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In Conversation: Blu DeTiger

05 April 2021, 08:41

The stage may be off-limits, but TikTok is an open door.

I meet up with Blu DeTiger the only way anyone does anymore - over Zoom. She joins the video call from her bedroom, wearing a funky orange and green hand-knit sweater vest. In the background is a painting that her dad made of an abstract and dreamy landscape. On the adjacent wall is a psychedelic and colorful circle of prisms with the word ‘sunshine’ in the center, in a font that looks suitable for a poster for Woodstock. Sitting on her bed with a single knee to her chest, she reflects on the anniversary of her first TikTok, her nostalgia for pre-pandemic life in New York City (where she was born and raised), and her plans for the future.

DeTiger’s pre-pandemic routine revolved around the road, as she is a touring bassist with numerous artists across the United States and beyond. From middle school to now, she has played in several bands – most notably Los Angeles-based alternative rock outfit Kitten. DeTiger was also enrolled at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and whenever she was in the city, she played DJ sets at different clubs - always with her beloved bass in tow. No matter where she was, live music was her world. And as she performed, she was constantly looking for ways to make her own music unique, vibrant, and something that makes people want to move.

When the music venues shut down, TikTok became a public stage for DeTiger. With her bass guitar and a plethora of spare time, she carved out a space for herself on the app and found herself with avid fans wanting more to listen to as well as tips on how to play bass. With the help of her brother Rex DeTiger, she recorded live performance videos to post in lieu of a tour, and her bass covers quickly went viral. Rex also assisted DeTiger in production on much of her debut EP How Did We Get Here?

DeTiger’s originals are laden with funky bass lines, but with unexpected production and imaginative lyrics, she stakes a claim in the realm of pop music. She was an overnight sensation, but after months of dedication to her craft on TikTok and beyond, she has made it clear that she’s here to stay. She says that her internet success and subsequent EP were made possible thanks to quarantine.

Time at home, and of course her near-dozen bass guitars, allowed for the completion of How Did We Get Here?. It allowed her to fantasize about flings that didn’t happen (“Kinda Miss You”), feel nostalgia for NYC nightlife (“disco banger but you’re crying in the bathroom”), and paint pictures of characters that have grabbed her attention on the street (“Vintage”). Still at home, she’s already working on her next releases, all while plotting an eventual return to the stage and the hustle and bustle of New York City’s music scene.

BEST FIT: This must be a crazy week for you with the release of your first EP! What have you been up to?

BLU DETIGER: I'm just about to start writing more music, so that's kind of the next wave. I'm gonna just get back into the studio in the next few months, but just release week; all the promo, all of that stuff, celebrating. That's kind of been what's up the past few weeks.

Can you tell me about some of your pre-pandemic touring?

I was touring with a lot of other artists just as a bass player. Like work-for-hire for a bunch of artists, which is really good. I got a lot of experience there; a lot of touring experience. I was scheduled to do all of that stuff for pretty much this whole year. I had my whole 2020 calendar booked up with tours and shows and festivals for other artists, so it was kind of crazy when everything got canceled.

Were you on the road when you realised the extent of the pandemic?

I was doing the Caroline Polochek tour. I was actually in London with her when everything shut down. And then I was about to do this tour with Fletcher, who is a pop artist, and that also got totally cancelled. I was supposed to do two tours with her – I was supposed to do a European tour, and then we were supposed to do an arena tour. That was really sad...

Was that around the time that you downloaded TikTok?

I had it downloaded for a while, but I never used it until March 2nd. I posted my first video then, so the anniversary came up last week. I think I posted something before that, that was just dumb, but my first video where I actually did something interesting. It was a cover of “Say So” by Doja Cat, and it kind of blew up. It's a video of me playing bass. So I was like, okay, every day I gotta just work on this and just do this and it kind of worked out.

So that was right before lockdown set in?

The timing of it all was so crazy. It's weird though. I think if I did end up doing those tours, I wouldn't have pursued the TikTok thing as much because I would have been playing and I would have probably let that one video go viral, but I wouldn't have followed it up because videos go viral on TikTok every day and there's so many things going on, but to build an audience, I think you have to be really consistent with it.

How do you decide on what kinds of covers to post?

It kind of depends. A lot of the time, it's just what's trending on the app, or what's popular. Or it's songs that I like, personally – older songs that I love. Or sometimes people request stuff, and I'll respond to the request and I'll do that. I've been doing a lot of educational videos now... [I’m] just trying to branch out and do different stuff, so I'll do tutorials, like how to play this, or how to play my song. You know, stuff like that. I've been trying to switch it up.

How did you branch out into the educational aspect of things?

I was always into it, but I'm just trying to get into it a little bit more now. Just because I see there's such a need for it. I just get so many messages every day. People reach out with their questions and they reach out asking what bass to get and how to do this and how to do that, and they always want the tabs and the tutorial for all my songs. So I think I've just seen such a need and desire for it, from these younger players. Now I'm trying to get into it since I see that. People really want it, which is cool.

When you were first getting your feet wet with the bass guitar, did you wish you had a resource like that?

Yeah I kind of do. I mean, I was lucky enough to have really good mentors and teachers. I was doing lessons and stuff like that, which was really lucky. But I know a lot of people don't have that, and they don't have access to that. I also didn't really have a female role model when I was growing up that was so accessible, if that makes sense. I try my hardest to respond to a lot of my DMs if people have questions or I try to respond to comments or make videos about things if people have questions, and I think I didn't have that – such an accessible resource when I was growing up. That was inspiring.

Both of your parents are pretty artistic. Is that right?

Yeah, I mean, my dad is an artist, like a painter, sculptor. And my mom, she's a mom, but she's creative. She definitely comes from a creative background. She used to do textile coloring back when it was not digital.

You first chose to learn the bass when you were only seven. Was it gigantic for you at first?

Yeah, it definitely was. I have some really funny videos and photos of it being taller than me. It was definitely gigantic, but I started on a Mustang bass. They're shorter scale, so it’s easier for people with smaller arms. I found one that worked for me. But yeah, it is a giant instrument.

It was taller than you and you still weren't intimidated?

It was literally taller than me. But I just push through, you know.

What inspired you to bring your bass to a DJ set?

I was just playing in bands and doing my thing and doing work for hire sessions and stuff as a bass player. Then I got really into DJing. I was just really into the technique of it, and the skill of it and just practiced it forever. I feel like there's people who play guitar, saxophone - I feel like it's a thing that people do, when people play sax on their DJ sets or I don't know, trumpet – but I’d never seen bass and I was just like, “Oh, well, I love DJing, I love playing bass. Why not just combine them?” Like, it's all music, it should just be able to work. And it worked. I just did it for my first set. I just brought it [along] and I was just playing over the tracks. I saw that it was such a good and positive reaction, and I was like “Alright this is fire. I'm gonna keep doing it.” And so I kept doing it.

And you were only 17? So you had to finesse your way into the clubs?

Yeah, I was 21 for like, five years...

"It's hard not to write about quarantine because it's such an extreme switch up of lifestyle."

You wrote this whole EP in quarantine, and it was inspired by narratives and things that happened before. How did COVID affect the process and speed of making that EP?

COVID obviously changed everyone's lives, [it was] insane and flipped it upside down. I think, musically and creatively, it's hard to not write about it, you know what I mean? Like, it's hard to not write about quarantine because it's such an extreme switch up of lifestyle. So I think when it came to songwriting, and when I was sitting down to write songs during the whole period, it was pretty obvious to use those feelings to write the songs. A lot of that stemmed from what I was feeling then. That's kind of the common theme throughout the whole EP.

Were there any particular feelings or events in your life that served as a common thread throughout the record or gave you a starting point?

Definitely nightlife – not in the weird way. I don't even party or anything, but I think just experiencing that in New York. I think New York, more like a New York culture and young people in New York, and that sort of scene, like downtown definitely sparked a lot of stuff. Even “Vintage”; describing those characters in “Vintage” is very based on people I’d see and come across in New York. Then the song “disco banger but you're crying in the bathroom” was missing the dance floor or a club. Just New York and nostalgia for pre-pandemic times is kind of the common theme.

It’s interesting you did so much touring all over the US and then wrote a record entirely about New York. Were you ever homesick on the road?

I definitely was, but when you're in the moment it feels awesome. I think my favorite part about New York is the feeling of coming back. I think if you're living in a place for a long time, you can get sick of it and you want to leave, but I think with New York, you always want to come back. You know what I mean? Like I don't ever feel the need to leave and not come back. I'll go to LA and the feeling of coming back to New York is just such a good, almost indescribable feeling. But it's just that energy and that hustle.

How did you choose the EP title How Did We Get Here? Is it a reflection on the change between life before the pandemic and life now?

I think it’s kind of about that transition, you know, from then to now, reflecting on my come-up or my journey as an artist. A lot of the EP is reflecting on the recent past. I just always like titles that are questions too, because I think it's more engaging with the listener, the audience. Everyone has their own answer – especially now – everyone's doing a lot of reflecting this year on what's up with their life.

Images are important for a debut record, so what were your goals for the cover art of the EP?

I definitely wanted it to be a statement, and look iconic, and I wanted to have my bass in there because that's my thing and that’s not gonna change. I have this awesome creative director named Bridget Crisp and we just talked about it for a long time of what I wanted to showcase and what I wanted to have come across. I wanted it to be badass and rock star, but also funky and groovy at the same time. And I wanted it to be colorful but also simple. I think we accomplished all that. It's on the borderline of all of those different adjectives, so I’m really happy with how it came out.

"It's the groove of the song which is the most important – it's what makes people move. I think what I love is you feel the low frequencies in your chest and your heart and your soul."

I know you started with the bass, but how did you find yourself as a vocalist? At what point did that come into the picture?

I was always kind of singing. Since I was young, too, I just don't think I took it as seriously as an instrument that you can practice. I just don't think I discovered my passion for it as early as bass. Later on, when I was working on my own music, I was like, “Okay, I'm gonna get serious about singing, find my voice and figure out how I want to convey the lyrics and figure out my vocal style”. To be honest, it took me a few years to develop how I wanted to use my voice. I think you can even hear it throughout my music, throughout the songs and the releases. It's kind of me figuring out how to do that. I think with this EP I did figure it out, no pun intended. I think with this EP I solidified my vocal style and how I want to use it to express the words.

How did your songwriting evolve? Did it spring from any particular DJ or bass gig?

I was always songwriting in groups and I had bands when I was growing up – I was in bands in middle school and in high school. I would utilize my songwriting skills and we would write together as a group for the band, but I didn't really write songs for myself until a little bit later, until I started putting stuff out. So I guess 2018-2019 is when I actually started to write songs for my artist project. I mean, with songwriting, it's just like an instrument or anything - you’ve just got to practice it and do it a lot; do it every day until you build up that skill.

Are any of the stories on the EP from any particular real-life moments or feelings you experienced?

For the song “Kind of Miss You”, this wasn't a real situation that happened, I kind of made it up, but it's a fantasy vibe. I had this phrase in my phone for a long time that said “one week wonder”, which meant a fling or something. Like a one hit wonder; a one week wonder [is] where you're only with this person for a week and that's the only time you guys can exist together. I was about to leave for this trip to Paris, I was visiting my friend for vacation. I was in this session, and I was fantasizing about meeting someone in Paris and having a fling, a really romantic, cute, one-week long vibe. That song kind of came from that idea of this story of meeting someone abroad. For example, Paris, because I speak French in it for one line, but I'm meeting someone in Paris. And then you have a fling and you don't even save their contact in your phone because it's so short and it's passionate. Then you leave and you're like, “Oh, I kind of missed that person” a month later. You're like, “Oh, I kind of wish we stayed in touch.” It's like a made-up story, but I wanted it to happen.

Do you have a favorite song on the EP?

It changes every day, but I really like “Nightshade” these days. It's just a fun one. I think it's a good mishmash of genres. I like the production. I did the production on that one, me and my brother did it. I think there's a lot of funny lines in there as well.

Was it all self-produced?

A few of the songs just me and my brother did together. So, “Toast”, “Nightshade”, “Disco Banger” are all produced by just me and my brother. We also produced on “Vintage,” but on the other ones there were a few other people on the other tracks, but all the new ones that came out are mostly just me and my brother.

Are there any other collaborators on the EP?

Eugene Veltman is another producer who worked on some of the songs. Jenna Andrews did a lot of the vocal production. Amir Salem wrote on two of the songs. My friend Bailey McKethan, she's awesome. She co-wrote “Figure It Out” and “Vintage” as well. So yeah, there are a bunch of peeps. There's more, but I would have to recite the names.

How would you sell someone on the bass and the importance of the bass?

I would say that it holds down any song in any band or group setting. It's the groove of the song which is the most important – it's what makes people move. I think what I love is you feel the low frequencies in your chest and your heart and your soul. You can connect with it on a deeper level. Also, it is a really versatile instrument, and you can hold down the group, but you can also offer a lot of melodic elements. It can be the melody, it can be the rhythm, It can be the harmony. So that's what I would say. And it's just cool. Like, it just looks sick.

Your sound incorporates so much from so many different genres. Who did you grow up on? How did your influences change through the years?

When I started playing bass, I started with rock music, the classics such as The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. I started with rock music and then eventually got into funk music and that's when I learned how to play funk bass lines. And then after that, I got into jazz for a while and I did like jazz camps and played in a jazz band in high school. And then I was also into the indie scene for like a while, too. Then when I started DJing, I got really into house music and techno, and then that kind of turned into my love for disco. That kind of stayed true the whole time. And then when I started DJing, like I would DJ primarily like disco and funk stuff and then I would kind of do every genre. I kind of got into every genre along the way, but the funk stuff, since I play bass, I think has always held like the most weight.

Are there any bassists you look up to?

Bernard Edwards is like my favorite ever – he played with Chic and Nile Rogers. I would jam with him. Tina Weymouth I love, Marcus Miller, Larry Graham, James Jamerson…

Do you have a favorite bass?

The turquoise one that I like always play in all my videos and stuff. That's definitely my favorite. It's a Fender Jazz Bass. I think it's just the one that I'm most comfortable on.


I just always come back to it. It's really played-in, if that makes sense. I’ve played it so much that I'm really used to how it feels. I just love a jazz bass and this one in particular is cool. It has an active pickup so you can kind of change the sound to more punchy if you want. There's some different elements to it than a traditional, normal jazz bass.

I know you have some guitars too. Is the guitar less fulfilling for you?

No, I really like playing guitar too. I'm not as good at it because I haven't played it for as long and I haven't practiced as much, so I'm not as comfortable on the guitar. But I do love playing guitar, and I can hold it down on guitar, but you want to play the thing that you're good at, I think. I've been getting more into acoustic guitar and I like playing acoustic guitar.

Are there any tours or live shows in the works?

We've done a few live streams, just me and my brother. I have a tour scheduled and planned, but I can't say what day yet because who knows what will happen, but I'm pretty sure it's gonna happen.

Are live performance videos filling the void for you?

To be honest, it's definitely not the same at all. The live show is about engaging with the audience and that back and forth with the people there, so it definitely doesn't hit the same spot as a normal live show. But I think during this time, I wanted to give my fans a sense of what was to come; to show what the live show would be like. Just playing those songs live can give a new feeling to them. Putting them together was really fun for me to do and it's just fun to play music and I'm lucky that I can do it with my brother and he's here.

What are your top five New York City music venues to perform at?

I really liked playing at Joyface, this bar in East Village. I liked playing at Happy Ending, or Better Days it's called now – now it's gone, but it used to be called Better Days. I mean, Brooklyn steel is like the coolest. I love playing there. Music Hall of Williamsburg is sick. I like Baby’s All Right. It's really fun, always. Is that five?

When you're not making music, what do you like to do in New York?

I've been biking around a lot these days, it's really fun. When it's safe to do so, I'll go out to dinner and see people. I like to just walk around my neighborhood and get outside. I’m mostly doing music stuff most of the time, so that pretty much takes up all my time.

With your debut EP out, what’s next for you?

I'm just gonna start writing new stuff. The next few months, I’m just gonna be writing more, doing sessions and planning out the next phase, like the Blu 2.0 phase of music and then probably start rehearsing for the shows that will happen later on. So it's kind of a mix of both of those.

How Did We Get Here is out now.
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