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Inner State 81 (Part I), No. 10

Get to know your favorite soulchop and electronic music producer.

I discover during our exchanges a personable 20-year-old Pennsylvania producer paving his own polymathic path. With one album and two EPs under his belt, Inner State 81 is making music for you to watch snow fall, bask in sunlight, process heartbreak, and get your shit together to. His songs, sometimes comedic and mostly contemplative, are as singular as his story: toward the end of high school he took transformative drives down Pennsylvania’s Interstate 81 highway and morphed his car into a studio in grocery store parking lots. When he went off to college at the University of Pittsburgh, he DJed from his dorm room, in basements, and at frat parties, and interned at a London record label, when one of his singles went viral (because of Twitter, an Uber driver, Spotify playlists, and the Berlin-Prague train wifi). He then dropped out of college and landed an Internet Instrumentalists interview. He’s made II history, I might add, as the first interview conducted (over the course of several months) through Reddit chat and not a Google Doc. “I know I’m sending you books of information,” he shares several weeks into our interaction, “and I apologize - this is just my first interview, and I’ve been thinking about what I’ve wanted to say for fucking years. I’m trying not to miss anything important.” This caution to not say the incorrect things incorrectly, also evident in his music, was apparent when we met in person after his performance at Trinity College’s The Mill. It was a rainy Saturday night in December, and I was unsurprised to find in this welcoming artistic space that his irl demeanor matches his online presence - earnest, fun, friendly.

It’s clear that he’s autonomously harnessing the power of the Internet in the way that 21st century artists can to self-build and -control his brand and discography, already having garnered over 46,000 monthly Spotify listeners and 1.4 million streams. He’s also big on collaboration, and the Inner State Media collective is his creative frat house. At its core, the Inner State 81 sound is polished and peaceful in a way I’d expect from a musician with decades of enlightenment and expertise. His music stems from a place of honesty and harmony, in other words, indicative of high self-awareness and cognizance for his audience’s listening experience. “took me 20 years to embrace my artist side,” his BandCamp bio reads, “but muthafucka we livin.” I’ve realized recently that replayability is a big personal factor for musical enjoyment. After at least six replays of each of his released works, I’ve come to realize that Tucker’s music sounds even better and grants access to an ever-expanding emotional spectrum with each new listen. His latest releases are the 8-track EP Can’t Please Everyone (CPE1), guaranteed to make you feel, and singles “TALK BOUT THINGS // we just met” and “Midnight Snack," which may just make you want to twirl around and even do a cartwheel. Known offstage as Tucker Nicholas, here’s Inner State 81.

Who are you?

I’m a 20-year-old producer currently in my junior year of PR/marketing at the University of Pittsburgh. [Editor’s Note: he’s since dropped out.] My name is Tucker Nicholas. My producer moniker is Inner State 81.

Why Inner State 81?

I was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, which is the capital of the state but also a slow and boring town. I worked at Hershey Park selling cotton candy as my high school job. I graduated high school back in 2016 - I had a really tight group of friends (we’re all still pretty tight). Travel is one of the things we all enjoy about life - the planning, the adventure, learning new cultures. We love it. I’ve always been creatively stimulated by travel. Anyway, one of my best friends’ parents bought a house on a lake in Virginia to retire on. The summer of 2016, he moved down to Virginia and invited our crew to come down to celebrate the Fourth of July. It's a 5, 6 hour drive from Harrisburg, almost straight down Interstate 81.

I drove down with my best friend Ben, who I originally started IS81 with as a duo. We're racing my other two best friends down the highway, really enjoying our newfound freedom from high school, oh-so clueless about the real world because college hasn't started yet. We’re wearing rose-colored glasses, if you will. Ben and I are talking throughout the drive about how our dream is to make a living off of being creative, making music, making videos, pushing the boundaries, inspiring kids to be different and think differently, to be and embrace the unconventional. It was right then and there that we decide to make this our career path, despite neither of us having any decent experience making music.

Flash forward to Christmas break 2016: The two of us are hanging out in Ben's car in the back of a grocery store parking lot. There isn’t anything to do in our area so we’d meet up and chill in parking lots. Lol. We decide that night that it’s time to learn production and take it seriously. After sitting there thinking for awhile I came up with the name as a play on the name of the highway, but also as a reminder to keep that Inner State of mind, that this is attainable, that we can fucking make it happen.

And you then went on to learn to produce in the front seat of your car in those same grocery store parking lots in your hometown.

Yes! In the early days of Inner State 81, we’d hook our laptops up to our cars through an aux cord and turn them into studios. I’ve actually recorded a song for a friend in my car. (I drive a 2004 Saab 95 with 215,000 miles on it. It’s falling apart as we speak lmao.) We lived 40 minutes away from each other so we’d meet halfway, in that parking lot. I’d bring a little mic setup and drape it over the rearview mirror, then stuff the windshield with pillows to soundproof the recording. Works surprisingly well. That's how it all came to be.

So Inner State 81 is no longer the duo that it began as. And in addition to being your pseudonym, it’s also a personal brand, a lifestyle, a state of mind.

Ben and I realized we wanted to take our music in different directions early on, so IS81 became a solo project for me. (He now creates music under high st.)

Essentially, almost exactly 2 years ago (in winter 2016), I had a huge mental breakdown and existential crisis. I’d just started the business school at Pitt and was thinking about my future. The idea of working a 9-5 and being stuffed in an office was literally giving me panic attacks. I didn't know what to do, but I knew what I couldn't do (work toward and live that conventional, traditional life). As cliche as it is, I decided that this is my only chance at living on Earth and it would be incredibly stupid not to grab it by the balls and build my own empire. When I die, I want to look back on everything and be proud of a legacy, of the way I inspired kids in the way I was inspired by my favorite artists growing up. I want to be able to give people an escape from the ups and downs of daily life, not be chained to those ups and downs myself.

Once I came to terms with this vision, it was like I emerged reborn and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had clarity. Slowly I climbed out of my depression, feeling much more mature than before and knowing that building anything great was going to require self-discipline, giving up more of my social life, and trying my best to innovate. And that’s what I’m still doing. I’m a junior right now [in this fall 2018 semester], and I’ve decided it’s going to be my last. I’m paying for my education and it just isn’t worth the debt given that I’m not getting anything out of it. I physically can't get myself to do work anymore, and the scariest part is that I don't even care that I'm not doing my work! All my college friends think I'm crazy for dropping out, but I think they’re crazy for not realizing that not everyone needs a degree to become successful. College can be a crutch. To me, my college education is obsolete. My music and creative aspirations transcend anything obtainable in a degree. So I'm at a weird point in my life: about to be judged and scrutinized heavily for following my dreams, because they want me to put them on hold until graduation. But I can’t stomach the thought. I can't do that to myself for the sole purpose of social acceptance. I’m on a personal journey of discovery through expression, and those who are not - or who never have been - will never understand. And I don't expect them to. But deep down I know what's right. And to me, this is who I am and what I’m meant to be doing.

You’ve come an incredibly long way in just two short years.

I agree! I’m eager to dive in 100% and make up for lost time. I also realized while interning at that London record label that learning how to market myself and make connections is almost more important than the music I’m making (at least for now). So I’m on a mission to be discovered, and I’m hungry. I’m stockpiling releases right now for 2019, and I’m pouncing in late winter.

You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, a soul that runs deep, and a plan; I’d say you’re set, my man. How did self-marketing factor into achieving your first 100k listens on Spotify?

Hahaha. This is a great story. It involves a viral tweet, an Uber, and a train to Prague.

From car studios to viral tweets in Prague - let’s hear it.

So I’m living abroad with 7 other dudes from across the US last semester. We all hit it off as friends, and decide

during spring break to do a history tour of Central Europe. We flew into Berlin the last Monday of February, and after a couple days in Berlin hop on the train to Prague. While I'm on the train I finally have wifi so I'm searching Twitter when I come across this viral tweet from an Uber driver about his personalized playlists. Thinking nothing of it I reply "Get this man a job as a playlist curator @Spotify." Naturally this gets added to the viral moment and Spotify ends up sending him a free subscription because of my tweet. So I DM him and say, "Hey I've had some music uploaded to Spotify for about a month now, would you consider giving any of them playlist placements?” And he does, mostly because he liked them, but also because my tweet got him free Spotify subscription. Overnight I got a couple thousand plays. One of my tracks even got 14k plays in one day. Worth noting is that after I sent the tweet I closed my laptop and didn't look at Twitter until 2 days later, so I geeked the fuck out when I saw the numbers. (Teejus, the Uber driver, is now one of my publicists and helps me get some playlist placements for my tracks.)

Legendary. Shoutout Teejus, Twitter, the Berlin-Prague train wifi. Was that your first time in Europe?

Yes, after my freshman year existential crisis I decided I was going to use studying abroad through my business school as an opportunity for creative leverage. The schools helps you land an internship so I basically forced them to find me one at a record label. As I’ve mentioned, traveling is my main form of inspiration, so I took that stimulation of being in a new place to make the music I released this year. Seeing more of the world really did change me - my outlook, life expectations, maturity, confidence, etc. Shoutout Pitt Study Abroad.

What are some interesting circumstances or places you’ve made music in?

I made one song 2 summers ago while waiting to get a jump from AAA in a Wegmans parking lot after my car broke down. I was about to drive home from my grandma’s in Philly. I made another after going to a lil music festival in Pittsburgh. I once made a song hungover as fuck at a New Orleans Starbucks waiting to catch a flight.

Making music while waiting to a catch a flight is impressive on its own, but especially while hungover. Does alcohol help with your creativity?

If I’m enjoying a night out with some friends, I’m gonna be drinking beer. But I’ve always had this thing where I hate not being in control of my body. I also feel that I have a very abstract mind as it is, and I don’t necessarily need drugs to think differently. My synesthesia is a big factor with that.

When did you discover that you’re synesthetic?

June 2017. My boy Chris was jamming on the guitar one day and I said, “Dude, all I see is red right now.” He barely looks up from his guitar and goes, “Oh, you have synesthesia.” I was like what? I googled it and was shook that it took me 19 years to figure it out. I thought for the longest time that it was something everyone has. I never knew it was a condition or that it’s rare. I remember sharing that I have it with a girl I was talking to at the time who’s a psych major. We were geeking out together over how crazy it was. I think it made her crush on me harder lol.

I’m not sure if this is a type of synesthesia or just my way of responding to reality, but I also thought for the longest time that everyone basically writes stories/makes movies in their head in the way that I always have.

It definitely could be, there are so many different forms of it. I have a couple - the biggest is seeing colors when I listen to music. I always DJ live and just go off the color schemes in my head that appear to me in the moment. But I also have something called spatial sequence synesthesia. Back in high school I used to participate in an academic competition called history bowl, and the way I’d remember the history dates and facts would be to place the events and people over where they happened on a world map in my head and hover over each area in my mind when I️ needed to access the information. It helps with making abstract comparisons, because I subconsciously assign tags to things that have stuff in common. It makes me speak in weird metaphors constantly. I always loved English class and writing essays, and my classmates and friends would always think my answers were so weird haha.

Do you have any particularly intense synesthesia experiences?

Maybe my earliest memory of getting a feeling through it that I couldn’t describe - I was 4, in the car with my mom and listening to a song on the radio. I don’t remember the title, but I saw this crazy blue and gold combo. I’ll never forget that moment.

Is there anything besides making music that you feel strongly inclined to do?

I wanna have my own TV show one day. And do some work in advertising. I’d also love to teach a college course on Kanye West. Literally just on Kanye: his life, his work, his influences, his influence, his trends. A goal of mine has always been to retire and become a teacher. I don’t care if I become a worldwide superstar, I’m still retiring to become a teacher. I wanna teach history. Probably when I’m about 50. It’d be an early retirement but I'd

still have time beforehand to pump out a lot of stuff.

So musical greatness, television, and academia are your main achieve-or-die-trying life goals.

Yes, as vain as it sounds, ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a type of Renaissance Man. It feels so instilled in my inner core at this point that I don’t think I can do anything else except follow the dream. Like it has to happen. I won’t stop until it does. And even then I won’t stop. I want to be a household name and earn it by merit, not controversy. I want to influence the culture and inspire a new generation in the way that I was. And no medium is safe: I really want to do it all. I’m terrible at drawing and painting but maybe one day I’ll take the time to perfect that. I’m a firm believer in the mindset that you can achieve anything if you’re determined and work hard as fuck. You’ll start to meet the right people naturally if it’s a genuine passion. I want everything I do to stem from a real love of it, never manufactured from some corporate headquarters. To me, if you don’t keep that authenticity, the music falls flat. You always have to be authentic and true to yourself and true to the art you’re making. If you try to force it to be something it’s not, people will know that something is off even if they can’t quite explain it. I️ never want that to happen. I️ want to be as genuine as I can. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what distinguishes the legend from the faded one-hit-wonders. Anyone can capture an emotion in the moment, but it takes a special kind of artist to manifest timeless projects and resonate across generations. And that’s what I️ wanna do. That’s what I will do.

Inner State 81 is on Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and SoundCloud.

Show Internet Instrumentalists some love on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and join the conversation on Reddit. Consider supporting us on Patreon. Part 2 is coming soon. In the meantime, remember to call your grandma.

By Cloude