#GirlThatsMySong : WHO IS YELLOW SHOOTS?

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When it comes to putting you on to new talent, the hottest talent, and the most talented underdogs who are still making hits, Girl That’s My Song’s got you covered. In the past two months, we’ve introduced you to Pretty Big Movement mogul, Akira Armstrong, The Womack Sisters, and Glamour. We’ve embraced the return of Keyshia Cole and, we’ve kept you tuned into the latest music releases, industry news, and more. There are no fancy prerequisites to get our attention—all you need is talent, stellar vocals, your own personality, and stage presence.

Last month we also introduced you to Yellow Shoots with his latest single “Heaven,” which featured Brooklyn rapper, Skyzoo The Writer. Hailing straight out of Southwest Philadelphia, Yellow Shoots 28,  started off playing the saxophone in elementary school before learning the guitar, keyboards, drums, and bass. As the son of a dancer, YS was exposed to a myriad of musical genres. In time, he started playing gospel, jazz, progressive rock, R&B, pop and more throughout various cities and provinces on the east coast. In 2014, YS relocated to Flatbush and then moved to Bed-Stuy, which reminds him of his neighborhood back in Philly. Recently, GTMS sat down with the burgeoning artist at Junior’s restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, for an in-depth chat. It’s damp and cold outside, and YS has just finished telling me about his hectic work week. Get into the interview below.

GTMS: We briefly introduced you to our viewers last month. But for everyone who’s visiting Girl, That’s My Song today, who are you?

Yellow Shoots: My name is Greg Matthews. I’m from Philadelphia and I’ve been a musician professionally since I was 16, 17 years old. I’ve been everything from a jazz musician, to a rock musician, to a producer, to a songwriter. I used to do a lot of songwriting in the Philadelphia music scene for a lot of R&B artists.

GTMS: Like who?

YS: I used to work at this records place called Sigma Sounds, which is no longer there. But it was a hub where all the major people would come through. Cee-Lo Green, Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill, and all these people would come through. I was a part of a bunch of teams that would just write records. A lot of my career started out in being a behind the scenes type of guitar player. I’d play guitar on demo records and it would go out to Beyoncé or whomever. I learned about music doing that type of stuff. Philadelphia has a really strong music community and I was this white kid from the suburbs who was playing a lot of gospel music, a lot of jazz music, a lot of hip-hop. I just immersed myself in all kinds of different things and that’s how I got started. I don’t know if you know about Ryan Toby, he was a part of City High?

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GTMS: Yes, I know of Ryan Toby from the now disbanded, Grammy-nominated hip-hop/R&B trio, City High.

YS: I played for him for a little bit. I played with that group from this little town named Willingboro which is in South Jersey, which is where all those guys are from. There’s an amazing music community there. So there’s  Philly, there’s Willingboro, there’s Chester which is in Philadelphia, obviously there’s Camden, and then there’s Willmington, Delaware.

I was in all of that as a guitar player just playing for random artists. I played with this girl, Gogo Morrow for a while, she’s a big Philly artist. I played with all kinds of people but what that really did for me was it exposed me to all different types of music. That’s how I got my chops really, and then something happened where I was watching this Jimmy Hendrix documentary and saw that he played for all of these artists before he became this thing. He was playing for all these artists and he got sick of it.  He was playing for Little Richard and all these people and I was like ‘sh*t that’s what happened to me.’

I was playing with all of these amazing people but I wasn’t fulfilled.

GTMS: So you wanted to do your thing?

YS: No, I didn’t even know if I wanted to do my thing. I was just like ‘I’m not fulfilled right now; what is this?’ Then I started messing around on the computer and making beats. I started working with this guy Noel Terrell, he’s Meek Mill’s musical director. He’s like one of my best friends. He and I would make music in the basement of my studio and I was like ‘shit I really like making this music our stuff.’ I said ‘I gotta do more of this.’ I always could sing a little bit and all of the church folks were like ‘oh you’ve gotta sing.’ I was really shy you know, and I was like ‘nah I’m not a singer; I’m a guitar player.’ Eventually what happened was, I couldn’t get singers to show up to the studio ’cause they were flaky, to be honest. I’d be like ‘alright, I’ll just sing on the demo,’ and I’d just sing the melody.

GTMS: The production on quite a few of your songs reminds me of 90’s or early 2000s R&B/pop soul music. You don’t even sound like you’re trying to sound that way. You sound natural, when it comes to your vocals. It’s like you give us a little bit of George Michael and Justin Timberlake, especially with that falsetto on certain tracks.

YS: Yeah, I get up there. I grew up playing progressive rock like, Yes. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder. My mother was a dancer, so she would always play dance music like Michael Jackson. So I had a very diverse musical upbringing. Then I went to school for jazz and played gospel music in my early twenties. All good artists steal but I’m always trying to make something new, always! I hear a lot of music today and a lot of music is mad lazy. Like they just have the same sound and you can hear it, so for me, it’s really personal. I’m not trying to get a gig or anything, obviously. The most vulnerable thing you can do is be yourself and make music that sounds like you. When I play my music for people it’s kind of weird because it’s all me. People in the room go ‘oh sh*t that’s you.’ [laughs]

GTMS: Given that you’ve worked so closely with black hip-hop and R&B artists, have you ever faced any issues?

YS: With race stuff? Oh for sure. I think it’s just the nature of the world we live in. The nature and status of race in America is this is a f*cked up place for black people to live in and for white people to live in without understanding each other. That’s just the reality, and I’ve never attributed how I was treated to it being evil or anything like that; I just think people have had experiences. I would play in neighborhoods where people wouldn’t generally see white people and I’d be treated incredibly well. Then I would be treated terribly.

GTMS: You were treated terribly?

YS: In different scenarios, like ‘oh you can’t play that type of music.’ But then after they’re like ‘oh my gosh.’ I have had amazing experiences outside of my race as a white male and I’m blessed in that way. I appreciate those experiences in life; but I will say that we live in a tough time. Times have been tough for a while but it’s amazing that the friction is happening now ’cause it’s needed. I want to be clear—when I set up to do music all those experiences came naturally. I wasn’t like, ‘I’m gonna be an R&B artist.’

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GTMS: When I hear you it sounds natural it doesn’t sound forced or like you’re trying to create a buzz to profit off of a certain genre. Everything sounds genuine.

YS: Thank you, it’s a comfort thing too. I played gospel music for three years. I played three services a weekend and I feel more comfortable playing in those gospel oriented settings.

GTMS: Were you raised in a church setting?

YS: My mom is Catholic and I attended Cece Dee when I was a kid but I didn’t grow up very religious. But I definitely grew up in a spiritual setting. I  understand music in the church and why it’s just a powerful connection. I just try to be natural.

GTMS: Overall, your music is dark, more so mysterious. But “Heaven” was light, more optimistic and relaxed. It wasn’t tense, romantic, or dramatic like the majority of your catalog. Could you tell us who your biggest musical influences are?

YS: I’m really into English rock, progressive rock like Yes, Genesis, Phil Collins, Jethro Tull. I love Radiohead; Radiohead is new aged but that type of music is just very introspective and very spiritual in some other type of way. I was always trying to keep that in my music.

GTMS: Notice, all of those artists you’ve mentioned have something in common, and that’s talent. In the times that we are living in where talent is not king, and it’s more about having swag or…

YS: Or how you dress or how many Instagram followers you can get?

GTMS: Right, exactly, does that scare you?

YS: No, it doesn’t scare me. I don’t care whether it goes away or not but it doesn’t last. Like the music that we are talking about right now, the reason why we are talking about it is because it’s so original and so timeless that it sticks. That music sticks, like Michael Jackson’s music sticks. Stevie Wonder music sticks. All that music sticks. If you make music that sticks it doesn’t matter how many followers you have.

Look at the band Tame Impala, or what Childish Gambino just dropped—fire! That music was so relevant for the time and so well done and so honest that it’s going to stick.

GTMS: You’ve worked with a few industry veterans like Illmind, Joel Ortiz, Skyzoo, and Ryan Toby of City High. What was that like? Did management bring you all together?

YS: That was me, [laughs] I met those people in the streets. I met Illmind at a coffee shop. I saw him across the street and I was like ‘I know that guy, he’s a crazy producer.’ I literally went over and said, ‘yo, I’m a big fan of your music. I sent him one the tracks I dropped last year through an email and he actually listened to it. He hit me back and was like, ‘yo what are you doing right now? I want to work with you.’ That’s how we started; that’s how I met Skyzoo and that’s how I met Joel. At the end of the day, you just gotta show up.

Music is a very social business and there are all kinds of people; we’re trying to make money in the industry, right? If big people call you into the studio some people are like ‘aww I’m not going to get paid.’ You just gotta show up and be cool and make friends. That’s the way art is, you can’t be putting money behind it. People call you because you’re a great artist and you can contribute something very unique. I’ve learned so much from Skyzoo and Illmind.

GTMS: Could you share what you’ve learned from them with us?

YS: Illmind, that guy has unbelievable discipline. He’s been in the industry for a long time. He shows up to work every day and he always follows through on his promises. He’ll be like ‘I’m going to make five tracks this week and I’m going to go after this thing,’ and, he’d do it. I respect that, ’cause there are a lot of people who start things that they don’t finish. I think Frank Ocean said this, the key to being successful is finishing things. You can meet mad producers and mad people who have tons of great records but they are not finished.  I’ve learned that from him, and that’s the goal. I’ve learned that whole thing about being a genuine person. I learned how to work with other artists just by watching Illmind.

Skyzoo is real cool because for me making the music is easy. I just do it fast, but writing the lyrics is not as natural. I remember doing a session with him and watching him write on the spot. I’d ask him, ‘how’d you do this so quick?’ He said, ‘I just force myself to be spontaneous and write on the spot. Whenever I record it’s done that day, and it’s over. It’s not like this toiling process.’ Obviously, he’s a great writer, so he has the ability to do that. But there is still something really unique about that cause you show up to the studio and whatever words you write that day is how you feel that day or how it’s relevant to the song. It’s not like I’m writing this song for ten years. I’m writing this song today, and I’m channeling that energy. Maybe if you’re not feeling it you don’t write it for that day. But if you’re feeling it, channel the energy, put it down on paper and it’s done. I think that was the dopest thing ever ’cause most people don’t work like that.

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GTMS: So that taught you discipline?

YS: Discipline, but also how to capture the vibe cause if you capture the vibe and then you mess with the vibe a week later it doesn’t become that vibe anymore. It’s not the vibe that it was. So, once you capture it, it’s done.

GTMS: Getting back to your sound. How would best describe your music and style?

YS: I want people to be able to hear the song and feel like it takes them on some type of journey. I don’t want to produce stuff where they have to think so hard to process the music. I want to make my music relatable and I want people to feel it.

GTMS: About your latest single, “Heaven” featuring Skyzoo, you said that you wrote it during tough times where the media constantly divided our country into two buckets of hate. Racism in this country intensified when Obama got into office. I’ve heard people use racist terms and gestures freely, more than ever before.  What’s your take on that?

YS: It’s tough to be on the internet sometimes. I’m just saying all the deepest darkest thoughts that you hear that we all have in the world are getting broadcasted online. Maybe walking down the street someone would be racist towards you as a black woman. But you get to hear their deepest of darkest thoughts now online. Now think about that times every other scenario in the world—muslims, Mexicans, whatever. Now, everybody’s colliding  and you hear it all being surfaced now cause people are behind closed doors typing out their thoughts.

What it is, is friction and the thing it could be a good thing it could be a bad thing. But the cool thing is there is dialogue happening, even if it is a terrible thing. Like ‘oh my God our country is in a terrible place.” It is in a terrible place but how are we to grow? We have to talk, it’s the only way. We have to have arguments with each other and change each other’s way of thinking. We have to help each other understand each other and that only happens through dialogue and friction—that’s my opinion.

Stay tuned for more music from Yellow Shoots on his forthcoming EP Stormy Weather in April.

Interview By: Olga Barker