UNCHARTED is Chart Attack's showcase of independent Canadian artists we think you should hear. This time, Tommy Paxton-Beesley, a.k.a. River Tiber, talks Toronto, inspiration, and his debut album.
Tommy Paxton-Beesley, a.k.a River Tiber, has been grinding it out in the Toronto underground for a few years now and it's about to pay off. His ethereal take on R&B incorporates the cold, rigid style of modern digital production while still maintaining a warm tone, communicated through smooth layers of live instrumentation. Guitars, strings, live drums, horns, and synthesizers find a home in his music, played entirely by the Toronto native himself.
Since the release of his debut EP, The Star Falls, in 2013, River Tiber's name has been gaining notoriety. "No Talk," a track from his late-2015 EP When The Time Is Right, got a big time nod from the OVO camp when his vocals were sampled for Drake's "No Tellin'." A look from the 6 God obviously gained him a bit of buzz, but he's been working hard and collaborating with other notable artists to keep the momentum going.
He worked closely with BADBADNOTGOOD during the recording of their collaborative album with Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul. He snagged a few feature spots on Kaytranada's fantastic new album 99.9%. He's recorded with Toronto's hip-hip prince Jazz Cartier for a track on his latest project Hotel Paranoia, and recently dropped a song with Pusha T. As his name begins pops up more frequently, you get the sense that he's not going away any time soon.
With the release of a new single (above) comes news of River Tiber's impending debut album Indigo. Mark your calendar, it arrives on June 24. I spoke with River Tiber this week to get a sense of what he's been doing, what's inspiring him, and what to expect on his debut.
Chart Attack: You've been making music for while, haven't you? You're formally trained?
There's some nights where, like, the whole Toronto music scene will be in one building.
When did you go from being a student to pursuing a career as River Tiber?
River Tiber started to form late in 2010. I played in bands through middle school and high school, so it was always kind of forming through my whole life, really, but in the past five years I started to take it really seriously.
What made you choose to go the solo route if you were playing in bands?
I mean, I was always kind of doing both. I was sort of producing music at that age without fully realizing that it was production. The role of a producer is sometimes pretty mysterious, you know? So I didn't even really know that I was being a producer. I picked up various instruments over the years and I always kind of envisioned myself creating this music that I was hearing in my head. I still collaborate a ton, collaboration is a super important part of what I do, but there's just certain stuff that's so personal to me that I have to make it by myself.
Speaking of collaboration, you just worked with Pusha T. That was a huge record. How'd that come about?
That was crazy, man. It was put together as part of Red Bull Sound Select. They help put together these collabs with more established artists. Kay is my boy. I was at Red Bull Music Academy in Paris when the attacks happened, so it got cancelled. So I flew back to LA, which is where I was coming from because I had played a show at 30 Days in LA, which is a Red Bull thing. It was a crazy time and I just wanted to make the most of it, so I was like, can we try and make some sessions happen? It happened really fast.
You're on Kaytranada's new album, you've been working with Daniel Caesar. It seems like you've been big on collaborations lately. Are you in an "I just want to work with everybody" mindset?
Yeah, well, I mean, it's simultaneous. I've put out a bunch of music where I did everything on it, you know, and I'm going to continue to do that too, but sometimes you've just got to come out of your shell. Collaboration can be so rewarding, and it helps me to find my voice. It's so rewarding to let go sometimes.
To let go of the control?
Yeah, exactly, and just, like, let other voices in. I think also I've come at it from the other angle. When I worked with BADBADNOTGOOD on their albums, their third album and Sour Soul, that was the collab where it was me as the guest and I was coming in from the other angle and trying to support their vision. I've learned from those experiences and from collaborating in other different ways. I've really grown from all of that, so right now I'm definitely trying to work in that capacity.
Are you one of those artists who draws a lot of inspiration from being around other artists?
It's like Toronto versus everybody. When anybody succeeds it lifts the whole community up, honestly.
Speaking of BADBADNOTGOOD and other Toronto artists like Daniel Caesar, it seems like there's kind of a new wave of young artists in Toronto who are getting things going. Do you feel confident in the way that Toronto's heading right now in terms of music?
Yeah, man, there's a crazy scene that hasn't gotten its shine yet. There's a scene that's just bubbling below the surface, but I think that there's a few artists that are about to go far. Like Daniel Caesar. I don't know how long it will take, but I just know that we have a really tight community here. It's kind of crazy how everybody knows each other, you know?
Yeah, it seems like you guys all work pretty close, or at least are in communication.
Yeah, we all hang out. There's some nights where, like, the whole Toronto music scene will be in one building. It's tight knit. We all know each other and we all fuck with each other, for sure. Everybody's trying to do their own thing still, but yeah.
Would you say there's some competition there?
Oh yeah, definitely, but it's dope though. We all push each other. Also, I think that there's a pretty common understanding that when any one of us succeeds, like... Toronto, we're the underdog in general. It's like Toronto versus everybody. When anybody succeeds it lifts the whole community up, honestly.
When it's time to lock in and do a project, do you need to isolate yourself at all? Or do you have people coming by and giving insight or just hanging out?
It definitely depends. Sometimes I can feel a little bit protective of stuff that we're working on, but, I don't know, I think that most people understand the threshold between just hearing some shit and giving feedback versus actually like, getting involved in being another producer on some shit, you know what I mean? Like, actually joining in on the collab. I think that there's a sort of unwritten code on how collaboration works.
The reason I asked is because I've seen pictures of your studio with the neon River Tiber sign. It looks like you're trying to create some kind of mood in your workspace. I was wondering if you need to put yourself in a certain mindset.
Yeah, I definitely need the vibes. Need the vibes. That's super important, to be able to channel by influences. Visual stuff is super important for me, you know, and space, all of it is connected to the music. It's really hard to get inspired in some of the studios where there's just no vibe.
If someone's going into your workspace, what kind of stuff can they expect to find?
I like to put a lot of pictures of artists that inspire me on the walls. Artists as well, and photographers. I keep a lot of art all over the place. Also, the instruments are super key. I definitely like using old gear that feels like it has a story to it and has character to it. Every piece of instrumentation or gear or whatever that I have has to have character. Everything contributes to the vibe and the output. I just like to create potential with everything, every object in the studio.
Do you use a lot of analogue gear?
I do, yeah. The centre of my studio is my Juno 106. That's just like the workstation for the sounds. I also use a lot of live instrumentation, a lot of guitars, lots of live drums and strings, horns, all kinds of shit.
That's what I like about your music. You strike a good balance between the digital sounds and the live stuff.
Yeah, I love the juxtaposition of those sounds. I love to create new relationships that way.
Nowadays, almost anyone can be a producer, or at least try to be. The market is a bit flooded. Do you feel like that's something that's lacking, the live instrumentation side?
I think that's it's super dope to have music creation be democratic like that. You only need a laptop with Fruity Loops, Ableton or Logic on it to be able to create. That's super dope. I think that it's exciting to be able to offer a different voice with the live instrumentation. I don't feel like it's lacking necessarily, but I do think that I want to keep that shit alive, you know?
So you've got a new album coming out soon. It seems like you're going pretty big with it?
Yeah, well, to be honest, I'm working on the next album right now. I've been mixing the album for a while, so it's a particular chapter in my musical development. I'm kind of on to the next one already, but that's how it goes. It takes a while to finish a body of work. In the meantime things are getting finished, because there's a lot of technical processes in getting it to the level of release. I'm fully in the next chapter right now so it's kind of crazy to put out shit that way, but that's always how it is.
How far back does the music go? Is it a combination of old and new, or is it a more recent development?
Some of it goes back two or three years as far as pieces that I've written. I'm always writing, and pieces of that will develop over time and change forms and shit, but then other things are more recent. Sometimes it will just be one of those nights and I'll just start and finish the majority of a song in just a few hours and it's just got that spontaneous energy. It's kind of a mixture of those two things, things that have been developed over time and others that are that spontaneous energy.
So it must feel a bit like you're living one step behind where you're actually at.
Of course, yeah. But the album, I'm super proud of it. I've been living with it for a while, over a year actually, maybe even longer than that. Sometimes you'll make some shit and want to put it out right away, but it feels good to live with it for a while, let it ferment a little bit, and see how it lives with you as your perspective changes. The album has stood my own test of time. I mean, it's truth to me.