha.
R: Outside of your music, you've expressed a strong interest in macro issues/world issues. What are your thoughts on musicians speaking on these issues in their music? Is this something you feel compelled to do given your platform?
J: Hm. Very interesting question. I actually study a lot of debate and rhetorical theory in my free time and think about this quite often. I totally support and respect anyone who speaks up for what they believe in. I think its great and important. Personally, I have never found it effective to force things down peoples throats. Generally, people get defensive and wind up defending their argument more deeply. I think in order to influence, one must build trust and respect with their audience before they can really make a great impact.
I don't know if I am there yet. In my real world interactions, calmly presenting someone you know with compelling evidence is a far more effective way of changing one’s opinion than screaming activist slogans in someones face. Its like tweeting "trumps a racist" vs tweeting an article showing that he has been sued by the justice department twice for not renting to black people. The first message is not effective, his supporters will ignore it. The second, if cited from a reputable source, I believe makes a much greater impact (its all fake news anyway though right?)
I feel its more my role as a social media influencer to inform people than it is to share my personal opinions. I still share my opinions from time to time and its probably good to have a nice balance of both, but I just see more of a benefit from tweeting articles from NASA in regards to humans contributing to climate change, rather than calling trump a science denying scumbag — because who am I? I am nobody. I am just a guy with a couple hundred thousand followers but why would anyone who disagrees with me listen to me? They wouldn't. Now, should they listen to NASA? I think so.
R: How long have you been working on your debut album for?
J: I’d say since fall 2016. This track, ‘Rewind’ prod. Echos, was really the first track that got this all started. Its actually the only one that’s not done yet haha. I think it will turn out to have been my favorite though.
R: When it comes to honesty and personal stories in music, is it a more sensitive process? What are some of the things you consider before putting out a song of that nature?
J: Uh, I don’t think there is a subject that would really be off limits to me. There may be stuff I don’t talk about just because its too sad and wouldn’t make a good song.
R: Who are your dream collaborations?
J: Ravyn Lenae, Smino, Monte Booker, Chance, Alina Baraz, 070Shake, Ski Mask the Slump God, XXXTentaction, Maluma.
R: If you had to get into a major rap beef... Who would it be with?
J: Haha I don’t know. Probably B.O.B. dumbass who thinks the Earth is flat. I have beef with all of the flat-earthers.
R: What are you planning on doing once the album drops?
J: Bro honestly, the plan is to do as much undergraduate computer science research as I can so I can get into a top PhD program at an elite university. Music will be my passion project. I love it, so much, but sitting around all day singing into my microphone is just not challenging enough or exciting enough for me. Math and Science really get me hard. There is so much to learn!
R: If you needed a handsome Indian background extra for a music video, would I be your first choice?
J: You have always been my first choice for that.
R: Whose in your current top five go-to musicians when you're feeling down?
J: Troy Bolton, Gabriella Montez, Sharpay Evans, Ryan Evans, Chad Danforth.
R: That should do it. Keep well dude.
Listen to Joey’s latest release below. It’s vibrant and beautiful on the ears.
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