Billy Lemos is a talented young producer and a masterful curator of new and rising talent. He grew up in Iowa and now lives in Chicago, but his collaborators—mostly found through online digging and listening—are spread far and wide. Since 2017, he has released two EPs and a handful of singles, featuring artists like Omar Apollo, Maxwell Young, Juto, Quiet Luke, Victor Internet, and more.
Lemos is inspired by Madlib, as so many producers are, but for him it goes beyond the music itself to a spirit of discovery and highlighting and supporting other artists. "Madlib's approach of sampling obscure artists, and then also clearing them and reaching out [inspires me]," Billy tells us. "I think it's cool because through his music he curates a library of sound that he really likes, that other people wouldn't find out about if he didn't sample it. Obviously, Madlib is a legend, but I aspire to do what he does in a different way."
The latest collaboration is with a singer named JJ, and it's Billy's fourth single of the year. His growth over time and exploration of new and varied sounds is clear, and now Lemos is focused on making songs that will stand the test of time as he plots his debut project for 2020. Until then, listen to "Run Fast" on all platforms and read a short interview with Billy Lemos below.
Talk me through the music you’ve released since 2017—two EPs and these singles. How have you evolved through that time?
With the first EP, Self, I was just putting songs out and then I rolled it into an EP. Last year I did that, as well. There wasn't really cohesion. With the EPs I tried to explore a bunch of different genres, but now I'm trying to make music that ages better.
I've sat on this year’s singles for six or eight months listening to them and making sure they still sound good. I feel that with some of the music I used to put out, it sounded good because I released it so quickly after I made it. I was really impatient, and I'm trying to take my time with music now. This year, taking it slower and developing songs more, it just felt better. I feel like I've put more into the releases. It's more rewarding now, I think.
You’re presenting this new song as the latest in a singles series—why that rather than an EP?
I'm tired of releasing singles. I feel like that's what everyone is doing right now, and it's exhausting as an artist to be releasing singles. I want to put out a body of work that is fresh.
What can you tell me about the artist JJ who's on "Run Fast"?
I found her on SoundCloud when I was just digging through a bunch of stuff, and I contacted her. She had a few songs up, but she also was working on a project and she sent me the private link and it was pretty strong. She put out an EP [Grown] that’s really good too. Whenever I find an artist on SoundCloud it's so random, because I look almost every day and I usually won't find anything, but then I'll stumble into something.
I was originally going to have a rap feature. Around 40 seconds into the song, there's sort of like a trap—I don't think it's really trap—breakdown thing. I wanted to sort of emulate Endless but not blatantly rip it off. I just wanted to do my own thing on it. I really liked certain sounds that were on that album.
How do you approach collaborating with other artists? Especially when you're not in-person with them.
Recently, I've been able to work in-person a lot more, and it's nice. With certain people, they'll just have a demo that they'll send me and I'll flesh it out and turn it into something more tangible or something that is complete and polished. Other times I'll start from scratch. There are songs I have for next year where it's fully from scratch.
As someone who collaborates a lot, what do you see the role of producer being or meaning in 2019?
One of the most important things is that I want to work with artists that I genuinely like and not because they're popping off. I'm not working with people who just have a bunch of Instagram followers or a bunch of monthly listeners. It's more about me finding people that I think are underrated, and then trying to A&R and help them. Usually the people I work with are pretty small at the time, and then maybe a few months down the road they'll put out singles or something that will help them gain traction. I stay in communication with the artists, too. So I think it's just more interesting to work with artists that aren't fully popped off, yet. It's more satisfying.
How do you find these smaller artists. Still on SoundCloud?
It's harder now. I think SoundCloud is very dead. I still go on there because people are still uploading, but I feel like more people start out on streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. People know how to use distribution services, now. It's a little bit harder to find people but you can still just root through "Fans also like" of a smaller artist and find a bunch of underground artists.
Is there anything you can pinpoint that you're looking for in newer artists to work with?
It's just consistency. I think there are a lot of artists that are smaller and maybe have one crazy song, but if I find an artist that has a project out, or four or five songs that are all solid and original, I'm going to reach out and see what's going on with them. I don't care what number of monthly listeners, what amount of followers.
As someone who's always digging for new music, are the any trends you're seeing in music that you find especially interesting?
I think right now, London and New Zealand are crazy. I think the trend is shifting away from what was called bedroom pop. Honestly, I feel like that is dead now. It's reaching more people and there are still people finding out about it, but I feel like the amount of emerging artists who are like, "This is something I want to make," is going away.
More people are making sort of indie punk or indie rock influenced records. Artists like Jean Dawson, Bakar, and Deb Never, too. I feel like more artists in that vein are coming out than people who want to make bedroom records.
What do you have planned for next year? What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been having sessions in London with artists working towards a project. I just reached out and contacted a bunch of people because I still manage myself. But I think it's interesting to manage myself because if I'm producing and not playing a lot of shows, I have the time to do that.
What are some of the challenges that come along with managing yourself?
I don't think it's been too bad, because I sort of learned how to get my music heard and how to get on the playlists. I think maybe it's weirder when I'm trying to do stuff like set up marketing or talk to distribution companies and have them take me seriously. That's when it can maybe be weird because they might take me less seriously. They might doubt that I know what the hell I'm doing, but usually it's worked out pretty well. I think the only thing is if I wanted to play live shows, I would reach out to a manager, but I'm not super interested in that right now.
How were the sessions in London?
The sessions were really productive. Sometimes we would just put on a voice memo recording and have a jam session. But then within that, there were three different songs or ideas that when I go back in a few months, I want to keep developing and refine into songs.
I'm taking my time. I used to be in my bedroom, making the maximum amount of songs: quantity over quality. Now, I'm trying to be slow and take different approaches with the songs. London has been crazy. I've been able to work with artists that I never thought I would be able to work with in-person. They're smaller artists still, but people that I listen to and wanted to work with for a while.