Collaboration has always been an integral part of Tyler Bussey’s creative process, which is partly why he’s wary of calling Thank You Thank You a solo project. Best known for his involvement in acts like The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and Strange Ranger, the Philadelphia singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has also contributed to a wide range of other projects over the years, a testament to not only his versatility as a musician but also his deep appreciation for different styles and – as he notes in our conversation – people. He’s carried that collaborative mindset over to Thank You Thank You, whose debut EP, NEXT TO NOTHING, features contributions from members of groups including Hour, Another Michael, Rozwell Kid, Spirit of the Beehive, and more. From the spare but evocative opener ‘O’ (which features three musicians) to the shimmering indie rock of ‘Autonomy’ (which features ten), the EP feels like an apt distillation of Bussey’s diverse influences and creative inclinations, a move towards something he can more easily call his own but that will always be rooted in community. With more music on the way, it’ll be exciting to see how the world of Thank You Thank You will grow and expand going into the future.
We caught up with Thank You Thank You’s Tyler Bussey for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about how the project came about, the making of NEXT TO NOTHING, and more.
What strikes me about your work is the range of styles you’ve dabbled in over the years – obviously, there’s your work with TWIABP&IANLATD and Strange Ranger, but there’s also quite a bit of experimental pop and traditional folk music. I don’t expect you to go through your entire catalogue, but what do you think it is that draws you to such a wide range of styles?
You know, I’ve always been that kind of listener. I think that, first and foremost, my experience with music was forged as just checking out everything and being excited to listen to all these kinds of music. There were no social expectations with a lot of it – it wasn’t like, when you’re listening to punk rock or whatever you’re not doing it to impress the cool kids; you’re not listening to, like, banjo tunes to fit in if you’re from Connecticut. [laughs] You’re just curious and interested and different things are exciting for different reasons. But ultimately, different kinds of music are – you know, there’s more levels going on than just what you’re hearing, there’s a whole story involved, like where, how did this style develop. Anytime you’re listening to music, whether you’re aware of it or not, there’s a backstory, there’s a place and a time that it’s related to. And I just find all that inherently fascinating and fun to investigate. So for me, it’s like, if I’m learning to play the banjo, it’s because I think that it’s deep and interesting. And if I’m learning a specific kind of guitar playing, it’s because I think that there’s a history to it that is deep and enriching. Does that answer the question?
Yeah, I think so. It’s almost like the genre or genre distinctions are less important than the story or the culture behind it.
Yeah, I think that genre in the old school sense is a way of demarcation and separating things off from each other. And in a lot of ways, when someone sits down and they’re like, “I’m going to make a genre piece of music” that is only about the sound, like they don’t necessarily know about the history. They just know how to make that sound. But immersion is so much more satisfying – like, that’s one of the best things about touring, is you get to see different things that are not what’s around you, you know, different cultures, different languages, different musics, and different people. Ultimately, what it comes down to, for me, is it’s about people.
Was that kind of thinking something that you grew up with or was it something that you discovered along the way?
I think it just – my instinct is that I’m curious and I’m interested in other people and where they’re coming from. And I don’t know when that set in, but like, pretty early, because I’m from the suburbs; I’m like, from what you would call a bubble, culturally, and so as soon as I found out that there was a much wider world beyond the world that I was living in, that even people that were older than me didn’t know about, you know – like when you’re a kid and you discover music communities or cultures or scenes or whatever that aren’t native to where you are. And where I was from, there wasn’t like a native situation, I felt very rootless. So it made a lot of sense to me to look around and just be open to everything.
What did you gravitate towards at that age?
At an early age, definitely punk rock and hardcore. And I’m talking about the late 90s, early 2000s, so bands that were active around that time, or a lot of 80s punk and hardcore, so you know, Minor Threat and Fugazi and Husker Dü. And then later on, broadening it to more indie rock stuff like Yo La Tengo and Broken Social Scene. There were specific punk bands that were active at the time that I was going to see a lot. But I think that’s when I fell in love with music as like, much more of a communal thing, because going to punk shows, you felt like you could – like, everyone’s climbing on top of each other, you know. I remember being at a show as a teenager, drenched in sweat, having my arm around a person who didn’t speak English, the only English they knew were the words to the band’s songs. So we were just screaming the words into each other’s faces.
I don’t know, I think I genuinely love and am interested in people, other people and their stories and where they’re from and what their deal is. So that probably did set in at a young age through punk rock, because I think the values of punk rock at the time felt very – like, all the things that you can think of that you would associate with leftist politics or, you know, anti-capitalist politics, anti-racist, anti-misogynist, all that stuff is ultimately about lifting people up and being pro-people of all stripes.
That makes sense to me listening to your new EP, because there’s still very much a collaborative spirit to it, even if it is kind of a solo project. Is there a reason that despite having been in different projects over the years, you still wanted to keep this very collaborative? Is it tied to what you’re talking about now?
Absolutely, I mean, that’s just what I believe in. It’s not like you sit down and you make a checklist of what you’re gonna do, that’s just how you are, how you make things. You said it was a solo project, and really, in my mind, I don’t like thinking of it that way, and I didn’t want – part of the reason why I put off doing it for so long was because I didn’t want to just have a solo project. So things had to come together in the right way, in terms of finding people to collaborate with, that it felt right and was enjoyable and fun and felt like a good team and a good crew. And frankly, if it were up to me, there would be other people singing and other people writing in the band, but the band is really me right now. And ultimately, COVID has something to do with that. Actually, this past year I’ve leaned into isolation and solitude quite a bit, and I’ve just been sitting at home, practicing guitar all the time and learning, and studying and listening to music probably more than I have since I was a kid. Worrying less about making it, but more about absorbing things again.
Why did you feel like this was the right time to start the project?
Well, the honest answer, which is a complicated one, has a lot to do with the fact that I have a tendency to prioritize others over myself and put my needs on the back burner as a collaborator and as a musician. So I reached a point where I was pretty burnt out from a series of unfortunate events involving collaboration and realized that it would probably be really fruitful for me to finally sort of step out a little bit more and have a little bit more confidence in myself as someone who can not only fill in things and contribute ideas, but just have the ideas, the initial ones, and then see those through and have other people in the roles and positions that I often filled myself.
It’s like, I have a lot of experience as a collaborator, so I think I’m pretty good at recognizing what I need from people and what they need as the person in the collaborative role. So I think that I was able to navigate that with this, where I was able to treat people pretty well and care about their feelings and their inputs and their thoughts.
And the name – Thank You Thank You – what was the inspiration behind that?
Oh, it’s kind of funny. Like I said before, I have misgivings about the idea of it being considered a true solo project, because I really just don’t believe in those demarcations and those arbitrary distinctions. Obviously, I think there’s such a thing as an individual and we’re separate people, but I think that none of us are an island either. And like, relationship and collaboration and community, all these things aren’t just buzz words or whatever, they’re real things that are the real important stuff in life, you know. There’s so much sensitivity and empathy and compassion and kindness and thoughtfulness that goes into making music with other people. I feel like there’s this trend, especially now, where it’s all about the solo project, all about the front person, like highlighting the brand and the figure in the middle of it at the expense of realizing how much work goes into these things and how many other people are involved. It’s like giving the chef all the credit and not any of the cooks.
So with that said, my question to myself was, how do I reconcile the fact that on the one hand, I don’t want it to be a solo project and on the other hand, I don’t want to be beholden to who the collaborators are in any given moment, because I’m going to keep making songs and keep wanting to put them out. So instead of just saying the name of the band is Tyler Bussey or something, I was like, well, it can be a play on my name, which is like, my friends call me “Ty Ty”, so.
Oh! [laughs] That only clicked just now.
Yeah, I’m pretty into it still, I think it’s cute and fun. But I also think that, honestly, not to get too heavy-handed about it or anything but it literally again feels like a situation, you know, when you say thank you, you’re talking to someone who did something for you. You’re in gratitude about a relationship.
I thought that’s what you were getting at at first, yeah.
All of the above, yeah. A, B, C and D.
To get to the songs on the EP specifically, did they come out of that lockdown period or had they already been written?
The songs that are on the EP, those were written before – except one of them was finished during quarantine, but that one is the instrumental track.
‘Out of Nowhere’, yeah.
Yeah, that one. That one was kind of funny because it’s kind of less of a song to me and more like a recording project in a lot of ways, more like a sound piece. That was the result of collaborating with my friend Alex Lewis, who is a fantastic guitar player and musician, and also an independent radio producer who worked with WXPN here in Philadelphia and with NPR and many more. Early last year I invited him over and we sat down in my room and improvised guitar music – we’d known each other for years, but we never actually sat down and played together. So when I had this piece, which was just – I made up a guitar part at three in the morning and recorded it, and there was something kind of spooky about the way it sounded; I was on my bed playing the guitar with my phone recording it, but I was probably like shaking the bed slightly by just kind of vibing. [laughs] And it made these kind of rustling sounds, it almost sounded like being outside, going for a walk or something. And then also, I was accidentally doing this percussive thing with my right hand, but it ended up sounding like three or four things were happening even though it was just one recording. I was like, “I love this, I should use this,” and then sent it to Alex, who added the lap steel parts and field recordings that he then edited and manipulated with his wizardry.
The rest of the songs are also quite different from each other. My favorite is probably ‘Heights’ – could you talk more about the process behind that track?
Yeah, that is definitely a song that I’ve messed around with for years. I’ve honestly just kind of enjoyed the lyrical arc of it and the scene that I describe in it and then the second scene down the road, like the memory of it. I’ve always had that going and been playing with it, and then for years just messing around with different ways to arrange or play it. But I was playing it by myself, I didn’t have a band to play it with. And then when I finally put together a group of people to play music and shows with in Philly, which I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them: we have Sean Hallock, who played drums with the project; Corey Wichlin, who played guitar and occasionally synthesizer; and Jacob Crofoot, who would play bass. We had these songs that I’d written and were trying to figure out what they were going to be. And basically, we arranged it together, and I really wanted to not play guitar for the entire song. I just wanted to kind of put the guitar down and sing, but then pick up the guitar for the reverse solo thing. I just thought it was funny to put the guitar down and then pick it up to shred a stupid solo. [laughs]
And the chorus, the “ba ba” part, how did that come about?
Well, I just love a “ba ba” part, you know? And to be honest with you, I think that it was one of those things where you’re trying different ideas, and then you sit with that idea to see if it holds water and if you want to stick with that idea. To me, the “ba ba” part is not like a simple “ba ba” part, it’s also like a lexical unit that corresponds with the lyrics of the song in other places.
Yes, exactly. And the different meanings of the word “back”. But I was thinking about those things and that’s why it took a long time to write because I was kind of weighing all these elements and words and trying to figure out if I liked them. And that’s why the solo is in reverse and forwards at the same time. The whole thing is about the fog of memory and about, also like a weed fog; it’s all about, you know, layers and layers of meaning and that sort of thing. And how meaning is formed and how the brain even fucking tries to do this shit.
Yeah. The more times I listened to that song, the more layers revealed themselves.
See, that’s what the dream is, you want people to actually feel like the songs continue to open up over time.
I wanted to ask about something I noticed on the Bandcamp page – the bio reads, “a shadow of myself playing the banjo.” And in the credits, you’ve put two question marks next to “banjo.”
Is there a story behind that?
No, that’s a mystery. That is a mystery for the listener to solve. Or to just dwell in. It’s a mystery that we are all part of.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.