Tolliver has returned from L.A. with his second solo effort Rave Deep, a brutally honest view into the paranoid mind of a young millennial struggling to find his place on this planet. The EP is a minimalist dream, seductively soulful and sparse-- offering a retrospective on failed relationships and a cynical gateway into future R&B.
We're premiering the music video for its first single "No Picnics," featuring GRRRL PRTY's Manchita, and catching up with Tolliver as he goes through security checkpoints at LAX en route to Minneapolis for his release show at Icehouse this Friday.
Each song on the EP is essentially a diary entry. The first single, "No Picnics," attempts to disseminate the popular belief that more dates and more sex will lead to self-fulfillment, beginning with a description of a date Tolliver went on. Looking back, he describes the entire process as, "Seeing if I can prove that I'm a man by dating a bunch of women, and seeing if I can have sex with a bunch of women, and how very, very empty that felt," he says. "It really felt like nothing."
Despite Manchita's antagonistic presence on the track, "She was one of the first people who affirmed my confidence in this album," Tolliver says. Earlier this year, Manchita was in L.A. working on her own music when the two connected via Facebook and the collaboration was born. Her role in the song is the devil on Tolliver's shoulder, encouraging the behavior that got him into this mess in the first place.
The music video was crafted by Black Diet bandmate David Tullis, and shot in various locations around Mnneapolis. Its haunting imagery leaves much room for interpretation, and at times is both as psychedelic and simple as the sound of the song itself.
Rave Deep was recorded and produced by Elephant & Castle, whom Tolliver actually met on Craigslist. "We kicked it, and played guitar with each other and all that kind of stuff, and it wasn't really working out," Tolliver recalls. "Then he just started sending me beats, and it really clicked. So, I would just go to his studio, which is in shitty Hollywood, right off the tourist stretch. It's the worst. I would just go over there in between class and whatnot, and smoke, and sing," he says.
He does admit to a sliver of relief in relation to the blank slate that L.A. offers him. "It's no one's fault; everyone is really wonderful and I have a great time when I'm [in Minneapolis] but I started to feel trapped," he says. "When you're in a room with people and you kind of know everyone in the room, and everyone has a history together, it's like, holy shit, I just need to be able to be blank sometimes -- to be a blank slate."
The EP quickly became an outlet for all of the angst he was experiencing, coupled with the anxiety of assimilating into a new city made even more difficult by struggles with alcohol use. When Tolliver first moved to L.A., he admits that he was drinking "a bunch," and would go to class only to experience unfamiliar physical sensations. "My body would just start twitching uncontrollably, especially my hands," he says. Thus the song "Paralyzed," the second single off the EP, was born."'Paralyzed' is about worrying if I have a long-term problem," Tolliver says. Since the initial scare, he's cut down on drinking quite a bit, but the fear still lingers. "It's gotten a lot better," he says, "but it scared the shit out of me." [page]
Frightening situations appear to play a large role in Tolliver's songwriting and musical decision process. Last year he pushed his voice hard fronting Black Diet, resulting in pain and loss of vocal strength. He was terrified, and realized that he needed to be singing in a way that didn't hurt.
"Falsetto is really comfortable to do, whereas the Black Diet soul stuff really hurts after like an hour," he says. "I'll just lose my voice -- not even lose it, but it just sounds really croaky after a while." Switching to utilizing falsetto was a conscious decision made to preserve his vocal chords, and it changed the vibe of his singing completely.
It also allowed for a new approach to songwriting: "We would try to make the songs with the voice," Tolliver says. "Like, can I do this really high falsetto and then drop down and then layer all these harmonies?" he asks. The result is ghostly, a totally nontraditional aesthetic that he's been calling 'R&B.'
"It's not really a soul record, so I kind of feel like a traitor," he says, the guilt palpable in his voice over the phone line. However, it's never really seemed easy for him to stick to one genre, and why would we want him to? Thankfully, he's still fully invested in Black Diet -- they're performing the 7th inning stretch at this Wednesday night's Twins game, and will be releasing their second full-length album on July 21st, followed by a main room show on the 24th.
While he fleshes out these dreams, Tolliver pays the rent and puts food on the table with money earned from freelance writing gigs, primarily focused in news journalism. He says he'll never quit writing, as it's something he can always do whenever/wherever he may be. The endgame is to someday not need to write to pay the bills, but to have the luxury of writing for his personal enjoyment, perhaps expanding into creative fiction, or poetry-- which we remind him he already does quite well in his lyrics.
"Right now I've got tunnel vision a little bit," he says. "I'm like, okay, I do news writing and I sing. Those are my two things." Aside from those though, he's just a regular dude from the South side of Chicago who loves all things basketball and Michael Jordan, aspires to learn Spanish, and loves the sun.
Despite his success locally, Tolliver plans to remain in L.A. When asked how he intends to balance Black Diet with his solo work he responds hesitantly, "I guess I'm figuring it out." Ultimately he'd love for Black Diet to be a successful touring band, while he continues building his solo career is L.A. as well as maintaining his Minneapolis ties by returning regularly to perform here.
"Yeah, I want to stay out here for sure," he reaffirms. "It's really nice here. You know what? I knew before I moved here that this city is very dysfunctional, and I really like that. I like living in places where it kind of feels like messy, and like anything is possible. That's why I want to stay out here-- it kind of feels like the Wild West, and everything is changing all the time."
Lesson learned: change, no matter how scary and unpredictable it may be, often yields the greatest reward.
Tolliver premiers his new EP Rave Deep at Icehouse this Friday, June 12 with guests Manchita, sloslylove, Garrison Grouse, and Isa Sponslier, with DJ sets from Keith Millions. 10 PM, 21+, $8 advance/$10 door
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