Tyler James Bellinger has spent his time churning out tracks behind the scenes as a songwriter, writing Australian singer Meg Mac’s US Single “Don’t Need Permission” and Spanish pop artist Blas Canto’s song “Save Me”. He is now stepping from behind the scenes to put his own unique stamp on the music industry behind the microphone, with the release of his latest single, “Feel Like Home”. The track takes on an even more special meaning, as it celebrates belonging and acceptance for LGBTQ+ homeless youth and will be featured at a number of Ali Forney Center events. I caught up with Bellinger on the eve of the release of Feels Like Home, and we talked about why this new song is so incredibly important, what it meant to him to craft the visual imagery of a music video for this one, and how his appearance on the new show Songland could be one of his biggest breaks yet!
MC: Tyler, your new track “Feel Like Home” is your way of stepping out on your own in a big way. How does that feel to be doing your own thing after being part of your group KNGDAVD for so long?
TJB: I would be lying if I did not say that I was a little nervous. It’s funny KNGDAVD was supposed to be my solo project. It just happened that the music became so specific to my bandmate John and I that it did not make sense to have it be just be a solo project. I feel like I have been getting my groove back again. I did not perform for a few years, and the band only released online, we did not really do any shows. Jumping back into solo-dom has been a really good exercise for me in getting my groove back. Singing live has always been my favorite thing and I did not do it for a long time. Now to do it with the music that I really wanted make, it’s really nice. The band found a niche audience that is supportive of us, so there is some pressure to be able to do that on my own. I would like to be able to flourish.
MC: “Feel Like Home” is aimed at the issue of LGBT homeless youth that is such an important topic for the community. What made you want to put a spotlight on it?
TJB: You know, I ended up in a situation where I just kept seeing it. I wrote the song for my partner, who while he did not experience homelessness on his own, his family did not receive him coming out well. My partner was lucky enough to be able to stay in a situation with a close friends family, and we now live together. I wrote the song about that situation. I also run music at a church in Philadelphia and the non-profit above that church is one of the largest in the city of Philadelphia for providing food, a mailing service, and clothing to displaced individuals in and around Philadelphia. I got to be around that a bit more than I ever thought that I would be. The way that everything came together was organic. I had actually recorded the project over a year and a half ago. I didn’t want to release it until I felt that I had a proper vehicle for it. This song in particular meant too much to me to not support it with a visual. It was really the culmination of all of those happening that made me decide that this was definitely what I wanted to talk about.
MC: What was the experience of crafting the video like and how did you shape the story around the visuals?
TJB: I had actually learned that forty percent of homeless youth are members of the LGBTQ community. I also met Amber Hikes (Executive Director, LGBT Affairs in Philadelphia) at a Broad St fundraiser and she let me know that it is estimated that the number is raised to sixty percent in the city of Philadelphia. The video is based off of two trans women of color that were gracious enough to allow me to interview them. There were barriers with privacy regarding people who did not want to rehash certain experiences, and that was difficult, but I do have to respect that. I am an open book about things in my life, but that is not everyone, we all haven’t been through the same experiences.
I spoke with two women that we used for the video and we were going to interplay them into the video, but it did not make sense at the time. We ended up turning these two women’s stories into one person’s stories, it made the most sense to truly tell the stories in the best way. The budget restrictions were tight, but it was so important to me to tell their stories authentically. I am not oblivious to the fact that I am a white gay man and my life is significantly easier than people in the community who are of color, who are trans; there are a myriad of things that make my existence easier.
MC: When you decided to take the leap into music, did you always feel that it was the way you would go career-wise? Was it a passion?
TJB: I actually did not know that I could sing until I was about thirteen years old. I had taken guitar lessons and piano lessons, and had written my own songs. In middle school, I had to take a mandatory choir class and Miss Arbello was my choir teacher. I sang Happy Birthday to her and the next year I ended up in show choir. I came home to tell my parents that I had a solo in the Christmas program and I knew from that moment that music was what I would do. My parents were supportive and wanted me to to show them how serious I was. I found a vocal coach and I had already always been writing poetry. It was like a natural progression, as I had been singing, I immediately wanted to write. At thirteen, I was writing as much as I could, and I eventually created a demo with a producer. I never wanted anything else; it’s in my blood.
MC: What artists right now are really inspiring you musically?
TJB: One artist that is not nearly as popular as she should be is Priscilla Renea. She wrote “California King Bed” for Rihanna and “Timber” for Ke$ha and Pitbull, She had a solo career before she really took off as a writer and then her label kept giving her songs away. She never released her second album until she went independent last year. Her voice is absolutely insane; I cried when I listened to her album. It is one of the first albums that I am truly about the entire album; I only wish I was that good. I also love Emeli Sande, she is another amazing artist. I love Brandon Flowers from The Killers; his second solo album The Desired Effect is one of the albums my partner Glenn and I listen to the most. I think he is criminally underrated as a solo artist.
MC: Speaking of male vocalists, you are going to be appearing on a show that Adam Levine is executive producing, Songland. Tell me about it..
TJB: I am! It’s called Songland and it premieres May 28th. The format is essentially a number of songwriters who are pitching a song to the guest recording artist. Along with that artist, there are three songwriter/producers and they eventually choose a top three after you perform the song in front of the producers and guest recording artist. You get paired with the producer and then get the chance to tweak the song in the hopes that it would be a fit for an artist like John Legend or Leona Lewis, who will be on the show among others. The artist then choose the song that they would like to possibly be their next single. It was an absolutely amazing experience.
MC: Songwriting is a very personal experience, so what is it like when when someone records something that you wrote?
TJB: Oh, it’s bizarre; in a very cool way though. One song that I will be releasing after feel like home is called “Save Me”. It was my favorite song and was going to be the lead single for this project, until some last minute changes. I co-write with friends, but many times I am the voice behind them. My inflections, the notes that I will hit, and seeing someone take that and make it their own is kind of funny. It really is cool though; I would be lying if I didn’t say it was awesome. It’s a blessing that I get to do music for a living.
MC: In all of the aspects of your career, what gives you the most pride?
TJB: I think the most current project I am releasing gives me the most pride. Those are the songs that I wish I had when I was a kid. “Save Me” Is essentially a prayer. “Feel like Home” is for my partner. “Find A Way” was for me. I grew up very evangelical and reconciling my faith and my sexuality took a lot of time. I guess I wish that when I was a kid I had someone who looked like me and said the things that I am saying. My parents are amazing, but I grew up in a world where there was trauma surrounding church; I had a lot of hangups. None of this came from my parents, but when you hear that God does not love gay people and things like that, it is undeniable that things like that don’t get stuck in your head. I am not a Christian artist, but sometimes I am going to talk about my faith, or I am going to be clear and say that I think God loves gay people and God loves everyone. I hope that there is a little kid out there that sees that and says “Wow…I am not the only one”.
You can check out Tyler James Bellinger’s music HERE: