“You Have to Make a Lot of Wack Shit to Make Good Shit”: An Interview with Channel Tres

Reed Jackson speaks with Channel Tres about wiping the slate clean, the history of house music, and traveling the world.
By    May 13, 2018

Before we speak, I spot Channel Tres in the groove.

Adorned in a vintage “Showtime”-era Lakers T-shirt and track pants, the 26 year-old is skewing and swerving on the heels of his sneakers to “Got Me Coming Back Right Now,” the fizzling cut by house legend Moodymann. He appears to be alone in his bedroom, painted the archetypal Southern California egg shell, biting his lower lip in tunnel vision, an imaginary enclosure of clapping club goers forming around him.

“Just warming up my legs,” he says when I tell him over the phone that I saw the performance broadcasted on his Instagram a few minutes prior. “Thank god for Moodymann—that motherfucker changed my life.”

Tres, born Sheldon Young, points to the discovery of the Detroit DJ’s catalogue as a pivotal moment in his artistic trajectory, helping him evolve from pop songwriter to songleader, behind-the-scenes beatmaker to dance-floor commander. Moody’s influence is showcased proudly on “Controller,” a bass-throbbing, four-on-the-floor callback to classic Midwest dance music—and Young’s first single on L.A. imprint Godmode Music. “Your body is a game, fuck the lames, fuck the fame, I am the controller,” he deadpans cooly before a sharp cymbal crash announces a palpitating low end, one that immediately inspires two-steps decorated with snaps and scrunched mugs.

Raised in Lynwood, Calif., right around the corner from the Compton Swap Meet, Young isn’t a native of the birth region of house music, but the genre runs deep in his genes. He discovered this only recently when his uncle, who he had little interaction with growing up, attended a DJ set at the University of Wisconsin and eagerly divulged to him that their “whole damn family is out here.” This floored Young, who always believed his now-deceased father’s side was from Kansas, a full day’s drive from the underground house shows that pulsated the Windy City in the late 1970s and early ’80s. “I didn’t know, and I had to prepare for [my next] DJ set so I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to go through the history of the full thing.’”

Returning to L.A. galvanized by a deep dive into the genre, he locked himself in his room, a tiny upstairs space rented from an elderly artist in Silver Lake, and set out to create something wildly different than his past productions. The Silver Lake sessions materialized into an email blast containing a fully formed demo, packaged neatly with Photoshop’d artwork, which landed in the inbox of Godmode co-founder and former Capitol Records A&R Talya Elitzer. Upon hearing it, she quickly put Young in the studio with her partner Nick Sylvester, the executive producer of the label’s only release thus far, Yaeji’s ep2. Young calls Sylvester a “fucking genius” and happens to be on the way to meet him at the studio as we talk.

Today they’ll be working on a track called “Jet Black,” an ode to the superhero alter-ego Young invented on the crumbly plains of Oklahoma, where he went to college for music. In the lead up to class projects, he’d sport the same pitch-dark clothing—Jet Black’s inconspicuous garb—nearly everyday as a means of preserving his brainpower solely for the grind, a form of zealotism that icons like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein supposedly practiced. Young has a habit of looking to geniuses for guidance: As a teen he left behind the palm trees of SoCal for the scrub of the Sooner State after hearing a freshly signed Kendrick Lamar sermonize in an interview that one needs to escape their environment in order to grow.

The plan was always to come back, though. The Lynwood/Compton area is the star at the center of Young’s solar system, the place where he was raised by his great grandma, played drums in the church choir and once had a pistol pulled on him. Its mangy greenways, vibrant strip mall signage and skateparks make up the video for “Controller,” which also features Young’s childhood friends, each drumming little easter eggs of color on his chest. These are the people and places that shaped him, and he hopes his newly formed solo career will give him the chance to “actually do something” in return (namely, he wants to create a non-profit for local kids who have an interest in the arts).

This may sound like lofty rhetoric, dreams conjured by an artist following their first nibble of fame, but Young comes off earnest in his ambitions, namely for the fact that he seems to be in a perpetual metamorphosis, unafraid to reinvent himself through his music and selfhood. As he puts it: “I been through a lot of shit growing up so I just wanna be fucking happy. But I also want to be challenged in life.” —Reed Jackson


Leading up to this interview, I had a lot of trouble finding your previously released solo work. Why’d you wipe it clean?


Channel Tres: Yeah, yeah [laughs]. It’s a restart; I had to reset. I wanted to present myself the right way. The last music was bedroom, high-ass music. It was good music, but I feel like right now I’m hitting my stride and really making records—records that could really fucking change lives and do shit. I gave up a lot of my past and just let it all go. You have to make a lot of wack shit to make good shit.


Were you surprised when the email blast containing your demo got a response?


Channel Tres: Hell yeah. Fuck yeah. Shit, I was about to be an EDM DJ. I was on my way there [laughs]. That’s just the people I was fucking with at the time. They was just around that, and they were interested, but I just couldn’t spend all my time on EDM drops and shit like that.
Cause the way I make music is so free—that’s why house music sticks out to me so much.


What about the tempo of house grabbed you?


Channel Tres: I was falling asleep, man. I was smoking weed, falling asleep in the studio [laughs]. I was just half-assing shit, going to the studio and drinking, not working. I still love making pop music, but it was just the pace was so slow. I just wanted to pick that shit up. Everything was just emotional and slow. I’m a gemini, an air sign, so I love just feeling the wave and going. When I started listening to house, that shit just woke me the fuck up.


Do you feel like black artists have been forgotten as the originators of the genre?


Channel Tres: Yeah, I feel like it’s missed. I love trap music, but we’re half-timed out right now. The funk came from James Brown, four-on-the-floor. George Clinton. I feel like with the time, how everything changes, and with the kids, it’s just different. Everyone’s slowed down and half-timed out. I feel like we need to pick up the pace again and get it back.

I feel like it’s looked over, but that’s a whole conversation, bro. Cause you have the media not giving certain people shine. Like when disco was out, people were against disco like a motherfucker. I seen some shit where they burn records on the baseball field. I could ramble my ass off on this. But I guess we are overlooked in the genres.


I’ve heard you say you’re from both Compton and Lynwood.


Channel Tres: Both, I stayed on Euclid and Long Beach Boulevard, that’s right around the corner from the Compton Swap Meet. If I walk to Long Beach Boulevard, I’m in Compton. But if I walk to the other corner of the street, I’m in Lynwood. All my high school stuff with the district…they said I was Lynwood. But my mom stayed in the projects not too far from my grandma. I was raised by my great grandma, then my other grandma she actually had a house in West Compton. So it was both.

I like to say Lynwood because nobody really shouts out Lynwood or anything; it’s just a small city. Nobody really talks about it. They just say Compton. So I just wanted to give some love to the area because that’s where I went to school. I played drums in the choir.


What was life like growing up there?


Channel Tres: Shit was like…I guess it’s a regular ghetto, like every other. I don’t want to sound typical, [but] I had the typical shit happen to me. Growing up I had a gun pulled out on me; I had drive-bys on my block. But me and my friends started dancing and skateboarding, you know what I’m saying? Then N.E.R.D. came out when I was like in 9th grade, so there was a group of us that just fucked with all that shit. We were all from the hood and shit, but we just made our own crew and clicked up. A lot of the time was spent going to church and then hanging out with the homies, dancing.


I saw that your childhood friends were the ones drumming on your chest in the video for “Controller.” If that was me, I’m pretty sure I would have fucked that up somehow.


Channel Tres: One of the homies who was doing it, he’s fucking terrible at rhythm. I just told him it’s just, “One two, one two.”


Why’d you choose to go to school in Oklahoma of all places?


Channel Tres: I wanted to stay, but I was around so many cool people that it was kind of hard to find my identity. Everybody was just like at a professional level already. I had the passion for it but didn’t have the skill level. I felt like I had to get away. Kendrick was talking about getting out the environment; he had to start going on tour and going around the world and blowing up. In his interviews he would talk about getting out of his environment and coming back a better person.

It feels good now because I came back now and can actually do something for my friends and the community. Not like I’m famous or nothing, but shit, I’m doing something.


How do you see that “something” materializing in the next few years?


Channel Tres: I made sure I didn’t travel certain places because I wanted to experience them through music. I wanna be able to go somewhere and be in like Tokyo and have a show because if you experience everything through music it feels a lot better.

In three to four years, I’ll be better. I told myself three or four years ago that I’d be better, and I made those goals. So I just hope to have the resources to have my non-profit started. And also records, man…I hope that I’m making the magical records that I see myself making.