On Wednesday, August 5th, I sat down on a Zoom call with David Timm. David is a Princeton student in the Class of 2022 studying Art History in the Art & Archaeology Department, originally from West Saint Paul, Minnesota. For the past several years, I’ve admired the music and art David has posted on Instagram from afar in all forms; from a set of chalky technicolor miniature portraits, to a series of beautiful architectural collages which look like modernist origami butterflies, to recent singles he has released on Spotify, I’ve been a devoted admirer (Voyeur? Let’s not say that) of all.
I sat down with David to interview him on his music, art, and everything in between. This conversation very much transformed into a discussion of the project that occupied the bulk of his spring and summer: his new EP, Poem, which was released on streaming platforms on August 16th. Thus, what started a broader interview eventually transformed into a conversation mostly about Poem. The transcript of our conversation is below, which has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
AK: Excellent. So first, how are you doing? How has your summer been?
DT: I’m, I’m definitely doing, is what I am. I’m here, I’m alive. I’m moving out to Minneapolis in like two weeks, which I’m very excited about. I don’t want to be home anymore.
AK: And you’re doing school from there?
AK: Oh, great idea. That’s so nice.
DT: Yeah, I did not want to go back to Princeton. It wasn’t necessary. It sounds like the worst thing that one could do. And if I were to go back, I wouldn’t be able to do any music, which was basically the only reason I left my room anyway. And so, I would just sit in my room and stare at the ceiling for three months and then go home and have to live with my parents again.
AK: Yes, I do need to leave my parent’s house. As much as I love it here.
DT: Yeah. No more of this.
AK: And what else? Tell me about your soon-to-be-released EP. I’m so excited.
DT: Yeah. So the EP, that’s a thing that I’ve been doing.
The first song I wrote for it was the last piece of music that I wrote at Princeton. And I went into one of the practice rooms and recorded it on the piano. It’s the last song on the EP, and it’s also the EP’s namesake. The EP is called “Poem,” as you may know.
AK: Yes, I do know that.
DT: And so I wrote that and then school made us go home, and we left in January, February, March? March. Right. So I guess it only took me a month to start actually doing it. But I started with that song and then it kind of went from there. And it took me four months, a very sporadic four months. So I would say, if you condensed the time I actually worked on it, it was probably two weeks. Because, like, I think I went for about two months not doing anything.
AK: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. For me, my adjustment to like, being productive and doing the things I love when I first got home was slow. Even though I very much wanted to write and paint and do all these things in quarantine, it was hard, and I think this is something many people felt when they came home from school back in March. How was the transition for you?
DT: Yeah, I guess for the first two months or so, I spent half of my time on school and half my time doing absolutely nothing. And so there wasn’t really any, like, music going on. I was lucky because I was in my collaging in architecture class. So, I was still making visual art for class, which I ended up continuing to do after the class ended.
AK: That class sounds so cool. I want to take it.
DT: Yeah, I think it’s a really excellent class. It really taught me a lot about art-making, I guess. Yeah. A lot about randomness, and just like, not actually deciding what you’re doing or how you do it, which is how I approach music.
AK: You’re calling them random, but from an outsider’s perspective on Instagram, your collages don’t seem that way. They’re like, beautifully structural. I would have thought you planned everything out beforehand?
DT: It’s a lot of moving things around until I like it, and then just pasting it, and then continuously doing that until I think it’s done.
AK: For collaging, that’s methodology though! That’s awesome. So you had this poem, which inspired the first song?
DT: Yeah, the song is called “I Wrote You a Poem.” All four of the songs on the EP are I-You statements. So like, I love you. I… blah blah blah… you. And yes, that song is in fact about a poem that I wrote. It’s, it’s a whole thing. I guess the first step is that I wrote a poem about my life, about things that I was experiencing. And then, based off of that, I wrote a song about it, because I was kind of using poetry as a means of communication with people when I should just have had conversations with them, which was not the way to go. But I did do it. And so naturally, I wrote this song that inspired the rest of the EP, I think. Very exciting.
AK: Are there excerpts in the song from the poem?
DT: No, that would have been a good idea, had I planned it out well enough. Only the title appears in the song, and the title of the original poem was “We Are A Book of Poems.” And so there’s a lot of levels of “poem” going on in it.
AK: That’s provocative. A lot to work with there, I love it. So, I have yet to hear the songs on this upcoming EP. However, “Billionaire House Party,” your last single, was all I listened to for a week. I don’t know if you could see where people were listening, but many-a-listens were coming from my location. I really loved it. It’s very catchy, very baroque and decadent.
DT: Thank you. Yeah. There are a lot of like, art references. It’s very– there’s a lot going on. That one is kind of like the other side of the coin for “I Wrote You a Poem,” where, I guess the first half of the school year, instead of dealing with things, I was just like kind of furiously making self-portrait after self-portrait after self-portrait. And that was just how I was coping. And so that’s basically what’s going on in that one. Yeah, and “Billionaire House Party” is also basically everyone’s Princeton experience.
AK: It really is! It’s very Bacchanalian. That’s why it resonated so much for me. It’s like, you’re surrounded by so much pressure, and all these rich people.
DT: Super rich. And so intelligent.
AK: Yeah, I like that song a lot, and I also think it’s very fun musically. I’m excited to see how the EP responds to it, shows that other side of the coin. You mentioned that after writing “I Wrote You a Poem” you took a break. When did you decide to make a whole EP?
DT: So, for years now I’ve been talking about releasing an album, and it just hasn’t happened. Since last summer, I have more songs that I will never release than songs that I’m going to release– songs that I’ve written and finished, which is really annoying. But like, when I don’t like them, then it’s just not going to happen, you know?
So after “I Wrote You a Poem,” I had another song that I was working on, and I kind of realized that I always write in the first-person, and I’m always addressing someone, a “you.” Or is that second person? Yeah. Like, that’s just how I write music. And I realized that in these two songs that I had written, I was mostly addressing myself, which was really interesting. So I was like, okay, so apparently I’m writing as if there’s a disconnect between myself and then another me, which is now “you.” And so I was like, well, that sounds like a set of songs that I could write. Yeah. So it ended up as a collection of really dark and kind of twisted love songs to myself, that are kind of dealing with the experience of losing yourself to yourself, you know? It’s where the “I” and the “me” become different people, which is something that I’ve been dealing with.
AK: Yeah, I actually know what you mean. It’s that feeling of understanding the external projection of yourself, and how that relates to your “real self” I guess. I know what you’re saying. I like that you address these songs to yourself. It’s so much better than addressing them to like, some ex-lover that doesn’t deserve them.
DT: I know. Which I will say I have done.
AK: I mean, but that’s art! Do you feel like quarantine has had an impact on the music? Like, if you were to look back on the album, would you be able to see influences of your feelings about being in America in the time of COVID?
DT: I think that we have all had to spend a lot of time alone and with ourselves recently, which means that I’ve thought a lot about myself, and also this past school year and feelings that I have felt. And for me, putting this out, putting the EP out, I’m trying to move past these feelings. Like it feels like just something that needs to end, you know? It feels like when it’s out, I’m kind of free of all the things that I’m talking about in the EP. Unfortunately, I think as far as it being influenced by world events, it’s kind of an incredibly selfish EP all about me, and nothing else. And so I don’t know if you’ll hear anything of that sort influencing it.
AK: And what’s the album cover? Is it a piece of art that you made?
DT: Yeah. So it’s a picture of me that I took this fall. This year I took a lot of pictures of myself. So like when I was at school, a lot of head swings to try and get some motion blur. There was a lot to choose from.
The central song– although I guess it’s not central technically because there’s an even number of songs…There were going to be five songs, but I decided the EP was complete in four. So the song that would have been the middle song, which is the third track, is about the night that I realized that there was a sort of disconnect. And so in this image, there’s a line where I’m saying, “I stumbled into my room, flipped on the light, looked to my left, and there you were, and you looked back.” And so this album cover image is supposed to be the process of me looking back, looking to my left. And, yeah, I just found this picture that I had accidentally taken on my phone that was like really close up of, like, some fabric. And I just put some filters over it and then put it on top of this photo. And I thought it looked cool. And so, that’s the cover.
AK: And it’s a nice cover. How do you feel like your art and music have intersect and played off of each other? Because I see a lot of intersections and connections.
DT: So certainly this fall and with “Billionaire House Party”, that song is, I think, the equivalent of all the little chalk drawings I did of myself. They’re the same thing, dealing with the same emotions and stuff. I think that this EP doesn’t necessarily have a parallel in any art that I’ve made, unfortunately. But also at the same time, because I’ve been making this music in the past few months, I haven’t actually made any art that doesn’t deal with current world events, and the Black Lives Matter movement and etcetera. A lot of my recent artwork is responding to the world. Oh, and COVID. I’ve only shared about half of it, maybe less on Instagram, simply because I don’t necessarily think my voice is necessary in that discourse, you know? So I just have it. But that’s all I’ve done. Yeah. And so the music and art have interacted a lot less recently.
AK: So would you say that your music is kind of the place where you’ve been reflecting back on your personal self, isolated from what’s going on in the world, and your art is a response to your environment?
DT: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes those are the same thing. But right now they are not.
AK: They are not. Very, very cool. Ok, tell me something you’re excited about?
DT: You know what I am excited about? Well, number one, I’m excited for the Poem EP to be out so I can do something new and get over it. And I’m also excited for people to hear it, because I think it’s interesting musically. Like, there’s a lot going on. I am going to get a guitar soon and I’m going to learn the guitar, because I need a new method of songwriting. I just feel like I want to. And I’m hoping that at least whatever I do next, musically, it doesn’t have to be so much about myself. I’m really sick of writing about myself. It’s getting super old. I feel like I know so much about myself now.
AK: It’s good. You went through an exploration of your identity and it’s just a phase in your progress as a person and an artist. I can certainly relate. I’m vain. Whenever I write something, it’s always just about my life with slightly changed names.
DT: Yeah, yeah. I agree. And maybe what I want to do going forward is be more subtle about it. Like, I’ll write about other things. It’ll still be about me, but other things too. Because this album is not subtle.
AK: Maybe you could talk about your reasons for doing it for yourself, and not always putting everything you make, either music or art, into the digital world?
DT: Let’s see. The music that I don’t put out… it’s usually just because I don’t like it. I’ve been kind of lax about what I put out in my past. There’s some, like, pretty bad music you can find by me out there. So recently, I’m just trying to be more strict with, like, what I release. So, there’s that. And in terms of, like, how personal something is, I also don’t hold back. I’ll basically put anything out. It just depends if it’s high quality or not.
But like, art that deals with things that I don’t necessarily have a say in… making that art is helpful, but it’s complicated. Because I always want to be able to just, like, make stuff, but right now it feels like I shouldn’t, which is fine. And so I don’t. And when I do, I do. But when I do, I don’t put it anywhere, unless I think that it’s actually going to add to something, you know? And I’ll think about it, and I’ll look at it. But it doesn’t have to go anywhere.
AK: Yeah, sometimes it can just be for you. And I think that’s an important thing. Do you think you’re going to set up your space in an apartment in Minneapolis? Will it become a studio, essentially?
DT: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
AK: I love that.
DT: Yeah, it’s like one room, it’s very small. It’s going to be very eclectically decorated because we’re not really buying any furniture. It comes technically furnished, but like rugs, for example, I’m just getting out of my basement. So we have a random assortment of rugs. It’s going to be a weird space.
See, I really need to change location because all the music that I’ve made other than “Billionaire House Party” has been from my childhood bedroom, and I have just bled that. All meaning is gone from that place. It’s already out there in some capacity. It may or may not be in a high quality capacity, but it’s out there. And so I think a change of scenery will be good. Because I like writing about where I am, whatever that means.
AK: So does place very much influence your work?
DT: Yeah, well, so, obviously one’s environment influences their life very strongly. So everything in the EP is Princeton me, looked at through the eyes of Minnesota bedroom me, which is weird.
AK: It’s the disconnect! Speaking to your two selves. Yeah.
DT: Yeah. And like, multiples of me. So I don’t know, I still don’t know if I did this on purpose. There are quite a few contradictions if you really listen to the lyrics, just throughout the entire EP. And there are also specific “you’s” that really sound like they should be other people, and sometimes, they kind of are other people. And so, it’s not like every single time I say the word “you”, it’s talking to me. But, it kind of is like that. It’s just sometimes multiple people. There’s a lot going on. And I honestly haven’t really sat down and gone through it and thought about who this music is about, because I don’t want to! So just say it’s about me.
A little over a week after I interviewed David, the Poem EP was released. The four song EP runs at 14 minutes and 7 seconds long, and is available to stream on all platforms. Many of the lyrical and technical elements which David brought up in our interview carried over as I listened to the album, and informed my own listening and understanding of the piece.
The EP opens with a pleasant spattering of percussive mouth sounds in “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep.” These mouth sounds lead into a slightly unsettling and obscure conversation between David and himself, exchanging greetings and questions: “Good morning.”; “Where did you go last night?”; “I don’t remember.” From the beginning, this song establishes the conversational narrative which David described in our interview. The lyrics in this first track form the building blocks for the thematic relationship of the self splitting into the “I” and the “you”, and this creates an intense tension, which continues to build in the next two tracks, and is only amplified by the song’s use of baroque technical elements.
Timm used keyboard synths and layered his voice over and over again in “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep” to create a dreamlike, theatrical sonic landscape. It’s somehow operatic in nature. The way he layers his voice over and over itself almost mimics a chapel choir. His frequent insertion of triumphant vocoder fills out the choral sound, which continues throughout the EP. The vocal manipulation carries through all of the songs on Poem, but in this one in particular, an observant listener can pick out David’s formal vocal training. The melodic and polished vocals, which his training allows for, balance the intensity and tension of the track’s sound, providing some relief in this tension struggle and allowing for the various sounds David incorporates to end up harmonizing well together.
The end of “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep” flows seamlessly into the beginning of the next track, “I Only Eat When I’m Around You,” which continues to operate in the intense soundscape of its predecessor, while incorporating a faster tempo and a catchy, driving bass line. Looped recordings of bass guitar riffs, re-pitched to match the song, and intense overlaid percussion leads into the song’s chorus, which feels more like a traditional pop song in nature, but is light, with high danceability to complement the song’s darker lyrics. He’s a student of the new-school Youtube looping music crowd (see: Marc Ribilett, Freddie Watts, etc.) Thematically, “I Only Eat When I’m Around You” very much feels like a continuation of the narrative of the first track on Poem, grappling with the same issues of selfhood, identity, and bodily ownership.
The end of this song again flows into the start of the next track, “I Love You (I’m Sorry),” The confessional becomes the volta of Poem. The lyric which David quoted in our interview is in this song: “I stumbled into my room, flipped on the light, looked to my left, and there you were, and you looked back.” This is the point where it feels like the exposition of Timm’s narrative has reached its climax; he is facing himself directly. The lyrics are poetic and they are beautiful, accompanying the song’s unexpected and complicated sound profile well. Packed with intense and angelic layered vocal recordings, “I Love You (I’m Sorry)” continues to emulate the slightly religious, chapel choir-esque undertones of previous tracks, with a twist. Timm blends his robot-like voice modifications in the chorus, digitized using a vocoder, with the more classical and antiquated sounds of his instrumental overlays (harp and violin), to create a sound which defies any clear-cut genre. The harp-like synth scales he incorporates heavily towards the end of the track were a highlight for me. “I Love You (I’m Sorry)” is the song in which Timm experiments the most with his sound, and he does it successfully.
The fourth track and the EP’s namesake, “I Wrote You a Poem,” is the first of the four songs David wrote, and yet it’s last on the EP. Nevertheless, it fits into the EP’s narrative as a conclusion to the storyline quite well. It is easily the EP’s strongest track. It’s a reprisal of many of the sonic elements we see David use in the earlier three songs, tying them together like the conclusion of a five paragraph essay. However, what one might presume is a summary is actually the basis on which many of the sonic components of the other songs on the EP were founded. “I Wrote You a Poem” is a pop song, and it’s a fun pop song– one that sticks with a listener for a long time after hearing it. Wrapping up these narratives of the project– both sonic and lyrical– it’s a commendable conclusion.
Still, there are some parts of the Poem EP which undoubtedly show room for improvement. The first two songs employ what have become cliches for left-field bedroom-pop. However, as a whole, David Timm’s Poem EP is an excellent exploration of experimental song-making techniques, and shows great potential for the artist. For a freshman EP, it’s impressive. If you haven’t yet listened to it, check out the Poem EP. I think you’ll like it.