Words by Keane Fletcher
Brothers Thad and Jonah McClelland are no strangers to innovation. In fact, they've built their whole career on it, experimenting and jamming together new genres and new methods of production with their band Valid Point, in the pursuit of making great music. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the band's new release, the dual singles 'Bury Me' and 'Time Flies', a pairing of differing yet complementary hip-hop tracks that perfectly summarise Valid Point's approach to making music.
'I love so many different genres of music and I don't want to just make one,' says Thad. 'If I'm producing everything, then chances are I'll make the beat then walk away for months or never come back to it. I've been getting better at learning to trust others to bring to the table what I cannot or don't want to, and know that I don't need to.'
It's a philosophy built on connection, and one that's tailor made for the digital age, a process of collaboration that extends across timezones and locations with Thad based out of Nashville and Jonah currently residing in Oceanside CA. This hasn't slowed them down however. If anything, the realities of making music from afar has only expanded the band's creativity, leading to collaborations with artists and producers such as Dro, Yung 808, and Gretchen who lends her sublime vocals to 'Bury Me'. Says Thad:
'The internet has made my career...You can reach out to anybody online and there is a decent chance that they will connect with you.'
Speaking of online connection, we recently caught up with Thad to talk all things music, inspo, and why he'll be making music till the day he dies. Check out the interview below!
1- Where are you based at the moment?
Right now I live and make music in Nashville, and my brother Jonah manages the business remotely from Oceanside, California.
2- How would you describe your sound? What are your musical influences?
Well, this is a tough question that I get often because each release tends to differ from the previous one. I tend to bounce back and forth between melodic hip hop and pop punk. It has always been a goal of mine to fuse the two, and I'm not sure I've perfected it yet. One day, someone told me that they showed my music to their mom (which I thought was hilarious) and said he described it to her as 'bedroom hip hop'. He said she was enticed enough to listen because she'd never heard of the genre but was interested in what that would sound like. Ever since that day, I have been referring to my music as bedroom hip hip or bedroom pop or melodic hip hop. The problem is that I love so many different genres of music and I don't want to just make one, but at the same time I make music in a closet in a one bedroom apartment, so I am limited to what I can and can't do. On the flipside, I have the internet, so the possibilities are endless. My influences can go on for hours and are constantly changing, but I have always looked up to Juice WRLD. That kid was so beyond talented, and he made such great music. I also love bands like Nirvana and Dance Gavin Dance and Blink 182. I am all over the place.
3- How does the songwriting process usually work for you? Do you have a routine when it comes to writing and recording, or does inspiration usually take you by surprise?
It depends on how the instrumental is structured. If I'm producing everything, then chances are I'll make the beat then walk away for months or never come back to it. I've been getting better at learning to trust others to bring to the table what I cannot or don't want to, and know that I don't need to. I have a handful of producers that I can trust to send me a pack or I can send them samples and they will turn it around for me in a couple of days. That group of producers keeps growing, but I know I can send people like lukeblood, Dev Jones, Andy Wan, Matty Beats, or Kana Beats a message and have a beat back within a day or so, and that definitely helps the process timeline. To be honest, I like going into sessions totally blank. I have no ideas or directions that I want to take certain songs. My main goal is to make music that other people want to listen to over and over again. I don't write lyrics anymore either. I will go into a session, hear a beat I like, and then record empty vocal melodies and punch in words on top of that after I find a general direction. So the music sort of drives itself and just comes out raw. This has also sped up the process to the point where I can knock out a whole song in as little as 10 minutes. Songs like 'Fiji', 'Time Flies', and 'Why Would I Leave?' are examples of that. I knocked those out in under 30 minutes a piece.
After I get a solid mix, I send it to a few people. One being my brother and a few being musician friends, but the best feedback I get is from people who are not in the music industry at all. I send all my music to one of my best friends, Trevor, and he doesn't pull any punches. If the song sucks, then he will tell me, and he will sprinkle in some name calling in there too. One time I sent him a hook idea and he said 'I looooovvvved the beat.... hated everything you did though'. I scrapped that one. Another time, he asked me if I sampled an alien because it sounded out of this world. Sometimes, I think he wants my music to be successful more than I do. Everyone needs a friend like this. He has kept me grounded in life and in my music. Currently in this world, people tend to tell you what you want to hear or they say what they think you want to hear, and that doesn't help anyone. I am super blessed to have him in my life. As soon as I start making some decent money in this industry I'm putting him on payroll. That way he can make money off of telling me my music sucks (hahahahaha). He has called some of my biggest successes in my music, and I will bet that he will continue to.
4- Your latest release, the complimentary singles ‘Bury Me’ and 'Time Flies' are pieces of cathartic, raw hip-hop. Can you tell us a little about the story behind these singles? Did you always intend for them to be companion pieces?
Both 'Bury Me' and 'Time Flies' were pieces that happened so fast, and I wasn't really sure what had just happened. Lukeblood had sent me those beats during the early stages of quarantine. I can't remember the succession of how it went, but I remember recording 'Time Flies' in like 10 minutes and sending it back and he loved it. We sat on that song forever because I felt like it was too slow for the summertime. I recorded 'Bury Me' prior to recording 'Time Flies', and sent it to my brother, and he said we should get Gretchen on a track. So, I reached out and she responded almost immediately, and I sent her that song, and she loved it.
The story behind the lyrics is always tough since I don't write, but it is kind of cool to go back and think about what it could mean. It is also cool to hear what people think it means. When I go back and listen to 'Bury Me', I hear a beautiful piece. It is super deep to me. What I get out of it is two people that both want out of a toxic relationship before they bury themselves into further regret and embarrassment, but each of them is too afraid to make the call themselves. They are asking each other to put them out of their misery.
'Time Flies' feels like another relationship that is falling apart, but the protagonist does not want to let go. When I recorded that song, I was going through some frustration with work and family matters. I say that because it was easy to assume every song ever is about a boy and a girl and for me that song resonates so much deeper than that. Family.
Being how the two were both produced by lukeblood, and they both complemented each other's style yet contrasted in pace and emotion, I knew I wanted to do a dual single. I will probably do that from here on out. It was fun to release one that I knew would be more of a hit and one that was more of a sleeper hit. I knew people would eat up 'Bury Me', but later on people will fall more in love with 'Time Flies'. I know this because we sat on both songs for almost a year. It was like we put together a potion with the two.
5- ‘Bury Me’ also features Gretchen as a guest vocalist on the track. How does collaboration usually work for you? At what point of the process do you reach out to someone?
So, when I was living in Memphis a small label hit me up and told me they were doing a show in Nashville, and that I should come check it out. They had a headliner, but I was more impressed with their openers. In the middle of Ryan Tucker totally killing a set, he brought out Gretchen and she sang their song Whatchu Want? and I loved it. They were both so talented and so raw, so I immediately reached out on social media and connected with them. Ultimately, I got a song with them both and they are both so fire. Anyway, the process is simple really. Social media makes the world a small place. There are only a handful of times that I have actually met the artist. I have worked with artists like Yung 808 who lives in New Zealand. I have never been to New Zealand. That being said, I do prefer working with the artist in person, just because it is easier to get on the same page. It sucks sending music back and forth for months because it just 'doesn't feel right', as opposed to being there in person and ironing out the details. But Gretchen was a pro on this one. She killed it in one session and sent it back, and it was super easy to mix in. We have another one in the vault, and I am sure many more will come.
The beautiful thing about features and making connections with other artists is the domino effect. In this particular incident, I went to see an artist. I saw Ryan Tucker open for them. Gretchen came out and sang. Got a song with both. Gretchen introduced me to Landon Sears (working on a song with him). That is three different artists when I went to go see one. One which I won't even name by the way.
As far as knowing when to reach out for a feature, it goes back to keeping people by your side that will call it like it is. My brother told me to reach out to Gretchen. She was in Tennessee and our audiences would crossover seamlessly and offer something new. Trevor told me that he wants to hear a female on a song with me. My point is, surround yourself with honest people, and you will see the benefits. If you have people in your life that tell you everything is good all the time, I wouldn't believe them.
6- How has the ongoing pandemic affected your creativity? Have you enjoyed having more time to write and record, or has it been stifling? How have you been forced to adapt?
When the pandemic first hit, I was full force with making music. I treated it like a job, and like a job I hit some walls, had some bad days, had days where I wanted to give up. I also had days where I made 3 or 4 of the best songs I have ever done. It is hard to say I have enjoyed having more time to record because recording is only a piece of the job. Not being able to tour, not being able to meet up with tons of artist in a room, not being able to book studios like you used to sucks. At some point, it begins to feel like you are just making music for a bunch of numbers on a computer screen. It has been hard to remember that it is actually reaching real people. This pandemic has taken away intimacy between humans in many ways. Ironically, it is unhealthy mentally to stay healthy physically. And I am not advocating any sort of anti-COVID procedures. I am just saying being cooped up sucks...for everyone. I am so ready for the pandemic to be over, but hopefully my music has helped people get through this.
7- How do you feel the internet has affected your career as an artist?
The internet has made my career. Like I said earlier, the internet and social media has made the world a smaller place. You can reach out to anybody online and there is a decent chance that they will connect with you. Do not be afraid to throw hail marys out there. The worst people can say is 'no' or never respond (which is where you start out anyway). The music for me did not really take off until after I linked with @whoisdro on instagram. I had a small buzz going when I dropped Ghost and then shortly after he liked one of my photos. Back in the early days, I used to go through all of my likes and followers and reach out to them personally (I still try and do this now). I had always been a huge Felly fan, so when I saw that his producer liked a picture of some album art, I bugged out. I reached out and thanked him and to my surprise he wanted to work on some producer collabs (i was doing a lot more producing then). After going back and forth for a couple weeks and send countless melody packs, I sent him a melody pack called 'water'. I got so tired of naming melodies that I would make packs with a theme and name them after that. I had like 5 in this pack and named them 'Dasani', 'Evian', 'Deer Park', 'Fiji', etc. He sent back the 'Fiji' beat and I sang on it, and he did not know it was me. After that, he was down to make an album together and that is how Mannequin came about, and 'Fiji' was a single off of that (I couldn't think of a better name so i just left it). Mannequin is where things started to take off. All because of the internet. I knew of Dro back in the day but had no way of contacting him. In 2017, he ended up finding me. Kinda crazy.
8- If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
What a loaded question. One thing? I wish people would relax and be transparent. I am sure a lot of artists would answer with not being paid enough or weeding out the whack artists, but we were all whack once, and the money is there if you make good music and stay consistent. What I am tired of is people in the industry towering over people. It is stupid. So many artists or industry people act like they are better than everyone else and will not give you the time of day. There is so many deceitful people in the industry too or they are not totally honest with you or they act like you should already know how everything is supposed to work. But honestly, that is the same in every industry. I worked in hotels for over 10 years, and you see the same issues. That is how humans are. We are broken and lead astray, but if you have your head on straight you can see through it and protect yourself.
9- What's next for you?
I am working with so many dope artists and producers that I am in the weeds with work, and couldn't be more grateful. There are so many songs that I make and think it is the best one I have ever done, and then the next day I out do it. I just keep praying for opportunities and God keeps bringing them, so I will keep pursuing them. Until I crash and burn or die, I will always make music. I will lay on my deathbed knowing that I did everything I could do to make the music happen. So, that is what is next. Get me through this pandemic so we can set tours up again. Until then, I will keep making music in a one bedroom apartment closet and pissing off my neighbors (I am sorry).
Thanks for stopping by Hipland!