It’s not everyday someone mistakes you for Flying Lotus. While everyone was busy tweeting April Fool’s jokes and Google revealed their annual prank, someone over at Pretty Much Amazing decided it would be hilarious (it was) to showcase the “new Flying Lotus MP3.” Despite the enthusiastic reception, the track was a red herring—belonging not to Flying Lotus but rather to rising producer Devante Tillis. “When people thought I was him, they were like, ‘This is the best shit ever!’ And when they found out it was me, they thought, ‘Well, this is decent enough, I suppose…’,” he said.
As SELA., Tillis crafts understated, complex melodies. Listening to them, one would never expect them to be the work of an 18-year-old sitting in his bedroom. More surprising is how long Tillis has actually been working on his musical endeavors. “March makes seven months,” he said. “I just checked the calendar.” Not bad for someone who blog readers mistook for one of L.A.’s most esteemed music producers.
Though he may not enjoy the rabid following that Flying Lotus has, Tillis is a reputable producer in his own right. His beats have attracted the attention and admiration of several notable producers, including the prolific Ryan Hemsworth, Main Attrakionz‘s go-to beat guru Friendzone, and more recently, ASAP Mob. “[ASAP Pat] added me on Facebook, and he was like, ‘I like your beats. You should try to do something for Rocky.’ I was like, ‘Wow. That’s some shit.’ ”
Tillis sits down with Prefix to talk music, Tumblr culture and chatting with hip hop producers.
Your moniker “SELA.” is especially hard to Google. Where does it come from?
I used to do graffiti, for fun. I was never into the whole, “I’m going to waste a bunch of money on paint and go vandalize something so people get to paint over it.” I was working on my handstyle, and, SELA. I really liked the way the letters looked.
The meaning? I honestly have no idea. I should probably look it up. [Laughs] I’m going to go the translator thing right now and see what it means. [Pauses] I just looked it up, and it means “Between” in Indonesian. Pretty cool.
You’ve only been making music for a couple of months now. What got you started?
I had FL Studio on my computer for the longest time, and I didn’t use it because I didn’t ‘get it’. The fact that you were supposed to use different patterns for different sequences of sounds. I was confused when the different channels overlapped into each other.
Then this one day, I opened it, and thought to myself, “I’m going to do this.” I took a [Duster] sample, chopped it up, and it just happened. I clicked something and went, “That’s how it works? Damn.”
So I cut the stuff up, put the sounds onto different channels, sequenced it out, put it in a playlist, and exported it. Afterward, I made the four songs for Be Fair over the course of a week. One a day.
(See) 1993 was a huge jump from where everything was choppy to where, you know, I was happy with it. I was like, “this is somewhat representative of what I want my music to be.” Specifically the songs “MILES” and “MANWITHPENIS.”
I feel like, if I wasn’t so overly critical on my own shit, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I look back, and I can’t believe it’s only been a few months. When the Ghost Reporter thing happened, I was like, 90% happy with that. I’m trying. Been trying forever.
“Early” I didn’t like initially. The original song is much faster. The version that everybody hears is actually a pitched-down version. I don’t know whether to call it an aura or what, but it just sounds much better this way. People say I have a “sound”, and I don’t think I’ve really found my ‘sound’ yet, but I know the direction I want to go in. At this point, I’m sitting in my room, not doing anything because I don’t have the money to do anything. I’m stuck. So I started making songs. What of college?
You mentioned something earlier about art school.
I live in California, in the Bay Area—Vallejo–and all the schools I’d want to go to are Art Schools. And, I don’t I have $100,000. I don’t have grants. I don’t have family to help me out with things. I looked at some scholarships after high school, and it’s not what they cracked it up to be. It was literally, like, “If you’re a Puerto Rican missing a leg, we’ll give you $10,000.” It was a lot of really random things. Or, you had to have like a 3.8 GPA, which was definitely not the case for me. Here, nobody really has the money for school, so it just kind of never really happened. College. I know I really need to do it, but…the money.
Maybe some money will come your way soon. I understand you’ve been chatting with Friendzone?
It’s funny. They followed me on Twitter, and we’ve been in the same Facebook group for awhile. They told me that they like my music, specifically Dylan. I made some post on Facebook about being in Vallejo, and they were like, “We’re in Oakland!” Not even an hour away, it’s across the bridge. It kind of grew, support-wise. They were like, “Your shit is dope,” and I’m like, “I’ve been listening to your stuff for a minute.” I was like, “How the fuck did you hear my music? How did this happen?” [Laughs] That was pretty weird.
Ryan Hemsworth told me that he liked my stuff, and included it in one of his mixes. A playlist thing for a blog. I thought that was cool. And Dream Collabo. He heard my music through SmackDaHoe, had followed me on Tumblr, and eventually got in contact with me. He told me, “I was bumpin’ Ghost Reporter in the whip with Mondre. He said he liked your shit.” So I sent him a beat, and he told me yesterday, “When you sent it, I listened and thought it was dope. I told [Mondre] and he didn’t even listen to it, because he knew it was going to be good. [Mondre] said to put it in the catalog.” I went, “Fuck. What can you really say to that? Shit.” [Laughs] It’s hella flattering. That’s so crazy.
So I take it you spend a lot of time on Tumblr?
Not so much anymore. Tumblr culture! Jesus Christ, man. You got people collecting jars of period blood. Like, have you seen that? The whole period culture? They’re trying to romanticize period blood. “It’s a symbol of my womanhood.” And they’re really serious. This girl put period blood on as lipstick.[Laughs] The Internet. Even when I was in 10th grade and Twitter was just getting big, back when everyone was saying, “You need to get a Twitter. You need to get a Facebook.” Even then, I had the same opinion that I do today. So, you go on here and you’re just like, “I’m walking. I’m walking my dog. I’m taking a shit. I’m breathing.”
I know people on Tumblr and blogs like to pin the ‘Nostalgia’ card on you, but how would you describe your music to people who’ve never heard it before?
People are like, “This is really sad.” They take it at face value, I guess. To me, it’s really more in what’s being sampled. I find it more pretty than sad. It really trips me when you find these old bands who have so much talent, and they can evoke emotions. And people perceive it as sadness. To me, it sounds really nice. Really pretty, beautiful and dreamy. I find it more uplifting, or technical. Not, “This is so down tempo. This is so sad.” Well, some of it does sound sad. But for the most part, I find it pretty. People just take it however they take it.
Listen to SELA.’s latest, Men Have Secrets, But No Mystery