Last year, choosing a Song of the Summer was a challenge we couldn’t anticipate. Music, unlike the rest of the world, did not stop, but how we interacted with songs was infinitely different. How do you soundtrack your summer when clubs are closed and no one is twerking over your brunch? With summer shenanigans resuming, the race for Song of the Summer is in full effect and 25-year-old Capella Grey has put forth a worthy contender.
“When I’m in the studio, I’m just producing like a DJ,” he tells me. “So, instead of trying to formulate a hook or a bridge, I’m trying to create a moment.”
“Gyalis,” which blends the slowed bassline of “Back That Azz Up” over Grey’s West Indian sing-song melody, is undeniably a party song. Void of a hook or bridge, “Gyalis” feels like a drunken concoction from an after hours spot that you wouldn’t dare eat sober. The marriage of Juvenile’s New Orleans anthem and Grey’s Jamaican heritage should not work, but it does. The best part? The song is growing legs, garnering two million views in two weeks on YouTube, and attention from the industry as well. Grey signed with Capitol Records a few days before we spoke over the phone in June.
“[Capitol is] not trying to change me as an artist to meet the standards or expectations of music now, which is why I went with them,” he says. “They let me do my thing.”
The self-taught instrumentalist thanks church for his musical prowess, which, over the years, evolved into a penchant for producing and songwriting. But it wasn’t until quarantine that Grey started to bet on himself as an artist. Last year, he released Yea Nah I’m Out and The QuaranTape Vol. 1, two projects that feel like lawless terrain for a man with a unique approach to making music. For instance, on QuaranTape’s “WTW,” he manages to sing over Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” with Clipse’s “Grindin’, but not before ending the song with Busta Rhymes’s “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” So when a voice proclaims mid-record that Grey, “really produces like a DJ,” it’s true. His sound is disorienting in a good way that not only abandons all rules, but gives us a glimpse at the influences who shaped his sound.
When I tell him I’m still trying to figure out how his brain works, he laughs as if he still hasn’t figured it out either. The newly-signed Bronx artist chatted with VICE about New York City’s party scene, musicianship, and trying to make it without the algorithm.
In an earlier interview you said you started playing instruments in church. How did that lead to producing and later songwriting?
I was playing the organ, drums, bass, guitar, piano. Everything. I’m a real musician first. Being a musician, I was listening to hip-hop but I wanted to hear music that was catering to real musicianship—with real instrumentation, and chords. I wanted to make the sound that I wanted to hear. I still really love the energy in hip-hop and the heavy drums, but I wanted to try it myself. I’m self-taught and it worked out.
Yea Nah I’m Out and The QuaranTape are all over the place in a good way because it reminds me of old school mixtapes, that jacking for beats era. Were those projects self-produced?
For the most part, I produced like 95 percent of them and whatever I didn’t produce is one of my bredrens, so it’s all in the family anyway. The way I produce, [it’s like] we outside. My friends are either DJs or producers, so when I’m in the studio I’m trying to make the sound of being outside in New York City. I want people from Arkansas or something to listen to my music and say they want to be from New York City or they want to be wherever that vibe is.
I actually wrote that in my notes: “The music sounds like a very specific era of pre-social media New York City where you had to be outside to really know what was going on.”
We’re trying to bring that to the clubs too. Right now, everybody is just standing up in clubs and just trying to be cute or be flashy. If you come to New York City, especially if you come Uptown, it’s a vibe. People are really dancing. Sweat up themselves, whine up themselves. I’m trying to reintroduce that feeling to the rest of the world. It’s the idea of really having fun at parties. With the energy and the drums, or even how I do it with the samples, taking things that sound familiar and flipping it into a whole different vibe. I’m trying to bring that energy back into music.
“Gyalis” doesn’t have any hook or a bridge. It pretty much abandons the traditional song structure. Was that purposeful?
“Gyalis” is a bunch of different moments, back to back. It’s like a set, without repeating anything. It’s just different vibes. With “Gyalis,” I’ll record a part, come out the booth, add something else to the beat then add something else in the booth. The process when I’m making music is really all over the place. It’s really about what feels good rather than trying to play into a structure.
“Gyalis” and, ultimately, your sound feels so different in an era where music is manufactured for the internet. Your music seems to be the opposite of that. Have you thought more about what your debut will sound like?
With how “Gyalis” is bussing, there is no TikTok challenge, no hashtag, no viral dance. It’s just straight organic. All the challenges will probably happen eventually, but we’re trying to touch people personally.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.