If you’re still wondering what effects the pandemic might have on the global creative community, consider the current fate of Bryson The Alien.
The 28-year-old rapper/producer has been making the most of the shelter-at-home order, using his new surplus of free time to polish up and release a bevy of new material, including a pair of languid tracks that he dropped on his Bandcamp page earlier this week.
And the Portland artist admits he might have the coronavirus to thank for bringing his music to an international audience. Earlier this year, he blasted the inbox of PNKSLM Records, the Swedish record label run by Luke Reilly. Liking what he heard, Reilly reached out to Bryson and the two collaborated on three tracks that serve as the core of International Breakdown, the new album by Reilly’s pet project Lucern Raze. “I don’t know if he would have slowed down enough to check his email and see me without this going on,” Bryson says.
Chances are Bryson would have gotten to a place like this without a virus forcing him to stay home and get creative. Since moving to Portland from Ohio five years ago, he’s been building up a loyal local following on the strength of his unhurried flow and bright productions. And he’s been pulling up likeminded folks like Alpha Audio and Mai Mae with him through his Sumalienz collective. With recent writeups on Bandcamp and Variance Magazine, it was only a matter of time before the outside world started to take notice.
Things could get even more interesting as, when the Mercury got on the phone with Bryson The Alien recently, he had just gotten home from purchasing a saxophone, an instrument he played during his high school days that he's thinking of taking up again. More on that and his recent uptick in activity below.
PORTLAND MERCURY: How have you been doing in the midst of this pandemic?
Bryson the Alien: I’ve been doing pretty well. Better than I expected I would be. I set up a recording situation here at home and have been able to connect with people online and send files back and forth. Just adapting. Flowing with it. Not resisting it or wanting something different. Trying to make the best of it.
You’ve been releasing a little bit of music recently—music of your own and features with other artists. You’re staying busy.
Yeah, it’s been cool. I have a couple of different projects all kind of rolling out at once. It’s been fun and people seem to be enjoying the stuff we’re putting out. It’s just adding fuel to that fire and making me want to put out more stuff.
The big news is that you are featured on a few tracks on the new album by Lucern Raze. How did that happen?
That was very random. After I put out my second project Juenethia, which is named after my mom... around January of this year, I felt like it needed more exposure so I sent it out hundreds of blogs and writers and labels from all over. Three months later, Luke from PNKSLM got back to me. He was like, “Yo, I really like this stuff.” He ended up sending me some stuff that he was working that he never ended up finishing. Those were the songs that I ended up doing for the album. Originally that was supposed to be just a me and him collab, but once I sent him those tracks and he played them for his friends, it became a whole album.
Let’s talk about some of the tracks you’ve released through your Bandcamp page. You dropped a couple of tunes that you made with Pioneer 11, a production team from LA. How did you connect up with those guys?
We’ve been internet friends for a little bit. I don’t remember how long ago it was, but they hit me up and were like, “Yo, man, I like your stuff. I like your covers and stuff you’ve been doing.” We chopped it up on Twitter a bit and then all at once, [the lockdown] started happening. I just hit them up like, “If you guys want to do some stuff, I’m just at home now.” They just sent me a beat. That is leading to more and more songs. We have a little rapport now.
How does that work for you—do you have lyrics already written down that you’re picking from or do you have to hear the music before you get started?
It’s all the beat. Once I hear the production, a lot of the times, certain lyrics will just pop in my mind. I kind of hurry up and write it down. It’s very spontaneous in a way. I hear it and I get ideas and just try to formulate into something listenable and tying it in with the times, too.
You also dropped this “Good Vibes” track that you made with Emilio Alvarado. What is Emilio’s story?
He’s from Toledo. I met him in college. We were actually in the same fraternity. He’s also in a band called the Outset. They make rock music, so he’s a musician himself and has a lot of different projects. He’s the same person that helped me work on Hail Mary. So he’s been my friend and engineer. Since I’ve been here, I’ll send him tracks or he’ll send me stuff. He sent “Good Vibes” to me one night like, “Yo, I made this and I thought you might like it.” I sat on it for a little bit, but thought this would be a good time to put it out.
On top of the production work you do and recording these tracks, you are also responsible for all the artwork for your recent releases. Did you always plan to be this hands on with everything?
I don’t know! I feel like when I first started that I would end up signing to an indie label of some sort. I always wanted to sign to Stones Throw. I always thought I would need to go that route. But after a while, I was like, “I should just start putting this out myself” Especially once Sumalienz became a kind of collective. Because now I can do things my own way. Especially with online distribution services. It’s making it a lot easier for me to just do it myself and help my friends to put out their stuff.
So I have to ask: What are your plans for the saxophone?
I definitely want it for future songs. I also want to incorporate it into my live performances once that opens back up. I always wanted to play it on stage, but I didn’t want to introduce myself as “The Saxophone Boy.” I wanted to establish myself as a writer and performer and then bring out the instrument. It was always the plan to hold it back, but it’s five years after the fact, so I think that’s a good time.