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Conversations with REV WYN

Today we’d like to introduce you to REV WYN. 

Hi REV, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
While I’ve been making up songs since childhood, I finally found my voice when the darkness of early quarantine afforded me the opportunity to hole up with my synths, drum machine, and a 4-track tape recorder for weeks. Adopting a streamlined production method, I performed each track live into the 4 track in complete takes, then manipulated the tape machine to print the final tracks – no computer editing. 

A wonderfully bizarre magnum opus emerged – the 19 track “Total Abandon” LP. The eternal struggle between shadow and idealized self, the fickle ego, psychedelic mysticism, and the heavens and hells of human relationships…it plays like a movie from top to bottom. 

I steadily released singles with accompanying visual art throughout 2020-2021, teaching myself graphic design and video editing to create music videos, culminating in release of the full “Total Abandon” LP in October 2021. 

What set the stage for finally creating a body of work that not only had the sonic and structural richness I’d been craving, but more importantly felt like a meaningful reflection of my true self, was a lifetime of musical searching – what at the time felt like a series of failures, but I now see as an artistic journey of musical exploration and personal evolution. I’ve explored many methods and genres of music-making – in brief, in high school I played guitar and wrote all the songs for multiple bands, with limited lo-fi tape recording, in college (where I obtained a degree in Music Composition) I played solo, still guitar-driven songwriting, now creating lo-fi productions using a laptop microphone, and during these years shifted away from guitar back to the piano, my first instrument, for plenty of solo piano songwriting in jazz/pop/R&B idioms. Here I wrote and conducted/performed 45 minutes of original music for my thesis, a song cycle based on the Tarot realized thru ensembles ranging from solo piano to a 14-piece ensemble which included strings, woodwinds, harp, and more, then moved to NYC to pursue film scoring. Although disillusionment with being a gun for hire artistically/the difficulty of making a living selling art led me to pivot from pursuing a Masters in Film Scoring and apprentice as a Piano Tuner, I continued to create music throughout my 8 years in NYC, the parameters of my life once again shifting my musical focus. 

I barely brought anything to Brooklyn, so all I had initially was a laptop with a copy of the music production program Reason. So, I began creating music “in the box,” learning about electronic music production and mixing. Still all DIY. Again, I reflected my environment in the music I explored. While I grew up on Rock n’ Roll (think Stooges, Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, etc.) interspersed with wildly eclectic music tastes ranging from Jazz to Medieval music to Psychedelic Rock, in late High School a love of classic Soul and R&B led me to finally begin exploring Hip Hop – I was late to the party but dug in avidly, beginning with golden age 90s rap and working my way forward. Living in Flatbush Brooklyn, I was surrounded by contemporary rap, made friends in the neighborhood, and started working as a producer. No longer writing lyrics, but producing beats for collaborators to rap on. I worked closely with a talented MC and learned much. Mainly how to simplify my cerebral tendencies and see the forest, not just the trees, and continuing to move beyond my core perspective as a lyrical songwriter to develop skills in recording and mixing. I also produced an entire album of instrumental electronica entirely on an iPod touch while riding the subways of NYC. 

It was a circuitous route, but ultimately my exploration of Hip Hop led me to singing and writing lyrics again – first I added singing hooks to rap productions, then, because I didn’t feel I could sing, I thought rapping might be a good vocal fit. Recorded multiple records rapping, which taught me about confidence and emotiveness on the mic. But as much fun as I had, it still wasn’t truly ME. I became involved in a long-distance recording project during my final years in NY with an old friend that straddled the line between Hip Hop and Rock n’ Roll, and I gradually departed from straight rapping to a strange hybrid of rap/punk vocals, then to straight-up singing. This project also led me to move away from electronic production on a laptop to falling in love with hardware. This started with buying an analog drum machine/synth from Dave Smith Instruments called the Tempest. A marvelous machine – you can make entire compositions on this one box without any mouse clicking on a laptop – just turning knobs and smashing pads. I added hardware synths, and a fleeting fascination with Dungeon Synth led me to purchase a Tascam Portastudio 4-track tape machine, upon which, in my time outside of the main band I was in, I produced 3 albums of instrumental dark psychedelic electronica, sort of synth scores to imagined horror/sci-fi movies. Now I was barely using the laptop at all. 

This aforementioned rap/rock project was riddle with conflict and disfunction, and when Covid took the world by storm it fully laid bare the madness and pain of this personal/musical relationship. To keep that long sordid tale simple, I’d been struggling against a very different artistic agenda. It just wasn’t a good fit – another strong personality was pushing me to make more aggressive, rock-driven music that kept feeling soulless, my artistic vision hobbled and robbed of its original vitality because we just weren’t pulling the same direction. 

Covid caused a relationship already strained to a breaking point to spectacularly implode, and I found myself alone in my home studio with 2 synths, an analog drum machine, my 4-track tape machine, and zero restrictions or compromises on what I wanted to create. Thus, was born REV WYN. After all the aforementioned explorations, I arrived at a sound that melded all these influences into one unique sound, informed by electronica, hip hop, and the character-driven rock n’ roll I grew up on of punk, post-punk, new wave, and 80s pop/R&B, specifically influenced by Springsteen, Nick Cave, Alex Cameron, Lana Del Rey, the Cure, etc. I was writing full songs with lyrics again, singing, creating sound that was melodic and poppy and psychedelic, alternating between the dark and the light, sometimes with a hint of aggression or machismo, but frequently thoughtful and vulnerable and poetic. It felt really good. It felt like it was finally me. 

I threw in with all my weight, knowing this was the sound I could finally get behind. I’d never known how to share the music I’d been making my whole life, always working on the fringes, scrappy and DIY. I needed a visual aesthetic to intrigue people and finally, get my music heard, so I created the character of REV WYN. Not a fiction, but an over-the-top extension of parts of my real personality. A lone psychedelic desert wanderer on a mystical journey, exploring a conflicted masculinity, a swagger with a tender heart, what it means to be a white male in a declining, corrupt capitalist empire obsessed with celebrity. I started an Instagram, started releasing music to Spotify, etc., and creating DIY music videos to post to YouTube. 

And people gradually began to listen and respond favorably, I was able to begin playing shows, and I recently released the full album. It’s been a ton of work doing everything myself, from writing to recording to release to marketing to developing the gear to perform as a live solo act – but I love it, and I’ll never stop. At the end of the day, it’s become abundantly clear that it’s not about making music other people will tell you they like, but the whole aesthetic journey of music and visuals is all about a continuing introspection of what makes me me, ever striving to make music I’m more fully happy with, learning new skills and techniques, doing things that scare me, overcoming shyness and lonerism to put myself out there while following an internal barometer that keeps guiding the artistic expression to an increasingly accurate and compelling reflection of my internal world, so I can understand my own strange absurd being better. 

And when other people relate to that, enjoy the art, or are even inspired by it – that’s unbelievably meaningful and motivating. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Not at all – as described in the full bio, I’ve struggled against financial limitations, loner tendencies, shyness, and immense complexities of what it means to be a modern solo musician – you have to do everything yourself to get any attention to afford new opportunities of working with other experts. So, you need to be a songwriter, producer, recording engineer, photographer, actor, graphic designer, marketer, etc. That’s a ridiculous variety of skills for one person to become even minimally conversant in, only to release art into an absurdly over-saturated market. Nothing could be less practical from the perspective of a return of investment on your time – you only do it if it’s an unavoidable compulsion – which it is for me. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I read this question a little differently, in light of my specific position as an independent musical artist. I.e., the fact that it’s nigh impossible to make any money-making original art, at least for a long time with slim chances of a financially sustainable outcome, means you have to find a revenue stream that can support making art but leaves enough time to make art. The constant interplay between time and money…becoming a piano technician was my route. Fully self-employed, with flexibility to pursue art, doing something that reflects my core values and skills as a musician. This doesn’t mean it was all a happy ending – I see my life as a constant struggle to balance my three core values of family, business, and art. But it’s working well enough now, I really can’t complain about my rich full life 🙂 

Artistically, I’m known for or would like to be known for, a specific niche – classic, poetic songwriting driven by characterful synth-infused productions. It’s not rock, it’s not pop, it’s not electronica and it can be hard to communicate or sell. But when you hear it, I think you get it – reference points of timeless rock/pop/culture of the 50s through the 80s realized with a synthy, film-score paintbrush. 

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk-taking?
I’ve definitely taken risks – I’ve always taken weird jobs as a door-to-door salesman, nanny, ultimately piano technician, with the guiding principle being maintaining time flexibility to pursue art. None of these things were practical or had much hope of a safe dependable financial stability with health insurance, nor was choosing to obtain a degree in Music Composition in the first place. Moving to NYC and leaving everything in Portland, OR behind was a huge risk. And leaving the rich artistic possibilities of Brooklyn to start a new life in Tucson was a risk too. But in retrospect, I couldn’t imagine leading any other life. Tucson has a great art culture and enough piano business to keep me afloat, and it’s a good life. 

My perspective on risk is that nothing worthwhile is achieved without it – if you’re following your heart at all you’re taking risks, doing things that aren’t practical, that others judge you for – but if you don’t, you’ll be miserable. You have to have faith in your instincts. 

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