Tyler Digital x Mario McClean play Art Bar at 9:15 p.m. Niecy Blues with ET Anderson plays The Aristocrat at 11:30 p.m.
The old stereotype of a songwriter or musician writing by themselves in a quiet room was never really accurate. From country to jazz to the various points around and between, the spirit of collaboration and co-writing has been a part of popular music since the beginning.
Two of the featured acts in this year’s Free Times Music Crawl, the duo of Tyler Digital and Mario McClean, and Niecy Blues, who will play backed by the rock band ET Anderson, have taken that route with intriguing and exciting results.
McLean and Tyler Matthews, who produces electronic music as Tyler Digital, released the collaborative LP Pillars this summer. It effortlessly mixes McClean’s soulful yet pop-savvy vocals with a thoroughly modern indie electronica vibe provided by Matthews.
“We met after a service at Downtown Church, where Mario plays almost every Sunday, and after we talked music for a while I made an instrumental with him in mind to see what he could come up with lyrically,” Matthews recalls. “That became ‘Something Better’ on the album.”
“Working with Tyler was a completely different style than I was used to,” McClean admits, “but we communicated very well and had fun piecing it all together.”
Part of the process for Matthews and McClean was learning how to bounce ideas back and forth, Matthews says, and trying new things to see what would work.
“No matter what style I threw his way, Mario was able to adapt,” Matthews says. “Sometimes he could blaze through the writing and needed no help, but if he had writers block I would send him lyric ideas that he either liked or that gave him clarity on what he was trying to say.”
“Falling For You” is perhaps the most out-there musical exercise on the album, with disco undertones and multiple transitions, but Matthews points to it as the best example of their collaborative efforts.
“It was probably the most out of Mario’s comfort zone, but we worked through it by listening to other pop songs, trying different ideas, until it landed somewhere we liked,” he reasons.
Singing with a rock band was not something Charleston R&B singer Niecy Blues had in her plans, but a chance booking on the same show as ET Anderson led to mutual appreciation and offers of collaboration.
“We rehearsed once and played a show together about a week later,” Niecy says. “Surprisingly it was pretty easy to mesh our two sounds.”
Though leaning to the psychedelic end of the indie/garage spectrum, Columbia’s ET Anderson has never seemed nailed down to a particular genre, so it serving as the backing band for a contemporary R&B artist isn’t as far fetched as it might appear on paper. With Blues, the group indulges a spaced-out, almost funky vibe anchored by drummer Michael Crawford’s ability to embody multiple personalities, often in a single song.
“When we heard what we sounded like together, we were excited,” Blues recalls. “We both can see the potential of incorporating different genres and styles into our work.”
“We love playing for her,” ET Anderson guitarist Tyler Morris says. “She and her producers write such amazing music that it makes it easy to put our little spin on it.”
One listen to the ET-infused version of Blues’ song “Ways” makes one realize how much each of the sides of this musical equation bring to the total. The original track was a tightly constructed hip-hop soul piece; the ET take loosens up the beat, alters the tempo, and pours psychedelic guitar tones into the cracks for a new kind of electrified neo-soul.
The most important thing for Morris is giving Blues room to work.
“When you have a voice like Niecy’s leading the way it’s all about the space we create as we let her guide us through each song,” he says. “We’ve now begun writing together as a band, and Niecy and I made a killer track that is one of my favorite things I’ve ever been a part of.”
For Matthews, the collaboration with McClean has bred a similar closeness.
“Mario is a world-class talent who sings and plays at an uncommon level,” he says. “We became good friends during the process and I’m definitely inspired to work with him more in the future.”
Morris echoes these positive vibes as he speaks of the possible future with Blues.
“Playing in this project has taught me so much, renewed my passion for music, and it continues to help me grow musically,” the guitarist offers. “This crew that we have meshes so well that I feel like we’ve been a band for years.”