Channel Tres is having a moment. On two recent singles, the Compton rapper, singer and producer has earned critical praise for his ability to balance baritone vocals and the bounce of modern house music, and he recently announced run of shows in Australia. Today, he’s dropping his self-titled debut EP; produced by GODMODE head Nick Sylvester, it positions Tres to take the reins as the label’s next breakout act.
When I interviewed Tres a few days ago, I asked him how he approached songwriting on Channel Tres, and if he had a plan going into recording. “Experimentation!” he tells me via email. “I discovered my baritone with encouragement from Nick and we just created and made songs.”
“Channel and I wrote a ton of songs together,” Sylvester adds via email, “just trying to feel out what his voice did or didn’t want to do, what words were believable coming out of his mouth, what stories about himself he wanted to tell, etc. Dub and dub techno were super important to us — stuff like Horace Andy or old King Tubby, Model 500 and Basic Channel and Villalobos, specifically with regard to [their] use of repetition and how the records were mixed.”
Those influences contributed to the foundation upon which this collection of songs is built: deep, passive-yet-commanding vocals, rubbery bass lines and drum-forward rhythm tracks. But you wouldn’t know it from the opening cut, “St. Julian,” which is distinct from the rest of the EP in its lack of percussion. Instead, indecipherable conversation is buried under a wavy guitar line provided by GODMODE labelmate Aaron Childs. The vocal line softly lilts in the background, reappearing completely transformed on album closer “Glide.”
For “Controller,” the album’s lead single, Sylvester says the inspiration was clear. “When I heard Channel’s speaking voice on the mic it reminded me a lot of Mike Dunn‘s ‘Phreaky MF,’” he says. “So we tried to do something like that — just some stone-cold ignorant type stuff over a simple beat. ‘Controller’ came from that. It felt right so we kept pushing.”
Tres’s second single, “Jet Black,” is yet another eccentric take on house music. Along with the following track, “Top Down,” it evokes the concrete landscape of urban Los Angeles. I asked Tres whether the EP was a distinctly “LA record” for him. “I think it represents my version of where I’m from,” he says. “The music is LA cuz I’m from LA.”
The EP closes with the lush, dreamy “Glide.” Built on the vocal line from “St. Julian,” the song leads off with a square bass line and sparse percussion. Dynamic and morphing synth pads quickly join the mix alongside competing high and low vocal lines. Quirky synths and processed rhythms come at the listener from all angles, in full stereo, building to a set of live drums placed front and center. Its style is reminiscent of something you might hear on a record released by famed imprint DFA. That’s not surprising given that Sylvester picked up drum mixing and recording techniques from DFA founder and LCD Soundsystem luminary James Murphy.
“… The idea (with all GODMODE artists really) is to build a unique world around the artist’s voice, so the second the track comes on you know it’s them,” Sylvester says. “[We aim to] do something that doesn’t sound like the music’s playing you, if that makes sense.”