‘The fans are finally pushing us more, and I love this’—Sean Tyas on the trance community, his creative ethos, and more [interview]
The path to success for Sean Tyas was a quick one. A longtime connoisseur of trance and somewhat of a hero in his hometown East Coast scene, the producer entered the global circuit in a strong way back in 2006 when his debut single “Lift” became an instant hit that topped the Beatport charts. He’s since remained a driving force in modern underground trance, planting his feet firmly in the tech and uplifting realms and boosting his profile with a consistent slew of international touring and performing alongside the likes of John O’Callaghan, Bryan Kearney, Paul Van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, and many more. He’s the type of artist to take well-calculated, careful decisions in his career, allowing him to stay true to the sounds that inspire him while growing on his own terms—and in doing so, he’s set himself up for continued prosperity.
Tyas has has quite a busy 2019, undertaking one of his busiest touring years while providing fans with a variety of singles across Subculture, VII, and of course, his burgeoning Degenerate imprint. A particularly noteworthy release came in the form of his remix to the Rapid Eye classic, “Circa Forever.” His re-work preserved the timelesssness of the original whilst updating the instrumentation and ultimately twisting it into a modern masterpiece of his own. After months of stirring a frenzy among the trance community rinsing the then-unreleased gem, it finally became available to all in August. Now, Tyas prepares to make his trek back stateside to California’s Dreamstate—a Insomniac’s festival dedicated to the genre which has become America’s premier event for the sound. He’ll be joining fellow icon Menno De Jong for a stimulating back-to-back on Saturday, November 23, where fans can expect a high-octane mixture of classic and contemporary tunes. Grab tickets for Dreamstate here.
We sat down with Tyas prior to his westward voyage to talk about his journey until now, remixing legends, his process, and what else is in store for the next year.
Let’s dive into your artistic journey. Tell us about your decision to produce trance, and the process of finding your own sound. Did you find it easy to create something distinctively ‘Sean Tyas’ from the get-go, or was your path more complicated?
That is one hell of a broad question but I’ll do my best to not write a novel. I started off into the whole scene as an enthusiastic raver in NY back in the late 90s, going to parties and clubs and really loving every single moment of what happens to me when I set foot on that dancefloor each weekend. Nothing really up to that point in my life was really quite like it. Eventually, I really started to get more specific in my musical tastes and to fast forward a bit, I ended up falling deeply in love with trance. I still liked a few other styles but trance just “did it” for me. The power and that 136-142 BPM energy was just resonating with me and how I danced. I was in art university at the time, so I had a bit of time to start to make a bit of music as a hobby, where I could finally start to learn how it was made and what was required to do it. Unfortunately, it was a VERY expensive thing for an 18-19 year old to get into back then. Computers were not on the level they are at now, where everything could be run as software inside the machine. I’d have to buy synth-after-synth , drum machine-after-drum machine, etc, just to get specific sounds. Just trial and error (a lot of errors) led to development.
What drew you to trance in the first place, and why do you think people are attracted to the genre as a whole?
I think its a genre that very heavily, in its nature, promotes togetherness on that dancefloor. The crowd at trance events know their music, know the tracks, and most likely know LOADS of other people they are on that dancefloor with. It’s a beautiful community. Maybe that’s why we do get newcomers to the genre too, and the music can be outright gorgeous at times, but that was be so fucking ignorant to say “yea, trance is emotional so people come flock to it.” I hate that phrase because its bullshit; all music is emotional to someone. Death metal is emotional and evocative to the right person. But for me and countless others, well, trance just hits the nerve and scratches that itch we need scratched. It’s never something that is easy to explain, why people like a type of music, but there it is—people love what they love.
How does living in Switzerland help or hinder your creativity? Would you ever consider moving back stateside, since the genre is beginning to have a renaissance there? Why or why not?
It’s a pretty inspirational place to live I have to say. Walking and running outside in these landscapes of mountains and rolling hills is inspirational in itself, so as an artist I find it to be really conducive to the work I do. As far as moving stateside, my roots are pretty deep here at this stage, now over 14 years living here, I’ve gotten dual citizenship, and my kids are already growing up so fast in the school system, I think here is where I stay. But having said that, I am REALLY lucky to work a career that allows me to get back to USA very often to constantly satisfy my homesick feelings when they pop up. Most of my family is in New York, so with JFK being the hub of almost every trip to the states for me, extra quick visits to friends and family are effortless—and I love that.
What have been your key ingredients in sustaining a longterm career, especially in a field of music with such peaks and valleys in popularity?
Peaks and valleys indeed. But it is one thick-skinned genre that is for certain. The main ingredient to sustain any long term career… it’s really simple and obvious. Improvement, consistency, humility (by this I mean to always be working for something, because the moment you have that sense of “entitlement”, you are already the asshole), and health (this is one I have only really started to believe in during the recent years going to the gym much more often and really concentrating on eating better foods). Anyone else can just simply throw a monster marketing budget at their career and get all their tracks ghosted, but is that sustainable? Is it respectable? Not to me.
What are some creative or career-related roadblocks/obstacles you’ve had as of late, and how have you worked through them? Has your outlook on music and your career changed as a result?
The only obstacle anyone should be concerned about is self-doubt. The minute you let that all in, you are already in trouble. I need to ALWAYS believe in myself, my skill level, and believe in what I’m doing. I have had disappointments all throughout my career, of course, but these just get me working harder, specifically in the studio… pushing my sound, trying to experiment with techniques I’ve never heard in a trance track as well as sharpen ones I’ve used before to make them new and cutting-edge.
How does a day in the studio look for Sean Tyas? On account of your innate perfectionism, would you say it’s easier for you to bang out rough ideas quickly, and afterward you spend the vast majority of your time tinkering with them to ensure they meet your standards?
Every day is different depending on what projects are going on. For example Tuesdays are usually radio show day, so I’ll spend all day going through all the promos of the prior week, sifting through and putting together the mix for the show, then doing all the voiceovers etc. On a production day, I guess the first thing i usually do in the studio each day (or every couple of days) is to reverse engineer a couple of sounds I hear in tracks that intrigue me that I hear in others’ productions. It can be anything from a drum with a unique aspect to it, to a brutal bassline that I want to know the approach of how it ticks. From there I can apply these techniques in new ways to to other things and it brings about a cross-pollination in the studio that really leads to new creativity for the full day.
You’ve had a couple notable remixes this year; for one, your long-awaited take on Rapid Eye’s “Circa Forever” finally came out, and you also took on John O’Callaghan’s “Choice Of The Angels.”
How did these come about? Tell us the backstory and what inspired you to re-work these ones.
The Circa Forever remix was nice for me because to me, like so may others, that original really symbolizes this sort of “Golden Age” of trance, and of course a couple years ago when I threw together my first “re-work” of it. By re-work—as opposed to calling it a remix—I mean the original track is layered into a project and I go and cut out the bass end of it completely to be replaced, while adding multiple elements onto the track and also tweaking how the arrangement flows with edits. This [re-work] was sort of my go-to classic for that time. After a while, I think Armada mentioned to me that they could release it, but I said, “you know what, I’m not too comfortable at how it sounds right now.” To me it was just a rework, and generally, I don’t LOVE the idea of releasing those. “Let me turn it into a full-fledged remix, not utilizing the original track as the backbone anymore,” I told them. And so yeah, that came out, and I am happy it did, because it is now much more in line with my own sound. And as for the “Choice of the Angels” remix, John has been a friend of mine since the “Discover” days, and he came to me with that single and asked if I’d like to remix it for Subculture. “Hell yeah, why not?” I thought. It was very open to melodic reinterpretation in its original form, and this makes it so much fun to remix.
Do you ever feel pressure to adhere to a certain aesthetic in your music in order to please your fanbase? How do you balance making something fulfilling to you without alienating longtime listeners? Have you ever felt afraid to experiment with your sound further on account of this pressure?
I feel the fanbase is overcoming the monotony that we have seen in the genre over the years—fans are finally pushing us more, and I love this. The sound is finally evolving and I’ve been an obnoxious proponet to this change in the genre for years. Its finally seeing a bit of fruition now and some of these new tunes people are releasing now are really becoming on the level that we need to be. Attention to detail, attention to sound, and a bit less lazy in the generic melody department. As far as fear to experiement, never. I mean look at my album Degeneration; this was my first artist album and I wanted to really see what I could make. To say that this was a “journey” for me would be putting it lightly, but I got there in the end. John Askew was so supportive the whole way through, with my ideas of things like including two Drum ‘n’ Bass tunes on the album as well as bits of breaks, techno, and chillout. Experimentation leads to growth and learning.
You’re about to play Dreamstate—you’ve played a few now, correct? What do you think festivals and events like this say at large about the USA trance community?
It’s fantastic to see the popularity of the style has birthed this beautiful brand of festival, and it’s so encouraging to think about what the future holds for the USA trance community. These behemoth events bring new faces into the scene for their very first time, and I can only hope they truly love what they hear and see and decide they love it as much as I do.
What are you favorite parts about Dreamstate?
Well, Insomniac is just a fantastic company that really look after us as artists, from the stocked up artist dressing rooms, to the production level on that stage we play from. The light shows that accompany the sounds we bring really exponentially enhance the experience to all the people on the dancefloor and it is just an experience from beginning to end. I’ve always been a sucker for a good laser show
Finally, what’s in the pipeline for Sean Tyas?
I have a new single coming out in December on Deep in Thought, featuring a truly amazing seasoning of vocals from Nashville-based Shelby Merry, whose quality of vocals you truly have never heard before in a trance tune. I also have new remixes coming. The first is my new remix of Liquid Dream by Liquid Soul & DJ Dream I have done for Iboga. This is actually a complete redo/overhaul on a remix I did 2.5 years back as my Neodyne guise, but always felt I wanted it to sound different. Well now it will come in its full form. The second remix coming is one I’ve just done of Bryan Kearney and Dierdre McLaughlin “Open My Mind” for Kearnage which I’ve just started testing out now. You will hear all three of these new productions at Dreamstate for sure. After these, I have a long list of stuff to get to, but I think 2020 I would really like to focus and start putting toegther a second album that is 100% club-focused…
Photo credit: Sean Tyas’ Artist Team