Tiberius b Talks Nostalgia and Childhood Regression in Their Track by Track Breakdown of “Stains”
The EP is out now via Zelig Records.
Somewhat traditionally, an artist shares an EP before they venture into their first album. However, in Tiberius b‘s case it was a bit reversed. Their plan was to release the single “No Smoke” as an introduction to them as artist, followed by a synth album they had finished with producer friend Cecile Believe. But then, Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records caught a glimpse of the London-based artist’s potential when an A&R rep heard “No Smoke” on an Instagram story six months post-release.
Funny enough, the label reached out to their manager who had actually just quit at the time. “She was like, ‘Yo, King Princess’ label just emailed me about you.’ At the time, when they reached out to me, I was in Wales looking after my grandma during the lockdown,” they share. Out of a job due to the pandemic, b moved into their grandma’s beautiful house in the countryside of North Wales. In a bit of an existential rut and thrust into an environment that reminded them of their isolated upbringing in Canada’s Cortez Island Prior to that email, Tiberius b was flooded with nostalgia and unearthed childhood feelings.
“That day that they emailed me, I was riding my bike through the mountains, taking a break from my duties while my grandma had an afternoon nap. I was literally staring out into the world. I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing with my life? What is going to happen to me?’ I was quite adequately stressed about my future. And I came home to that email from my ex-manager,” they beam.
Zelig ended up re-releasing “No Smoke” as Tiberius’ debut single with the intention of making it a 7-inch. But then a demo for a B-side turned into multiple demos for an EP. That initial album has been put to the side for now, since they differ stylistically. Their debut EP Stains, which is out today, finds Tiberius b getting reacquainted with the guitar.
“The whole sound of the EP is characterized by my reintroduction to the guitar. I hadn’t played guitar in so long. I was really rusty,” they say. “I kind of departed from using guitar for quite a long time. I started out as, like, a folk singer-songwriter when I was a teenager, and then when I learned about synths I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah,'” they laugh. “I was in a synth-pop band before and made a lot of more experimental electronic music.”
Instead, Stains is a raw and rather intimate introduction to the producer/songwriter/singer who was experiencing a nasty break-up right before quarantine began. It’s an eclectic pop mix with references from Sinead O’Connor to the Cramps to Dean Blunt. From the melodic indie rock hills of “Big Deal,” to the self-destructive speed bumps of “Stains,” these six tracks are a blend of experimental vocal shifts and pensive rock-fueled dance tracks.
Listen to Stains as they walk us through their innovative EP.
1. “No Smoke”
At the time I wrote this song, I was entering a relationship that I felt like there was something off. Then, six months later, I was like, “Is this song about being in the closet? Is this song actually about knowing that going into this relationship is wrong because you’re just straight up gay?” But then I kind of go back and forth on that meaning all the time. Maybe it means both things. I don’t know if it’s necessarily because of this one specific reason or not. I think it’s a culmination of things. There are times when I listen to that song and it’s definitely a “I’m in the closet” anthem.
2. “Big Deal”
This song I wrote using a vocal loop pedal. I had not recorded it—it was just something that I performed using a vocal loop thing. The night before my first meeting with Zelig, I was like, “I want to do one more demo.” I translated that song onto guitar that night and then recorded it and sent it to them right before the meeting started the next day.
“Steps” is what I consider the most annoying song on the record. It’s not annoying…maybe I would say it’s obnoxious in a way, but that’s not necessarily bad. It’s really in-your-face. I started that riff and I was laughing. I was like, “This is so stupid.” I kind of started it as a joke. Actually, a lot of my songs start off as jokes to myself in that they can be really melodramatic. The music on this is characterized by a kind of clumsiness in my ability to play the guitar, and also it has a naive quality. I have really strong instincts with melody, but I think that the the guitar feels like someone picking up a guitar for the first time. I felt like a teenage boy who, like, got this insane guitar from their parents and was just like, “I’m so mad at the world!” and expressing themselves from this pure place of not understanding why anything is the way it is.
I kind of I improvised that ending part. Once I had done that, I was super full of adrenaline, and I wanted to keep going with this bridge and passion. It was one of those things [where you have to google] “How do I change the tempo in a song?” I had been listening to Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters a lot at the time. I was really appreciating her unhinged performance throughout that record. I think that was part of what inspired me to do that.
That outro is a repetition of the bridge but at three times the speed. In the bridge, it’s very “poor me,” and the end is a reclamation. But that lyric actually comes from my friend, whose child I look after—the parents are both musicians. The mom’s name is Ruby Hughes and she’s a classical singer. I went to go see her perform over Easter in 2019. She was doing Brockes Passion, which is about when Jesus died and came back to life. She sung it in German, but there were subtitles on the screen and “the Devil’s tool” was an insult that was used in that piece. I loved that. I was dissecting that term and placing the meaning on two different people.
I think in heterosexual relationships, I feel like it’s easy to feel an imbalance. I always felt like a demon when I wasn’t getting my needs met and asking repeatably until it starts to drive you fucking crazy. I think that’s kind of what that’s about.
5. “Green Heart”
This song was definitely inspired by this one Dean Blunt song with Arca called “Deep.” In January of 2020, my friend Cecile was like, “Do you want to do a 30-day songwriting challenge?” And I was like, “That’s crazy. Let’s do it.” We both wrote a song everyday and sent them to each other. This song was the only good song that came out of my 30 days.
We actually referenced “Nothing Compares 2U” for the vocal mix of this song. We treated the vocals quite differently. For the most part, I recorded all of the vocals with an SM 58 mic in Wales where I was. When I was working with Andrew on the mix, this guy Mike Malchicoff co-produced “Big Deal” with me. I was working with them, and I’m in the middle of nowhere in Wales and I’ve only got this mic. They were like, “It sounds good, it doesn’t matter.” I kept on expecting, because I was with this label and because I was doing something in a more advanced level, that all my tools were not going to be good enough for them. But they all kind of came back and were like, “It’s fine.” And that was so fucking satisfying.
6. “Tears Into the Sun”
This song is one that I wrote a few weeks after the lockdown started. I wanted to end with this one because even though it’s talking about a specific person as a device to move the song forward, it’s the most global song. I address the world throughout it several times. It’s asking a lot of questions, which I think is a nice way to end.
It’s addressing the suffering of humanity in general, in all of these different ways, and how we have unlimited access to knowing about everything that’s wrong with everything. And how overwhelming that is, and if you have a conscience, how do you manage to deal with that knowing. That has to do with human rights issues or global warming. I think at that very beginning part of the pandemic, I couldn’t stop thinking about how interconnected everything is. It was singing about how much pain an individual person can feel and how everybody suffers in this life.