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Bickle, with a B. Known to his friends as “Thrift Store Prince” with the leopard prints.
Bickle like Travis Bickle. Kinda. Robert De Niro’s lone-wolf Taxi Driver antihero inspired the artist’s original moniker when he started making music in 2016. An SEO clusterfuck, fuzzy trademark implications, and Bickle’s mounting disdain for “Travis” ultimately deaded the first name. So now he’s just Bickle.
“I’ve since picked better idols,” he tells us, smiling over a transatlantic FaceTime. Listen to his new song “Naked” and the severed connection makes sense. How could a tormented ‘70s character have ever influenced a kid making songs with enough audio euphoria to rocket a dog to the moon, Mars, and beyond?
Although Bickle arrived this week with his first "official" release, the 21-year-old is far from a new artist, having publicly stockpiled years of experiments on SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Some of the best songs you’ve never heard are (still) waiting for you there, between his @bickle and @bickleboy accounts. Cross the peak output of mid-2000s punk-pop with Digimon synths and lunar chords and, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with something as disarming as his loosie twosome, “Joan of Arc” / “Human Being.”
“SoundCloud was dying for long enough that everyone just assumes it’s dead now, but things are moving there,” Bickle says. “You can slip through the crevices and do well. I’ll never delete my shit off there. I was trying to make an album so bad, and I still want to when I’m ready, but I realized I was being a hypocrite. I love songs more than artists, always. That’s the quote. Building my leverage up, single by single." [Laughs]
And with that, back to “Naked.” The self-produced song sounds like lots of things—a surefire favorite for Dance Dance Revolution 2040, a cloud-parting depression diffuser liable to incite flash mobs, “Happy” if it wasn’t a harvestable cornfield but instead some kinetic club mix of Passion Pit and Electric Light Orchestra. For early birds, it’s proof that Bickle’s limits stretch well beyond 30,000 feet. To him? Months of hard work, plus the sky-high elation of falling in love with music again.
“Everything can start to sound like garbage when your whole life is wrapped up in this stuff, and I had hit that point, so I made this playlist of songs I’d never, ever skip," he explains. "Hours of songs. I listened to that nonstop for a few weeks and it worked. ‘Naked’ is about that process. It’s an ode to my CD collection. I can’t finish a song unless it makes me laugh. That’s my rule. And this did that for me.”
I can’t finish a song unless it makes me laugh. That’s my rule. And this did that for me.
If the track’s a laugh, the flipbook video is a riot. Bickle waltzes through 3000 self-shot stop-motion frames with enough unclothed energy to draw even the most timid to the disco. Adrenaline’s never looked so endearing. Album packaging (Sade, Steely Dan, Björk) sits front and center, sharing screen time with neon lights and motion blur. Daring contemporaries like Jack Larsen appear for iPhone cameos. Bickle dropped out of high school in Georgia, but not before meeting his girlfriend Alicia, who also features here. He made music for the first time when he covered their favorite songs as a Christmas gift. All in all, it’s a labor of love, the moment when Bickle rolled the dice and jumped from part-time employment to full-time artistry.
“Each of those shots takes me an entire day to do,” Bickle tells us. “There’s a mad science to conveying sound in a picture. I was going for that pre-DSLR, ‘07 - ‘08, frozen-in-time feel. MySpace cameras. I was working at Sam’s Club and quit toward the end of the video process to wrap it up. I would put my video outfit on at the end of the day and bike back to keep filming. One of the maintenance crew members always asked why I was biking in boxers. They are shorts! Let it be known! One thing missing from the video is My World 2.0. I used to rip Justin Bieber songs from LimeWire when I was like 11. ‘Eenie Meenie’ featuring Sean Kingston is to this day the best Bieber song.”
“Naked” might look and sound like an extrovert in his pocket, but Bickle’s most cozy with space to tinker solo. Big chunks of his childhood took place in no man’s land, bouncing from one town to another before his parents settled in Atlanta. Only recently did he immerse himself in a more collaborative environment, setting up shop at Dr. Crazy Crab, an LA studio hideaway frequented by rising acts like Dijon and Zack Villere. If he’s not trying to master addition by subtraction in a session, he’s playing Grand Theft Auto, a glass of pinot grigio on standby.
“I can’t sit down and outplay anyone,” he admits. “I can’t outsing everyone. But I can modulate my voice, play with words, write something on an instrument that I love and record. It’s just enough of everything coming together to maybe make someone say, ‘Woah,’ when to me it’s like, ‘I barely did this.’ [Laughs] But I also don’t want people to just think I’m good because I’m doing everything. A lot of that’s just necessity. It’s usually just me, but I need feedback to survive sometimes. You can sink in your own echo chamber. You also need to stand your ground, I’m learning. You’ve got to be okay not being 100% understood. People can get to 60% pretty easily, but then they try to fill in their own 40%. That belongs to you.”
What does 100% Bickle really sound like? TBD. As it should be. If enough people catch wind of “Naked,” the newcomer might have a song of the summer contender on his hands. Or at least a sunny group chat staple. So, maybe more of that. But spend even a few minutes sifting through his digital archives and you’ll know it’s a mistake to assume pretty much anything, because Bickle can do pretty much everything. Catch him if you can—the evolution’s only just begun.