How many singers in heavy music can pull off putting out a metal album and a pop album in the same year? The answer is not many. Tyler Carter counts himself among that select few — and he's doing it with style and ease. He released his R&B/soul/electro-inflected solo record Moonshine this year, and his Atlanta metalcore act Issues' new Beautiful Oblivion drops today (October 4th). Carter has been honing his sound and vision in multiple bands over the years, and his unique blend of melding R&B, pop and heavy music has never sounded better.
Carter first started experimenting with his genre-bending approach in late 2011, when he left his old band Woe, Is Me due to tensions within the group. For Carter, leaving meant he could start exploring his full range and abilities as a solo singer, and began exploring the world of pop. The new route for him not only kept him busy and helped develop his songwriting chops, but it would also set the foundation for his next band: Issues. Along with other former members of Woe, Is Me including screamer Michael Bohn, Issues hit things fast with a debut EP Black Diamonds in 2012. While the inaugural EP was still firmly planted in the world of metalcore, it began to show obvious signs of interest in r&b and pop — thanks in part to Carter's high register, almost Timberlake-ian, delivery.
Issues caught on with fans, and their 2014 debut self-titled would reach Number 9 on the Billboard 200 chart, earning them tours with everybody from Bring Me the Horizon to All Time Low. The crew's profile kept rising with Issues' follow-up, 2016's Headspace. Then, in late 2018, the band announced that they'd parted ways with screamer Michael Bohn. Bohn's presence in Issues earlier material worked, but also kept them clearly tethered to the world of metalcore. Free of any genre restrictions, Carter & Co. were able to really push the boundaries of their sound, resulting in what just might be the band's best material to date on Beautiful Oblivion.
From the drop of "Here's to You," the group's established heaviness is used in far more clever ways than before, supporting the emotion and desperation in Carter's vocals. That reflection turns to exuberance in previously unheard ways: "Find Forever" being a perfect bop that has the band's Skyler Acord getting funky as hell on bass. The few times there are breakdowns they fucking matter, as on "Second Best." The entire band forges through a song about lack of self-confidence, which showcases Carter expunging his emotions in real, legit screams as the song flames out.
Lyrical mediations on self-doubt aside, Issues express a total confidence in what they do on Beautiful Oblivion. There's an undeniable fearlessness in dropping the outrageously sassy "Flexin" and burners like "Tapping Out" on the same record — and Carter's distinct personality shines through on every track. We recently caught up with the singer for a wide-ranging chat — from his military school background to what inspired him to create safe space for his fans to the freedom he discovered when creating Beautiful Oblivion.
I DON'T WANT TO START THIS OFF BY SHITTING ON THE GUY WHO GOT KICKED FROM THE BAND, BUT WHEN I LISTENED TO THE RECORD IT SEEMED LIKE MICHAEL BOHN'S DEPARTURE HAS FREED UP THE SONGS A LOT. BEFORE, THERE WERE POINTS WHERE IT SEEMED LIKE YOU HAD TO JUSTIFY HAVING A SCREAMER AND WOULD KINDA FORCE A PART IN. WHAT WAS IT LIKE NOT HAVING THAT?
TYLER CARTER Right, well you nailed it on the head. There's a lot of songs from our first record that called for it, we were a lot younger and we were writing more angsty music. I think most of my band really enjoyed metalcore and hardcore and black metal so we enjoy heavy music. But as performers we've grown out of it a little bit, not listening to it, just playing it. There definitely were songs that were more meant to portray our mature emotions, just trying to evolve with our age. I'm not trying to say you get older and you can't play metal, but you have less angsty problems. It's different than when you're 18 and writing these dark angry songs, and then you're in your late 20s.
There were definitely times when it felt forced, there were times where we felt like he has to have a part in a song or whatever and it would hinder the song in a way, it didn't need screaming. We kind of got Michael to grow into singing, which I don't think he was by any means a natural-born singer but he tried and worked hard at that. Even then, I think people were like, "Why are there two singers if Tyler can sing that part." Or I'd write a melody that was really captivating or catchy and would have to dumb it down. We didn't run into that drama this time, we felt a lot of freedom to explore styles and explore songs for what they are.
YEAH, I CAN TELL THE SONGS MOVE BEYOND THE SORT OF METALCORE PLAYBOOK OF RELATIONSHIP DRAMA. ONE IN PARTICULAR STANDS OUT, "SECOND BEST." CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT IT WAS LIKE WRITING THAT?
Well, I wrote that song with this girl Francheska Pastor. She sang for this band Bad Seed Rising and they were kind of like a kid punk band, I think she was like 18 when we hit this song. I kind of had this vision for this song to be about being a teenager, feeling not quite as good as the next person. I associate feeling second best with that kind of feeling, the whole Talladega Nights "If you're not first, you're last." [Laughs] As a kid, always feeling like I had to be a perfectionist. I had all this pressure on myself with grades, and sports or with music or with popularity, I always felt this pressure to be the best. I could never just be my best, I always had to be the best. Which I wasn't, and I think that's something a lot of kids have a hard time dealing with, always feeling like whether it's pressure from their parents to be something more than what they are, or play sports. I think a lot of kids relate to feeling second best and that pressure. That feeling of imploding because of all that pressure and pushing people away, I just want to feel alone and live in my own hell. I think it represents that turning point in a kid's life where they don't feel the best.
WHAT WAS HIGH SCHOOL LIKE FOR YOU?
It was great actually. [Laughs] I went to a military school, I'd say maybe my first year I was new and scared and timid, maybe just kind of feeling it out. A majority of my high school, I felt like I had a lot of friends, I kind of floated and wasn't particularly in a certain clique or anything, I was everywhere. I was in band, in a band, I played sports. The good thing about that school was everyone wore uniforms. [Laughs] So no one really knew who each other really was, we all had the same short military haircut, we had the same clothes, but it was a good situation. I think we all let our personalities do the talking.
Let's say you got cliques in high school, you got the jocks, the goths, the nerds, whatever. There's still gonna be different personality types in every group. It was really an early lesson in not judging a book by its cover and letting myself be as fluent as possible when it comes to style or non-conformity. Now middle school, I had it rougher. It was public school and I got bullied, I was wearing a collared shirt but then super skinny girl's jeans. I dated a cheerleader, which is hilarious, but I hung out with the emo kids. That was like a different time for me, I was living in a small town, your typical middle school bully shit. But high school taught me how to be a leader and non-conformist.
YOU MENTIONED BEING IN A BAND, WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DID YOU GRAVITATE TO AS A YOUNG PERSON?
Well I grew up with country music and like R&B, my dad listened to a lot of Craig David and soul music, which is weird looking back and that might've just been because it was hot in the 90s. But I grew up on a lot of country and R&B, and being internally gay or nonbinary now and so those early stages I gravitated towards boy bands and the like. And then, who didn't love hip-hop in the early 2000s? I started playing drums and learned how to drum and sing, my dad bought me a drum kit and a keyboard and microphone, me just trying to emulate who I could. But then I went to a few shows at skate parks and got infatuated with skateboarding, I think then I got intrigued with the culture of skateboarding and getting introduced to punk music and hardcore. My buddies were into skateboarding gave me shit and would call me a poser and they gave me like a skater makeover. There were four or five guys making me mixtapes that had everything from System of a Down and Terror to like indie like Modest Mouse, and then I quickly got into the Distillers who became my favorite band of all time. And then of course the Tony Hawk games got me into more.
I found out my mom had this "deep dark" secret where when she was younger she was a total groupie. [Laughs] She went to Prince concerts, Bon Jovi concerts and hung out with a lot of local hair metal bands, I was like "holy shit, mom!" So maybe rock & roll was always in my blood.
I ALWAYS WONDERED ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND JUST BECAUSE, FROM THE OUTSIDE, IT SEEMED LIKE WOE, IS ME BLEW UP SUPER FAST AND YOU WERE REALLY YOUNG. WHAT WAS IT LIKE NAVIGATING THAT?
It was scary. You go from, I was like 15 or 16 jumping from band to band trying to figure it out and climb the ladder, and then I was 17 when we put out our first demo. It had some popularity on MySpace, and I thought, "Oh, that's really cool," but I didn't really get it. I had my bar set really low, I just wanted to tour with Chiodos or Scary Kids Scaring Kids like, "Man I just want to open for Sky Eats Airplane!" But as a 17 year old that's what I listened to, I didn't think about the longevity of a career, or about in ten years when I'd have to pay bills or start a family. My goals were just like, get signed and go. The next year I graduate, we get a record deal, make an album and go on tour, all that stuff was exciting but no one really knew what you were getting into at that age. You just have a pipe-dream of getting out of town and seeing a little bit of something out there. You fast forward a couple of years, you're an adult who left home and who needs to afford to eat. You realize you don't know enough. Leaving that band and getting away from that situation, trying to learn what I need to about the business and grow as a person, you learn about longevity. But man it was scary, I think people get caught up in the wrong thing at that age and it blurs the potential for the future.
YOU'VE BEEN ONE OF THE FEW OUT LGBTQ VOCALISTS IN YOUR LANE. WAS IT HARD TO CARVE THAT NICHE OUT? IT SEEMS LIKE YOUR FAN BASE IS SUPER OPEN, BUT MAN I REMEMBER NOT EVEN TEN YEARS AGO YOU'D HEAR MEMBERS OF BANDS STRAIGHT-UP CALL THE AUDIENCE A SLUR.
I feel like there's a lot of toxic masculinity in the rock community. You go to active rock shows and butt-rock festivals, whatever you want to call it, and it's very hard to feel like you're in a safe space. I kind of feel like our band has always invited diversity to our shows, there's a lot of African Americans, Latin people, and then beyond that just like emos, jocks, military veterans, skaters. There's always been such an array of different kinds of people at our shows, and it's something we've always been passionate about letting people know, everyone is accepted and loved and we've noticed a lot more trans inclusivity at shows. And it's all about just letting people know they're accepted here and we make sure we can try and stop any kind of toxic masculinity at our shows. We give opportunities to mosh obviously, and that's what it's all about but as long as there's respect at our shows.
YOU'VE PLAYED IN A BUNCH OF BANDS, AND HAD A GOOD FEEL FOR THE LANDSCAPE OF METALCORE. WHEN YOU FORMED ISSUES, DID YOU HAVE A CLEAR VISION THAT THERE WOULD BE SPACE IN THE SCENE FOR A METALCORE BAND THAT LEANED SO HEAVILY INTO POP?
I think being in Woe, it was just me and one other guy writing it. I didn't really feel like I had lead on it or creative control other than writing lyrics and writing melodies and that was it. Who I was as an artist, which has changed and evolved. That's the other thing, I don't think anyone should ever put themselves in a box, we've all got different sides of ourselves. So once I figured out who I was in that band as an artist and thought if I had creative direction on something and it reflected me most, what would it sound like? And that's what kind of came together over the early Issues EP.
Working with Ty Accord, Lophiile, at the time he was doing a lot of pop and hip-hop, and I was trying to go that way with my solo music, but I think at the time there was a learning curve, and just really about learning and practicing. But the two of us liked rock music, and we were both in that pop songwriting setting. So I think at the time it was just like, let's see what we can do. Overtime as the band started to make more songs together, we thought "What's the curriculum of Issues without following one?" And the best explanation was just Punk Goes Pop. [Laughs] Like all these people were turning pop songs into punk songs, why don't we write the pop songs too? I don't think it was that black or white at the time, I think it was just a reflection of our talents coming together.
IT SEEMS LIKE ISSUES IS ONE OF THE ONLY BANDS THAT REALIZES, "HEY, METALCORE IS INTRINSICALLY POPPY. WHY DON'T WE DO SOMETHING CLEVER WITH THAT?"
Yeah, I mean it's 2019, you can't escape pop culture. You can't escape pop influence, whether an active rock band or metalcore, you've got pop influence and repetitive hooks that are catchy. Since the dawn of time that's what songwriting has been about, you've got something people can relate to. When you've got a hook, and it's relatable, and easy for people to sing along to, that's what pop is about. I don't think it matters what style of music you're playing, that's about the lyrics and sound. But the song being a song, that's pop.