Hey Mr. DJ: A Conversation with Tyler Warnalis, AKA TMOBYLE

by James Duval

The first time I met Tyler Warnalis, I inadvertently made a huge faux pas. He was about to play a kitchen set for Your Music Show with his band, Reads and Writes. I met each of the band members, calling them by their first names. I approached Tyler, who I knew of his involvement with DJP and MrT and announced, “…And you’re Mr. T…er, I mean, Tyler!” I’m sure anyone else would probably be bothered by that, but Tyler smiled and said, “Yes, I am.”

Nowadays, it would be hard to identify Tyler with just one name. On top of his time in DJP and MrT, which he has been a member of since 2010, he also plays bass in the aforementioned Reads and Writes  who are hard at work recording their debut album. Then earlier this year, he took on yet another role: DJ-ing as TMOBYLE for events around Norfolk.  To give people a hint of what to expect at a TMOBYLE show, he created a Spotify playlist of songs he’s been listening to lately. Earlier this week, I met with him to discuss what lead him to take on yet another role in the Norfolk music scene, where he sees the DJ scene heading, and why he’s deciding to take on yet *another* task and open a local music distribution service.

 

I think we should start with the obvious question: you’re already a member of two bands, DJP and MrT and Reads and Writes.  For some reason, your brain is saying, “I want to do something else. Let’s be a DJ.” Why?

Mm hmm. “Let’s play DJ. Let’s try DJ-ing.” I think that was the whole thing. Honestly, I was sitting in Toast, the restaurant on Colonial Avenue, and I thought: “This is a really cool vibe. I could see myself sitting in a corner at this place or somewhere else, choosing the music that gets played, just kind of background music.” And that was where the idea kind of started. The first gig that I jumped on was playing music between Wyteshayds and Long Division at 80/20 Burger Bar.

 

I thought it was Suds n Buds [a fundraiser organized by Norfolk Botanical Gardens]?

I think I jumped on the 80/20 gig, but the Suds n Buds thing came after that. But, yeah, Suds n Buds was my first official DJ gig. And I just remember thinking, “Yeah, I’m a DJ”. It was definitely a “fake-it-til-you-make-it” situation.

 

So how have you evolved as a DJ since then in regards to being TMOBYLE? Were you taking a lots of requests in the beginning or…?

I don’t even think I was taking requests at first. I think, from the get-go, if you want to be a successful DJ, you have to figure out the vibe of the room. I know that the Suds n Buds event was the one that I realized no matter who’s in the audience, you can put on Missy Elliott’s “Work It”. That’s just an ace-in-the-sleeve that’s going to get people moving every time.

The 80/20 event was a bit more of a “rock” event, so I tried to mix music like that. And the request thing started a little later. I think that was brought on by the name TMOBYLE and making some business cards with my name and phone number on it, so people could text in requests.

 

I’ve seen you perform as TMOBYLE a few times, but I think my first time was at Pancho N Luigi’s, where Charles and Jacki [his bandmates in DJP and MrT} were kind of like your hypemen. You had airhorns blaring in the mix and were mixing up things like Katy Perry, Daft Punk, and Ratatat.

Yeah, that was the first unofficial pop-up of TMOBYLE. And the thinking behind that was “Okay, these people are here to see a DJP and MrT show. This is the kind of music I think we can all get down to.”

And part of what I was trying to pull from was the good times I had from 2005 to about 2007, going to dance parties, having dance parties, going to The Wave on 80’s nights or indie nights and stuff like that. It’s just missing that a little bit and trying to pull from that sub-section of music.

 

So was there a defining moment or location that made you want to be a DJ?

Yeah, it was a little bit here and there. I wouldn’t say that I followed too many DJs closely, but I had a few friends in Richmond and when I’d visit them, they’d always throw killer parties and play dance-rock. That’s where I first heard Daft Punk and got into that kind of music. And then The Wave, as I mentioned, would always have different DJs playing on Thursday nights.

That was before I beefed up my hip-hop game. That was probably chapter 2 of TMOBYLE.

 

How do you build your playlists? Are you thinking of the crowd you might have that night or the event’s theme?

I’m mainly thinking about the crowd I’ll be in front of that night, the kinds of things they want. I think a lot of DJs don’t like taking requests or want to drive the ship, but I think it’s really cool to be able to take requests and have people help create the party that they’re in. A lot of people like to goof off and give requests that won’t fit, but it’s up to me to cycle through all that and find what’s going to work and what’s not.

 

So how much time are you taking to put a playlist?

It depends on how busy I am. I think it’s a constant thing. My workflow for DJ-ing is off of my phone and iPad. I use Spotify, so I can make playlists any time I want and if I get a recommendation from a friend and add it to the playlist. I just have a ton of different genres that can be pulled from at any time.

 

So where is your music coming from? Is it from your personal collection? Are you constantly looking for new music?

Well, when I first started, I went back and found all my CDs and CDs friends had made for me long ago and said, “Let me just bring back all the stuff that I can remember.” And then the process of trying to stay current [begins], trying to stay relevant, thinking about what’s next, what’s new. That’s where I’m at right now. Even [before the interview], I was listening to new releases from this year trying to find things.

 

Do you feel it’s your “job” to keep the crowd moving, introduce them to new music, or play the tastemaker and say, “They have to hear this song.”?

Well, I want everyone to have a good time, but I also really like the feeling of introducing people to a song they haven’t heard before and [the crowd] really getting into it. But I think there’s a certain skill involved in that, because it’s kind of like you’re holding your hand.

 

Have you ever had a moment where you do something like that and when you look out you realize, “Oh, this is going so bad…?”

Yeah, yeah, definitely! I think it’s pretty easy as a DJ to see when things are working and when they aren’t, but not to take it personally. If people walk off the dance floor to get a drink, that’s one thing. If they walk off the dance floor and walk out the door, that’s another.

 

Let’s talk a bit about BEEM . What is it and how have your shows changed since you started using it?

BEEM is a party interface that was developed by myself and Brendan Tompkins recently. We had a conversation about how I take requests on the fly and he said, “What if we could come up with a cool way to do that that was a little more interactive and a little easier on you?”. So, he made this program called BEEM where we use a projector to project a phone number for people to text to and they can text whatever they want from words to requests to pictures to GIFs and everything in between.

We’ve had about three or four events now and it wasn’t until the third event that we got some…uh, questionable content on there. Those are new developments with BEEM. We’ve always called [what we’re doing] “testing”, so I think we’re still in the beta phase of BEEM and we’ll work out some kinks and get it working even better.

 

Has that added to the atmosphere?

I think so.  I’ve seen other DJs use projectors, which brings up a good point that it can be distracting. I’ve seen people playing music with the music video playing behind them and people in the crowd stop dancing and watch the video. So that doesn’t work out. But I think any time you can get the crowd involved in performance is a good thing.

 

Let’s talk a bit about the DJ scene in Norfolk, because now there is a DJ scene. I can remember seeing Moby at the Boathouse in 1999 and thinking, “Where can I find more things like this?’ and it just wasn’t there. Electronic music was being billed as “the new alternative”, but any DJing that was going on was happening in 21 and up clubs in Virginia Beach by DJs that worked in radio. What do you think of what’s happening in Norfolk and where do you see it going?

It’s really interesting that the DJ scene around here is blowing up. I didn’t even see it coming when I first started, but a big part of it was Work | Release opening up and more people wanting to get out and dance. This summer alone, I’ve talked to so many people about that attitude of wanting to party and dance and have a really good time. I don’t know where it came from but I like it a lot.

I’ve seen some really cool things, like Fake Uzumi and Opal D where Fake Uzumi will be DJing and he’ll give a microphone to Opal and she’ll rap. So I’m seeing that as something that could be developed with other artists. Maybe even pop-up performances where if you’re already playing hip-hop or electronic music, just jump on another DJ’s set.

 

So are there DJs in the area you’d like to collaborate with or are you putting out feelers for other ways to do what you do?

I think for right now, it would be cool to develop the DJ craft further than showing up at parties and playing. I put out playlists every once in a while. Remixing is something I’ve done with DJP and MrT in the past, so that would be a cool thing to do. I just started my own music distribution company, Oh Hey Distro.

 

That’s right! I remember hearing about that. If I remember, you launched at the Crafted event at O’Connor’s. Do you just seek out local bands and say, “Hey, let me sell your stuff.”?

Yeah, I just got some merch from Wandcarver last night actually. And I think I’ll be getting some things from The Super Vacations soon, some of their older stuff. But that’s kind of another experiment, being a record store in 2015. At Crafted, I had a person ask me, “Are you in all these bands?” It’s not a ton of stuff, but I hang out with mostly musicians and people who are familiar with these bands and I forget just how many people don’t know who Skye Zentz is or Bantustans are. So for my next event, I made a playlist on my iPad with two songs from each release so people could listen and get an idea.

 

Your drive for music and musical endeavors seems like you choose to go all-in and then look for the next step. When I saw you were launching Oh Hey Distro, I thought, “I bet he’s starting a label next.”

That would be cool, but I don’t really know what it entails. A lot of the things I do are just low-risk endeavors. Of course, I didn’t know what DJing entails or a record shop entails either. It’s not that I get bored with a thing; it’s more I think of something else I’d like to do, too. Everything’s worth trying.

 

It seems like the last question should be: when do you sleep?

Definitely after 2:00 in the morning. I’m starting to realize my sleep cycle has changed so much that I have most of my energy from 4 PM onward. I still have a day job; sometimes I have to be there at 9:30, most of the times I make it. But I’m really trying to cram it all in and do as much as I can.