Courtesy of Carter Ace

Carter Ace is a 5-person hip-hop band from Los, Angeles, California, known for its unique fusion of jazz, rap, soul, funk and R&B. O’Neil Carter is the frontman, writer and producer of the group, with Fahem Erfan as guitarist, Daniel Durant as bassist, Jon Redwood as keyboardist and Gio Alford as drummer. This interview was conducted with O’Neil Carter, who unexpectedly led his band to TikTok virality, gaining nearly 300,000 followers in the past few months.  

“I went viral on TikTok and this is how it happened” 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Can you tell me a bit about your music journey? When did you first start making music?

I first got into music at a really young age. My mother was a dancer, and my dad was a musician. They’re both Cameroonian artists, so they were doing their thing out there. Then they came to America, and you know, gave birth to me. I was around to see all the music stuff that they would do over here. Then, later on in life, I realized, music may be something I want to pursue. I met a bunch of other people in my city who also did music, who were also mostly first-generation American, so we had a lot of similarities in music taste. That’s how I formed my band.

How has your family’s background influenced your music’s sound?

Growing up, I only listened to African music, salsa music, everything that was just rhythm. Then I got introduced to hip hop around middle school. That was around the time I found out who Kanye was. I started digging deeper into his catalogues, while also listening to hours and hours of my dad in the studio tweaking congo drums and stuff. That definitely shaped the type of music I make.

What’s your creative process like?

In the beginning, I controlled most of the production, since everyone didn’t have access to programs. But a few years back, everyone bought laptops and downloaded Ableton, so now it’s a very collaborative process. It’s a lot of us like, hanging out, and being like, I have this idea, I don’t know what to do with it, can we develop something here?

Let’s talk about your internet presence. What was your mindset downloading TikTok? Did you expect to blow up? 

I did not! That came out of nowhere. When I first downloaded TikTok, I was just having fun with it. I was on Instagram, and I had learned how to play the ‘Panini’ chords by Lil Nas X, and I accidentally turned it into a trap beat. I thought it was funny, so I decided to post it on TikTok. It did nothing on TikTok, but I was like, this is an interesting platform, let me do more things. So I started using other people’s sounds, and I was just having fun with it. And then I posted a video of me saying I was an independent musician and the struggles we go through and people were like, yo, I’m going through that same struggle. So really what kept me going was having fun and people actually liking what I was doing for fun, instead of trying to force something. 

“Day In The Life of an Independent Musician”

If you were a TikTok trend, which one would you be? 

Right now I would be the ‘full 180.” The Dua Lipa song. Not just the ‘full ‘180’ but the one that keeps repeating, “I did a full 180, did a full 180, did a full 180,” because I can’t make up my damn mind! That’s why.

On TikTok you’re very open about how you balance music with financial responsibilities, especially in regards to your day job at Domino’s Pizza. Do you have any advice for artists who may be experiencing similar frustrations with money or music?

My biggest thing is to enjoy the journey as much as possible. I used to be very concerned with every step that I was making, and I would sacrifice a lot of things. I was sacrificing Christmas and New Years and birthdays, just because I needed to work, so I could reinvest into myself. This year, I finally decided, you know what, let me just enjoy all these things that I’ve done these last few years. And after doing that, that’s when all the growth happened: when I actually enjoyed the journey of getting to whatever place that you want to be at. So that’s my biggest thing. Enjoy the journey as much as possible. And another thing, that’s just off the top of my head right now: Google and Youtube are your best friends, if you need to learn how to do anything.

What do you find most enjoyable about music?

I love every once in a while when I get that one song, or those lyrics or beat, that I love, and it’s like, I have to use this. And it usually comes from not overthinking. Another place where I don’t overthink is when I perform. Those are the two best things to me, I love performing. I would take performing over doing anything else. Like that’s where I feel the most free. That’s where I’m the most confident. That’s also where I’m the most problematic. But it’s fine. I just take my problematic-ness, and I see it as charming, and I try to bypass the bullshit.

What’s your favorite performance?

The college shows are great because college kids give energy back. That’s where I have the most fun. I try to be as extra as possible, and I try to humiliate myself as much as possible on stage. You can feel like, oh, this kid is embarrassing himself, so I can embarrass myself a little bit, too.

Let’s shift gears and talk about specific songs. Last week you released a new single “Got It Figured Out.” What’s the story behind the song?

I had to go to work in a few hours, and I wanted to do something creative. I was also a bit stressed because I spent so much time thinking about the future, but not really living in the moment. So I decided you know what, I’m going to make a little song in thirty minutes and put it on TikTok. I’m not going to make it a full song. I don’t really feel the need to. I’m just going to post it, and call it “Got It Figured Out.” Then a bunch of people were like, “Oh, where’s this song? Is it on Spotify? What’s happening?” I didn’t even think this was full song material. That really taught me that I don’t know shit a lot of the time. I don’t know what’s a hit. I don’t know what works and what doesn’t, so I put that out, and people showed me that’s what worked. After that, I finished the song in two days, with the help of my trumpeter friend Nathan Serot and Jake Scott, who mixed and mastered the song that day, and then we decided okay, we’re going to put this out, after our other song “Raining in LA” had its moment. 

“It’s ok not to have everything figured yet.”

How do you feel like TikTok is changing the way music is made? 

TikTok is interesting because people don’t need to wait anymore for things. They can instantly get answers for what they think is good and what they think is not good. Like a song. You can just put it out in the next week rather than have a whole plan and release date. That’s just crazy to me.

How much does your personal life influence your songs? Or do you try to detach yourself from your music? 

It’s half and half. There are times when I write stories about a scenario I made up in my mind. But lately, I’ve been writing a lot more about my own life. For awhile, I was afraid to because I thought it was too on the nose with everything and some people wouldn’t relate, but putting out songs like “I Got My Life To Live,” where it’s a very specific situation that I’ve been through, and seeing people actually understand that same thing, that is a lot more gratifying than coming up with a story and people telling you that they like it.”

With the song “I Think I’m Normal” was that coming from a personal place?

If I’m being completely honest, I produced that song with my friend Isom Innis from Foster The People. I kept procrastinating on writing the lyrics, so then the day before the recording session, I started writing positive and negatives about things. Then, I took those and was like, I could just put “I think” in front of each sentence. My brain is always scattered when I talk and I have a lot of pauses when I speak because I’m always overthinking what the next thing I’m going to say is, so when I sat down and wrote, “I think I wanna empty my pockets. I think my momma knows I”m never getting my doctorate,” I was like, you know what, this is really what I’m thinking. In this sense, “I Think I’m Normal” was just a bunch of thoughts I don’t talk to people about. I wrote it down so that people would know what I’m thinking at times, I guess.

What do you consider “normal?”

I really don’t know anymore. That song really taught me that I don’t know what is normal. I thought normal meant traditional. But normal is such a subjective thing. There’s a status quo, and there’s like, rules, but they’re not necessarily normal. Like, What’s normal right now isn’t going to be normal in the next 50 years, and it wasn’t normal 50 years ago. So I don’t know at this point.

Besides music, do you have any secret talents?

There’s this thing I can do with my finger that makes a noise. It sounds like I’m breaking a bone. Oh, also, I’m a great chef. I learned from my mom how to cook. But I also search up recipes online. Also, I love Food Network. I remember my cousin got me into Food Network when we were really young, and that changed my life. I love Cutthroat Kitchen. I love Hell’s Kitchen, Grocery Gamers and Dine Drivers and Dine. That’s my favorite. I love anything food related. I love the presentation of it. I think it’s an art in itself. And seeing how Gordon Ramsay is so good at what he does, I’m trying to be the Gordon Ramsay in music.

What are you listening to lately?

My homie Tyler Cole and WILLOW released an album called “The Anxiety” which I really like. I listen to Childish Gambino constantly. I love the new album. D’Angelo is a big inspiration. I listen to him a lot. I love Frank Ocean. No one will ever get me to not like Frank. I don’t see how you can not like Frank. Oh, and Ana Carmen. She’s a Latin artist. “Rio After Dark.” That song is amazing. Also, JPEGMAFIA’s “BALD!” That song too. And my friends like Nishwakie and Asiatica are big inspirations.

Any upcoming projects in the works? 

I plan to release a new song every month for the rest of the year.

 

Kiddest Sinke | kiddest.sinke@yale.edu