Interview: Two Feet’s Love/Hate Relationship With His Budding Stardom #LISTEN

It’s hard to imagine that a late-night SoundCloud post of a song entitled “Go Fuck Yourself” would have catapulted Two Feet into a different dimension. In his own words, “I was drunk after coming back from a bar with friends and had made “Go Fuck Yourself” earlier that day in a couple hours. It was late and I assumed no one would hear it, but I was sick of all the planning that had gone into my previous releases and said fuck it…”

The story behind the song is as absurdly simple as it is a perfect example of the industry in which musicians now live. “Go Fuck Yourself”, a song written about frustration with not gaining traction on streaming platforms, has since racked up over 200 million streams between SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube in the past year. It might be tempting to call him an overnight success story, but the New York native has literally come from getting by on dollars a day, unable to pay for a subway ride, to inking a six-figure deal with UMG’s Republic Records.

In the last year, he’s released two EPs as the author of a nine-song catalogue that has amassed 400 million streams on the web, and in 2018, set off on a coast-to-coast headlining tour that’s selling out every night. Two Feet has risen from the bottom to become one of the hottest artists in the rock scene, but he’s not letting any of it go to his head, or change who he is as a person. He just wants to be authentic, make music, and disappear.

“Hey Dude! Post show will be rough but i can do it beforehand!”

That was the extent of my entire communication with Two Feet via email, when I initially reached out about an interview for his show in Brooklyn on February 16th. From that point, I had no idea if the interview was on, or not. After trying several times to get follow-up confirmation over email, Facebook, and Twitter, I had swung three times and missed – badly. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t about to let silence do the talking, either. The Friday night of that show, I wrote up a handful of questions in a frenzy, airdropped them to my phone, and decided that I’d go to the venue early and try to get the interview, despite not having any backup plan. “The worst thing they can say is ‘No'”, I told myself. I left my backpack and laptop at work and hopped on the L train to Brooklyn, arriving no later than 6:00PM at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

When I arrived, the doors to the Hall were closed, and I thought to myself “Boy, wouldn’t it be poetic if I showed up here and the doors were literally closed on the opportunity”. Doors were at 8:00pm. I wasn’t supposed to be there in any capacity. Luckily, after a few failed pulls I found an open door and walked in to an empty MHoW mezzanine, greeted by security staff and a merchandise attendant. They asked if I was on the press list, to which my response was, “I have no idea, you tell me. What I do have is an email and I’m here to interview Bill, Two Feet”. The merch-person then used her walkie to message the band manager, found him in the Hall, and fortunately, led me straight back to the green room. That’s where I met the man behind Two Feet – a 25-year-old Bill Dess, outfitted in a regular t-shirt and black jeans.

“Wow,” I thought, “I had made up this whole idea of The Mysterious Two Feet, and expected formal communications and confirmations per usual”. But after sitting down with Bill for just fifteen minutes, I finally understood that’s where I had it all wrong – Two Feet doesn’t do formalities, and he’s certainly not enamored by his own celebrity. He’s an artist who feeds off of critics, isn’t worried about what people think of him or his music, and wants to be left alone to be a normal guy when he’s not on stage. He and his music are about as real as it comes, and he’s here to rock everyone’s pants off. The rest speaks for itself.

You can listen to our conversation, one of the more refreshingly candid interviews I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of, via the SoundCloud or YouTube links below, along with a lightly-edited transcription of the full interview.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

EB: Excited for tonight’s show here in New York?

TF: Sure, home show, always excited to do those.

EB: Yeah, you don’t get to do many of them right? This is your first North American tour?

TF: As a headlining act, yeah. We already did the whole West Coast, and all the shows sold out. Now they’re all selling out on the East Coast so it’s kind of blowing my mind a little bit.

EB: You never expected to sell out shows?

TF: No, not at this rate, not this quickly.

EB: Your music is really bluesy. What influences drew you to that sound?

TF:The guitar playing specifically? Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Wes Montgomery. Those would be kind of the blues-iest of the sound that I listen to. Junior Kimbrough is a big one.

EB: You also combine that with very emotional lyrics and heavy bass tones. I know You were a producer before you were a musician, Tell me more about how you chose that blend of Clapton-esque blues with deep electronic notes.

TF: I was always really into very heavy electronic stuff, like Oliver and those type of basses. I guess one day I kind of, through influences of people I heard starting to do it, like Dark Side, I decided to put my guitar – which I’ve been playing since I was a kid – over my productions finally, which I had never done. I didn’t want to do anything with saw wave synths, and make future bass things like everyone else was making.

So, it was just like, let me put a single heavy-ass bass and put a guitar line over it and that should be enough. Because melody is what captures people, more than insane production. Production can be screwed up and horrible but if the vision is cool people are still going to listen to it.

EB: You recently dropped the music video for “I Feel Like I’m Drowning”. It looked like a really, really involved production. Can you tell me more about what it was like acting and trying to make this video as insanely visual as it was?

TF: I’m obviously not an actor, so it was kind of difficult to put together. Luckily I have a bunch of people who are super talented. Actually, Absofacto, the gentleman opening for me, was the one who directed it and came up with the idea and everything. So we got to work together creatively in different ways. So I kind of had an idea sparked and we went through it, and took a couple weeks of planning. We actually executed the video in eight to ten hours, in LA. We just flew out there for 18 hours and flew back.

EB: What was that vision? Tell me about what the video was from infancy to what it ended up as.

TF: Initially we wanted it to be something where I was being drowned under water. But I dont think the budget for that was approved, and also it came close to a different video that was made in the ‘90s. I forget of what band. (FIND IT) We kind of just kept slowly altering and altering it, and the way the video came out was not at all how we thought it was going to come out when we were shooting it. We din’t like what we initially did, so through a team of editors they sort of just redid the whole thing.

EB: Is that how they got to the kaleidoscope-esque part?

TF: Yeah, none of that was planned really at all. It just kind of fell into place.

We were then briefly joined by Bill’s bandmate, Huff, who does the live setup, Ableton, and other instrumentals for Two Feet’s live shows. 

EB: What’s it like having a live band instead of just having the production that you’re doing on your own?

TF: It’s much more comfortable, and I think much more interactive on stage. We keep it really just him (Huff) launching all of my beats. You know, he has grown into a very good drummer and keys, and he adds a lot of energy to the show. It gives me room, since we don’t have a full band, to run up and down the stage and kind of make it a more intimate experience.

EB: How did you and Huff meet?

TF: Through a mutual friend, actually. I was looking for someone to help me play my music live, because I didn’t want to do it by myself. I had tried but I couldn’t get it the way I wanted. So a friend of mine told me about him (Huff), he was working in Ableton and knows his stuff about live rigs and all that. Then a couple months later I was like, “Let’s do this” and we kind of put everything together from there. Integral part of the live set right here.

Bill (left) and Huff (right)
EB: Speaking of the live set, when you’re touring, you’re obviously busy. But is that the only thing on your mind? The day-to-day of writing music or doing other stuff, is that sort of lost in the shuffle while you’re touring, or do you find time to break away?

TF: You don’t find time to do anything. We sit in the screen room, and we set up our stuff, do soundcheck, sit around, do interviews. Stuff like that. Then play the show, the show ends at 11 or 11:30, pack up, drive for an hour and a half on the highway. Sleep at a hotel, wake up the next day at 8. Drive for a couple hours and set up again. You can’t really do anything else, though.

EB: You got your start with music as a producer and you do your own [production] work. Do you think at this point in your career, you enjoy producing more than you do performing?

TF: I like a performance if it goes well. I think there’s nothing more fun than that. But it very often doesn’t. You know, we have in-ears, so sometimes the mix in my ears will be fucked. It can sound good to everyone else in the audience, but to me it’ll sound horrible on the stage. So I don’t know if people are liking it or not, so I just have to guess and act pretty much the whole time.

It’s very uncomfortable. Sometimes it sounds good in your ears and it doesn’t sound good out there, and you don’t know. So it’s like, shows can go bad. Sometimes your ears could go out, or sometimes a pedal stops working, or a string breaks, or the audience is fucking crazy, like if you play at a club.

EB: That seems like a surprising type of venue to pull in your act.

TF: It is. The club promoters, when we show up with a guitar, are always like “Wait, what the fuck?” But it ends up working out. We play at all sorts of venues and shows can go good or bad. If a show goes good, it’s the best thing ever. But the one thing that’s consistently awesome is producing and writing music. So if I had to pick which one I liked more, it would definitely be producing.

EB: Your songs, like I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t call them heavy lyrics, but they’re definitely emotional. What are you drawing on for that inspiration in a lot of your songs?

TF: Real life experiences, usually. If something strikes me while I’m walking or if I’m walking on the train and I hear someone say a phrase that I think is interesting, I write it down in my phone, to keep it and spark an idea for later. Just use real past experiences. Real experiences, real things that have actually happened to you, because that’s the only way you can draw something that people actually find genuine. Or else it sounds super fake. Subconsciously, people know.

EB: When you need to break away, is there a spot you go to for inspiration?

TF: I wouldn’t say so – that’s an interesting question. I guess if I need to break away I just try to go out. I try not to go that much, man, because at one point in my life I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t go out. If my friends would say “Hey come downtown to chill” – I lived in Harlem – I’d be like “I can’t pay $2.50 for a subway ride”. So I’m not used to that (going out), I kind of just work in my home. But if I need to escape and find something nowadays, it’s different, obviously. I go out with my friends, go to a bar by myself, listen to people talk and try to just absorb interactions.

EB: A lot of artists nowadays sort of seem to want to be in the spotlight all the time, but you’re a very low-key guy, from all observations. Do you think that keeping that low-key persona, despite your success, has been difficult to maintain as your work has been recognized?

TF: Yeah, and I kind of hate it. It’s very uncomfortable to slowly be walking around and get noticed and shit. It’s not the greatest feeling, and I can only imagine how it will get as time moves on, because that’s never what I wanted. I actually always wanted to be a pop producer, somebody who was just behind the scenes producing for other people. And then you know, one thing leads to another, something takes off online dramatically, and everything starts taking off online… Then you’re in a position where you’re sort of stuck.

But you know, going to a coffee shop to sit for two seconds and try to ignore people, to then have someone come over and say “Oh, you’re Two Feet!” is sort of frustrating. And I’m still at a level where it’s very small. I can’t imagine as you get bigger and bigger how it is. So I try to avoid it (the spotlight). Honestly, lots of times I fucking hate this shit, but you gotta make money one way or another.

EB: What are you expecting from the show tonight? Do you have people you know coming to the show?

TF: I was born here in New York, I grew up here in New York. So I’ve got a lot of family coming. A lot of friends – old friends. My label is located in New York, Republic Records. My management team is located in New York. Everybody’s bringing somebody. It almost feels more like a showcase than a show.

EB: Yeah, like you’re showing the people that already know about it?

TF: Exactly. You go to the midwest and you play Indianapolis, or you play some of the smaller cities, Philadelphia even – even though it’s not really a small city…Atlanta in the south, anywhere that’s not attached to New York ,or LA, or Chicago even – they’re real shows. It’s all fans, there’s no industry people there. There’s just a total different energy.

EB: Is it easier to connect with fans when they’re total strangers and you’re not really thinking about it?

TF: It’s absolutely more easy to connect with people who don’t know you, in the weirdest way ever, when you’re on stage. Because they can invent their own image of who you are in their head, while people who know you, already know you. And it’s just like “Okay, I’m just seeing him do his thing”, so it’s totally different.

EB: Do you think it’s more intimidating to go in (to a show) with expectations that it’s sort of a showcase, where you’ve got a lot of eyeballs on you?

TF: I wouldn’t say I’m more nervous for shows like this because at the end of the day, I don’t really give a shit. I don’t care about any of these fucking industry people. Fuck, man, you go from being poor and someone says “Here’s a check for a lot of money, work for us” – What are you going to say if you live on three dollars a day, and ask people for a dollar on the street, for money for coffee?

So I take their money, I make music for myself, I don’t care if they like it or not, I don’t care if they like the show or not. Fucking come if you want to present yourself with something, and get the fuck out of my way.

EB: Gaining that sort of perspective, having come from a point where you were living on a few dollars a day, to now, has it changed your day-to-day as a person?

TF: No, besides that I eat better. That’s about it. I eat better, and if I want to go somewhere, I can go somewhere instead of walking or having to stay home because I don’t have any money.

It didn’t change my friends, not my personality. The only thing that’s probably changed my personality is this, because it’s fucking stressful as hell. “This”, the big picture this. Everything, all day, 24/7. It’s a 24 hour, seven-day-a-week job.

EB: How is it stressful when you’re not performing? What are some of the things that weigh on you?

TF: It’s never-ending, and it seems to just be increasing in pace, too. So if you’re not performing, you’re preparing to perform, or you’re preparing to write music, and you have deadlines for music. There are things you have to do, like go to meetings, talk to people, manage your social – although I don’t do that anymore besides twitter, which is why it’s kind of the craziest one. They probably don’t want me to tweet. My team probably is like “We have to watch what he tweets”.

EB: When you have an internet presence like you do, everybody and their mom, and strangers are weighing in on you. Do you take any stock in what’s being said about you – do you check in on any of that?

TF: Nah, I don’t give a shit. You can’t, or you’d go insane. Think about it. In the beginning you do, and then very quickly, within like three months, you start being like “What the fuck, I don’t give a shit”. You can’t care. I just sometimes pretend I don’t have any fans, nobody exists, and I’m just doing what I’m doing.

As far as what’s next for Two Feet, once his tour is over this Spring, he’ll likely get back to work on his debut album. He’s hinted multiple times of late that he’s working on it, and even showed us via twitter that he’s finished five songs already. You can follow Two Feet on twitter to keep up with his latest musings and updates on the album progress.


Want more Two Feet?

Check out our “This Is: Two Feet” playlist on Spotify:

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