Channel Tres The hip-house producer talks music theory, taking walks, and drawing eyeballs

Photo: Devyn Galindo

You ain’t never heard shit like this from the block before,” says Channel Tres, just before the beat drops on “Topdown.” And it’s probably true; his is a new and decidedly Southern Californian twist on an old sound, hip-house, that never quite took off west of Chicago. Yet here we were at Denver’s Ogden Theatre, 30 years after the Jungle Brothers, as Channel opened the night spinning records for a room that was already nearly at capacity, interspersing live renditions of his own tunes with uptempo treatments of Gap Band classics.

Hours prior, after a soundcheck that included the most thorough dialing-in of baritone vocal frequencies I’d ever heard, we’d sat down to chat about dance, music theory, and taking walks.


Where’d y’all come in from?

Los Angeles. We had the first show at the Palladium in Hollywood.

I know you’ve talked about the travel element of music being huge for you. Anywhere made a strong impression?

Just getting out the country, just in general. That was a strong impression; it was good to see how far the music travels to other people. Different people that are not even from America; it’s cool to see that. The U.S., I’ve pretty much been everywhere out here. It’s all looked the same, just different little perks in little cities. I mostly like the random towns where nobody lives, going through a thrift store. You find the most random stuff.

You like doing that sort of travel while you’re on the job, or would you rather just take a vacation somewhere?

I never been on vacation, so I wanna see how that feels. Every time I go, it’s for a show, so I’m pretty much at the venue or at the hotel. I try to make time to do certain things, but sometimes you just really don’t have [time].

How’d you end up going to that specific music school in Oklahoma?

They accepted me, and I just had to get out of my environment. Just so I could practice music and learn. So I went out there, got in the music program, and started studying classes, started learning music theory and getting to understand the language of music.

Is the music school experience more collaborative or competitive?

It’s all those things. And then we were in college; I think there’s just a natural competitiveness from that. It was just cool I had access to professors and stuff, teachers that know certain things. I just spent a lot of time asking questions and getting answers to things I wanted.

What sort of answers?

Why this chord goes here, what’s the meaning behind how you do this, how do you get that certain sound?

Has music always been pretty intuitive for you, or did the theory change things a lot?

I had to learn theory, and then I had to stop and just be creative. It comes in handy when you just wanna go somewhere, ‘cause every chord has an emotion. But then I’ll also still just jam out with no intentions, play stuff and see what I can come up with.

What was your impression of Tulsa? I don’t think I know anything about it.

Good people, man — Southern hospitality. Christian. Everybody was just nice. It was a nice town.

I don’t know if you read your own press, but your music is always described as very, very Californian. What do you think that quality is?

Probably just because of the language I use, kind of my swag is just L.A. ‘Cause that’s where I’m from, so it’s just gonna have that regardless.

Are there elements of your music that might go the other way, and not translate outside L.A.?

Yeah, I have stuff that I haven’t put out yet. I like folk music a lot, try to make a lot of folk songs. I like indie rock and stuff like that. I make different stuff; you wouldn’t even know it was me doin’ it.

Do you feel a need to keep that stuff kind of separate from Channel Tres?

Depends on what mode I’m in. I’m in a nice space for dance music. I’m still learning about it, and there’s still different ways to make people dance. My big attention right now is I just wanna dance, so I just focus on dancing. Folk and indie rock records are fun, but if I’m doing something for a show, I’d like it to be dance-heavy. Just upbeat, you know?

Once you get tagged as “house” or whatever, does that kind of box you in?

No, not really. I’m happy people like it, I’m into what I do, too. I got a lot of music I’m gonna make. I produce for other people, so I can work on all type of different things. I never feel really boxed in.

Do you have other creative outputs besides music?

I sew. I like sewing. I draw a little bit. I like walking, I walk a lot [laughs].

Do you try and take a new route every time, or are there have specific walks that you like?

I try to pick a new route. When you’re driving, you drive past everything, but when you walk you get a sense of the neighborhood. When you’re driving, you go so fast that you don’t really realize where you’re at sometimes. I’ve seen places look different from what I thought they were by just walking through them.

You’ve put out a five-song EP each of the last two years. Is that a natural rate of work for you, or would you be more or less forthcoming if it was up to you?

I think it just depends on what it is. Those first two EPs are just like, eh, see what happens. It’ll keep growing as I go, as my output gets more… this is my first couple projects being comfortable being a vocalist, being an artist, so a lot of it is a learning experience. So I’ll just naturally have more things that I want to put out, more things that I want to do.

Photo: Kat Nijmeddin

Had you always done vocals, or was that something you picked up after producing?

No, I was always singing; I was in the choir and stuff like that. I wrote songs. I just never put ‘em out or anything.

Is performing pretty natural for you?

Yeah, I like playing music in front of people. It’s fun.

Did you have any kind of formal dance background at all?

Kind of. I did dance classes in high school. I was a krump dancer. This is the first time I’d actually got with a choreographer for practice, so that was cool.

Do you find there’s an artistic difference between that choreographed, formal dance and the sort of purely instinctive form?

Yeah, it’s different. Rehearsing and stuff like that, you definitely get tighter. But it helps you freestyle too, you start getting moves in your repertoire that you can use for different songs, pull it all together.

You’re not exactly anonymous, but it seems like there’s a relatively controlled flow of information that gets out. Do you think it’s important for artists to be able to control that context in which an audience receives their work?

Yeah, and then having a team of people around you. It’s good to bounce off people, and have people work with you on your vision. I’m big on concepts, so whatever concept, that’s how I want everything framed. So as I’m creating the new stuff that’s gonna come; I’m just thinking more about the concept, how I wanna take you into a world. Just fantasy. You don’t have to be on drugs; the music makes you feel like it. I’m just trying to say a lot without saying a lot, and make the beat hit. Make it danceable. And then dance moves, in the show you’ll see the concept more because it’ll be acted out.

That almost raises the question of releasing the music at all, letting it exist outside of the club environment that you can kind of control and that it’s made for.

I think the live performance is just an extension of the record. I don’t necessarily push to sound like the record live, just be an extension of it.

I’ve seen you talk about “Jet Black” as a sort of superhero figure that you came up with. Are you a big daydreamer?

Yeah, I like costumes. I like watching alien movies, stuff about space. Aliens — I think I just wonder if I’ll ever see one of ‘em, but I haven’t, so I’ll watch a movie. I’ve been watching this show called Another Life on Netflix; it’s tight.

I know you said you were in the choir growing up, and then you went to a Christian university. Is that a big part of your life still? How would you describe your spirituality as it relates to your music?

Just think positive of yourself, or of people. Just trying to bring peace, world peace. Just try to be a solution for some stuff. The world is crazy, but every day’s a new day, so music is an outlet. It gives people something to look forward to.

What’s the significance of the title of Black Moses?

I was just listening to Isaac Hayes’s stuff, thinking about how I got the opportunity to make it out from a, you know, tough place. Black Moses is just me dedicating myself to me helping other people, not taking the way I’ve been blessed for granted. That’s what I was on at the time, with my life starting to change.

As far as that conceptual background goes, do you necessarily care if that’s apparent to the listener, or is it personal first and foremost?

Nah, I care. I just wanna get better at presenting it, which will come. But I care a lot. I want the concepts to get better as I go. I wanna experience film, different avenues. Artwork and stuff.

What do you find yourself drawing?

Eyeballs [laughs]. Trees, different things.

I’d read that you wanted to be a social worker, which is kind of the default profession for trying to achieve some of that. Do you think music has been an effective medium for it as well?

Yeah, definitely. You can spread it to more people; I like travelling, I like writing music, so it suits me better because I can spend more time on that. It’s still social work; it’s just different.

What was the music that first got your attention as you were growing up?

Andre 3000, the Speakerboxx double album. I think that’s the first time I cried listening to something; it was so tight and different. And then it was all the Kanye stuff — College Dropout, Late Registration.

Did you ever try to go into straight-ahead rapping?

Not really. I always was naturally drawn towards sound. This is kind of the first time that I’m actually dedicating time to focusing on words and stuff. It’s been fun, but I was always beat-heavy, drawn to the instruments.

How’d you end up breaking into producing for other people?

It was friends of friends, just making a bunch of stuff and just see what it do. It was fun — a lot of networking, making beats and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Getting stuff to the right people, getting to know the A&Rs. That was a good time; it built a lot of really good relationships from that.

I’ve heard that L.A. is the best and the worst place to try and get into music, since so many people are trying too that it’s hard to stand out. Kind of the opposite of those small-town thrift stores.

Yeah, but you can’t worry about everybody. You just gotta do what you’re doin’, and when it’s time, it’s time.

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