Credit: Supplied / Austin Cieszko

When the carefree pop track “A-OK” blasted through the sound waves of every radio station and streaming service last June, little did we know that for Australians, it would later become a lockdown power anthem. It was my introduction to up-and-coming Los Angeles native Tai Verdes and little did I know, that nearly 12 months later I would be singing the same tune, overseas, in an at-capacity venue in the singer’s hometown. The same finesse Verdes brings to his music, and debut album TV, permeates through his live music for one of the most fun concerts I had been to in a long time.

When I spoke with Verdes from The London in West Hollywood, he had just released his celebrated new single “100sadsongs”. The artist is also preparing for a journey Down Under where he will perform at Splendour in the Grass as well as a series of sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne in July. In the meantime, get acquainted with Verdes below.

ICON: Firstly, congratulations on the release of your latest single last week and wrapping up a huge tour. How are you feeling?

Tai Verdes: “Great! Everything that I have been planning is happening – it’s so much fun. I think everything about touring, that I’m learning, is important to know what I like and what I don’t like. Everything happened perfectly.”

You are so engaged with the audience when you appear live on stage. Has performing always come natural to you?

TV: “I don’t know what’s natural to me. I’ve been doing a lot of performing on camera since I was a kid. I’d film myself doing Instagram videos and playing piano. I’d film myself doing vlogs when I was 21. I’ve just had a lot of time on camera and in different situations. I was a model and did stand-up comedy. Reality television, I did that as well. Seeing production and being around that industry feel while still trying to perform. It’s not something I just walked on stage and was ready for, it’s something I exposed myself to as much as I could. Back in 2020 when I started doing this I just thought, ‘Look this is a stepping stone’. One show at a time. Just get better as much as possible.’ Singing live is different to singing in the studio, anyone can sing in the studio.

“I don’t believe in natural talent, I believe in environment and exposure and time on task.”

Many artists can attest that working a small audience can be more intimidating than playing to an arena. Behind this incredible confidence do you ever have any moments of doubt?

TV: “I definitely have moments of doubt. Sometimes you go off the rails for a second and you have to bring it back but no one expects perfection. If you try to pressure yourself that’s a recipe for depression.”

What’s running through your mind before you step out on stage?

TV: “Let’s do it, fuck it, let’s go. I don’t think about it too hard. I think about things way less than people give me credit for. I’m just going out there and trying my best. I’m really there for the people, I’m not there to showcase myself. I want people to have a good time when I’m performing.”

You’ve seemingly become an overnight success at 26 thanks to TikTok and, gone from working in retail to over 9.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Did you ever think this was possible?

TV: “I wasn’t so much working towards those numbers. I was working towards releasing an album. Undeniability is one of my favourite things about music. I think things way bigger than this are possible and it’s cool to see everything step by step. Levelling up in every single way.”

TikTok has become such a powerful tool to launch the career of so many artists. Did you recognise that early on?

TV: “I have known ever since I saw [Canadian artist] Curtis Waters talking about TikTok. When I see someone do something one time, I know I can do it. Because I don’t think anyone is special. Whatever they did, I can try and duplicate it in my own way. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. I was wrong four times; Facebook, YouTube, Vine, Instagram. This is my fifth try. It’s really hard to hear a ‘yes’ in Hollywood with an idea.”

Can you recall the moment you were approached to be signed by the record label? What was your reaction?

TV: “I don’t have a lot of trust in record labels but I wanted to sign to one on my own terms so I could own everything. I was never looking for a record deal, I was just looking for someone to give me a backing. Long term, I want to be releasing music for as long as possible. “

Who were you listening to growing up? Was playing music always the dream?

TV: “It was not the dream but I was listening to Kid Cudi, Kanye West and Childish Gambino. All tenured artists. As a kid I would listening to everything, 50 cent to Shrek The Musical Soundtrack. References from everywhere.”

Credit: Supplied / Austin Cieszko
So many of your songs are so upbeat and are the perfect track to dance to but the lyrics often tell a different story. What is the formula to the perfect happy sad song?

TV: “I don’t think about emotions like that when I’m making music. I just sing about what feels good. When you cry you can also feel good when you cry. You can bring that to music really easily. I think every song feels good in its own way and you just have to find those pockets whether it is the lyrics or the rhythm or instrumentation or the production. I want my songs to feel good because I want to listen to them.”

What do you hope your fans take from your ongoing music?

TV: “I don’t care. If you think about what your fans take from music then you will subconsciously make it for the fans. I want it to be my self-expression and then keep making it. Whatever happens after that, cool. The whole goal of this artist project is not to be famous; the goal is to never work again.”

Dream collaboration?

TV: “I don’t have one. I want my music to be so good I have people asking me.”

You’re heading to Australia – for the first time ever – in a couple of months for Splendour in the Grass alongside some side shows. What can fans expect from your show?

TV: “I just sing until I almost pass out. Good energy. I just want to sing songs. If you like to sing songs, come to my show.”

Credit: Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images
What are you most excited about when you arrive Down Under?

TV: “I’m so excited just to be Down Under… I would never go if it wasn’t for music.”

What’s next for you in 2022?

TV: “Second album! I’m just going to keep releasing music.”

Stream ‘This Is Tai Verdes’ on Spotify. You can see Tai Verdes live on his HDTV tour in Sydney and Melbourne this July. Tickets available via Ticketek in Sydney and Moshtix in Melbourne.