In 2015, Bill Dess’ life was practically indistinguishable from the many other starving artists. He was a 22-year-old cashier and Berklee College of Music dropoutwith a friend’s couch as a bed, and a microphone he had to tape to a wall as a recording booth. Then he released his songGo Fuck Yourselfas alternative rock artist Two Feeton Soundcloud at 3 A.M., went to sleep, and woke up famous.
In a matter of hours, the New York City native’s song garnered more than 4 million streams, and by the end of the day he had major labels courting him. “I was like is something wrong with the system?” Two Feet told Digital Trends. “I was in disbelief.”
Now he’s signed to Republic Records, a major label with a roster that includes The Weeknd, Post Malone, and Ariana Grande as artists. His latest singleI Feel Like I’m Drowning is currently at number 7 on the Top Alternative Songs chart on Billboard.
We spoke to Dess/Two Feet ahead of his first ever performance at Governors Ball Music Festival in his hometown of New York City, he explained how one song changed his life, his fear of a streaming service monopoly, and why you don’t need to go to music school to be a successful musician.
(Editor’s note: If the song title didn’t give it away, this interview is loaded with coarse language so be aware before proceeding.)
Digital Trends: Stories like yours don’t happen a lot. You went from relatively unknown to having your song Go Fuck Yourself reach 4 million plays on Soundcloud in a matter of hours. Drake doesn’t even do that. How did that happen?
Two Feet: I have no fucking clue [Laughs].
Walk me through that day when you saw the numbers keep going up.
I was like, “Is something wrong with the system?” [Laughs]. I was in disbelief. Then literally 12 hours, 24 hours after that you get major labels hitting you up. It was very quick, and I was like, “Alright, I guess we’re moving here. This is lit.”
What was the most regular thing you were doing the day before that happened that can illustrate how different your life changed in that one day?
I was working as a cashier. [Laughs] That’s about as regular as it could be. Getting a cup of coffee. Just a normal fucking day in my shitty little apartment. Changed pretty quick.
You know what’s agood recording and what’s good sound because you went to Berklee. How did that go and what did you learn from your time there?
One thing I learned is you don’t need to go to a music school to become a musician. Another thing I learned is there’s a lot of preconceptions, especially at academies of music, of what you’re supposed to make in order to become successful. How you are supposed to play. How much you are supposed to know before you go out in the music world. None of that is fucking true. You could know nothing and just have a good ear and know how to do your own thing and be fucking as successful as ever. I learned some basic shit I didn’t know, especially about recording. Fucking scales on my guitar and stuff like that. But, other than that, I personally advise anyone to not go to music school.
What was your recording setup like when you recorded your breakout song Go Fuck Yourselfcompared to now?
My recording setup before was like a very old version of Abelton that I got cracked from a friend. The shittiest microphone that I didn’t have a stand for, so I literally had to hold it in my hand. I would tape it to the wall. It was just a guitar, crappy microphone, and Abelton, and that’s it …that’s one reason it sounds, in a way, fucked. [Laughs] It was recorded badly, and it’s just [that] I didn’t have the equipment necessary to mix it. Soon as I got a check, I was like “Alright, I’m going to go buy like mad more stuff.” So, my studio is a lot more lit now than it was then.
You were raised by your dad, who was a taxi driver in Harlem. With that type of history, do you have any strong views about the impact companies like Uber and Lyft have on the taxi business? Was it inevitable that something new would come along?
Yeah, that’s fucking fucked. A couple of months ago a fucking taxi driver who was driving for 30 years shot himself in front of City Hall or something because they’re making such low wages. I mean the whole thing on that is fucked. My dad moved out of that pretty quickly when I was young, so he lost his connections to that pretty quick. But, my opinion is you know that whole thing is fucking disastrous. It’s sad. Now when I get Ubers, I always ask them, “What you do before this?” You get a lot of them are like, “We were fucking taxi drivers.” They were yellow cab guys switching over. That industry probably going to collapse soon.
You said in an interview that you ‘ve had a new project finished since September of last year. What’s the status on that? Are you working on anything new right now?
That is now a full-length album. I just fucking pumped them out. [Laughs]. I’m sitting on these songs. I come from the internet age, man, so I’m trying to put shit out the second I make it. But, now I’m with a label. I’m with a team. I’m with a wonderful team,actually, and are they’re like “Okay, Bill. Calm the fuck down. Just collect these songs and then we’ll put them out as an album.” So, right now it’s about 95 percent done. I’m super excited. Definitely the best piece of work I’ve done so far.
How will the album sound compared to songs like I Feel Like I’m Drowning and Go Fuck Yourself?
Drowning will be on the album. There’s a couple songs that are similar to Go Fuck Yourself, but it moved more in a more large-scale thing. The early shit is super DIY, like underground. This one is kind of a mix of both. I mean there are those songs on there that sound super lo-fi and shit, to keep up with the Soundcloud stuff.
You’re signed to Republic which is a division of Universal Music Group. What are the main advantages of being with a label versus doing your music guerilla style?
Yeah, well, it’s simple. Initially, if you have no money, and even if you’re putting out your own stuff, it can take months and months and months to get money which would’ve delayed the whole progress of me starting my career. I was very apprehensive about signing with a label. But, I met with some of them. Some of my guys have been artists on labels. My team is super good, super productive, and at the end the day, fuck it, they offer you a check with money, and you’ve never seen that much money ever — you’re going to take it. I needed money. I needed it to keep making art, keep making music. They offer you things that work out. I personally don’t think labels are dead. I think they went through a lot, but I think they’re kind of understanding, again, what’s happening and they’re definitely coming back on top from where they were. Three years ago, maybe I would’ve been like way more apprehensive to signing, but they’re starting to understand how the music industry is working again. Because it totally changed underneath them and they were fucking lost.
Yeah. Napster came and crushed the buildings.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. [Laughs] Oh yeah for so long. From 2004 to 2013 they were just fucking lost. But they’re definitely wrapping their heads around it. Like I said I’ve got people who are on my team who are really good. They totally understand where I came from. They’re younger. They get it.
One of the most important factors in that resurgence by the labels is the prominence of streaming in the music industry. Spotify removed R. Kelly’s music from playlists based on his personal allegations, and people in the industry wanted Spotify to change. As a group that gained success through streaming, what do you think Spotify’s decision and the subsequent reaction says about the power streaming services have over artists’ careers?
I mean, that’s a fucking complicated question. It’s fucking crazy. If they choose to remove them, I don’t know, because people can still choose to go listen to them. They didn’t take them off Spotify in general, so their fans can go back and listen to them. But, I personally feel like it’s probably not their prerogative to make decisions like that. But, that’s also an example of how strong their influence is over the fucking game. So, if they want to, and they don’t like someone, they can just pull them from everything. To me, that seems a little fucked. Yeah, that’s fucking crazy.
Do you think other streaming services will continue to grow, or will Spotify and Apple Music have a duopoly over the streaming market?
I think something is going to happen down the line where something does fucking monopolize everything. You know what I mean? It’s just inherent in the game we play, it’s inherent in capitalism. Something will end up conquering. Right now it’s Spotify. Amazon Music is starting to grow like crazy. At the end of the day, one of these guys is definitely going to be on top, for sure. It’s fucking crazy.
Which big artists have reached out to you since you’ve become famous and who is your dream collaboration?
A lot of bigger electronic artists have reached out to me like Kygo. He’s a friend of mine, and he’s reached out to work together, potentially. I got in a session with Marshmellow a bit ago. Yeah, he’s a friend. In terms of my dream collabs, I grew up listening to R&B and rap. So, I would love [to work with] Frank Ocean. That would be lit. Or, The Weeknd. Honestly I also fucking love Calvin Harris.I’m trying really hard to get like rappers on my shit. My stuff is heavy 808 beats. Especially some of my new stuff on the album is definitely suitable for a rapper. Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug.
What is something that you wish could be invented that would make your job of making music easier, that you wish existed?
Honestly, I wish I had a way where I could enter my guitar into a midi, which I think they do, but it kind of still sucks at this moment. Just easier ways of sampling live instruments into real beats than they have now. The way I do it on Ableton is sort of antiquated. If they had just more and more interesting ways where I can figure out how to get live elements into my fucking songs, that’s something that I would totally hop on in two seconds.