“I Just Try to Follow Where My Instincts/Taste Lead Me, Whether That Be in a Very Pop-centred Lane or an Avant-garde Alternative Direction.” – In Conversation with Traces, a Singer-Songwriter
What makes one a good singer? A sense of rhythm and an ear for music are important, however, technicality is not enough. We expect an artist to charm and delight the audience with their voice. Tim Dehnert, a.k.a. Traces, a singer-songwriter from California, comprises both: a talent for song-writing and captivating vocals. In addition, Tim’s sensitivity touches my heart. I venerate his voice and incredibly lyrical – almost poetic – songs. I love the way he puts complicated feelings into words, capturing emotions that many are not able to express.
Tim’s powerful vocals make his voice spread throughout any room and fill all of the empty silence in the world, including Death Valley. His unique voice reaches high – the upper tones sound bright, clear and full, and have an intriguing texture in contrast to the lower tones.
Although Tim is in his early 20s, he has already experienced enough hardship to make one give up on playing music or postpone their career. However, thanks to his determination and help from his friends, he kept on going. And the perfect proof of that is the release of 6HRS, his first full-length album that delivers a mature, cohesive and well-crafted sound.
Why did he perform in Death Valley, are there certain music styles that he would like to try out with his future releases, and how strictly does he separate improvising and composing in his work? Recently, Tim answered these and other questions exclusively for View of the Arts, and also chatted about what challenges he must go through as a musician.
Before discussing the scope of your work, let’s talk about your first and latest full-length album, 6HRS. I must admit, it’s an incredible release. What was the creative process behind 6HRS?
Thank you, I really appreciate that. I had been working through a couple of album concepts for a few years and was trying to play with different characters/visual themes in my head. I started working with this producer “dav” regularly, we were just going in and trying to find the sound to match those concepts. We very quickly had about half the record done with the help of my other co-writer, Isaiah Blas. Unfortunately, not too far into that early momentum, I had some life events and major injuries throw me off track. The back half of that album was a fight to make every step of the way, but thankfully those two guys helped me get it over the line. I just tried staying true to this dark dreamworld I had created to air out the unresolved inner conflicts I didn’t know how to let go of.
Was music a path that has always called to you – was there a moment when you realised that music was for you?
I really loved music from an early age, but I didn’t know I could make it until middle school. Even then, I didn’t think of it as a career or anything like that, I just knew I really liked making songs. I still just like making stuff. Whether or not I’m trying, I get these musical or visual ideas out of nowhere that weigh so heavy on my brain, unwilling to leave until they’re made.
Although your music is categorised as indie pop, how would you describe your music style and what kind of approach do you use to write your lyrics?
I guess more Alternative Pop, but I’m not a huge fan of genres in general because I think they are often used to segment and discount people’s music. There is such a wide variety of musical influences and stylistic choices on this record ranging from Childish Gambino, Banks, Thom Yorke, One Republic, Bazzi, and The Neighborhood. I just try to follow where my instincts/taste lead me, whether that be in a very pop-centred lane or an avant-garde alternative direction.
Lyrically, I tried to stretch myself on this project. I will always have the heart-on-your-sleeve outpour of lyrics explaining exactly where I’m at, but I tried to expand by playing with some more satirical third person perspectives to be a little more playful with this album. I felt pretty inspired by Childish Gambino and Billie Eilish’s character or story driven approach towards lyricism. As long as it’s honest and true and makes me smile, we are all good.
Looking at your life, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
My Dad was a pastor, so I grew up attending church. I think that environment really teaches you about having a particular lens people see the world through as well as our connections to each other relationally. My Pops was heavily influential in encouraging me to look inward, to be self-aware of why I felt the way I did and question the world around me. I’m pretty clear on how I’m feeling, sometimes way too much, so I’ve always needed creative outlets to make sense of those emotions.
A few months ago, you performed a live version of 6HRS in Death Valley. Why Death Valley? That’s an unusual place to hold a performance.
[Laughs] It was definitely unusual and a nightmare to shoot. Short answer is, in the middle of the pandemic there were no places to perform, so we thought “why not shoot a performance of these songs in a really incredible location?”. There is a big emphasis on the passing of time from sundown to sunrise in the album, so we thought showing sundown in an open desert would be a novel way to hint at the album reference. After two blown speakers, a broken drum kit/microphone/amp, and a heat exhausted crew, we had a pretty cool video showing how we would have been playing those songs on tour.
Looking at your present and past releases, one can notice that you have grown as an artist. Your full-length album delivers a mature, cohesive and well-crafted sound. Having said that, are there any concepts, or certain music styles that you would like to try out with your future releases?
Thank you, I appreciate that. I want to grow as an artist and as a writer, so I feel this need to challenge myself, pushing into places I haven’t quite tried before. There definitely will be other styles. In fact, the next record is sonically/conceptually very different from anything I’ve done prior. My writing and voice are hopefully the thread that the people who truly engage with my music will be able to hook into.
Video © Traces
Would you say the music that inspires your work matches what you listen to when you are a part of an audience? Or are you a fan of other genres other than your own?
I listen to everything. You can catch me listening to some very nonsensical Berlin house music and then Ariana Grande’s Into You back to back. I’m just a fan and I don’t want to lose that. I just create what’s interesting to me while staying in love and inspired by the creative choices other artists are making regardless of genre.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What’s your view on the tasks of artists today, and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I’m a sucker for Nina Simone’s quote about how the artist’s duty is to reflect the times. I think her meaning was socio-political, but also the general experiences of what it’s like to be alive right now. I just try to stay honest and be a reflection of what I’m seeing in myself and the parts of my life that are creating those emotional responses. I think my music is going to be best received by introspective people who often understand their experiences through creative mediums like music, film, or art. Besides that, I think there is just a huge role artists play in creating a space to have fun and escape from the noise of life.
Improvisation is a large part of the creative process for many artists. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing in your work?
I’ve always liked song structure and how you dynamically build songs, so that’s a natural framework I have in my head from growing up listening to great songwriters like Ryan Tedder, Thom Yorke, and many others. I just need to find a sound or two that triggers some kind of inspiration for me and that always starts from improvisation. I try to let the melodies and lyrics pour out before I do any work on structuring them. Improv is your natural instinct which gives every artist at least some version of a unique touch to their work. It’s kind of the quickest way to find your fingerprint if that makes sense?
What do you find are the main challenges of being a musician?
I think the industry, hype, and comparison. There are some truly great people in the music industry, but so many are driven and motivated by hype. We end up propping up people and music that are unproven just because they shimmer like gold, only to drop those very same artists when something shinier comes along. It leads to an industry telling artists to be more like the flavour of the day and in the back of our minds it’s hard not to listen because “who am I to know what will work?”. We often discredit ourselves before even trying things our way.
Is there anything you would like to change in the music industry that might help emerging artists get bigger exposure in domestic and foreign markets?
I’m pretty concerned with data/algorithm driven music discovery. There has to be a human touch to this whole thing. I’m actually for some sort of gatekeepers as long as they are only holding the keys to many small gates along the way, opposed to all of the playlist/editorial success. I just think music will become more and more derivative and dull as it caters more to algorithms. I’ve been in sessions in the last few months writing for pop artists where co-writers suggest writing a TikTok dance into the lyrics. It’s fine if you want to do that, but it’ll be unfortunate if that becomes the norm because that feels more like making marketing campaigns rather than songs.
Pop is by far the most popular music genre in the world. How do you keep your sound fresh and avoid coming across as derivative?
It’s like I said earlier, I’m just a fan of creatives and their process. The particular stew of influences and life experiences will lead me to something unique and I just have to trust that and not look left and right. Here is a very random reference, but it’s like the South African swimmer watching Michael Phelps in the Olympics, if you’re looking at everyone else around you, you’re forgetting to run your own race. I have by no means perfected that advice, but that’s what I’m seeking to do.
What are your upcoming plans? Are there any other projects that you have planned for the future?
I have another project rolling out later this year that I’m very excited about. Shows are finally coming back, so I’m getting the live show together to finally be able to play the music off of 6HRS as well as some of the unreleased work. I’m excited to collaborate a lot more with some other artists and just keep working on projects that are exciting to me.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Featured image © dav
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.