Two Feet Unpacks the Rich Stylings and Sentiments of His Debut Album ‘Pink’
Bill Dess, who records under the moniker Two Feet, broke into the industry via the humble route of Soundcloud, and promptly created a buzz with a viral video for his single “Go Fuck Yourself.” The song eventually went platinum, and in no time, Dess was signed, and releasing music with alacrity, dropping a new EP each year, for a triptych culminating in 2018’s “A 20 Something Fuck.” The title was a harbinger of themes explored on Dess’ highly anticipated debut full-length “Pink,” an album that draws inspiration from real memories, and examines them through the lens of time past, exploring the curiosities of time itself.
A true musical polymath, Dess began as a producer of beat-driven music. As he expanded his repertoire to full singer-songwriter fare, his origins have guided his aesthetic, with songs assuming form naturally from percussive skeletons, and fleshing out rhythmic intimations into ambitious, multidimensional tunes. The new album intersperses instant bangers with light, dreamy inclusions, and a couple of vignettes, making for easily Dess’ most thoroughly realized work yet. The songs are filled with exhilarating dynamic shifts, jolting EDM drops, flashes of classic rock prowess, and subtle jazz influences that impart both a certain cool and an elusive grandeur.
Dess spoke with Entertainment Voice and opened up about his artistic evolution and his latest work. He breaks down the various elements of his distinctive style, traces them back to their roots, expands on the mentalities and processes that shaped the new songs, and gives a comprehensive look into “Pink.”
You’ve had an envious success story, catapulting to the top through Soundcloud, and then releasing a series of critically acclaimed EPs. Having just released your debut full-length album, “Pink,” where do you feel you are in your artistic trajectory?
I feel like honestly I’m sort of at the end of the beginning. Through the past three EPs and especially this album, I figured out what I’ve done right. I figured out what I’ve done wrong. I definitely don’t think I’m anywhere near where my peak career creative life is yet. I’ve simply kind of figured out more what I want to make next, and solidified what I want to sound like, and honestly, the next album is going to be different than this one. I’ve already started writing it, and it’s definitely headed in a completely different direction. I sort of wrote this album, honestly, because of how it sounds in the live shows. A lot of these songs translate much better than some of my other stuff live, and I kind of wrote it from that standpoint, to make it cool for a live show. But the next album that I’m writing definitely is going to be a more songwriting-type vibe.
Your title track, “Pink,” explores the passage of time, and the fleeting nature of youth. With all the madness of recent years, it seems like time is passing by, and the world is changing, at a quicker pace than ever. Why do you think time seems to move faster as you grow older, and how do you deal with it?
I think there’s a scientific reason for that, right? Like the more time you have to base against, the shorter things change. I just think as you get older and older, your memories build, you have more to base it against, and time just flies by quicker. A year as a little kid seems like so much longer than a year as an adult.
My life definitely has seemed to move a lot quicker in the past four years since I put out my first music. I think it’ll be four years in August, officially. That song, and honestly a lot of the tracks on this album are just about me kind of looking back at my life, and creative life too, and just noticing how quick things change, and how quick things move — and not necessarily longing. Personally I’m excited about what I’m going to do creatively next, and I think it might have been a way for me to kind of let go of my past — things I was holding on to creatively, doing a lot of the same things over and over again etc. I think this album helps me kind of jump that hurdle.
There’s a type of suave, funk indulgence that makes its way into your sound often, and is especially notable in “BBY,” with a few scant, laconic lyrics carried by the expressive music. It fits the choice of a succinct acronym, “BBY.” What did you seek to express through this song?
That song, my band kept asking for a quick-paced song, like a house song almost, for the live show. Everyone wanted something like that for energy during the set at certain points, so that song was written purely for the live set. There was a time when we were just playing it in the live set, and I didn’t even plan on releasing it. It was just a cool thing in the middle of the show, and then obviously, it started reacting so well during our live shows, and so many fans were asking for it that I decided to release it and put it on the album. But yeah, that was just written so we could have a banger during the live set, and we actually open with that song because it kind of gets people up and going right away.
The songs on the album are interspersed with instrumental interludes, beginning with the introductory track, with its vaguely helicopter noises building into pure funk, and tracks with such priceless titles as “Felt Like Playing Guitar and Not Singing, Pt. 2.” Shed some light on the significance of such tracks.
I guess it’s because I always like albums that seem like a piece in themselves, rather than just a collection of singles. When I just had a bunch of singles that I was planning to release, it kind of bored me listening to them back to back. I really like random instrumental tracks in albums. Frank Ocean does that a lot. The R&B and hip-hop guys do that a lot, and I’ve always felt it makes an album feel way more of a piece than if you just had song, song, song, song, song.
The R&B and hip-hop influence isn’t especially conspicuous in your music. Who are some of the figures that have made a mark?
Yeah, you can’t really hear it at all in my music. (Laughs) Frank Ocean, obviously, hugely influential. Miguel is amazing. I like Jeremih a lot. Certain Drake songs are super orchestral and instrumental, if you do a deep dive.
Your song “You?” effectively captures the raging chaos that can stem from a heated interaction, with lyrics like, “I’m twisting and turning / This room here is burning,” and blasts of distorted guitars, post-dubstep bass drops, and all the rest. How did you make the lyrics and sonics fit so naturally?
I’ve always been into that loud-quiet dynamic, you know, Pixies, Nirvana, all the way up through electronic. Modern dance music is based on drops, or at least it has been for a while, and it’s kind of the same thing. It’s always been in my nature to make stuff that starts chill, and hits something hard. I really like points of drama in music. I don’t like songs that kind of just go along, without anything dramatic happening. Sometimes they can be cool, but other times, they’re boring. I usually write the lyrics after the vibe of the song is done, so that’s just kind of the way I was feeling at the time. That’s where they sprung out of, just the mood of the song itself.
In “44 Lies,” you repeat the refrain of “Wherever you go / Wherever you need me” over a haunting, droney backdrop, giving a sense of crazed, desperate infatuation. It’s as if the minimalism helps convey the severity of the sentiment. Did you have this synergy in mind?
Yeah, definitely, I kind of wanted that song to just flow but still build to something, so as you see, in the last chorus, there’s a lot more elements. There’s that really high, plucky guitar and synth, and the backing vocals come in, and more percussive effects come in, and it’s kind of just a long build. I’ve always been into songs like that. Since I was a little kid, I really liked “Bolero.” It keeps building the entire time, pretty much. It’s a Ravel song
“44 Lies” just came from — I made this really cool sound on my synth, and started flexing around with it. Just wanted something simple with a 4/4 beat, and emotional, because I find repetition — and also when you add little mutations of the repetition, as the song goes along — can be super emotional and super ear-catching if you sit and just kind of let it happen to you.
On a related note, you began making beat music, and transitioned into something closer to singer-songwriter fare. How do you think that background has informed your sound and approach, in general?
Hugely. Always, as a singer-songwriter, I rarely write a song just on piano or guitar. I actually, weirdly enough, usually write it either when the music is kind of already done, or if there’s a beat. I can write a song just over just a drum beat too, but I can’t just do it with a guitar and vocals, for whatever reason. I can do it, but then I record it, and I’m like, “Oh, this isn’t super good,” and I end up changing a bunch of elements of it, and stuff like that. It’s the way I learned how to songwrite. Everyone has their own way of doing it. Since I came up from production, it definitely stems from that first.
You revealed, in a YouTube comment about your song “Lost the Game,” that you like uploading songs when they’re fresh with the energy that you put into them, undiluted and raw, but that you often end up pressured by label dictates to hold off until further refining. How much of an issue is this to you, and have you figured out any solution
It’s a pretty big issue with me, but I think the solution I’ve come up with is just that I kind of have no choice. I sort of have to just be patient because a lot of times, you do kind of fuck yourself up, and as an artist in a world like this, you have to have people on your team who want to support you, and you don’t anger. Otherwise, you could just end up harming yourself. Once a song is done, I’m just teaching myself to forget about it, instead of having it constantly be in my head, and that’s helped with it — kind of just meditate. It’s been a learning process for me to be able to do that without freaking out, but I’m definitely getting better at it. It’s one of weirdest forms of torture that a creative person has. It’s crazy.
Songs like “Grey” seem to exemplify the disparate influences that characterize your sound — brief, vaguely classic rock guitar licks, droney, hi-fi EDM edge, hushed, sentimental vocals. Trace these sounds back to their roots, without overthinking.
The guitar licks come from the music I listened to as a kid, definitely. I listened to a lot of rock and stuff. The electronic elements come from the fact that growing up and starting a project in New York City was really hard for me to get together with a band, so I just did a lot of the instrumentation myself, which slanted toward that electronic-ey sound. It’s out of necessity. And then the beats and a lot of the droning comes from things I’ve found that I really like in hip-hop music. You know, I used to make beats for people as a side gig too. In a lot of hip-hop beats, there’s a lot of droning synth work, and staying in a very minimal, melodic zone. That’s kind of where all those sounds come from. And the hushed vocals come from — I had like a three year long jazz phase, where I really liked, like, cool jazz, like Chet Baker and stuff like that. I sort of have always been into quiet vocals. I’m not super into belting voices or anything like that.
You have a jazz background, and you show it in rather subtle ways, without the ostentatious type of fare that has come to characterize artists of that bent. How did jazz influences shape and make their way into your sound?
Other than the singing, which is obviously a large part of it, the textures in the recorded music. A lot of it happened by accident, but they remind me of a lot of things that people try to replicate now in certain pop music. If you listen to a lot of old jazz records, there’s a really huge openness to them, where they take up the whole spectrum of the speakers. It almost feels like you’re in the room. I think that really translated to my production I like hearing that mixed with clean, electronic sounds. I’ve always liked hearing textures. In “Go Fuck Yourself,” there’s a ton of textures in it. And a lot of my music is kind of wide, spaced out, and definitely, that was largely influenced by jazz music, just because the spectrum is so wide.
Who are some of the jazz musicians that especially shaped your sound?
Bill Evans, Duke Ellington — fucking amazing. And then Chet Baker. And then for guitar, largely, I spent probably like six months of my life just learning a fuckload of Wes Montgommery stuff too. The guitar doesn’t sound like that anywhere else.
Your songs switch between tracks with striking dynamic shifts and jarring sound candy to more atmospheric, hazy numbers with an almost shoegaze type of trancelike ambience, with “Maria” quite representative of the latter category. Considering the straightforward lyrics, “Maria Maria, I tell ya I need ya,” it seems like the product of spontaneity. How did the concept make its way into the song?
I wrote and produced that song, aside from getting some additional tom fills and hi hats, in an hour and forty-five minutes — like the whole thing, from beginning to end. So a lot of that spontaneity, and the straightforwardness of the lyrics, is because I did it so quickly. I didn’t deep dive and try to overcomplicate the lyrics, or anything like that. I kind of spat it out.
Finally, why did you decide to call your debut album “Pink?”
Honestly, that song is called “Pink” because when I approached the guitar solo aspect of it, I came to it as if I wanted to kind of make something that sounded like if David Gilmour made something with an electronic musician (Laughs). So I just named it “Pink” because the last half of that song was heavily influenced by Pink Floyd. A lot of my music is actually, especially my guitar playing — at least in the live shows, not so much in the recordings. That was the first song I wrote for the album, and I called it “Pink,” and it kind of set the mood for a lot of the other songs on the album, so I just felt like I should follow through with the whole thing.
That’s interesting, as Pink Floyd themselves found their name by casually looking to influences, much like you did. They simply combined the names of two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Wow, that’s funny (Laughs). That’s actually really wild.
“Pink” is available March 13 on Apple Music.