5 Under 5000: TRACES gets personal about his process, Heart of Gold and visual influences

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What do you get when you mix catchy pop lyrics, hard-hitting electronic beats, and silky smooth vocals? Los Angeles-based artist, Tim Dehnert, is exploring all the possibilities by producing his latest electronic, R&B and Indie-Pop inspired music under the moniker TRACES.

Originally hailing from San Diego, CA, Dehnert began his musical career at a young age of 13 playing in bands opening up for local acts, performing covers and posting videos on YouTube. From posting original songs, such as “Orange Moon”, to later works with his previous band, Fighting Time, Dehnert’s musical influences show a clear evolution from pop to hip-hop genres, both of which still heavily influence his music today.

Dehnert was first introduced to rap through a collection of albums his older brother was no longer interested in, one of those albums being Big Willie Style by Will Smith. While his first introduction was mere coincidence, Dehnert attributes most of his hip-hop influence to his friend, Travis, who would often give him rap albums to listen to in high school. It was through these albums that Dehnert discovered Tupac, J. Cole, and early Drake among others. The two bonded over influential albums such as Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, and Kanye West’s College Dropout.

From there, Dehnert became fascinated with hip-hop from the production elements, the competitive spirit, and the craftsmanship. He started to do his own research and began to study famous producers such as No I.D., Bomb Squad, and Timbaland, which caused him to fall in love with the electronic elements of hip-hop and try to figure out how to blend them into his craft.

After a few years of studying and producing his own music, Dehnert gained attention out in Los Angeles. This paved a way for him to start writing pop music for other artists and move into the city. But according to Dehnert, the transition from moving to L.A. wasn’t exactly easy. Going through these tough times was the first time he felt the need to use music as an outlet and so TRACES was born.

Dehnert has spent the last two years building up TRACES from writing and recording his EP trilogy and preparing for his live shows. Read more about his process, inspirations and what else we can expect from our recent interview below.

Your EP is very introspective, very vulnerable. Is there a track that stands out to you that’s the most personal?

I’d probably say “Trouble in Mind” because some of the songs on there are intentionally metaphoric. I really did try to be introspective and I did try to be vulnerable and honest and be exactly present with where I was at, but for some of them, I chose to speak in metaphor because I kind of hide in a way. I can get my message across without fully opening up and saying exactly what I mean.

“Trouble in Mind” is when I spoke exactly, directly. Just exactly how I feel. Exactly how I feel about the people around me. Exactly how I feel internally. There are some friends that were in my life at that time where if they asked me, specifically, “Hey, what was that song about? Who were these people about?” and it’s like “That was about you.” They can get a very clear depiction of how I was feeling about them.

I try to be super present with where I’m at, good or bad. I want to write how I’m feeling unabridged. So I think that’s the one where it’s the most direct, the most clear…“Trouble in Mind” has this unabridged honesty to it that that was the one I was most scared about getting questions from friends and family on.

When writing, you mentioned you fully immersed yourself. You dive right in to the thoughts, the pain and the self doubt, the fear, how do you manage to acknowledge that brokenness, but not dwell in it?

I think I’m figuring that out now, to be honest. The way I wrote that first EP was really unhealthy. Part of me feels like that sounds cheesy and overstated, but there was the reality that I felt like I had to feel those feelings so real and be immersed in them and be fully covered in that. Whether it’s happiness or sadness, regardless, I just don’t think that’s good because it’s not giving you a way out either. It’s not acknowledging the place, it’s being in a place.

What I’m kind of figuring out now is the writing process is a little bit slower for me now… I’m figuring out how to not dwell on it and how to move on from it. But there’s a real power in acknowledging where you were at and what you learned from that and what happens when failure comes in and being able to pick up and go forward.

After I wrote that project, I was able to take a couple months after it had been released. I was kind of like “That’s not the person I am or who I want to be”. I’m definitely not this sad, mopey person all the time. It’s just a matter of acknowledging it was a time and space, and acknowledging the long process. There might be a time when not everything is good for you, but you can come out of that and that is the development that I’ve figured out over the last three months.

Following that, what can you tell us about the narrative and the themes that you’re trying to convey with the remaining EPs?

Number two is picking up where I left off. Number two is a lot about a middle ground. Being in a place where it’s kind of like two paths. You can either continue on the track where you’ve always been. You can choose to, like you said, wallow in it, stay in it out of fear of getting better and falling again out of getting hurt, whatever the fear’s are. Or you can embrace the uncomfortable. You can embrace conflict. And you can embrace going through it and going through the difficult process.

It’s whether or not you want to sit there or you want to find a way out. It’s also coming from a place where there’s, not incentivization, but there are things that are attractive about both paths to me. If the first one is about this is how I’m feeling – this is how everything feels, this is how the weight of everything feels – the second one is now that we’re in the middle of it, and being constantly frustrated about being stuck there, where do we go from it? Do we go right? Do we go left?

The third one will tie it together, but that’s the one I’m finishing up now. I’m starting to do some songs for that and tying it together. There’s a lot of fears that, for me, life, music, career – whatever those things are – will always be high highs just existing for low lows. That’s a really terrible way to approach life, but that’s often how I feel. I have a general melancholiness, so I think that’s what I’ve been trying to figure out over these three: that idea of “does that have to be how life is gonna be?” I guess that’s a little vague, but that’s the broad summary of the three.

You mentioned earlier that you were kind of hiding behind metaphors, are you a little more open with your lyrics in the next two?

A lot more. I speak very directly. I love metaphors as an aspect of writing, but this one is for sure a lot more blunt. The opening song is very, very straightforward. There’s definitely some metaphoric aspects in there, but most of the metaphor is all related to the positive things in this one. Whereas negative is a lot more direct in “this is exactly how I feel” and “this is exactly where I’m at”. As much as possible, I’m not trying to hide. I think hiding is a mistake. But I’m still being creative and making my English teachers happy using proper metaphors and similes all those literary techniques.

While recording Heart of Gold, and recording in general, have there been any unexpected directions or surprises that happened?

Not so much! I like taking the time to really come up with concepts, come up with ideas and kind of see the whole picture. I love creating concepts. I love creating plans and worlds and ideas and scenes. So when I get really attached to one of them, I tend to see it through. Obviously, some things shift. What exists within that scene shifts, which is based on songs, whether or not the songs are telling that story best. But for the most part, it’s kind of stayed steady.

The biggest change has been trying to figure out what sounds tell the story best. Trying to constantly develop and, not reinvent completely, but constantly try to figure out how do we make this better than the last one? How do we progress and musically get better? The only surprise is the full extent of how much I’ve learned about myself from writing. That’s kind of been the biggest surprise. You really do work through some things through that artistic creativity. But I’ve also seen the opposite of that, too, like what we were talking about earlier: when you wallow in it, you really do get stuck there and it’s really hard to pull yourself out.

Why an EP trilogy rather than just one extended album?

I’ve always loved artists like Frank Ocean and Bon Iver and Kendrick and Jay-Z. Artists that commit to themes and commit to larger concepts in a really consistent tone. Coldplay is another example of that. Their albums are very thematic. I just didn’t think I knew how to do that yet. So it was literally practice. It was like, let’s see, if we’re doing a larger project, what would this look like to create a concept? What would this look like to create an art theme and all those things?

Honestly, I straight up wanted a couple tries at it and wanted to see, over time, how do I change as an artist? How do things develop? The growth that’s happened between number one and two is insane. I’ve definitely grown so much as a musician, as an artist, as a producer, as a writer… When I do my first album, I wanna do it really well. I really wanna take the time and do it right, so I think these were a really good way at trying at that and starting at that.

Other than listening to music, I read you follow other visual artists and other fashion, and you mentioned that those two things will be a larger part of TRACES and what you do. Who are you following and how will those things be a larger part of you?

I follow a lot of creatives that are musicians that are creatives as well. So I love Brockhampton. Seeing what they’ve done with fashion design, their live sets. But also seeing Tyler, the Creator, what he’s done. What Kanye’s been able to do. Pusha T. Those creators and the fashion space, I love what they’ve done. I think it what will be a bigger part, talking about themes, I want the show to be a part of the theme. So visually, what you’re looking at, I want it to fit into the same theme that the music did. To be able to make every aspect of it thematic or conceptual, I think is huge.

But I think as far as TRACES goes, theme and concept is a big part. Fashion-wise and there. That’s what I want to do. Make worlds. Make large concepts and invite as many people as possible to be part of that. So that’s how those two elements fit in for me.

Before we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to share?

The live stuff. That’s the next piece for me. We’re gonna put out the second project – it’s coming really soon – and keep writing, and I’ll always be making music and writing for other artists and all those things, but I think the live show is the next big part. We wanna make it a fun show. We wanna make it where people actually enjoy taking their night out to go to, go hang, have it be an actual enjoyable time… We want it to be the best thing possible… I think my biggest thing is to invite people to come out, talk with me, come hang. I love meeting people. It’s constantly developing, but live is the next one for me. Those shows are definitely by far the most fun.

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Listen to TRACES:

Spotify | Bandcamp