Q&A with Tunde Olaniran

Tunde Olaniran. Photo courtesy The Best Mgmt.

WRBB’s Julia Spada caught up with Flint’s very own Tunde Olaniran. Here’s what they had to say. See Tunde perform at Cafe 939 on Monday, May 13!


For our listeners who aren’t super familiar with your work could you give us a overview of your music and your sound?

Tunde: I’m a performing artist and songwriter living in Flint, Michigan. I make pop and dance music that is kind of experimental, and I use all kinds of elements in it. I love to sample and I love to bring our music to life on stage. So we do a lot of dancing and fun costumes. It is very colorful and dynamic whether you are listening to it or watching it on stage.

That’s actually a perfect segway into the next set of questions that we wanted to ask you! You’re going on tour in the coming weeks, and you will be at Cafe 939 which is not to far from our campus here at Northeastern. You’re known to have awesome live performances especially with regards to the costumes and the choreo. Can we look forward to that on this tour as well? And what inspires your to do things like this on tour?

It’s funny! My first time writing music was in a rock band, and we played a lot in Flint. When you’re playing in a bar, you’re not competing but you have to get people’s attention and entertain them to get them to buy into what you’re doing. So I started in that realm which made it more like we wanted to make it worth someones while. So that they would turn around and watch what is happening on stage. I love dancing, and I love movement in general. I thought ‘Man I’d love to not have to rely on, show to show, how much fun I’m going to have on stage. Let’s just always have a fun party on stage.’ No matter is there is two people or a thousand people, we just always want to be having a good time, and I think that is rubs off on the audience. It’s not selfish… but I always want to know that I’m going to have fun when ever we perform. I think that turned into costume changes, choreo, and interludes. It’s not theatrical but there definitely is a lot of stuff happening, and I like to make it really interesting to watch.

What are you most excited about for your upcoming tour?

I’ve never been to a lot of the cities. So I’ve never been to Boston. You know I’ve done east coast stuff a lot but it has never been Boston. I feel really really excited to see a few new cities. I’ve never performed in Toronto. I’m having my first headlining show in LA which is really exciting and nerve wracking. It is lots of firsts. We just toured with Years and Years, a really amazing band from the UK, and we did the east coast with them. So I am excited about some of the folks from that show to come and see us again because his audience is all so sweet and loving. It’s new but I’m also hoping to see some familiar faces.

You grew up in Flint but also lived in Europe for some time. Did growing up in such different places influence your music or your style?

I think so! I think that a lot of people have different situations where they can relate to being a little isolated. For me, I always was in a situation where I felt like the odd person out. Whether you’re the only black person or, even with my dad’s family who are Nigerian, I was the only American one, or if I was the only one who didn’t speak German when we lived in Germany. So I would turn to music and movies a lot to keep myself company and to make up my own fun world. That turned into fantasy novels and comic books. I think all of those influenced the sounds and the visuals, the costuming and the album artwork. It all goes back to the things that kept me feeling safe or entertained. I feel like we all have loneliness but you do find that song or that movie or that character that you really relate to. I’m always thinking about some of those things when I’m writing or performing live.

We want to talk about your album Stranger that came out in October. Could you tell us a little bit about the album?

Stranger was a follow up to my debut album called Transgressor, and I think Transgressor was about breaking through boundaries. That was the feel. Stranger is like here is how you can get to know me or we can get to know each other. I don’t have to be a Stranger. We are very quick to separate ourselves in all kinds of ways. I think difference and diversity is actually beautiful and super important. But I do feel like some of these divides are really intentionally set up to keep us apart. That is some of the feeling of Stranger and the title track, Stranger. I really felt like the human voice is such an interesting thing. And I wanted to see what I could do with my voice. I do a lot of production but really I was trying to figure out how certain harmonies could make me feel certain ways and certain phrases connect with people emotionally. I also wanted to make sure, if you listen to the album, that there is no way someone could listen and not have one song that they really connect with. That was my goal for that record.

Did you feel any pressure going into your second album because of the success of your first? How did you deal with making the second one?

I did a little bit. It took almost two years to write Stranger. My song, Namesake, had been so successful, and I think I was trying to fit a formula of song writing because it can pay you well to have a song that is in every commercial. I did catch myself trying to play into a formula. I had to go back and reconstruct or kind of take apart some of those choruses to be like “No. You’re trying to force it into being this but really the song wants to be something else”. Stranger was me fighting the urge to try to continue having success like I had with a song like Namesake. I think that I’m happier with the songs as they are. It’s interesting when you’re an independent artist, I am not on a label at all, things take time. If you compare yourself to someone like Billie Eilish for example. Billie Eilish had millions of dollars for marketing and her videos have a quarter of a million dollar budget. You have to think about how you have time, social media, and your own voice on your side. You have to yourself grace and time to let something cook. It took two years for Namesake to catch on so I had to remind myself and let other artist know to be patient if you don’t have the big marketing budget. It takes time to really let something grow and for people to catch on to it. So that’s what I’m letting happen with Stranger. Like I’m Here has been something that has caught folks from the video and also the track. I’m starting to see which songs are growing a little bit more with audiences.

We’re going to some quick, low-pressure lightning round questions. Just some fun stuff, like the first thing that comes to your mind, are you ready?

I am ready.

What is your favorite thing in your closet right now?

Probably these platform nude-colored boots and they’re awesome. They’re scary to walk in, but they’re really cool.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Success is like a musical scale. If you only sing ‘mi, mi, mi’ you’ll never get to the ‘do’.” It’s a little cheesy but it’s really funny. Like you have to give and be giving and think about other people and that brings a lot back to you.

What is the background of your phone right now?

It scares everyone, it’s a wooden cat with a blonde cat wig on. It is a wig made for cats. One of my friends is a costume theater designer and she also has a cat and the cat has wigs. She also has a wooden cat model to model the wigs and we have a very involved backstory about the cat, who’s name is Antoni. Consistently people are like freaked out by the background so I like keeping it on there because it freaks people out.

What’s something that’s on your bucket list?

I would love to go to Morocco. A friend is living there right now, and her family is there, so I want to visit it at some point.

Who are you listening to right now?

I’m probably obsessed with Rico Nasty’s “Cheat Code” and J Balcin and Rosalía’s “Con Altura.”

What is your favorite TV show?

I’m almost through the second season of “Sabrina” in Netflix. I’m saving “Game of Thrones” until after tour just because it’ll be my reward for making it through tour. I muted a lot of words on Twitter, gotta avoid those spoilers.

If you could have a superpower what would be?

It would have to be telekinesis, I mean Jean Grey. I’m all about that Jean Grey life.

Just a couple of last questions before we end this interview about your future as an artist, where do you want to go next?

Career-wise, I’m trying to delve more into film and I’ve been getting more introduced to the fine art world. I’d love to do a larger scale art installation maybe with a gallery of museum. Just something that’s scary and out of my comfort zone, I feel like those things always bring stuff that you would never do it you stay comfortable. I’m trying to figure out how that would work but I think maybe in the next year I’ll have some kind of gallery showing. That’s definitely on the list.

Just as a last thing, is there anything you want to tell our listeners before we go?

Hydrate, stretch. Don’t come being shy, you’re there to dance and have a good time. Don’t care what people think of you, don’t care how you look, just come and have a good time and enjoy yourself. We’re gonna dance and probably be sweaty.

Thanks for coming on the show and talking to us. It was so great to hear about your background and your music, and we’re looking forward to seeing you in Boston on the 13th!

Thank you, I really appreciate it, it was a lot of fun. Take care y’all. I’ll see you soon!

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