The following text is a transcript from the Tolliver episode of the Hult Center Podcast, recorded on November 16, 2022.
Hult Center: You’re listening to the Hult Center podcast and today I am pleased to have Tolliver on our show. He is the next 10×10 performer on Friday, December 9. And all tickets for 10×10 shows are just $10. Thanks for coming to the show.
Tolliver: What’s up? Is that really… you said December 10?
Hult Center: December 9.
Tolliver: December 9. That’s coming right up.
Hult Center: Coming right up. We’re really close. Are you ready?
Tolliver: Almost now. Like tomorrow. Yeah, I’m ready. I got my band together and you still need to get us some flights and all that kind of stuff. But we’re feeling good. We’ve been playing a lot this year, so we’re like locked.
Hult Center: And you’re doing you guys are doing like ten or so shows on the west coast?
Tolliver: Yes. We’re doing a little tour with this band CHK CHK CHK in California and then going to be up in the PNW again for the second time this year, hanging out, playing some shows. And yeah, I think it’s maybe seven or eight dates.
Hult Center: That’s awesome. Great. So welcome to Daddyland is your most recent EP and it’s a joy to listen to. It celebrates yourself and identity, but also the impacts that your father had on your life and being raised in a religious household. There’s a lot going on there. So what do you hope that listeners take away from this EP?
Tolliver: I think it’s kind of that classic gospel thing where you want people to bare their soul and feel like the kind of hurt in the music, but also just like to have a great time and feel sort of uplifted by it. Because a lot of the songs, I think, are a little deceptive. A few of them are like sassy, like, yeah, I’m a man. But then like, Death back to Birth, which is my favorite song on the record, is literally about me dying and the joy of dying and going to see my father in the afterlife. How much nicer would be to be able to let off, to not have the daily stresses that we all face and stuff like that. And so I wanted to feel like a cathartic listen. I want people to kind of dig so deep into it that they hear the lyrics and stuff like that. And feeling that hurt, but also feeling like, OK, cool, now that I’ve gotten out of the way, I can enjoy my life and party up and all that.
Hult Center: Nice, yeah. And there’s a lot going on there. There’s funk and R&B and go, go, I definitely get a little Prince action in there. What are you listening to? What inspires you? You listen to a song, you’re like, I got to try that!
Tolliver: Yeah. I grew up in the baptist church, and so a lot of the stuff that I really enjoy (as my cat attacks my XML cable) a lot of the music that I really enjoy that seeps into my records is, for me, it sounds like, oh, that’s a gospel record. Even if it’s like funk, soul funk soul. I’m like, that’s a gospel record in my mind. So it would be like Karen Clark Sheard, Kirk Franklin, honestly, is a big influence on me. I know that we’re going to talk about records, and I was like, honestly, Kirk Franklin is most of what I listened to as a kid. As far as what I’m listening to now, I listen to a lot of alternative R&B, Frank Ocean naturally, a lot of those young whippersnapper rappers, Brockhampton all those cats. And probably, I would say, a lot of queer music, too, like Sylvester, I listen to Sylvester a lot, but that’s only because I go to this 1 bar and they play him everywhere time I walk in. But, yeah, I would say funk, gospel and then sort of joyful gay dance music and stuff like that.
Hult Center: So you have a soundtrack. Does Sylvester know that?
Tolliver: Sylvester has no idea. I wish they knew.
Hult Center: So talking about, like, I guess styles of Sylvester’s, your sonic style, we love every image that we see of you, and you have so much style. How did this happen? When did you find confidence in your look? And does fashion coincide with your music and performance? Is it all wrapped up into one package?
Tolliver: Yeah, I think so. It’s been kind of a journey, but I would say if there was one moment, it was honestly because we played the James Corden Show last February and our drummer was actually there, the drummer for the show. And he was like, it’s got to look right, it’s got to look cohesive, blah, blah. And that was the first time I did this, like, monochrome suit with the pink blah blah, and everything kind of, like, came together to look very Bootsy-ish, something like that. And that kind of kicked me off on, oh, my God, I love this feeling. I love this feeling of kind of like, this looks really gay. And it’s also very structured and the lines are clean and really funky. So that was kind of the kick off to the fashion elements and stuff like that, I think. But I’ve always hopefully this doesn’t sound arrogant I’ve always been stylish, sure, but I would say my stage style was kind of, like, all over the place before this most recent era. I’d do, like, glam and then suddenly I’d just show up in a big, huge robe and black sunglasses like, oh, I’m going to haunt you. And it was just kind of like I would just do a gig by gig, whatever I was feeling. And so now I feel like it’s more of a a cohesive statement or something like that. And I like that.
Hult Center: Is there like, a stage persona that you take on before you step out?
Tolliver: It’s kind of tough to say because to me, they’re the same person. It’s just more like I go HAHAHA it feels more like that guy kind of has the microphone, but it still feels like me and Yeah, I’m known to kind of talk a lot between songs and stuff like that because it doesn’t necessarily feel like a performance to me. It feels like I’m just kind of, like, kicking it with the homies, including a crowd, so yeah, I don’t know if it’s a persona, but I can tell there’s a difference between me on stage, in me, like, ordering
Hult Center: Chinese Takeout?
Tolliver: Korean BBQ. Yeah, exactly. It’s not the same person. Exactly. For me, it was, like, one guy. Yeah.
Hult Center: Well, you’re in a spotlight, and you got a megaphone, so you gotta…
Hult Center: Any tips for those who are trying to make an impression? Or even tips for those who maybe don’t feel comfortable in their own skin and how to maybe break free and be themselves?
Tolliver: Yeah, I mean, you really got to follow that feeling that makes you I didn’t want to say, like, follow your joy, because so many people have said that. But you see certain things, like you’re talking about the fashion elements. You see certain outfits, and you go, that makes me happy, or you hear certain sounds, certain songs or whatever, or you just walking down the street and you see, like, a puppy, and you get really excited. You just got to kind of follow that feeling in your art or in your life, because it can be hard out here, the state of the world and you need this shield. Like, even now, people can’t see it. But I have these big pink walls with paintings that, like, my friends have done and stuff like that, and I wake up, and I feel happy when I see that kind of stuff. That makes me more of myself, and I kind of put more of the things in my life that make me happy on a regular basis. So, you know, don’t be afraid. And it doesn’t have to be bright stuff, obviously. Just be whatever you like.
Hult Center: So it’s like, yeah, if your walls are, you know, pink, makes you happy. And your walls are pink, wear pink suit, too. Why not?
Tolliver: Exactly. Just throw it all in there. I used to paint my nails pink all the time. My nail polish dried up and haven’t replaced it. But I would do, like I would do little things like that, like five, six years ago, just to have, like, a little moment of joy. I’d be sitting on the train and I go, my fingers are green. No one knows but me. I get that. And so it’s just nice.
Hult Center: Yes. My kids painted my toenails last month, like, shiny silver. And I wear socks and shoes all day, but I could still look down at my feet and be like, find some joy in that. Even though it’s all covered.
Tolliver: Yeah. Like, no one else has silver feet.
Hult Center: That’s right.
Tolliver: That we know of.
Hult Center: That’s fair. So tell us about your live performance energy that you bring to your shows. You said that you like to talk a lot, but, you know, what can people be excited to experience?
Tolliver: Yeah. And I hope the talking to the I’m not like, lecturing the audience between songs. I’m just kind of like going on. And I would say it’s more like a preacher vibe. Like I said, my dad was a Baptist pastor and I think a lot of that just kind of flows through me where the song long ends and I feel compelled to go like, oh, Lord, wasn’t that ah (mhhhh) and then I’m trying to get the audience singing or something like that. It feels very participatory like I said, very Baptist church, very raw in this together. Fun, fun. And I hate putting this pressure on myself, but I’ve been told I’m funny. I hang out with a lot of comics. Those are my main friends and I’ve dated a lot of comics. And I’ve just really just like taking their life’s blood and going Muhahaha and so I think it’s a really funny, Baptist, gospel, good time show kind of thing.
Hult Center: Nice. That’s exciting. We kind of touched on essential artists in your life earlier. Kind of move that up in the conversation. Is there any aspect of your stage show that’s impacted by artists that you love?
Tolliver: Yeah, I mean, before I moved to LA. I saw Earth, Wind and Fire play the Hollywood Bowl, and that moment has been burned into my brain since it happened. It must be like ten years ago. Twelve years or something like that. And those kind of just like, very free black people from the 70s 80s before things got kind of dark in the early 90s. That’s kind of my inspiration when I’m on stage, I think, because you look at these guys and they’re like they’re wearing shiny stuff that is (Scat) bounced around and whatnot.
Hult Center: With a sparkly. With a sparkly jumpsuit. Yeah.
Tolliver: Exactly. They all look like space aliens. And I kind of miss that in music right now. I know that there are certain some people do it, but it looked like just from archival stuff I’m seeing, it looks like it was more ubiquitous. It looks like people are just, like, laughing, having a good time. And so 1s I think that’s kind of my inspiration for my stage show. But I will say I don’t really, like, watch things and go. I want it to be like that. It just kind of happens through trial and error. I play a lot, but I play a lot of, like, secret things. So, like, hey, do you want to play my little warehouse thing at 2:45 in the morning for $300? I’d be like, yeah. And that’s where I try things out. I play a lot of comedy shows and stuff like that. That’s where I try things out. Different looks and different vibes and stuff like that. I think it all comes together on the main stage show through all that.
Hult Center: Yeah. Cool. So we love that you support the LGBTQIA community and those artists, and it’s obviously very important to you. So, like, why is it so important to you? And why you think it is so important to support these groups? And is there stuff that you want us to tell people?
Tolliver: I mean, I think. There’s maybe a certain part of the world that’s like hey, it’s popping now, you’re doing great. You know, the LGBT community is rocking and rolling. All live, laugh, laughing, getting married and stuff like that. But it’s still really interesting in a lot of spaces to be a queer person. Especially if you’re wearing like bright pink coats and stuff like that. Like a lot of times when I’m going to performances and what not and I’m taking the train or whatever, it gets a little like am I okay?
Hult Center: Sure
Tolliver: It can be really dark, it can be a really threatening world and it gets even dark in that, obviously. And so I think continuing to keep our foot on the gas and be like, hey, this is a space where we can all be ourselves. By trying to be myself as bright as possible, you try to make space for other people to do the same thing. Because almost selfishly you want everybody to be having fun and bright because that’s the kind of world I want to see. I throw a festival, annual festival coproduce rather called Exotic Fruits Fest. And it’s not overtly stated but it’s POC, it’s queer and it’s a film festival as well. We partner with Out Fest this year, which is a 40 year old film fest for queer people are like queer filmmakers and so I do that. And then there’s another group I work with called Project Q and they do gender affirming haircuts for POC teens and whatnot. Haircuts are free. And so I feel like I’ve been out here working with gay stuff for a long time and it’s fun for me. It’s fun to be around my people in that way because it makes me happy. It makes me feel like we (weee) sometimes you can’t verbalize what you feel. You go like wee. It’s a sound like a lot of my songs, there’s a lot of gibberish cause I’m just like, you know, (scat) like I’ve done it actually a million times this recording already. You just say stuff you’re like that.
Hult Center: Hey scatting that’s an art form.
Tolliver: That’s an art form. I have a vocal jazz degree. So maybe that’s where…
Hult Center: There you go, that checks out. You probably took a class on scatting.
Tolliver: I certainly did. My gosh.
Hult Center: So we are super excited to have you at the Hult Center on Friday, December and we should have our holiday lights up. Are you a fan of the holidays? Does that excite you? Do you got some favorite holiday songs or anything like that in your life?
Tolliver: You know what, it’s not appropriate for all ages. But there’s a song called Backdoor Santa and I was going to leave it right there. OK. That’s my favorite holiday song. I used to perform that all the time. It’s a real hoot. I’m glad to know that the holidays are going to be up already because we just obviously going to match that look wise. So now I was like there we go.
Hult Center: Well, hey, thank you so much for chatting with us. And again, you will be at the Hult Center for our 10×10 series on December 9. Every ticket is just $10, and we’re excited to have you and everyone come out and check out Tolliver it’s going to be a heck of a night.
Tolliver: Can’t wait y’all it’s gonna be a good time. I’ll see you there.