Exclusive Song Premiere and Interview: ‘Altitude,’ The Trp and Michael Tousana
ABOVE: THE TRP AND MICHAEL TOUSANA. PHOTO BY ED GARRIDO OF STREET LEVEL CULTURE.
The Trp [pronounced “The Trip”] and Michael Tousana first met on the streets of New York City, a chance encounter that yielded an instant connection. The Trp is an experimental trio that came together in a Parisian flat and prefers to remain anonymous, dropping the “I” from their name to symbolize the removal of the ego, or individual, from their work. Tousana is a multi-talented artist who has been making beats since he was 14, influenced by the different cities he’s called home. Together, they created YAHUDA.
YAHUDA, dropping this spring, is a concept album that defies categorization, an artistic offering that combines their varied sounds, experiences, and geographic locations into one singular musical journey. It has moments of sublime tranquility and others of pure frenetic, rambunctious energy. We caught up with The Trp and Michael Tousana ahead of the release of their third single, “Altitude,” which we’re pleased to premiere here. “It’s kind of a metaphorical song,” Tousana says. “It’s about expectations and goals in relationships, how far do you see a relationship going.”
ALEXANDRA THURMOND: Living in different cities, how did you all originally meet?
THE TRP: We ran into him randomly in SoHo a few years back.
MICHAEL TOUSANA: Yeah, I ran into them on the street one day. They gave me their Soundcloud name and we started hitting each other up and sending beats back and forth. They would remix my tracks and I would edit theirs—we just vibed on a musical level.
THURMOND: Why did you decide to collaborate on an album together? Was there anything specific that drew you to each other as artists?
THE TRP: Michael is a fascinating and smart dude. He always manages to find his way, no matter the circumstances. He’s got some crazy stories. [laughs] We’re all relatively young, but it seems we’ve all been through a lot and have reflected on life. So that generally helps when you want to make exotic music with meaning and substance.
TOUSANA: I’m a big fan of music that makes you think about things in a different way, or things you haven’t thought of before. And their music did that for me, it’s experimental. After sending tracks back and forth it was getting to the point that we felt like it could be a full project, so when they were in New York last summer we got into the studio. We went into the studio almost religiously, every Sunday for eight ours and just jammed. It was really organic.
THURMOND: What is the inspiration behind YAHUDA, both the name and the album?
TOUSANA: “Yahuda” itself means praise, and it is also a really strong word, there is a lot of energy behind it. The album is about life moving forward, it’s got everything from pain to pleasure. It’s very introspective and emotional.
THE TRP: Exactly, it’s just that—life. The album progresses and has a story arc that follows what we see a lot of people our generation go through. We’re definitely a more conscious generation than the last and our aim was to capture that on wax.
TOUSANA: Yeah, a lot of the songs really make you think about your life in the past and the future, about being conscious of your decisions. And there are songs that are just about having fun and being rebellious—it’s an experience album.
THURMOND: What musicians, artists, or experiences have had a major influence on you?
THE TRP: Fela Kuti, Gil Scott-Heron, Herbie Hancock, Jai Paul, The Neptunes, Bibio, Odd Future, Childish Gambino, Chet Baker.
TOUSANA: Growing up in Atlanta I was really intro Southern music: crunk, then snap and trap. Then I moved to Chicago in high school and started getting into rock music, I picked up a guitar for the first time. I also started listening to a lot of house and Chicago ghetto house, from Frankie Knuckles to Crystal Waters and other electronic acts like Flosstradamus. I was going to raves and then crazy noise shows, being in Chicago got me outside of my comfort zone and really honed me as a musician. And coming to New York, too and living in Bushwick. There are so many artists living here and everyone is really supportive of each other and just wanting to be creative and express themselves. I’ve met people like Mykki Blanco and Le1f and Shayne from Hood by Air—the Brooklyn scene has had a huge influence on me.
THURMOND: On the album, you guys experiment with a lot of different sounds and styles. What was the writing process like?
THE TRP: It varied, really. The basis of the album was done over the Internet, going back and forth with Mike. Then when we got to the studio together, we started doing final recordings and created a few new songs on the way.
TOUSANA: Yeah, we all took different roles on different songs. We’re in this digital age that gives us the freedom to do so much. After we’d leave the studio I could send them a guitar part or they would send a synth line that we’d add to a track. We were able to develop outside the studio just as much as we did inside. It was really cool in that respect.
THURMOND: You also have a big visual component to the music.
TOUSANA: Yeah, definitely. For me, the visuals help give music context. We feel like it will help people understand where we’re coming from.
THE TRP: Yeah, we think that there’s a symbiotic relationship between visual art and music. It can give context to the music but also amplify it. We’re planning on ways to bring in the other senses, but that’s top-secret for another project we can’t talk about yet…
THURMOND: Will that play a big part in the live show?
THE TRP: We’re hiring masked musicians to perform so we can roam the audience talking with our unbeknownst fans. [laughs] For real though, it’s crazy live; there are masks, smoke screens, unicorns, and free shrooms.
TOUSANA: Yeah, we’re going to go hard with the projections and the whole experience; we’re doing some really awesome stuff.
THURMOND: With YAHUDA coming out in the next few months, what would be your ideal setting for someone to listen to the album for the first time?
THE TRP: After mind-blowing sex in a cozy dimmed room, warm tea in hand and the smell of burning white sage in the air.