The Many Faces of Tyler Fassnacht
While on his solo tour, we caught up with Madison-based multi-instrumentalist Tyler Fassnacht, to discuss his one-man bedroom recording projects, covering Avril Lavigne, and what audiences can expect from his run of shows this month.
Prolific Madison-based multi-instrumentalist Tyler Fassnacht admits he's always recording something. Aside from maintaining two solo projects, TS Foss and Baby Tyler, Fassnacht also performs in Proud Parents, Fire Heads, and The Hussy. This past January, he released the third Baby Tyler tape, Vol. 3, which melded the project's ear-deafening garage punk with a well blown out and delightfully abrasive hardcore sound. As the project began as a space to trial new sounds, it's turned into something much bigger. Back in May, he surprisingly opened for Kikagaku Moyo as part of their farewell tour and now this month, he's embarking on a solo tour. Before he plays our second showcase show at Rosen Krown alongside Swimming Faith mastermind Science Man and bedroom punk Ghost Beef, we caught up with Fassnacht to discuss his one-man recording projects, covering Avril Lavigne, and what audiences can expect from his run of shows this month.
Paperface Zine: Hey Tyler! Thanks again for doing the interview and performing at our second showcase show. Tell me, what are you most excited about getting back on the road for your solo tour this month and what can audiences expect at your shows?
Tyler Fassnacht: Honestly I am just excited to get back out there! I started touring when I was 20 (I'm 29 now) and, before the pandemic, had pretty much done at minimum one tour every year since. Especially the last couple years prior to everything shutting down, I was touring to some extent with four different projects so I'm very eager to get back into the rhythm of playing shows every night and seeing old road friends. And hopefully make some new ones! As far as expectations, people can look forward to seeing me squeeze every drop of energy out of my soft, feeble body while I blast very loud pre-recorded music out of amps. Will it be obnoxious? Perhaps. Will it be fun? Guaranteed. Performance has always been priority for me so especially now that there won't be actual musicians on stage I gotta give 'em something to look at! Trying not to be just like someone on stage singing karaoke with their own songs.
PFZ: What's it like playing solo shows compared to having a backing band? How are the versions different for tracks? TF: Playing solo is not nearly as fun. Having the support of bandmates and playing off someone else's energy makes it a hell of a lot easier to get comfortable. When you are solo, surprise surprise, you are the only thing to look at and give attention to so it's a lot more pressure. The idea of getting "lost" in a performance may seem kind of hokey, but I often will zone out and just let my brain and body do its thing. Otherwise if I focus too much on what's happening I get anxious. Avoid banter. Avoid eye contact. Avoid silence. That's pretty much my mantra. But when I have a backing band I can always look over at someone, make a face or knowing glance, some real music biopic shit, and it chills me out. The versions I play for live shows are literally the same tracks that are used for the album, so if you dig the show I've got some great news for ya! With the full band, I am incredibly lucky that some of the best musicians I know also happen to be my friends. Heather Sawyer, Graham Hunt, Liam Casey and Griffin Pett are the BBTY band and they all bring so much of their own talent to the table that even though they are kind enough to play my songs, they still play it their way. It feels a little different, sounds a little different. It's like if you were really proud of a dish you cooked and thought "damn gimme a big hat cuz I am a capital C Chef," but then someone else makes the same recipe and you taste it and realize you ain't such hot shit. Still proud, but maybe not so cocky.
PFZ: What was the experience like opening for Kikagaku Moyo back in May? TF: Opening for Kikagaku Moyo was incredible. They are just a group of people who were put on this earth to play music together. The set was so dynamic and they sounded amazing. Probably one of the best live bands I have ever seen, so the fact that they're doing a farewell tour is a bit a bummer, but it was so much fun. I didn't know how well we would go over since musically we are pretty different from them, but the crowd was great and dug us a lot. Also just the idea that the band spent the time and energy to look through Bandcamp and hand pick a local artist to open every show on that tour blows my mind, almost as much as me being one of them. Great band, great people.
PFZ: Take me through the origins of you stepping out on a solo venture and crafting melodic punk under two monikers: TS Foss (acoustic) and Baby Tyler (electric). What made you want to do two separate projects instead of releasing it all under one? TF: Well they really are two completely different things. I have been making sad sack, finger-picky, twangy acoustic music as TS Foss since 2015. I love screaming my head off to some dumb punk, but I also love crying to some Townes Van Zandt. It started out as an outlet just to get some things out of my head, but I really started taking it more seriously a couple years ago. Before the pandemic, I was doing so much with so many bands that I needed something that was just mine and TS Foss became that. I had, and still have, a lot of dreams of what I want to do with that project, but Baby Tyler kind of came about accidentally in 2020. About a million artists have the same story, but with lockdown I was unemployed and bored and thought it would be fun to learn how to program drum machines and get better at recording by messing around in GarageBand. I was very surprised so many people cared about Baby Tyler and it was fun so I ran with it. Both projects are very genuine and dear to me, and I think vital to who I think I am as a person as corny as that sounds, but both have different processes and mindsets for me so I've always thought of them as separate things. Honestly the only reason they're on the same Bandcamp is because I didn't want to go through the hassle of making another one.
PFZ: How do you think you've developed and grown as a solo artist since the Active Adult EP compilation? TF: For one thing, I'd like to think I've generally gotten better. I'm proud of a lot of my early work and still play some stuff, but also some of it is very cringe to me and makes me want to peel my skin off. I guess it's honest though? For ts foss at least I have developed a better focus for sure. I spend a lot of time on the lyrics for that project and I think I've gotten better at writing in general because of it. For Baby Tyler, pretty much every new release is the result of me having more toys to play with and learning how to actually use them, for better or worse.
PFZ: Your latest album under Baby Tyler, Vol. 3, is a hard-hitting mix of hardcore fury and wild garage-punk. What was the recording process like for this new tape and when did you begin recording? TF: The process for all my Baby Tyler albums have been pretty much the same at this point. I write most of the songs on bass initially and sit down with it plugged into my computer and I find a riff or progression and mess around with a drum machine app until I find something I like. I record as I write each track so by the time I finish writing it, the framework for the song is recorded. A lot of those songs I don't even remember how to play since I haven't played them since recording, so it was for sure a pain in the ass to relearn stuff to teach a band. I record everything DI through an interface in my bedroom so no amps or anything. I recorded it last summer but took my time mixing since Vol. 2 still was only a couple months old at that point. I have a bad habit of moving on as soon as I am done making something, but getting music released on physical formats is taking so much longer these days that I have to check myself and remind myself that no one else wants this much Baby Tyler so I need to cool it sometimes. I'm so thankful and lucky that so many labels have been into my stuff though. Shout out FDH Records, Tetryon Tapes and Under the Gun Records!
PFZ: How did you approach the songwriting on the new album and how did your original ideas for the tracks develop?
TF: For this one I did consciously go into it wanting to try and make a straight up hardcore record, which I don't think I did, nor do I think I could really pull off genuinely. I've always made punk adjacent stuff and have wanted to be more punk than I really am, so me trying to be as heavy and menacing as possible is still like, only kind of heavy, so I couldn't help myself from putting in some catchy hooks, or some fun cheesy breakdowns. One of my favorite things about a lot of punk, and certainly some hardcore, is its ability to also be kind of goofy, so I tried to let myself not be so serious. I've got songs about my annoying neighbor who always falls asleep with the bath running, being too stoned, eating too much because I'm home bored, loving trading gossip with friends, just some very straightforward dumb shit. So the album actually ended up being a lot more fun than I had anticipated.
PFZ: Just before the end of 2021, you released the compilation, 155 Pod Covers: the Hits and covered Avril Lavigne as the opening track! Take me through the origins of this project. TF: So this was a very wild endurance project that I subjected myself to. It was for this amazing, yet also very stupid podcast that I love with all my heart called 155 Pod. The hosts used to have a podcast called Blink 155 that I followed for years as they talked about a different Blink 182 song every week with the goal of covering them all. When they began the band had 155 songs in their catalogue, but then they released a new album so the name became meaningless, which is very fitting for the podcast itself actually. A lot of times they barely talked about the song, a lot of the songs they hated, the episodes were meandering and often like two hours long… it was great! But anyway after finishing all the Blink songs they just continued and kind of sorta talk about a different song every week of their choosing now. When they first started out they began allowing people to submit covers of the songs they were going to talk about the following week and I had just done the first Baby Tyler album at that point so I was like "Hey I sort of have a set up to participate" and again, I was unemployed and bored, so I started doing it every week. The song would be announced and then people would have like four days to record and submit a cover. After a couple months I set the goal of doing a cover every week for a year and I did it! Coincidentally the hosts also, after a year, announced they were stopping the cover submissions because I think it became annoying for everyone involved. They released compilations of every week on their own Bandcamp so I decided just to compile my favorites into an album. The process actually ended up being great for my own songwriting because my equipment was always set up so it was easy for me to just pick up a guitar and work on new Baby Tyler songs at any time of the day. I also got a lot better at programming drums and mixing because of it, so just like school, some of it was hard and I hated it, some of it was easy and I enjoyed, but in the end I learned a lot. The community of listeners are also so kind and supportive of each other. A lot of times they were the only reason I kept it up. A bunch of them even put together a covers comp of some of my songs which was so touching.
PFZ: What have you admired about playing in Proud Parents the last few years? Also, are there any plans to release new music soon? Also, what’s the future of Fire Heads? TF: Proud Parents is probably my favorite thing I have ever been a part of. It's the only time I've been in a band that was so evenly collaborative and democratic. Having multiple lead singers was always a dream of mine and it's awesome and still pretty unique. It's hard to do well and certainly take a lot of effort sometimes, but I have so much admiration for my bandmates C Nelson-Lifson and Heather Sawyer and the songs they write and how we all write together! They're some of my best friends and I think we all kind of inspire and push each other. We released an album at some point during the pandemic and we have been slowly working on new stuff. We all have a lot of other things going on that sometimes takes priority, but Proud Parents has always been a slow moving train: maybe not winning races, but steadily progressing and unstoppable. Liam, in addition to playing in Baby Tyler, also is the new bass player in Proud Parents and fits perfectly into our weird little world. Fire Heads kind of just stopped. During the pandemic, everyone had other stuff going on. The bassist bought a restaurant and has very little free time. He also employs a bunch of his bum friends, like me. We may some day do stuff again, but also may not.
PFZ: Following this tour, what's next for TS Foss / Baby Tyler? TF: Quite a bit actually! I wrote and recorded a new TS Foss album over the last two years with a full band. There's piano, pedal steel, cello, the whole nine yards and it's going to be coming out hopefully end of this year or early next year. I'm going to be touring TS Foss as a three piece in September as well. For Baby Tyler, I just finished mixing a brand new album, made in classic BBTY fashion, and also made a live record with the full band. Not sure the exact plans for those, but they will come out in some way at some point. And then I've got some more shows this summer, both solo and full band, and hopefully will do some more touring too. Always working on something!
PFZ: Being based in Madison, what's the underground scene like there? Any favorite bands we should know there?
TF: The underground scene is pretty great here! Of course it could be better in some ways, especially for women/nonbinary folx and people of color, but there are a lot of incredibly hard working people making things happen. I was more involved with things before Covid, and I'm little by little working my way back in, but there are a lot of younger people rightfully taking things over and doing a great job. There really are so many amazing bands doing a lot, especially for Madison's size. No Question, Graham Hunt, Supa Friends, Interlay, Cult of Lip, Able Baker, Mickey Sunshine, Friendly Spectres, Caryatids… the list goes on! Also Heather has a great solo thing called Heather the Jerk, Liam has an awesome punk band Soot. I've got nothing but love for the city and the people trying to make it better.
Stream TS Foss and Baby Tyler here and check out his tour dates below.