Tylan Greenstein made a name for herself through five albums and ten years touring with award-winning folk-pop quartet Girlyman, but now she's striking out on her own. Her debut solo album, One True Thing, reveals a more mature, thoughtful Tylan (who's also dropped her last name for her solo effort). Tylan funded the album through a successful Kickstarter campaign, where her fans helped her raise nearly $50,000 in just 30 days.
And now Tylan's fans — and the rest of the world — can finally get up close and personal with the out singer/songwriter, as One True Thing hits stores and digital venues June 18 (pre-order a signed copy of the album here). And you can see the thirty-something songstress in person when she launches a tour to promote the record this fall.
Get a sneak preview of the latest single, "Love Then," off that album below, then keep reading to find a SheWired exclusive interview with the out crooner about going solo, finding her own voice, and surviving the seismic shifts that have taken place in her life recently, which also inspired her new record.
SheWired: Your album is lovely. It's rather somber, though. What sets this album apart from other records you've done with Girlyman, most recently Supernova?
Tylan: Well, let's see... I don't even know where to start with this one! [Laughs] Working with Girlyman, there were three of us who were songwriters, and actually, you really got three different songwriting styles on our records, I think people really liked that. With this record, I've written all of the songs — except for one that was co-written [with fellow Girlyman Nate Barofsky — "St. Stephen"] — so you're getting a lot more of my style, and you're also getting a product of the last couple years of my life, which have just been - you're supposed to have your Saturn return when you're in your late twenties, but I seem to be having mine now! [Laughs] So I've had a very tumultuous period and I think that that is always going to funnel its way into my work. Now, you're saying it's somber. I wouldn't exactly say it's somber, but I would say it's very personal, and I think a very intimate album.
On that note, what are some of the difficulties or struggles that you're revealing with this album?
For me, at least, [songs are] always a mix of my personal experience and my training in writing fiction. At best, it's a more universal kind of story. But in terms of my own life, over the past year, I have several areas of my life that either evaporated or changed completely, including a relationship. I was in a relationship for over a decade.
Yeah, for a really long time. And that relationship shifted, and we're still very close friends, but, you know, we had a house together and it was really a marriage. So that relationship, in that form, ended, and then Girlyman decided to take this hiatus, and I've been touring with Girlyman for also over a decade. And that happened around the same time, and there's other close relationships in my life that either just disappeared or shifted radically; my financial situation shifted; I moved across the country. Basically it was just... the positive way to look at it is just a complete life makeover. But when that happens it's a lot, you know? And usually when that happens, I think it's really unexpected. Just really a reminder that we have no control over what happens to us in our lives from the outside. I mean, obviously we have personal authority over what we do, but in terms of the bombing in Boston, I think it's an example of that. People came to run a marathon and something else happened. So you could say that it was my own personal supernova that happened.
So you said that your relationship had shifted. How do you identify in terms of relationship status these days?
I'm in another relationship.
OK. And on that same note, how do you identify along the LGBT spectrum and along the gender identity spectrum?
You know, I get asked that a lot, and I think I probably have a different answer every time. [Laughs] I think the easiest way to say I identify is queer. I'm exclusively with women and in terms of gender, I would say that I sometimes identify as genderqueer. I'm definitely masculine-of-center. I identify as a tomboy — there's lots of different ways to describe it. But I think it's also kind of shifted a bit. It's a spectrum.
I totally agree. I think that the push to have folks define themselves in concrete terms doesn't necessarily reflect how humans actually experience the world.
Yeah, I always have this feeling of slight panic when I get asked that. Like, "uh oh!" It's hard, I think, to kind of put yourself in a box these days.
Definitely. And in knowing that you self-identify as queer, what about that identity resonates for you, personally?
Oh, what a good question. [Laughs] I mean, I could easily identify as a lesbian, I guess. But because of my gender identity that doesn't feel quite right. I definitely don't identify as a feminine person, so I just feel like queer has a way of — not exactly washing over all of that — but it covers a lot of ground. And I think it covers some of that ambiguity that can exist from day to day, or from person to person that you're dating, so I really like that. I've always liked that word. And I like the reclaiming of what could be seen as a derogatory word.
This is now a way to describe myself and I'm proud of it.
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As you should be! So you talked about how your style is masculine-of-center, and how you embrace some genderqueer identities. What has that been like for you to be a masculine-of-center woman in the folk community? Because it seems like that community and the music there tends to play into more rigid gender stereotypes.
Yeah, it's interesting. I think back when Girlyman started, it was even more rigid than it is today. You need to see more examples of a wider gender spectrum up there, even within the folk music community. But it's interesting because I do think that if you're not presenting as very conventional for a female person — not presenting entirely as feminine — there's a tendency to want to push you into a niched category. So now you're not a singer-songwriter, you're a queer artist.
If you're of an older generation or of a certain mindset, I think what happened there was that people would come to the shows, somehow they'd sit there and they'd realize, that this is not just queer music, but really good music! These are real songs, and real people. So I think, for me, if I had any frustration around it, it's just that sort of categorizing and sort of pigeon-holing that can happen.
I've actually had a really good reception. Folk audiences are not all queer, there's lots of different kinds of people. I think it's really important for queer people to see themselves represented on stage; I'm absolutely happy to see that and I'm absolutely happy to do that, to be a part of that... I do think people's minds are opening more about it.
I totally agree, I think that that's what's been happening. What has it been like to be in that community? I would argue that genderqueer clothing is actually becoming trendy. It's like androgyny is a fashion statement now, whereas queer folks have been doing that for decades. Does that feel like appropriation by the mainstream community, or does it feel like acceptance, from the perspective of someone who has presented on that end of the spectrum for a long time?
I actually think it's really exciting. I think that the younger generations now are exploding convention at an astonishing rate. There's not the divisions that there used to be. Obviously they still exist — there's still discrimination, there's still homophobia, there's still transphobia — I mean, all these things exist. At the same time, you see people, like Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow on TV, and here are these masculine-presenting women who are wearing suits and ties on the television. And I think that does have an influence. Yes, it's becoming a part of the larger culture, but I don't think necessarily in a bad way. I feel like there's been a couple clothing companies, actually, that have sprung up in the last year, maybe a year and a half, that are geared toward tomboys, basically, or androgynous people, people who can't find clothes. I'm one of those people. And I think that's really positive. I think it's great that it's being recognized that not every female-bodied person wants to wear the same clothes, for example. So, you could see it as appropriation but I don't really see it that way.
Some of the lyrics in your new album are quite revealing, especially in "Fool Me Again." Can you tell me more about what inspired that song, and what it's about?
Yeah, obviously I'm not going to tell you who it's about... [Laughs]
It's for that experience when a person just disappoints you so tremendously, and you give them chance after chance after chance, and then you just reach this point where you're done. The idea for writing this song was like, looking objectively at this person, this person can do whatever they want. They can do A, B, C, D, E, F, all the way down to Z. But what they can't do is fool me again. They can't do that. Because now I know. So that was kind of the original idea of the song. So you go ahead and do these things, and you're not going to fool me.
But I think the thing that makes it worthwhile for me to sing, and interesting for me to sing, is that it has this defiance about it [but] there's also a lot of vulnerability. The person being sung about isn't even a mere person. There's kind of this [feeling that] "You are magnificent and everybody sees it and you can't fool me again," and even in that there's an "Oh, shit, maybe you can." So I tried to get all that through the song, go through the lyrics and the way that I sing it. It's defiance, but it's not just defiance, there's a softness about it.
That absolutely comes through. Speaking of defiance, what prompted you to go solo?
I had wanted to make a solo album for a long time, and at some point last year, when Girlyman started talking about taking some time off the road because we had just been touring nonstop for years — I mean, years and years and we were exhausted. Doris had been through cancer, we were having financial issues... So as we started to talk about that, I realized, "This could be a really good opportunity to focus on this project that I've wanted to do." And I've had a lot of songs that I haven't been able to record, because I only get a few songs on each Girlyman album. But I think my songs — they're not Girlyman songs, they're not really cut out for three-part harmony. So that was my original impetus to make the CD, and it just turned into a much bigger project than I ever thought it would be. At first it was just, "I'll make the CD and see what happens," and I became really consumed by it, in a good way. Creatively, it's just a really amazing experience.
Well, it seems like your fans agree with you, seeing that your Kickstarter campaign earned double your stated goal. Do you feel any pressure from that to not disappoint your backers or to really come through because this is kind of a crowd-sourced album?
I have, at various times. When the Kickstarter went that high — I mean, it was almost $47,000 by the time it was done — on the one hand, I thought, '"Oh my god, what a mandate to make this album! I can really do this, and I can really put the resources in to make it an extraordinary album." And, of course, at various times during recording, I thought, "Oh, god, what if people don't like it?" "What if" this, or "what if" that. You can't please everyone. I'm sure there's some people who got the CD and were like, "Oh, this wasn't really what I wanted," or "It's not a Girlyman album!" or whatever people expected, but for the most part I've gotten really great feedback from it, and I think people appreciate how much of myself I've put into it.
I think that absolutely comes through. We're seeing an increasing number of artists go the crowdsourcing route, reaching out directly to their fans to fund their albums. Do you think that's going to have an influence on the music industry, or do you believe it has already?
I do think it has. In the past, if you were an independent artist, you really had to put it on a credit card and go into debt, or you had to have a family member with a lot of money. People made their albums as best they could, but just having a way to directly go to your fans and say, "If you want this music you can have it, and if you're willing to throw a few bucks behind it, I can get this to you," it's a really amazing contract. It's a different kind of contract, you know. It used to be the contract between the artist and the record company, and now it's so many people — people between the artists and the fans, which I think is very positive.
I think that's something that the music industry was suffering from before the advent of the Internet or even early days of the Web — feeling like you couldn't connect with the artist whose music you wanted to connect with with so badly.