Seduction is an art form all its own, but in music, there’s a special science behind making your production sound sexy and understated. Compton-born, Los Angeles-based artist Channel Tres has mastered this technique on his self-titled Channel Tres EP.
At 27, Tres has lived the full artist life: going away to college, superhero alter egos, shitty jobs, releasing music, deleting music, finding his team, going on tour, and finally releasing a project that captures the essence of who he is as a “full-time artist.”
“I just have a lens on most of the day, so everything I’m looking at is art,” Tres tells me over the phone, describing what it means to be an artist around the clock. “It could be a door, but the door makes me see a video. Maybe somebody’s walking and I hear their footsteps and they remind me of a BPM. Then I’m creating a beat within their footsteps.”
Speaking with Tres and listening to his project, there’s a sly effortlessness to his words. Without question, Tres puts that nonchalant air to work on his breakout single, “Controller,” where the raspy coo of the hook (“I am the controller”) puts listeners in a welcome trance. Yet, Channel Tres was not always dripped in confidence. Before his proper debut, Tres scrubbed the internet of all old material. He refers to his old music as simple bedroom jams, songs he didn’t pour over like he would today.
“I didn’t labor over these tracks,” he explains. “A couple of ‘em, I did. I just felt in my heart that I was going on a new path.” Even before these songs, before this new path, Channel Tres was overthinking his way out of major opportunities. “I had opportunities to perform and I was just scared: Oh, they won’t like my voice,” he admits. “Or, I’m not this other person who is dope or whatever. So I would avoid performance for years because of that.”
Luckily, the Channel Tres of 2018 has worked through his stage fright and penchant for obsession. He sounds refreshed and focused, our interview coming on the heels of him working on a “fire” beat. You can hear the focus in the music, in the way he uses space to hook our ear.
It’s also worth mentioning that if Channel Tres were a superhero, his power would be “healing people through sound.”
DJBooth’s full interview with Channel Tres, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What’s the first song you heard that drove you to make music?
Channel Tres: The song is [hums]... “The Love Below (Intro)” by André 3000. It was the first song I heard that made me teary-eyed, and it was coming from some new people’s voice. Well, they were new at the time in 2003. The sound was like Frank Sinatra or some shit, but it was coming from OutKast.
I read that you started with pots and pans, then graduated to drums. How has starting out in the rhythm section shaped your approach to music?
Everything starts with the rhythm if you’re trying to do party music or music that people are gonna listen to on the radio, that people are gonna nod to. The drums… It’s the foundation, for me, for a lot of music. If the drums don’t hit, then most likely it won’t translate to a bigger audience that wants to dance and stuff. I didn’t choose the drums, they chose me. It was the instrument that my great-grandfather encouraged me to play.
When did your love for deep house come in?
It came a couple years ago. I really started to understand it and the history behind it.
What draws you to deep house?
I love everything. Nothing really draws me in any direction more than the other. I’m a pretty well-rounded type of person. I like house music specifically because it’s consistent, but I like every genre because it’s consistent in its own thing. So, I don’t have a love for it over any other music.
Before signing with GODMODE and dropping this EP, you went to college in Oklahoma. A lot of artists skip college or drop out, what made you go to school for music?
Shit, I just needed a mind change. I just grew up in a very crazy community. I was marginalized by the environment, if that makes sense. Something told me I had to get out, so I got out to just increase my mindset and increase my goals. Oklahoma was the place where they accepted it me, so, “Fuck yeah, I’mma go.”
Then you almost became an EDM DJ?
I don’t know! The dude who wrote that kinda twisted up my words. I was just managed by an EDM DJ manager. I was a music director, so I knew how to work controls and boards really good. Before I became my own artist, I was working for other people and doing music direction. Then people liked my DJing, and I used to play my beats live, so I would get asked to open up and DJ. I almost got pigeonholed into being a DJ, and I didn’t want that. So, I had to change my route and got with GODMODE. They wanted me as an artist. I still DJ, but…
When did you start laying vocals on your beats?
Nah, I’ve always done it, but it started getting better over time because I’ve been working on it in the background for so long. When I had the chance to be an artist, I was ready. I always use my voice in my beats, because I look at my voice as an instrument. I don’t look at it as a voice. It’s just another tool that I have in my arsenal as a producer.
What compels me most about this EP is the structure and the way you use space. What’s your process for building the frame of a song?
It goes differently every time. When I’m working on my artist stuff, it just depends because I’m constantly writing ideas. I’ll have the shit already lined up, and when we start working on the project, we go in and talk about it, and me and [producer, songwriter, and GODMODE co-founder] Nick [Sylvester] go in and do shit. I haven’t had a co-producer before, so it’s fun to have somebody who understands me.
I just follow the song, and I’m into James Brown a lot. The way he structured things, he would just know how to say shit in the right place, and then the music would be driving. Everything was like a drum.
Is there a science to making music that sounds so sexy, but not so forward?
There's an art to it, yeah. I think the biggest thing that I do is: do a lot of things, and then half of the time, take things out. We live with the music. We don’t just make it and put it out. So if we hit a roadblock, we take a couple days, listen to it, put our thoughts together. Then we come back and we usually know what to do.
Were you always good at taking your time?
I had to learn to be patient. I think that’s one thing, this year, that really helped me out. Because this is my first real project that I put out, so this year was the first time I learned the process of making the record. On the EP, half the songs didn’t sound like that when I brought in the demo. It sounded totally different, and we spent time tweaking them and making them into music people would love. I think this year I learned the art of making the record. At first, I’d make 10 beats a day, flying through tracks. This is the first time I had songs that I spent time on.
What was the hardest change to make?
Nothing, I wanted this so I was open to whatever would help me get there. The hardest thing was being alone on this journey. As a producer, I’m used to having an artist or a friend to help guide. The biggest change was just becoming a leader and going on this journey alone.
My favorite cut on here is “Jet Black,” which I’ve read is named after a superhero alter ego you dreamed up during music school. Why an alter ego?
It’s my first music that I put out as myself, so I was very nervous. I come from a very great musical background of people that I respect. People that I look up to, I didn’t wanna let them down and drop some wack-ass shit. You have a lot of feelings as a human, and music is very spiritual. Sometimes you’re doing something, but you yourself as a human have to catch up to it. So I think I created that character to shut my own voice up and get to work and trust the universe that this is the path I’m supposed to be on. I used it to block out a lot of the negative thoughts that I was having during the process of coming into myself as an artist.
When you’re a musician, is identity more fluid than for the average person?
I think everybody has that ability. [Music] is my job. I remember there was a time where I was working regular jobs, and I did not wanna work there, but I knew I needed the money to pay my bills. Automatically, when I got there, I would take off anything that wasn’t about work and I would get the job done for the eight hours that I had to be there. You’re not always gonna be there, or feel your job, but if you don’t work you don’t eat. So you have to get yourself in that mode.
That’s a great perspective, because a lot of artists are scared to admit it’s a job.
I’m just blessed with being a Gemini because I separate myself from that shit.
Even the absence of your work is a portion of your identity, like how you had to reset and scrub your previous music from the net. That’s not an easy thing to do, so how’d you come to terms with having to try again?
I mean, nobody was really listening to that shit. It had like 500 plays, 1,000 plays. It wasn’t cutting through, and I was honest with myself: These are jams I made in my bedroom. I didn’t labor over these tracks. A couple of ‘em, I did. I just felt in my heart that I was going on a new path. If people want it, later on, I’ll be open to putting them back out. I don’t like having anything out that there’s not a high demand for.
Was there ever a moment where having to go it alone on this project made you crazy?
Nah, it didn’t make me crazy at all. My biggest thing was checking on the mixes and getting everything right. The sonics, making sure they cut through. I love making music, so none of it makes me crazy. I don’t overthink it. The only thing I overthink is the sounds, but I created a balance. When I’m isolated, I love it. When I’m around people, I love it.
When was the last time overthinking held you back?
Shit… Probably, college. I had opportunities to perform and I was just scared: Oh, they won’t like my voice. Or, I’m not this other person who is dope or whatever. So I would avoid performance for years because of that.
How’d you get over that?
I got around some great people. When I was on tour with Duckwrth, it really inspired me because I was DJing, but he liked for me to come out and rock with him. We would do choreography and different things, and we were traveling for two years. Those moments helped me get my stage fright out and pushed me to develop and get past that fear.
Best advice from Duckwrth?
The biggest thing I took from him was just be yourself and fully accept that you’re an artist. He’s an artist 24/7. He draws and does a lot of shit. Being around him, that spirit of being an artist at all times, it was very contagious. That helped me get to where I am now, where I’m a full-time artist, but in my own way.
What is your personal definition of "full-time artist"?
I just have a lens on most of the day, so everything I’m looking at is art. It could be a door, but the door makes me see a video. Maybe somebody’s walking and I hear their footsteps and they remind me of a BPM. Then I’m creating a beat within their footsteps. I record shit all the time. Maybe I hear a dope sound walking down the street—I record it. For me, it’s paying attention to everything and writing it down.
Lastly, if you had a superhero alter ego today, what would your name and power be?
My name would be Jet Black, and my power would be healing people through sound.