Viral singer/songwriter Two Feet sits down with Atwood Magazine to discuss letting go of his alter ego and moving boldly forward on his latest track “Until I Come Home,” a team-up with alt rock icon grandson.
Stream: “Until I Come Home” – Two Feet, grandson
I think you have to be a little delusional to first of all be a successful musician and second of all, to be a good person. Because it can be really hard to be a good person when you’re living in this kind of f***ed up world.
We each contain multitudes.
Within us resides boundless potential to disappear down almost any path we choose. Just because our lives eventually unfold in uniform, often singular ways, does not mean those possibilities disappear. We can learn more about ourselves from the shadows that never were, residing deep under the surface.
For William “Bill” Dess, better known to the world as the artist Two Feet, a particular set of possibilities manifested after a public mental health struggle shook the foundation of his life. Abandoned by his label and landing in several psychiatric hospitals, an alter ego emerged that encapsulated not just inner turmoil of this period, but the various stories that intersected with his own. Speaking to American Songwriter earlier this year, Dess recalled that he “had a half-dream, half-nightmare,” where he interacted with a character named Max Maco. Max was a piece of him, a shadow, and yet someone separate enough that he could speak to and learn from them. Dess combined his story with those of other people he had met during his hospital stays. This gave Maco a perspective that Dess could then integrate into himself at will.
“I used to get super nervous before I went on stage,” he confided in us. In these moments, he would turn to Max. “[I would] tell myself, ‘You’re not going on stage. This version of yourself is going on stage, and he’s not afraid of being in front of that many people.’ I’d get into character any way I could. If I felt I was dressed too normally, I would rip the sleeves off my shirt or put some eyeliner on or draw on my hands or whatever.”
As time went on though, he found himself needing Max less and less. The character was dying. And so, he unwound the journey they went on together with his appropriately titled Max Maco Is Dead, Right? (released April 6, 2021 via AWAL Recordings America, Inc). His first foray into the world of concept records, the album dealt with his decoupling from Max, while taking the lessons he learned into a new chapter for Two Feet and himself.
I found that I empathize with Max’s way of looking at the world. He and I are a little delusional, but I think you have to be a little delusional to first of all be a successful musician and second of all, to be a good person.
Suitably enough, Dess sent Max off with a bang. He concluded a North American Tour on December 3rd with an eye to the future – more shows, bigger production, and a post-Max album. The first taste of what lies beyond hit streaming services only a few weeks ago. Dess teamed up with alt rock firebrand grandson on “Until I Come Home” (released November 19, 2021 via AWAL Recordings America, Inc), a smoldering hymn about finding peace away from a chaotic and often hostile world.
And it’s all wrong, it’s gon’ be a long night
‘Cause the world is killing me
And nothing makes sense anymore
I won’t be fine until I see
Your face when you reach my front door
My front door
A minimal plinking of keys accompany the song’s tiptoeing baseline, weaving a path toward that sanctuary he seeks. When the chorus hits, those steps land into thunderous footfalls, the trill of his guitar singing confidently over the din. Two Feet fans will recognize its trademark timbre, sounding more like a lead vocalist than a mere instrument. “When I began making this style of music, I started off by using the guitar to do the choruses,” he explains. In “[I wrote] the guitar melodies as if they were for voice. It’s such a prominent lead element.”
With grandson by his side, Two Feet hits the cosmic reset button, recognizing that he has a place to come home to apart from the crutch Max once served. Whether the person at his front door is a friend, a lover, or just his newfound sense of self, he knows the safety he finds with them is the first step toward a new chapter.
Dess knows whatever that entails, he is his own person. Who that person will be though, time can only tell.
I got a chance to sit down with the artist behind Two Feet to discuss Max Maco, working with grandson, and being crowned the king of sex playlists. Read all about it below:
Stream: “Until I Come Home” – Two Feet, grandson
A CONVERSATION WITH TWO FEET
Atwood Magazine: I'm sure you get this question all the time, but where did the name Two Feet come from?
Two Feet: To be honest, I don’t fully remember. It kind of popped into my head at night. I had written “F*ck Yourself” and I needed a name to upload it to SoundCloud. And I think the first couple of names I came up with were already taken. I just sat there, put my head down, and stared at my feet. And then I was like, “Oh, I’ll just call myself Two Feet.”
Inspiration coming from the most unlikely of places.
Two Feet: Exactly.
And that's not the only name I'm going to ask you about. You dropped an album earlier this year called Max Maco Is Dead, Right? I want to know who Max Maco is.
To Feet: I used to get super nervous before I went on stage so I would create an alter ego and tell myself, “You’re not going on stage. This version of yourself is going on stage, and he’s not afraid of being in front of that many people.” And I’d get into a character any way I could. If I felt I was dressed too normally, I would rip the sleeves off my shirt or put some eyeliner on or draw on my hands or whatever.
I read that Max isn't you exactly, but he does have his parallels. And one thing I thought about is how authors like to put pieces of themselves into their creations, either because it's what they know, or it's something they're trying to work through, or a variety of other reasons. What is it about Max that you empathize with?
Two Feet: I basically wrote a short novel about his life, just so I could really think about the character, parts of his life that I was never going to express. In the story, Two Feet and Max meet each other on various occasions. Through those encounters I found that I empathize with his way of looking at the world. He and I are a little delusional, but I think you have to be a little delusional to first of all be a successful musician and second of all, to be a good person. Because it can be really hard to be a good person when you’re living in this kind of fucked up world. So, I empathize with his ability to create a world for himself that works for him on a personal level, and I think that’s something important that people should learn how to do.
I completely agree. I want to know too why he is ''dead'' in this album.
Two Feet: As I said, I used to get really nervous, but less so now. I found I didn’t have to go into a character to get on stage as much. I could go up as myself. So, I started fading away from him, and looking at him as dead. Even before I wrote the album, I would tell my crew guys, “I don’t need him today.”
But then I ask the question “Right?” because I still don’t know if I ever need to bring him back.
And what do you think you learned about yourself coming away from this project?
Two Feet: That’s always a good question. I think that it taught me how to write an album. Previously I had released EPs or I had released albums that didn’t really feel like albums. They felt more like a bunch of different songs that kind of fit together. But writing this album, I learned how to come up with a theme, I learned how to follow through with it, I learned how to make the songs all work together in a story. It was kind of like a like an essay in school, which helps you learn how to organize your thoughts.
With this next album I have coming up, I used a lot of the tools I learned to write Max. I think that’ll stick with me for forever.
I want to back up a bit to your childhood. I read that you started writing your own chamber music after seeing the Nutcracker. Is that right?
Two Feet: Yeah, that’s right. I was about seven, six or seven years old.
How did you move from that to what we hear now in Two Feet?
Two Feet: It was a super long process. Basically, I downloaded like a free software to write sheet music as a kid, and I knew nothing really about music. I would just go on how it sounded until I started learning more. So I was familiar with music programs from a young age, I did that on and off until I kind of stopped and got really into playing guitar in high school. And then, when I was about 20, or 19, a friend gave me Ableton and I started using that. I had also gotten into electronic music at that point. So I started using that program to try to some of those sounds.
A lot of my music is super cinematic-sounding. That’s why it’s synced in a ton of movies and television shows and I think that comes from writing orchestral music as a kid. You know, I always want that sort of cinematic vibe. So that sort of set the base for me in terms of how I write music, and I just branched out into whatever direction whatever style of music I’m vibing to at that time.
And how would you describe your sound now for someone who maybe has never heard of your music?
Two Feet: I would say it’s kind of R&B/rock/electronic music. If they’re asking for like a genre description, I think that’s kind of the best way to describe it.
I talk to a lot of artists, and this is a trend I've recognized a lot recently. Genre itself kind of seems to be dead. And I think there's a lot of reasons for that.
Two Feet: I totally agree with you.
Personally I think a lot of it has to do with the accessibility of streaming. People can listen to whatever the heck they want, whenever they want. And it's more about creating a vibe through a playlist than it is about creating a really homogenous sound.
Two Feet: Definitely. You used to be locked into buying an album of one genre of music and wouldn’t risk spending money on something you might not end up liking. But now since you can listen everything really easily, people start collecting songs they like. And when you let people pick stuff they like, it’s usually going to be pretty eclectic compilations music, songs that may not be in the same genre at all, but may have a similar vibe. And I think that’s why genres are dying, because there’s no need to compartmentalize music as much as there used to be.
Exactly. And what I find truly unique about your music is your use of the guitar. I've been thinking about this a while, and it doesn't really sound like an instrument to me so much as a voice. And I want to know how you ended up developing it's really singular sound.
Two Feet: When I first started making music as Two Feet, I had been in a lot of bands. I did a jazz band, I’ve been in Grateful Dead cover bands, rock cover bands, a bunch of stuff, and I would play all the time. Usually, I wasn’t the lead singer. I was usually a backup singer who did harmonies or if I was the lead singer, it was just because I was the only one who could sing. So, it’s never really my thing – singing. I always loved writing lyrics.
When I began making this style of music, I started off by using the guitar to do the choruses. In “Go Fuck Yourself” and “Quick Musical Doodles,” the chorus is a guitar riff. The same is true of a bunch of my songs. I started writing the guitar melodies as if it was for voice. It’s such a prominent lead element and I mixed it closer to how someone would mix a vocal. In a lot of stuff that guitars a little bit further back in the mix, but I put mine really up front and kind of on top of everything.
I think that’s why genres are dying, because there’s no need to compartmentalize music as much as there used to be.
There's this thing that PAPER Magazine wrote about you that I want to address really quick because I think it's funny. They called you ''the king of sex playlists.'' What do you think about being given that honor?
Two Feet: To me it’s really random. When I started making music, I didn’t think to myself that people are gonna love this to be on sex playlists. To me, it just sounded really cool. But then, I started getting put on a bunch of those playlists and people started associating that with the sound. In fact, so much so that when Chart Hits and Billboard put out Top 10 Artists on Sex Playlists, it was the Weeknd. Drake, Rihanna, a bunch of others, and Two Feet. I was number nine, right above some other big artist, which is kind of incredible. Out of all the sex playlists in the whole world, I’m one of the top 10 people on them. How that happened is kind beyond me. I definitely wasn’t aiming for that.
So you just dropped a new song with grandson, ''Until I Come Home.'' It definitely still feels like a Two Feet song. But Jordan adds a bit of his own flavor. How did you make that connection with him and what was it like collaborating on this track?
Two Feet: We’ve known each other for years. We’d see each other at festival and say hi and hang out for a second.
But I was in LA and he sent me a text saying, “Hey, man. Do you want to get together and see if we can make something?” We were both in between albums, so I was like, “Sure, come over.” He came to my house and instead of writing something new, I told him I had a bunch of unreleased stuff to show him and if he wanted to jump on any of it, to just let me know. We just sat for 45 minutes and listened to about 20 unreleased songs. And when I was done playing them off, he was like, “I really liked that third song you played.” So I went back and he just immediately started writing lyrics and a vocal melody for the second verse.
I actually left him there and went for a run, and when I came back he was like, “Okay, I’m done with the lyrics and melody.” And then we spent like, two and a half, three hours recording his verse, he went home, and we sent the song back and forth to each other making edits on it. We ended up with this honestly really beautiful song that I couldn’t be happier to have him on. He’s one of the nicest people I know.
Last question. For fans of Atwood Magazine's Tunes & Tumblers podcast: if you were to describe everything to feet as a drink, alcoholic or not, what would it be?
Two Feet: That’s a good question. I think it kind of changed. In the beginning, it was literally just whiskey on the rocks. And now at this point, I think it’s whiskey rocks with a little soda water and some lemon.
Nice little twist. And how about Max Maco? What is his drink?
Two Feet: When he’s feeling fancy, a White Russian. And when he’s not, just vodka on the rocks.
I think I'm getting a really good picture of this guy.
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