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VERY CLOSE :: Alex Wiley Takes the Train to Enlightenment

VERY CLOSE :: Alex Wiley Takes the Train to Enlightenment

It took roughly three seconds for Alex Wiley’s new album Tangerine Dream II to hit home for me. The familiar beeps that accompany the robot conductor announcements on LA’s metro trains are instantly recognizable as the sound that would normally wake me up from an unplanned nap about two stops past the desired one.

Riding the train is strangely one of the most contemplative and tranquil things one can experience, especially considering how loud it is or how insanely unique some of the surrounding humans are. Something about sitting there quietly as the world speeds by outside allows for optimal zone-out conditions. It’s prime writing time for some or at least an opportunity for deep reflection.

It’s clear Alex Wiley tapped into the train’s immense potential for creative musings while conceptualizing Tangerine Dream II, a follow-up to the fan-favorite first iteration of Tangerine Dream that came out in 2016. Wiley has always provided connoisseur-level vibes with his music, but there’s a noticeable progression in his ability to arrange and sequence his projects in a way that feel like one long trip. Strings really drive TD2, while Wiley floats seemingly effortlessly over the subdued percussion, using beautifully layered harmonies to make you feel like you’re floating right along with him.

Lyrically, Alex is strong as ever, and maybe even better. He snaps on songs like “Life Once,” “All In The Way,” and the Hippie Sabotage-crafted gem, “Real Things.” But don’t let this get your skip button finger trigger-happy; Tangerine Dream II should be enjoyed in full, possibly paired with a thicc enough blunt to last you the entire 28-minute runtime.

I spoke with the Chicago underground fixture about a range of topics, from riding the train to psychedelics to what he selected for dinner on the RSVP to Chance the Rapper’s upcoming wedding.

DUKE LONDON: What do you do or think about most when you ride the train?
ALEX WILEY: It feels like it’s your private time to think about whatever. I do think about what I have upcoming a lot. And it’s almost a time for reflection, which is weird because it’s a unique combo of being around hella people but not talking to any of them. I don’t know. Train rides are a nice little encapsulated amount of time to think about yourself and shit — just anything and everything. And there are visual stimuli along the way. I fuck with trains. I actually really do fuck with trains. That wasn’t even a huge part of the concept while making the album at first, but that kind of came in towards the later stages.

How do you break through writer’s block?
I don’t really have writer’s block too tough anymore because I can pivot to different sounds. If I’m having writer’s block with verses, I’ll pivot to a more chorus-based space and I’ll just start singing a bunch. If I don’t have a whole lot to say because it’s a way less wordy medium, you can make really cool melodic sounds and only say eight words, you know what I mean? You just have to say them in the right way. While with a verse, for it to be good, it’s sixteen bars which is 32 lines, and if I’m rapping double time, then it’s 64 lines and they all have to be kind of good or else this verse is whack. It’s not a lot of pressure but it can be if you’re not inspired. You can definitely make mediocre shit by forcing it.

“I did all types of shit seeking enlightenment.” Like what?
It’s a weird form of feeling not complete as a person and I felt like something was missing for a long time — basically, my entire life. I started experimenting with psychedelics, trying to diagnose myself and figure out how I want to move through life. I’ve been so many versions of myself while trying to essentially figure out what I want to do for real outside of music. I feel like in my music and creatively in general, I’m in a really good zone. I have way more music finished than I can even release. I have so many albums worth of shit done that’s high quality but I need to figure out how to be a person, too. How do I be a human being that does stuff? All types of shit. I’m seeking enlightenment. It’s really so much that I can’t even pinpoint it. I left my crib and went to Europe for two months just because I was sad and bored.

What usually triggers a move back home to Chicago and what triggers a move back to LA?
I can go deeper than this but the surface answer is both of my parents’ birthdays are in September and it’s a really good weather month in Chicago, so I go back in September and it’s nice. I go back too because, by September, I’ve been away for a long time. I haven’t seen my parents. I go back for family. I end up staying for a bit because I see all of my friends. It’s really nice, more people know me in Chicago. It’s kind of an ego thing, too, it’s all of that. I leave promptly on the first day of December because it’s cold as fuck. Normally, I would leave in November but then you’ve only been in town for two months and I don’t want to leave yet, plus Thanksgiving is coming up. I’ll normally stay for that extra month, even though it gets cold in November, too. December 1st I‘m out of there. I can’t do it because it fucks with my mood. I’m way less productive. I don’t get nearly as much done in wintertime Chicago. Actually, last time I was there like a year and a half ago, I ended up having a really good diet stretch. I was just in the crib only, riding a stationary bike a lot and eating pretty healthy. I was eating lil baked chicken and shit. I had a couple of go-to recipes that really swagged me out. I got this jerk marinade shit and I would just pour it over chicken parts, throw that shit in the oven, and it would come out delicious. And it was pretty healthy for you. I was doing that damn near every day and I was riding my bike a lot. I was like a fucking robot but what I was doing was fairly healthy and it ended up being really helpful. That was a super open-ended answer.

Speaking of trips... you more into acid or shrooms?
Shrooms. I’ve thought about it a lot and I know now. Shrooms because they’re really from the earth. Acid is a synthetic version of that. I love acid too but I like shrooms more because of what psychedelics do for me. It makes me feel really connected to everything and I just become a fucking nature boy. I just love everything, it’s all so beautiful. And it’s just that extra bonus when you know the thing making you feel this way actually grows from the earth and has been doing so for like millions of years. I think that’s cool and comforting to me. But I fuck with acid heavy, too. I’m not anti-acid.

How does weed affect your day or your creative process?
With weed, it’s odd because I’ve been smoking it for so long, it’s hard to pinpoint what it even does to me anymore. I really like it. And I would prefer to have some on me at all times but if I didn’t, or when I travel through Europe or something where you can’t find weed for the first couple days, it’s fine. I’m not fiending or anything. Weed kind of alters my mind and makes me think in more of a vignetted way, where I’m focused on the one thing in the middle and all of the rest is blurriness at the outside edges of my mind. My mind is just quieter, it’s a quieter place.

Why the Tangerine Dream strain?
It became my favorite strain in Chicago around 2014 or ‘15 when weed dealers there first started getting shit overnighted from LA. That’s when I smoked Tangerine Dream for the first time. It was $25 a G at the time but we were used to just smoking “loud,” where we had no idea what it was, it just smelled loud. At that time, we were stoked to be smoking some medical Cali shit. We were like fuck it, we don’t care how much it costs, just run it. I smoked it on Kembe’s porch and it just tasted so good. It was amazing and I felt so good and peaceful and tranquil. It’s a Sativa and Chicago at that time was all Indica all the time. Sativa is not quite as pungent and in those sort of places where people aren’t nuanced weed smokers necessarily, they just want that “gas.” It was my first time smoking Sativa ever in my life and I had been smoking for like five years at that point. This strain is love. About a year later, I was coming up with the name for a tape. It was a compilation of a bunch of songs that I had and realized I could make them flow really well together. When I was trying to think of names, Tangerine Dream just sounded really cool and eclectic and ethereal and that’s my core. It just made sense and I didn’t overthink it.

This second one feels way more thoughtfully sequenced, way more thought out, way more cohesive.
More of a fuck was given for sure.

What type of experience were you trying to provide?
I honestly didn’t quite succeed with this tape. I’m still trying to do this thing where I can successfully capture a real psychedelic experience musically. To me, a lot of the parts of doing that are making it feel like one flowing piece as much as you can. You have to make the melodies really pleasing and smooth. I’ve made a lot of abrasive music in my life, just trying to get noticed and shit, and that’s cool. But for me now, I want it to be pleasant. I want it to sound good. My challenge now is to make music that is warm and pleasant but not too corny or too cookie cutter where it sounds like it should just be on at Macy’s or something.

A couple of times, I had to open up my Spotify and was like “Did the song change?” There were a lot of different vibes but it all just felt like it was one thing.
Thank you, man. We did a lot of work on the transitions in the end. I have hella tricks on how to blend songs together. My little proprietary blend, you feel me? [laughs] That was the goal from jump, so it made it easier. I could do that all day, bro, I have so much. That whole blending shit, I could spill the beans right now. It’s a whole process but once you do it a bunch, it’s not hard.

What’s your recording process?
I record myself. My friend Carson did all of the beats for this project. We did hella post-production. This dude Luke Cissel from the NYC Philharmonic did our string arrangements. This group Bird Language, an indie band in Brooklyn, did a lot of bass lines for us. It was a really dope collaborative process. A lot of people sent in pieces, we even had flutes from Poland.

It felt really rich and immersive.
It was a lot of contributions from hella musicians all around. This dude Gabe Saltman did the saxophone and vocoder. Gabe is a weird freaky dude but he’s killing it. That’s my boy.

From previous projects to this, how has your music evolved?
I like to think it’s gotten more mature sonically.

[Wiley does an impromptu wardrobe change]

“Back to the coast … I came back to the dope.” Where do you cop weed from now that you’ve been in LA a while?
We use dispensaries. I get all of these texts messages about different deals on ounces.

The dispensary deal text messages are like an assault. There’s so many.
So many, dude. [laughs] The only reason I still tolerate it is because when I actually do need weed, it’s good to see who has the deal or “who has got the dope for the low” as I like to say. I was about to say as “they” say but it’s really as I say.

[During Wiley’s visit to The Hundreds, he made it very clear that he hoops at a high level.] What song plays in the background of your hoops highlight tape?
Wooooow. Hoops highlight tape? Maybe just like “Whoop (There It Is)”. Or “Who Let The Dogs Out.” Something classic. Yo, my hoops highlight tape would be very long, you need a whole album to go with it. You need a whole curated playlist for that.

I need to hear a little about this conspiracy theory you have about phone storage deletion.
It’s not even a conspiracy theory, I just fundamentally do not understand how if you’re telling me I don’t have enough storage to take one photo and I go into my photos and delete several, I still somehow don’t have enough storage to take one photo. I don’t know. I’m not even trying to make that my whole big cause. I’m not trying to die on that hill. But like, I just don’t understand. I would love to, you know. I’ve got to get in the room with somebody from Apple, but not on some Apple Music shit. I need a meeting with one of the real nerds. Don’t tell me about rap shit, tell me what’s good with this storage, bro.

If you do commit fully to this theory, when they fix it you can be the face of the campaign.
I would love that. I’ll be like “I was the guy that beat down the door. Deleted memories so you guys didn’t have to.”

How excited are you for Chance’s wedding?
That’s going to be cool. He’s retiring from the game. Sad day. He’s got to hang it up, hang up his jersey. Hey, he’s in love. He’s got a baby, a beautiful child. Kirsten’s dope, super nice. I’m happy for him. It’s beautiful, it’s heavenly.

What are you eating slash wearing?
I chose the fish, I chose the salmon. I’m going to wear a powder blue tuxedo. I’m kidding. I actually don’t know what I’m going to wear yet. I’m going with this chick, I’m not going to name drop, but I’ve got to see what she’s wearing so we can hashtag coordinate that shit. But I probably need to get a tux. I don’t have a suit at all. I don’t own a single form of suit pantalones.

Are we always “Very Close” to where we’re supposed to be? Do we ever get there?
Hmmm... [ponders] I just thought of something super morbid but I’m not going to say it. Do we ever get there? Yes and no. I feel like when you stop trying to get there, you’re there. Getting “there” is about just being. Stop trying to be something else. Just be.


Photos by Ben Shmikler

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