WHO IS BOY EPIC?
Synesthesia is a state of consciousness where visuals fill the mind as a person listens to music. This concept is central to the work of the enigmatic Boy Epic, the noir-pop artist, who creates music so vivid that it transcends sound. And if you’re not born with the cognitive pathway to experience this, Boy Epic—who sees his songs before he writes them—will gallantly usher you down that road himself.
Take the single, “Trust,” from his debut EP, Everyone’s Strange. The song opens with ominous whistling, not unlike that from Kill Bill, then explodes into a percussive anthem that plays off his velvety vocals. “Lyrically, I was trying to show a person who’s been hurt so much that you wouldn’t hurt them,” he says. “It’s just like, ‘Break down your walls.’” But that is only half the song’s story. It soundtracks his Sin City meets Fight Club mini-movie—shadowed in shades of white, red, and gunpowder gray—where he wins that love he fights hard for, until it slips away.
His sleek, cinematic aesthetic has already amassed an organic-fan following in the form of Instagram and Twitter followers. The stark video for his wanton tribal-hymn “Fifty Shades” (inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey) has earned almost than 12 million YouTube views. And the throbbing, mercurial “Scars,” an ode to Suicide Squad, most recently landed in the trailer for ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Not bad for an elusive, stylish provocateur who manifested Boy Epic out of Dallas, Tex.
This is what we do know about Boy Epic. The name is seemingly arbitrary, lifted from a newspaper headline about a young boy’s accidental hot-air balloon adventure. Yet it also serves as an intriguing red herring to his unconventional childhood and the richly emotional work that resulted from it. “Boy Epic is my character,” he says. “I can always change his life in my videos. But there is always a lot of truth to the work I put into my character.”
His parents divorced when he was barely a year old, so he grew up in what he calls, “split worlds.” Bright ’80s synth-pop wafted through his mom’s house, willfully exorcising her personal and romantic hardships. In contrast, his father, a professional bowler, hung around a gritty crowd. “After bowling, they would go to the bar, play darts, and drink and smoke. Every time the Eagles would come on, they would sing along,” Boy Epic recalls. “I was in the back watching this, playing pool.” He was 13 years old.
His dad was less fatherly and more of a cool friend, taking the preteen to see revivals of films by directors such as Scorsese and Tarantino. Goodfellas, in particular, struck a chord. Says Boy Epic: “I wanted to be just like them. I mean, I didn’t want to murder people or sell drugs. I just wanted their lingo. I mimicked what they said, and it formed my accent. That’s why I don’t sound like I’m from Texas.”
After a health setback, his father’s spirit died. “He’s given up on life,” explains Boy Epic. “All the heartache my family has gone through—that has inspired me the most. I feel like I have a responsibility to people who listen to my music to talk about the dark feelings they may be feeling. Hopefully, they’ll get through them, too.”
Navigating through grim realities and the urge to surmount them became the theme of Everyone’s Strange. “It’s the Inception-Christopher Nolan dream within a dream within a dream concept.” For instance, “Wolf,” a triumph of both ethereal minimalism and contemplative R&B, is, he says, “about self-hate. Constantly wanting more and more. Accepting defeat.” The video is act 2 of the thrilling-then-bleak “Trust” story, an out-of-body vantage point of his comatose paramour.
“There is definitely a lot of truth to the work I put into my character,” he says. The three-story arc driving Everyone’s Strange recounts the impact he’s seen of drugs on people. The glitchy, seductive “3 AM,” a nod to the erotica of Eyes Wide Shut, completes the narrative. It has yet to be shot, but expect it to get mind-trippingly sci-fi in the way it mingles fact with fiction.
“I look at songs like movies. I think about storyboards, the climax—visualizing what my character might go through or who he might be going through it with,” he says of his songwriting process. “The movie works its way through my mind as I write lyrics.” Even his live show is filmic: Boy Epic, before a white screen, his band artfully in silhouette behind him.
Growing up, Boy Epic taught himself the guitar and the piano. “My aunt was the Fort Worth symphony director. When I was a kid, she’d sit me down on the piano bench next to her as she played. It was so mesmerizing,” he says. “Piano, to this day, remains my favorite instrument. Even though I don’t play it very well….” A shy teen, he dabbled in pop-punk and emo, but really identified with indie artists who were storytellers. “I wanted to write songs and put people in an emotional place where they could visualize their own movie with my lyrics.”
For Everyone’s Strange, Boy Epic collaborated with producer Jason Evigan (Maroon 5, Kehlani, 30 Seconds to Mars). No songwriting experience was the same. “Trust” began with a synth hook from Jason. “Wolf” was flushed out from a melody in Boy Epic’s head. And the EP’s fourth song, the industrial-funk slow jam “Kanye’s in My Head,” was born of its beat. “I thought, ‘This isn’t normal. What am I gonna write about? So I thought about my generation and how fucked up it is, but also how great it is,” he says. “Who’s the modern rock star? Kanye West has that ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude.”
The video is its own entity, an intermission of sorts from the EP’s “Trust-Wolf-3AM” trilogy. “It was very much a timepiece for me. The American flag represents how the world is falling apart. I spray-painted ‘Kanye’ over the flag, because people are losing control,” he says. “When Kanye is in my head, I lose control.”
Only, in reality, Boy Epic rarely loses sight of the game. “I’m heavily involved in everything in the studio. I do not leave the room, ever,” he says. “I don’t like the idea of people writing songs for me, because I would lose who I am.” He even directs and edits his own videos, which he learned via YouTube tutorials. “Basically, I’m using my music videos as a resume until the day comes that I have time to audition for a movie,” he says. “I have a body of work now.”
As hands-on as Boy Epic can be, once his job is complete, he finds it deeply satisfying to set his work out into the ether for interpretation. And that is where synesthesia comes in. “Not everybody is going to listen to my music through my videos,” he says. “It’s important to me that when you hear a song, you can see something in your mind.”
This even applies his mom, who initially saw darkness. “My music disturbed my her at first. She used to ask me, ‘Why is everything you do so depressing? And I’d say, ‘Because there are a lot of depressed people in the world, and I’m trying to help them.’ But now she totally gets it. ‘I’m good, mom. If anything, this makes me normal.’ This is very therapeutic for me. I hope it is for others, too.”