Interview: TJ Stafford Opens Up About Third Album ‘Nipple Whisk’ & Navigating Life’s Mess

TJ Stafford "Nipple Whisk" © Rowan Daly
TJ Stafford "Nipple Whisk" © Rowan Daly
Singer/songwriter TJ Stafford touches on two conflicting concepts – creating art for yourself, while also relying on others’ praise – within ‘Nipple Whisk,’ his heartfelt, hard-hitting, and charismatic third album.
Stream: ‘Nipple Whisk’ – TJ Stafford




A big theme and feeling of the album was that life is really messy. All of this beauty and joy exists at the same time, in the same place as tragedy and sadness.

A ’90s-esque gravelly rock album radiating with edge, TJ Stafford’s Nipple Whisk possesses a soft and tender quality alongside its hard-hitting sound.

The contrast of delicate with tough makes for the ultimate dynamic, multi-textured offering. The bold body of work thematically focuses on acceptance, self-worth, joy and grief. Submerging the listener in a vast pool of emotions, it’s a compelling collection that firmly grips you, refusing to let go.

nipple whisk - TJ Stafford
Nipple Whisk – TJ Stafford

A Kansas-born singer/songwriter making his way out West, TJ Stafford excels with a tenacious rasp and grainy, gritty instrumentation. Since embarking on his solo journey in 2017, he has toured with numerous bands, headlined sold-out shows throughout greater Los Angeles, and released a steady stream of catchy, cathartic song.

Now he has unleashed a new riveting and charismatic record: Released February 16, 2023 via Saint Rogue Records, Nipple Whisk is the third studio album from the profound singer/songwriter, following 2021’s The Death of Zossima.

Nipple Whisk commences with the compelling guitar-driven piece “When We Hit the Ground,” a song that illustrates an honest love that allows us to be who we are. The release fits with the overarching theme of receiving the validation we so desperately crave.




Second track “Worthy” once again brings that narrative to life; it is human nature to seek a feeling of worthiness. It could be within a romantic relationship, family or just society overall, but we are all searching for proof we are good enough. This song is about the constant quest for some sort of merit in our lives. “Worthy” pulsates with deep, thrashing drums and base exuding that intense yearning.

Album single and standout “The Astronaut” showcases Stafford’s passionate vocals soaring atop plunging electric guitars. The track details the strong need to shine bright in a sea of talent. Many creatives can connect to this, being in a career that depends on being seen.

I have so much fun, I’m never ever sad
I got it all together, nobody cares
Look at me so happy, everybody’s perfect
I never ever cry and nobody cares
Look at my new face
I got it at a thrift store
Took the elevator
Got off on the fifth floor
Smiled at a baby
I think it was my landlord
I don’t have the rent
But it doesn’t matter anymore ’cause
I’m gonna be a star
I’m an astronaut that’s blasting off
Alone inside a bar
I’m gonna be a God
I’m a statue staring at you
But this room is really dark
– “The Astronaut,” TJ Stafford
TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly
TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly



Nipple Whisk ends with “The World’s Gonna Love Me,” a courageous anthem expressing something most of us feel but are scared to admit. The strong vulnerability conveyed resonates with so many. At the root of it, we all just want to be loved and this song speaks to that basic universal desire.

Atwood Magazine spoke with the Los Angeles-based musician about his new album, battling the need for approval, and musical influences. Dive into TJ Stafford’s mind and music in our interview below!

When you pursue happiness, it’s a really false, almost destructive goal – you’re not focusing on the right thing. Happiness is a byproduct; an ethereal byproduct that comes from doing other things and being other things.

— —

:: stream/purchase TJ Stafford here ::
Stream: “The Astronaut” – TJ Stafford



A CONVERSATION WITH TJ STAFFORD

nipple whisk - TJ Stafford

Atwood Magazine: I love the album’s name, Nipple Whisk. What is the meaning behind that quirky title?

TJ Stafford: There’s a picture on the cover and it’s a dude actually getting his nipple whisked. I love it, it’s awesome. It popped up because my college roommate and really good friend for years, died of colon cancer. He was super healthy and was the epitome of good living. In a the text thread with friends, we were going back and forth on processing stuff and this picture popped up that’s on the album cover. It’s my friend that died.

I made a joke, like, “that never was going to be a great title,” just offhandedly. In the process of writing the album, and when it came to thinking of a title, I thought that would actually be cool. A big theme and feeling of the album was that life is really messy. All of this beauty and joy exists at the same time, in the same place as tragedy and sadness. This represented that. He died and it’s tragic. We’re all devastated. At the same time, this is really funny. It is a way to honor him. We’re sitting there laughing hysterically in the middle of grief at the story. The idea that people have to say that when they talk about the album, I think that’s funny.

This album allows light and dark to come together to create a unique listening experience. Can you talk about the album’s themes in more detail?

TJ Stafford: The previous album was very much fueled by depression in the middle of lock downs. Then coming out of that, it was a very different experience than normal because usually when I’ve come out of depressive episodes I think, alright, I’m going to conquer the world. Everything’s good. I can see the good and everything and this one was a little more mature and realistic. There’s still like really shitty stuff happening. I still have these bad feelings, but at the same time, I can see joy and hope and brightness in the middle of it. That’s where the album came from.

So a lot of the songs are written and you don’t really know if this should be sad, or shouldn’t this be funny? I shouldn’t just be happy, but it really depends. Learn how you approach it, or what you see in that moment. That’s how I feel about life in general right now. There’s just a lot of stuff existing in the same place. There’s a lot of paradoxical emotions in the exact same space, and you have to sit there with it. You just have to sit there and accept it as it is.

TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly
“There’s a lot of paradoxical emotions in the exact same space, and you just have to sit there with it and accept it as it is.” TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly



At times it is human nature to have those negative thoughts creep through our brain. We question, Are we good enough? I feel like “Worthy” is a track that will resonate deeply with so many. What the inspired gritty piece?

TJ Stafford: A lot of it had to do with my childhood, I was raised spending a lot of time in church. It came with a lot of guilt and shame. I’m always trying to be worthy. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. So it was working out a lot of those feelings. Then also noticing everybody in this world just wants to feel like they’re worthy. Like they’re worth something.

That manifests itself in different ways. Whether it is dancing on TikTok, please show me some attention, give me some likes, or people lashing out in anger and mass shootings, it’s feeling so unworthy. So much so they have to take everybody else down with them. I think it’s a very common thread through all of humanity that we’re trying to feel worth. We’re trying to feel like somebody just told me that I’m worth being here. So the source is very personal. Whether it’s why we pursue what we pursue such as careers and dating, it all comes down to just wanting somebody to tell me that I’m worthy. Not because I accomplished something or did something, but just for being who I am. I’m worth being here.



TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly
TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly

“The Astronaut” is an upbeat song with soaring vocals and eruptive guitar riffs. How was its rowdy rock style concocted?

TJ Stafford: That one stemmed from my frustration with social media and the current music climate where you just have to be on social media doing stuff. That’s really difficult for an introvert, it’s really difficult to feel like I’m extremely introverted. Nowadays, you just got to totally at the show yourself all the time, This one was born out of that frustration of not knowing how to be on social media and show yourself and be authentic because nothing feels authentic about it to me. I couldn’t sit there talking to a camera speaking about my feelings and feel authentic doing that. So I saw some frustration in that song and mocked my experience with trying it. The lyrics like the pre courses are nonsensical. That is how I feel most of social media is just not as very stream consciousness and they don’t really make sense, but when you hear them you think, yeah, this I get this. These words together don’t make sense, but somehow, I get it.

“The Astronaut” details the need to shine in a sea of people attempting to be noticed. What do you do to standout?

TJ Stafford: I don’t know what I do in terms of trying to stand out. I don’t know if that’s a primary focus of mine is to stand out. I hope that I stand out because my authenticity as a person, and unwavering character, and creating radar. As far as trying to stand out, I have a hard time making that a primary focus. That’s where the frustration comes in.

Anytime I hop on social media, I can feel my focus switching. I’m not focusing on the thing that should be focused on, I’m focused on a false goal. I’m focused on getting attention, as opposed to making something great that gets attention or being someone great, that gets attention.

It’s almost like the pursuit of happiness. I feel that when you pursue happiness, it’s a really false, almost destructive goal and that you’re not focusing on the right thing. Happiness is a byproduct; an ethereal byproduct that comes from doing other things and being other things. I feel like that about standing out.



TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly
TJ Stafford © Rowan Daly

When you pursue happiness, it’s a really false, almost destructive goal – you’re not focusing on the right thing. Happiness is a byproduct; an ethereal byproduct that comes from doing other things and being other things.



Your song “Hated” focuses on the constant hunt for happiness only to find that it is okay to not be okay. What influenced this punchy punk-esque tune?

TJ Stafford: I think our cultures and people are inundated with and are told that we should be happy and that we deserve to be happy. That happiness is the ultimate goal. I just don’t think that’s true. Even just in everyday life. So many people can relate to this, but I could wake up one morning and be like, I’m really happy. No reason, just woke up happy. And then the next day in the exact same circumstances, literally nothing’s changed, except that day I can wake up and be in a really shitty mood.

Zero things have changed. It makes me think that happiness is pretty ethereal and enigmatic. It’s hard to pin down, which makes it very hard to pursue, like pursuing a ghost. I’m not saying I don’t want to be happy – I love being happy, but making it the primary focus is really dangerous. There are moments when I’ve experienced happiness, but I’m not content or joyful with who I am as a person. And there are moments when I’ve been very melancholic, and maybe even depressed, but there’s been an underlying joy in that. I find joy in this pursuit of truth and life and who am I as a person and that’s not always happy.



Happiness is pretty ethereal and enigmatic. It’s hard to pin down, which makes it very hard to pursue, like pursuing a ghost. I’m not saying I don’t want to be happy – I love being happy, but making it the primary focus is really dangerous.

The album ends with the effervescent “The World’s Gonna Love Me,” an infectious release that is also an emotive plea for love and acceptance. What advice can you give to those also in a career that requires constant validation from others?

TJ Stafford: My biggest advice is just accept the psychosis. I think, to some extent, everybody is in a career or a life that is necessitated on the validation of others. It’s especially true in the artistic world. No matter what job you are in there’s somebody who’s going to have to validate you as in I’m going to have to hire you and if you’re good enough I’ll not fire you. Especially as an artist, you have this thing that you have to make art, that’s true to yourself. You have to make it with the mentality that it doesn’t matter what people think about this. It isn’t about a reaction, This is about making what is in me that I have to make.

Then at the exact same time, going back to the theme of the album, you have to put it out to people. Then if you want to try to make a career out of it, you have to hope to get it in front of their eyes and hope that they like it. Even though you’ve made it not caring whether they like it or not, you now have to care whether they like it at all. Those two exists in the same place. There are some psychotic moments, because you’re essentially schizophrenic, where you have two personalities that have to coexist at the same time. So my advice is, just accept that, accept the psychosis. There’s no easy way to do this, because people can sniff out when it’s inauthentic. They also at the same time sniff out the intensity. They also don’t like arrogance and complete narcissism where that artist makes great stuff, but they’re still like, fuck my fans. The fans almost create your existence. So it’s this very weird, symbiotic, sometimes parasitic relationship that you have to navigate.

Singer/Songwriter TJ Stafford Displays a Sensitive Side in “The World’s Gonna Love Me”

:: TODAY'S SONG ::



Your sound is a nod to nostalgic rock yet also portrays a modern flair. Who are some artists that have helped shape your musical quality?

TJ Stafford: It depends on the time in my life. For this one I was going back to those late 90s and early 2000s flippant, tongue in cheek rock pop punk acts like fountains of Wayne, Harvey Danger and Dinosaur Jr. There was a lot of levity in what they did, but there was also a lot of seriousness. Sometimes the music would play against the lyrics. The music would be very upbeat, but the lyrics though appearing cheeky and completely nonchalant, had some angst and sadness. Those were the bands of influence.

What does the future look like for TJ Stafford?

TJ Stafford: It looks like a lot more introspection and trying to figure out the meaning of life. There’s a lot of stuff on the horizon, musically. We have a small record label that my partner and I run. We do a lot of stuff for film and TV. So we’re always working on that. Also I’m raising a three year old trying to figure out how to navigate life.

Lastly, who are some artists on your current playlist you can recommend to our readers?

TJ Stafford: I listen to KUSC Los Angeles when I’m in the car. Most of my listening is just classical music. Give me some melancholic, Chopin. It cleanses my palate and lets me go on about my day.

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:: stream/purchase TJ Stafford here ::
Stream: “The Same Song” – TJ Stafford



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nipple whisk - TJ Stafford

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? © Rowan Daly


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