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Tyson artist
Photography Frank Lebon

TYSON’s soaring R&B is a much-needed dose of springtime optimism

The artist and LMP Recordings co-founder drops her debut EP Pisces Problems – here, she speaks on forging her artistic identity and the community she’s helped to foster for music industry women, non-binary, and gender variant people

Emotionally, I’m in A&E,” TYSON sings on the celestial “Pisces Problems”, her debut EP’s eponymous track. A real, close-to-home mood. In the surreal and sumptuous video directed by Akinola Davies for the lead single “Tuesday”, she rides a pink, fuzzy dragon (think Neverending Story vibes) across London skies, encircling the iconic Trellick Tower. A wistful, dreamy vibe.

The born and raised Londoner – by way of Stockholm, Spain, and New York – deftly captures both the intimate and existential: the warm, soaring feeling in your stomach in a fledgling relationship, fighting back against ravaging self-doubt and underestimation, big-world ambitions and unbridled dreams. Unfettered by her own creative evolution and life challenges, TYSON first resisted a music career and pursued a politics degree. In years of stress and conflict, she damaged her voice and had to undergo surgery – a journey she calls her “wake-up call”. She’s formerly of the electropop band PANES, with a sister in Mabel and mother in Neneh Cherry, and having since collaborated with Dean Blunt, Four Tet, and more, the dappled TYSON constellation has become a rich and amorphous tapestry. Of future-facing soul supplanted with vivid lyrics, throbbing R&B beats, and ethereal pop hooks – all the creative chaos and well-deep empathy of the Pisces that she is, of course.

Pisces Problems is also the first release on LMP Recordings, an imprint TYSON co-founded with Hannah TW, Nellie Owusu, and Marina GB, which stemmed from the ‘Ladies Music Pub’ community, a music industry collective that champions all women, non-binary, and gender variant people. In a time that’s seen the industry ravaged and narrowed, the label’s triumph and this release feels all the more pertinent. Following up TYSON’s 2020 release Moonlight Mixtape, the record is clear-eyed, full of heart, and certain of its direction.

Below, TYSON talks to Dazed about her stunning debut EP, refining the artistic versions of herself, and the continued challenge to the patriarchal hierarchy that plays out in the music industry.

Moonlight Mixtape came out in 2020 to a world pushed to pause, reflect, get lost in dreams of a different reality. How did it capture a global mood, and does this new record parallel similar themes or diverge into something new for you, and for 2021?

TYSON: You know what, I’ve never thought about it like that. It was just about where I was at the time, and where Oscar was (who I wrote and produced it all with). The mixtape was quite dreamlike, so hopefully that meant something to people in lockdown. (It was) also quite DIY and imperfect, which I think everybody had to experiment with in some way when the world shut down.

This new EP is also quite personal. I wrote a lot of the songs before we made Moonlight so it’s interesting to be revisiting them now, from a different place in my life. I can remember the feeling of a lot of themes but I’m not necessarily there anymore. I quite like that. Revisiting different versions of yourself.

Can you talk a bit about losing your voice, and how that impacted your musical journey? What happened in that time when you couldn’t sing, and the process of getting it back?

TYSON: Yeah, it was awful! Haha. No, in all honesty it was a very important time I think. I lost my voice because of stress and not taking care of myself. It was a hard but very necessary wake up call. You know, sometimes life just sends you and you have to listen?

I had given up on music before that, so thankfully it made me remember how much I need to sing. I think it also helped me believe in myself for the first time. So rather than shying away from the industry I decided to make it work in my own way. It’s still a difficult process. Emotions, tiredness, etcetera, always manifest themselves in my voice, so I have to be careful. And despite it all, I’m still stubborn and push myself too hard! It’s an ongoing process that I’ll carry on trying to figure out. But I’m very grateful to have my voice back.

You said this on IG that really struck me: ‘Sometimes I’m not loud enough for people to hear me, or tough, comfortable, cool, outgoing... all the things people expect of someone who has gone down this path’. Can you expand a little on this? How do you stay true to yourself?

TYSON: Ah I’m glad! It’s always a bit scary being honest on social media….

I think I meant that I feel things are expected of me sometimes. It might even partly be a projection, but I do think artists are expected to be a lot of things, and to give a hell of a lot, no questions asked. I’m quite a shy and anxious person, although tough in my own way. Some social things feel really hard and I don’t always feel comfortable in front of a camera. But I find it helps to be honest about that. There are a lot of things I know I will have to do if I’m going to live off my music, and deep down I think I want to feel comfortable with them. So hopefully I can figure out my own way and feel more in control and less anxious. Hopefully!

“I do think artists are expected to be a lot of things, and to give a hell of a lot, no questions asked” – TYSON

And following this, how do you build a creative support network and community? How has that community also helped you through lockdown?

TYSON: It’s so vital. People need people. To support each other, distract each other... but also creatively. I strongly believe that things are always stronger when made with other people, even if you just advise each other. Having the right people around you is all about how it feels, vibes don’t lie. I think I have built a support network and community from the way my family works: you support each other and look out for each other, and there’s always room for more. It’s so important in this industry, especially for women. We’ve been conditioned to believe there isn’t enough space for multiple great women. But there is and we can help each other succeed. I love it.

Can you tell us about the launch of LMP Recordings – what sounds, core values, and styles compound the label?

TYSON: Moonlight Mixtape was the first thing we ever released. We were already doing so many things through LMP so it just made sense to release my music ourselves too. So far that’s all we have capacity for but we definitely plan to release other artists. Most likely women artists and artists from gender minorities who are looking for a supportive label or creative support in releasing their music. Artists should feel safe and supported and in control of their careers. The same goes for working at a label or any other area of the industry. Those are our core values.

Ladies Music Pub carved a space in the industry that felt really vital for women and non-binary people. How have you seen the community grow, and what does it continue to challenge in the industry?

TYSON: Things have really changed since we started the group back in 2015, and the group has grown in numbers. We try to encourage more women and gender minorities to join the industry by helping record labels and music companies to reach more diverse applicants. We want to build the confidence of those entering the music industry, offering advice and solidarity to those who need it. We try to identify problems and stress factors for women in the industry, campaigning for safer working environments. For example, at the moment we are looking into maternity and parental pay, what different labels offer and what support exists for musicians and freelance workers. We continue to challenge the rich, white, cis-male dominated top of the industry. We will continue to challenge the patriarchal hierarchy that plays out daily in our industry.

What do you see as the music industry’s biggest challenges coming out of a pandemic?

TYSON: So many people are struggling because of venues getting closed, and gigs and festivals cancelled. I really hope there is space in the industry to be more mindful of people’s time and energy and make sure artists and employees are supported. There has literally never been less time for bullshit.

Coming from a musical family, have you ever pushed back against the more creative trajectory?

TYSON: For so long! I even did a Masters in something totally not music-related. It didn’t work.

Why ‘Pisces Problems’ as the name – are you a Pisces, and how do you relate to your own astrological sign?

TYSON: Yep, oh my God. Such a Pisces! And so is Oscar, we’re born on the same day. I mean, it’s partly in jest. But we’re very similar people. Extremely impractical, sensitive, emotional, chaos basically, but very fun. There’s a wonderful meme about a Pisces guy trying to use a gym in front of someone really together, like a Capricorn or something. The Pisces guy is falling all over the place trying to do something really simple. That’s basically us on a daily basis. Ask my boyfriend, he’s a Scorpio. Eurgh.

The video for ‘Tuesday’ is amazing! Very Neverending Story. How does it speak to the song and its lyrics? And how was such a fantastical video realised in lockdown with Akinola Davies and the team?

TYSON: I’m so happy with it. I wanted the video to contrast the sweet lyrics, and not be about love. The rest all came from Akinola’s brain. It’s incredible. We all had to pitch in to make it happen, including the LMP core team who operated the puppet in green screen suits all day. Basically blood, sweat, and tears made it happen!

What lyric on the record are you most proud of?

TYSON: All of the puppies I’ve been chasing...’!

Who would be a dream collaboration?

TYSON: Drake.

What’s the perfect setting for listening to Pisces Problems?

TYSON: I think... anywhere you like. 

Pisces Problems is out on LMP Recordings now