Demo Taped Debuts Track 'Pack of Gum' & Exposes His Insecurities for the Greater Good: Interview

Savana Ogburn
Demo Taped

He tells me that one of his biggest insecurities is his conversational skills, and if he hadn’t told me, I would never have guessed. It's worth mentioning because of the subject matter of the rest of our conversation -- mental health and the misunderstandings of it from the outside looking in.

He is Demo Taped (born Adam Alexander), a 19-year-old singer-songwriter whose music is almost impossible to typecast into genre -- but the message is clear.

The Atlanta native was born into a family with a long history of proudly standing up for what they believe in. His grandfather, who was close with Dr. Martin Luther King and marched with him in Atlanta, is the pastor of a church that was originally started by former slaves during the Civil Rights movement. It's the same church that “Insecure,” the first track off of Taped's upcoming early-2018 EP, was recorded in.

And, today (Nov. 16), Demo Taped has a new song he'd like to introduce you to, exclusively with Billboard, called "Pack of Gum" -- a departure from church organs into the synthesized melodies more common in his catalog.

"It’s a song about losing touch with someone after being in tune for a while," he tells Billboard. "It’s about not wanting to be forgotten by someone you love. It’s called 'Pack of Gum' because when my anxiety was at its peak, it affected me physically. Sometimes I would get sick and so I resorted to carrying around a pack of gum at all times."

We all have at least one vice, and at one time gum was an example for Demo Taped, but more recently he has found a way to form a positive one. “I’ve just been working on music and having fun, which, having fun is kind of new. It sounds weird, but there’s been a lot of times where I have thought I’ll never have fun again. This job has been really great, being a musician, doing what I love to do -- it’s really fulfilling.”

Read the rest of Demo Taped’s conversation with Billboard below.

Billboard: Where did the stage name Demo Taped come from?

I started to get into production. I started to learn about different ways I could have my music heard and obviously, one of the ways was looking at labels and trying to figure out that whole landscape -- this was way before I posted any songs at all. I was looking up the process of what it would be like to send a demo to a label and on every label’s website that I went to, it would have like a page to submit demos or something like that. I’d click on that and they’d be saying a disclaimer on all of them: "We don’t accept unsolicited demos."

When I looked it up, what that pretty much meant is we won’t listen to songs randomly sent in. So, I had this idea. I was kind of wondering what happens to all these demos that just go unheard? I wanted to take this idea of something that doesn’t get heard, or gets set aside, like demos that get sent into labels, and I kind of wanted to make that my voice.

What were the circumstances in your life as you were writing and recording "Insecure"?

“Insecure” is about being so wrapped up in your own flaws, or what you view as your flaws, that you start to lose your grip on reality -- what’s actually true. So, getting real specific with it, “Insecure” is about liking someone and all signs pointing to that person having feelings for you back -- or having feelings for me back -- but somehow, I distort the truth with my insecurities and the way I think about myself. I say, "That person doesn’t like me at all" in my head, even though you may know for a fact or may have heard a little something.

I think the whole point of the song is our insecurities, and our thoughts about ourselves, can sometimes distort the actual truth to a point where you flip it.

Why was it so important to you to record “Insecurities” in your grandfather’s church?

My grandfather, he’s been asking me, "When are you gonna do a song that is sort of gospel? When are you going to do something like that?" I really wanted to record something that he could listen to and identify with and have it not be too far off musically to where he wouldn’t get it. I wanted to make something that I could play for my grandfather and he could appreciate. But he would always ask me, "When are you going to do a gospel song? When are you gonna do it? When are you gonna do it?" I’d always say, "Soon, soon," but -- and this is not even really a gospel song. It’s just got the sounds of gospel to it, which is what I wanted to do anyway.

I got to the end of making the song and was putting the last few things in, which were all the live instruments, so I recorded my dad -- he played bass at my house. A little bedroom studio. … It was great. The song only needed one thing, I felt, which was organs. I was toying around with all these organ sounds within the computer, all these VSTs within the digital realm, and nothing was quite doing it for me. It sounded alright, but, you know, my dad reminded me, "Hey, there’s a B-3 organ at the church just sitting there." And that’s one of my favorites so I was like, "We have to do that." My dad, he was helping me get all the plans together because most everybody that played was in the church band, which my dad is the band leader. He helped me get everybody together and worked it out. It was really great. We were working it the song together, really.

What insecurities do you personally grapple with?

I’m insecure about my conversation skills, for sure. Sometimes I get too into my own head and start overthinking it and say something really regrettable and wish I could turn back time. I think everybody goes through that.

Yeah, and well, that’s interesting that you say everybody goes through it because I think that there’s a disconnect between people who experience depression or anxiety versus what is considered to be normal sadness or fear -- if that makes sense?

For sure. For sure.

Right? So was there one moment or a phase of your life where you first recognized that maybe your what you were feeling was something more or different than what is considered to be "normal" sadness and fear?

My depression and anxiety started early. It really started for me around middle school, sixth grade, but got really terrible around seventh grade. I remember seeing -- and I think reading first, yeah, definitely reading first the book It’s Kind of a Funny Story and then I saw the movie with Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts. It was incredible. This story about depression and these two kids in a mental hospital. It was kind of interesting for me to watch because I didn’t know what depression was. I didn’t know that it existed, but as soon as I watched it and heard the main character talk about it in his narrations, I was like sitting there and saying, ‘Maybe I’m depressed.’ It sank in.

I remember telling my parents, and there was no hesitation. No skepticism. They immediately tried to get me the help that I needed, so it was great.

What role does your music play in relieving your pain?

A big, big role. That’s really why I started. I went through a bad little breakup, and I was making a project for my girlfriend at the time, which turned out to be Heart EP -- my first EP. I was making that for one person only, and I wasn’t going to release it. Well, two people: me and her. I hadn’t finished anything -- any projects, any art projects. I had a lot of things I was interested in. I was doing music, but my main thing was I wanted to be a filmmaker and wrote scripts. I still write scripts -- screenplays. But I never really finished anything -- my biggest flaw as an artist, I think.

That has to do with anxiety, maybe?

Yeah, for sure. It’s very difficult sometimes. Part of me thought I would ruin it. But, yeah, so that EP was totally not going to be released. I’m really happy my friends convinced me to do it. It was totally for getting my emotions out, and that’s why I kept going. I was originally going to stop after I’d been broken up with because I was like, "Well, there’s no point in this anymore." Then I listened back to what I had done, which was really just one little melody of one song and was like, "Maybe this could work." And so, I gave myself a deadline -- Valentine’s Day. I told everybody. I told everyone I went to school with. I told my parents. I told all these people. I was like, "I’m releasing something on February 14th! Valentine’s Day!" and I kind of didn’t believe myself. Like, I’m telling all these people, and I’m eventually going to have to tell them that it didn’t work out. But I set the deadline and actually followed through with it, and it felt great.

To circle back to your question, that’s when I realized this music thing isn’t just only about having fun with it. It can also be a tool for relieving a lot of my emotions -- getting them across. That’s why I started doing it more, to try and let my emotions come out through music.

You’re a big proponent of specifically destigmatizing mental illness in the black community. Why do you feel, in your experience, black men are more often scrutinized for suffering from mental and emotional anguish?

Well, I think it boils down to a lot of factors. Systemic racism, bigotry, and we’re taught from a young age to build this wall around ourselves because the world is already going to view us as less-than. So, yes, you’re taught, "Don’t forget. You’re gonna be a black man. You’re a boy right now, but you’re gonna be a black man." And in this country, in a lot of places, that’s very difficult. A lot of shit gets thrown at you, at any person of color. You get a lot of comments, a lot of things that just happen way too often.

So yeah, you’re taught to build this tough exterior. I think that when it comes to your own brain -- you fighting against yourself, I think that’s where a lot of people in the community start to see weakness because we’re so used to exterior forces I think. That notion of being at odds with yourself is maybe seen as a little bit weaker and less in control. So I think, ultimately, it may boil down to that. You’re kind of taught the whole ‘man-up’ kind of attitude -- taught that you can’t just sit there and cry about it because this is the world. You’re taught about the world really early. You figure out how weird it can be. You figure out that people hate you for no reason.

So then it’s an added layer when people hate you for no reason and then you hate yourself.

Exactly.

What would you say is your main goal with being so open about your mental health?

The main goal is just to talk about it until everybody is talking about it. I just want to normalize it. The more you talk about it openly. I want to normalize discussion of it, rather. I think the only way to do that is to keep talking, keep sharing. I don’t want to be just a dude who sings making music and not saying anything. That disturbs me -- to be given a voice to use and I feel like I have to use it. No matter how big or small that voice is or platform is. I just think it’s really important to talk about these things. If I could help somebody have an interest in getting help for their mental health, that’s a win.

It’s really great -- occasionally I get messages from people that are really beautiful. They tell me just how much me talking about it has helped. So it gives me a little more momentum to keep talking about it because I know that it’s helpful to a lot of people, and I know how it would be helpful to myself if I were listening to music and someone I really like is talking about what I was going through. I’d be really appreciative.

How do you believe we can all do a better job of understanding each other's mental and emotional health?

Just talking. I think talking to each in a civilized way. The reason it’s such a simple answer is I don’t think we’re doing that on any level. On any level. Politically, whatever. I don’t think we’re doing enough sitting down and talking and figuring things out. You can’t have change or movement without dialogue, and we’re losing our ability to have a civilized dialogue.

 


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.