A Conversation With Producer Teddy Walton, Who’s Bringing Soul Back to Music

“I’m more into projects than I am into just giving you a beat.”
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Teddy Walton, 2018

If you had no idea who Teddy Walton was, but you loved his production, that would go over fine with him. The 26-year-old producer has his name attached to some of the biggest songs of the past two years: “LOVE.,” “Crew,” “King’s Dead,” and the list goes on. But Walton is not interested in getting caught up in fame or notoriety. “I like the feeling of somebody being able to listen to my work, and them not even knowing it’s me,” he tells me over the phone. “That’s an awesome feeling to me.”

Walton does not necessarily lust after anonymity. Rather, he wants to be known on a grander scale. “I don’t wanna be remembered for making beats,” he explains. Walton would rather be understood as a bridge between bubbling sounds and mainstream success, between knotted emotions and cathartic release, and between listeners and themselves. Fame is a perk, but the person-to-person connection is why Teddy Walton keeps creating.

The connection is why, for the past year, Walton stopped shopping beats and turned his attention to a short film entitled Mental Health. Clocking in at eight minutes, Walton took the year off to make a trailer for his personhood. “I wanted people to literally see a year’s work of just me,” he says. “I feel like people only know me on the internet as far as interviews… It’s more than just a film, it’s like a trailer to get to know me. You get to see another side of me that the internet don’t show.”

Mental Health is somewhat of a cautionary tale. The film is not a byproduct of Walton losing his way, but something made in the aftermath of him realizing music has lost its soul and people have lost their ingenuity. “I’ve seen a lot of people that I’m a fan of, man—this person kind of forget who they were. This person don’t even make the beats the same," he bemoans. "I’m noticing these things, and it’s important to really stay yourself when a lot of people praising you.”

“It’s weird to say, I kinda don’t look up to a lot of things,” he confesses. “I’m just trying to slowly bring the soul back to music, one day at a time. I’m not trying to be the biggest producer, or anything. I’m just trying to bring the soul back.”

With his debut album nearly finished and the short film coming in November, we look forward to hearing some soul again, too, Teddy.

DJBooth’s full interview with Teddy Walton, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: With all of your major placements, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Teddy Walton: I feel like I learned a lot, but I haven’t learned anything, yet. All those placements that I got, they happened in an independent way. I still hang around with the same people every day. The thing that I’ve learned is to make sure you keep a lot of ideas to yourself until it’s ready to get shown to the world. 

Business lesson?

Ever since the Kendrick placement [“LOVE.”], the “Crew” [placement]... One thing I learned this year is that it’s 90 percent business and 10 percent talent. Even after the placements, I was getting relationships with artists and actually indulging being a part of the art that they're making. I’m over hoping that I’m on somebody’s album. I don’t even hope that I’m on somebody’s album anymore.

Do you get burned a lot?

No, it’s just the fact that I do know my sound is so unique. People don’t know what I’m gonna do next, and I like to keep it that way. I don’t wanna be predictable. I don’t want people to be like, “Yo, what happened to him?” I spent a whole year doing a short film. I’m more into other things, besides making beats. It involves music, but I’m more into creativity in general.

Is it easy for producers to step into different creative avenues?

I think it’s not easy, because sometimes people get stuck in their producer world, like, “Oh, I gotta have a number one every week.” I think it’s cool, but I just think it’s so easy to get caught up in being a producer rather than just being yourself. After those placements, I told myself I wasn’t going to send anybody beats. I’m going to work on me. I’m not with a major company. I’m doing everything indie, so I know when to make some great moves to make my life better.

What’s the most drastic life shift since your first placements?

I went to like five or six stores and I noticed that there was the same person in each store [in the mall]. I had gone to the food court, and I came up to him. I was like [laughs], “What’s up man? Nice to meet you.” He was like, “Yo, I’ve been wanting to get a picture,” but he was following me for a whole hour. That’s the craziest thing in the world to me.

Talk to me about the Mental Health short film. What sparked the creative process there?

The short film is eight minutes and the reason why I was working on it for a long time is, I wanted people to literally see a year’s work of just me. I feel like people only know me on the internet as far as interviews, Genius episodes… I feel like they only know that part. I really just studied that whole year and directed this short film that makes people get to know me. It’s more than just a film, it’s like a trailer to get to know me. You get to see another side of me that the internet don’t show.

mental-health-on-vhs

You keep mentioning being a person. Do you struggle to appraise yourself as human?

No, I really don’t. I’ve seen a lot of people that I’m a fan of, man—this person kind of forget who they were. This person don’t even make the beats the same. I’m noticing these things, and it’s important to really stay yourself when a lot of people praising you over something that’s a hobby. A God-given talent, but when a lot of people praise you over it, you tend to lose sight. This short film is definitely for people who wanna create, who don’t create… Everybody is gonna understand this from all aspects.

How do you stay yourself?

I just moved to Topanga Canyon in California. I’ve been in LA for a good four months, but I always talk to my family every day. I’m gonna at least visit… My way of pressing the reset button is thinking about the things you was doing before you got to this point, you know? Before you got to that point of your life changing, you gotta go back. Go visit your fam.

All about knowing your roots.

Exactly. I see a lot of things going on in music. A lot of stuff is sounding the same, even from some of the hottest producers. It’s weird to say, I kinda don’t look up to a lot of things. I’m just trying to slowly bring the soul back to music, one day at a time. I’m not trying to be the biggest producer, or anything. I’m just trying to bring the soul back. I liked how Timbaland and Pharrell was.

What is the soul of hip-hop to you?

The soul in trap music, it makes you want to get hype. What I mean by the soul is, I wanna bring back moods in music. In 2002, 2003, 2004, they had soul. Whether it was a rap song, whether it was an R&B song, it made you feel some type of way. I feel like a lot of music now is based on what the best person is making. I’m sure you really remember the era when PARTYNEXTDOOR and The Weeknd came out. When that came out, you knew that was new. It was exciting. The XXL cover was exciting. Now, it just seems like either a quick check or attention-seeking. There’s no soul in it, at the moment.

How do we get that back?

I’m not a Dr. Phil type of dude. I don’t know anything, but I do know that if everybody was to be innovative instead of doing what somebody else is doing, and doing what makes them happy, that’ll kinda change the world a little bit. More people would see happiness… I just really wanna bring the soul back. Quincy Jones is one of my inspirations. I wanna go that route and break artists. A lot of people didn’t know GoldLink until after “Crew.” I’m more into breaking a sound than into getting a placement. For example, Zacari, he was on “LOVE.” and I did his whole project, and his project is gonna sound amazing. I’m more into projects than I am into just giving you a beat.

Being into projects, your debut album is on the way, right?

Crazy thing about it, my album is literally done… But I’ve just been going through day by day, like, life things, so I could get inspired to really, really finish it. It’s done and it sounds crazy! I can tell you this: I know sometime [in November] I’m gonna drop the full short film.

What’s the soul of your album?

Every artist that’s on my album, they knew what I was going for and I end up linking with the artists that’s on my album. A lot of artists… I ended up meeting with them and having a talk with them, and showing them what I’m trying to do. I didn’t have an A&R. I’m curating this myself. And I got GRAMMY winners on my album. And it’s a mood! I want people to know this: you can’t listen to my album without watching my short film. You gotta watch that, then listen.

If you could decide on your legacy, how would you want to be remembered?

I wanna be remembered as the guy that people was like, “He helped me to get to a new point in my life.” I don’t wanna be remembered for making beats. You can know me that way, but I want to be remembered like, “Yo, I can relate to this person. He helped me get through this.” I just seen too many people caught up in it. If I didn’t do interviews or take pictures, nobody would know I did “Crew,” nobody would know I did “LOVE.” I like to keep it that way. I like the feeling of somebody being able to listen to my work, and them not even knowing it’s me. That’s an awesome feeling to me.

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