These Are The Times- A Conversation with Teon Gibbs

I Sat down with Teon Gibbs, and got to learn a bit about his passions in life and his musical endeavours. He talks about the struggle for new artists trying to find collaborative elements in the city and wanting to build a mentorship program in the future to help musicians. Teon shares with us some of his struggles as well as many of his successes, such as his EP series, These Are The Times and his breakoff project, For The Soul.

Q: Where were you born and where do you currently live?

A: I was born in Botswana.. I travelled with my family growing up so every two/three years or so we would move to another country and now I’m living here in Richmond.

Q: Can you talk about the first moments when you discovered that music was your passion in life?

A: I was in 7th grade and we had to put on a music performance for music class and it was right when the Nas song, I know I can came out, my friend Lewis and I learned how to play it on the keyboard. Someone asked me to rap a verse and I did it. I really enjoyed it, it energized me, and I really got excited about being on stage. It was that moment.

Q: Has your family supported your musical endeavours throughout the years?

A: No, not always, it’s probably only been the last 6 months that my family has been fully on board with it. I did very well academically in school. I got accepted to a couple of Ivey league schools and I chose not to go. I wanted to pursue music and it really put a drift between my dad and me. I went to audio school and after that, I was playing sessionally in different bands for about 3 years. I got to the point where I realized I wasn’t making any progress because people weren’t committed to the business side of things. I decided to take control of my own journey and I started the Teon Gibbs venture a year and a half ago. A year in I started seeing real progress, booking shows that gave me an actual opportunity to showcase my talents to an engaged follower, it was around this time that they were kinda like, “Oh, he might actually be able to do this!”

Q: Who inspires you to create?

A: There are so many people who really inspire me to create. On a musical side of things artists like Kanye West, James Blake, Bryson Tiller, Cole, Robert Glasper, and Drake. I like the 90s and soul samples! I love incorporating gospel music into contemporary hip-hop and r&b templates. It fires me up. I get excited about that. As far as creatives: Virgil Abloh is mind-blowing to me.

Q: You recently opened up for Nelly in Kelowna at Sapphire, which is an incredible accomplishment. Can you talk about this night and this amazing opportunity?

A: The night itself was amazing. I really felt legitimized in some small kind of way- I didn’t pursue the gig, I didn’t ask for it, people advocated for me and they hit me up. That’s literally what they told me, "Hey a lot of people have suggested we get you to open for Nelly, we listened to your music and checked out your social media and we see you have an album coming out and we think it would be a good fit." The show was sold out in 8 minutes, it was packed. The demographic was like 24-40, which I was totally fine with but I wasn’t sure if they would know any of my songs. They didn’t. But the response was so good! I made some real connections with the crowd - and the feedback post-show was incredible. The last 3 months I’ve been putting out a lot more r&b so it fit well with the Nelly demographic. But it wasn’t all flowers and roses getting to the show was hell, we literally got stuck on the Coquihalla for 5 hours because of a snow storm, and when we got there, there were issues running my sound check and all the prep I had done for fine-tuning, my FX went out the window. When the show started the wireless connection for my mic crapped out and the DJ had his own technical difficulties. I went through so much to get there I wasn't going to be nervous or fall apart. I came to bring my best, I brought my best.

Q: What are your thoughts on the music scene in Vancouver?

A: I feel like because I’m involved in hip-hop and I’m involved in recording bands I have two different perspectives. I find that there are certain circles of musicians that will regularly gig and they are gigging at a lot of the same venues while collaborating with one another. That’s all great and it takes work to get there but I see a lot of new singer/ songwriters bands or solo acts really struggling to find collaborative elements in the city, especially in hip-hop. It is really competitive but it sometimes flirts with pettiness. Sometimes it feels like no one really wants to work together, that needs to change in order to build the scene. We should have more prominent artists and bands pushing music out of the city, but I feel that the scene hasn’t really established itself locally. People are too, “I wanna be the guy or the greatest artist” instead of thinking we need to collaborate to build a buzz, network and a following together.

Q: Who are some of your favourite composers, musicians, and bands from the past and present?

A: James Blake. He's a really good songwriter, he knows when to add tension in all his chord choices. As far as composers and bands Robert Glasper, The Roots, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, SZA, and Frank Ocean. I feel like SZA and Frank Ocean are at the forefront of quality songwriters right now in music.

Q: You have been able to market yourself extremely well on social media. Do you have any tips for artists wanting to grow their Instagram page?

A: Set realistic goals for yourself and be as objective as you can for your current following. A lot of musicians get a lot of great feedback from their friends and that’s great, you need people in your corner, your friends should support you but if you want to grow you need to be exposed to the general public. You have to be honest with yourself and be willing to be patient. Set small goals. There are a lot of great resources like Foundr or social media gurus that you can follow and learn from. Once you have a bit of an engaged fan base try things like giveaways. I did a giveaway for the Recess show two weeks ago and probably got 200 followers from that. People like free shit at the end of the day.

Q: Can you talk a bit about your EP Series, These are The Times?

A: I started writing it in 2017 and I really want to capture a snapshot of what production, cadence and feel is like in 2017/2018. I'm really trying to capture the sonic quality of what the culture of hip-hop and r&b feel is like right now. In doing so I wanted to write how I respond to the culture, the generational lifestyle choices we make, and the tensions within the music industry in Vancouver. I tried to introduce certain themes while working through this. I also tried to introduce specific themes that I want to continue to unpack as I progress through my career. One of the most prominent themes on this project is speaking to clout culture. People fall more in love with the persona and the image in the industry than actually just doing the work and making quality music. I talk about what it was like growing up in the church and how they respond to the music I make now, speaking to self worth, depression and navigating relationships while building my dreams. I set it up for a breakoff project, For The Soul. These are the times will continue to take snapshots of what this music sounds like for the oncoming years, but For The Soul will allow me to be a lot more vulnerable and introspective into my life.

Q: What has been one of your biggest challenges? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?

A: Most creative people will probably say something to the effect of mental health, self-doubt, depression, and anxiety. A lot of creative people are really struggling with it. I get it, the industry can be really shallow and inherently when you make music, you're putting it out for people to pick you apart and what you do is judged. You have to learn to accept criticism, what’s real criticism is and what’s just hate, you have to learn to navigate building a following and seeking acceptance. I feel people are a lot more critical of up and coming artist’s music in comparison to established artists. It can be very hard. Trying to navigate relationships and organizing your time, friend’s family and partners. If you are putting your time into anything entrepreneurial your relationships can really suffer. On the musical aspect side of things be as persistent as you can. If your day job ends at 6 pm, you get home at 7 pm, at 8 pm start working on whatever it is, your personal venture and do at least 4 hours, 5 days a week. Make sure you do that, so you’re putting at least 20 hours a week into that. You start to see things develop and piece together a bit more. Don’t be stressed out if you can’t finish a project or something in one night or one week. Consistency is key, I still haven’t been able to balance all my relationships and I don’t think I'm going to at this point. I've accepted that I need to focus on my music and the real ones will be there.

Q: What advice do you have for people starting out in the music industry?

A: Find people that will be honest with you. Find people who will give you honest feedback. Find people who are willing to tell you this is good but you can do it better. Find anyone who is at some kind of success and pick his or her brain. There is so much trial and error by doing it by yourself and there is a lot more error than success. Don't be afraid to ask for things. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake either.

Q: How long does it take you to write a song? Do you have a method for putting the music and lyrics together?

A: I originally started writing to a lot more old school soulful beats. Old Kanye and Common is how I got into writing. In that lane, I can literally sit down and write a song in 20 minutes. With These Are The Times, I tuned into what people listen to, and some of the common elements people like on songs, so it takes a bit longer. This entire project I started with melodies, no words and we just freestyled melodies. I would find melodies and cadences that I liked and from there I would take this as a template for my verse and start writing.

Q: Where would you like to find yourself in the next 5 years?

A: Someone very close to me told me that in one-year people always overestimate what they can do and in 5 years people underestimate what they can do. In 5 years from now my goals are to be consistent. I’d like to have 100s of thousands of followers and to diversify my revenue streams whether it be from merchandise or touring - so that I can live the life I want off of music. I’d also like to be running my own studio and I want to start a mentorship program- artists helping artists. I feel like I know a lot of creative videographers and photographers. Especially how social media and pop culture is changing everyone is doing something visual and creative and entrepreneurial and to put out a mentorship program in BC would be good. We don’t really have that or any way for us to network, give feedback, develop our skills and learn from someone or some people who have gone through it.

Q: Do you have anything else you want your fans/people to know about you?

A: My goal as a writer and as a musician is to speak on the human experience and I think that it’s good to be honest about the human experience. It doesn’t always have to be your story. The reason I like to say that is because I feel like people will approach an artist and hear one song and think they’ve got it figured out about them, but human beings are really multi-faceted. You really have to invest time with them and have faith in them. They may do something in 6 months that you fall in love with and think oh this is what they should have been doing the entire time and it may have been inside them all along until they know how to express it. People need to take the time to believe in young artists and have an open perspective to their journey.

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