Will Bryant is dressed solidly in black. Enjoying a puff or two of tobacco, he’s all business when it’s time for our interview, conducted shortly before his first ever set at the Masquerade. Coincidentally, he’s one of the first artists to perform at Hell since the shooting at a Cousin Stizz show left two concertgoers dead and two wounded, and while he’s excited about the opportunity, Bryant can’t help but be reflective. “I’ve always wanted to perform at the Masquerade, it’s a landmark of the Atlanta scene,” he says, before somberly adding: “The shooting never should’ve happened—nobody should ever have to fear for their life at a concert.”
Known artistically as Wiley from Atlanta, Bryant’s latest project, TEEN SPIRIT, is a deft slice of atmospheric hip-hop and moody R&B. The title, a not-so-subtle nod to grunge-era legends Nirvana, is meant to invoke youthful enthusiasm—a reflection, as he puts it, of the “culture that Nirvana created around people.” Throughout our conversation, Bryant remains affable, but turns stone-faced solemn when the discussion turns to his advice for artists wanting to make their mark in Atlanta. He is quick to reaffirm the city’s status as a hip-hop mecca in the eyes of the rest of the world, but stresses that there’s more to us than that. Atlanta is “one of the music capitals of the world,” he says, and for that reason he can’t help but advise any musician visiting or moving here to give everything they have or fall by the wayside.
How much is TEEN SPIRIT inspired by Nirvana?
I mean, Nirvana is one of the main bands my dad played in the car when I was growing up. And I come from a musical background. I got really into grunge music in middle school. The whole thing with this project is how their [Nirvana’s] music makes me feel. The whole tape is supposed to really kind of reflect that culture that Nirvana created around people. It affected me deeply. I felt like telling my story through that—through the ‘teen spirit’ type of thing. I just wanted to add a little piece of myself to their legacy. I would say musically, the influence of Nirvana is just songwriting-wise. I studied a lot of Kurt Cobain’s lyricism and that’s a big influence on me.
What’s your personal writing process like? Are you more pen on paper or are you writing on your phone?
It really varies. A lot of times when I first started making music, I’d really write to the beats that I was using, so I was very much on my phone writing shit in the studio. But as I’ve kind of grown up and started to do more stuff, I really will write like huge verses all the time—either in my notebook or when I’m on my phone. I just find a real instrumental around it. Find something that works basically.
How much input did you have on the “Paper Planes” video?
Well, my homie Ben Searles shot that. I was in New York. Ben and I have been friends for a little while. You know, he’s a very smart director and he knows what he wants to do but a lot of the shots in that video, I directed. One day of the shoot, he had to go to New York the next day. He took the flight the next morning. We really had one day to shoot and the process was pretty much “let’s get as much footage as we can.” But a lot of the shots they shot in the street, at the school, the design of the video and the concept, that was me.
What’s your favorite thing about recording music in this city?
The best thing about Atlanta is when you get to a certain point, you realize that everybody knows each other. So it’s really like everyone is like a family but it’s a competition. You really have to come with your own energy and be really unique. Working on music here and recording here is just crazy to me because I grew up here and all my influences are from here as far as Outkast and all that. But recording music here, I just feel like I’m trying to add to the legacy. I really want Atlanta to be a big part of my name and that’s the reason why it’s on there.
What’s been inspiring you lately?
Man, I’ve just been writing a lot. I’ve been writing a lot of loose stuff and ideas. Lately, it seems like anytime I put my mind to something like “this is what I wanna make,” it happens.
You’re big on writing a lot.
Yeah, I write lyrics, I write fiction, I write all the time. Since I was in second or third grade. So it’s a big piece of me. If my music doesn’t have some sort of concept behind it, some sort of meaning, if you can’t listen to it and think to yourself “what does this mean?” and kind of work it out, I feel I didn’t do my job. My job is to create something you can relate to but also that you want to relate to. I feel like you can hear it and build your own idea based off of what you hear. Creatively speaking, I’ve been trying to do as much as I can. Versatility wise, there’s one song that is probably not going to come out until next year. It’s kind of a rock song and I haven’t done that before but I’m really excited about it!
If you could explain your sound to someone who’s never heard your music, what would you say?
I would say if you’re a fan of the type of music that you can really just vibe out to… I’d say like Isaiah Rashad, Alabama Shakes, Frank Ocean a little bit. These are artists that really kind of base themselves off of lyricism but not like in-your-face lyricism, you know what I mean? Like they’re focused on creating moments and that’s what I want to do with my music: build moments for people to listen to. That’s really my goal.
What’s next for you as far as videos go?
So I’ve got a song called “Champion.” We’ve been sitting on this for a really long time. It’s a really important song to me, one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever made. We want to shoot a video in New York. We have to link up schedules and get everything figured out. But hopefully, over winter break or in January, we can start working on some stuff. We want to make a lot of live videos of us performing, stuff like that. So really I’m focused on building a catalog of different videos. Not necessarily music videos but visuals people can look at.
What’s the longest amount of time you’ve been in the studio holed up working on music?
I record in a home studio. That’s where I do a lot of my demos and we really lay it down, and get into mixing and mastering. My first EP, me and one of my best friends—he plays drums—we would spend all day recording and writing and getting into it. We’d roll around in his car. His car has a great stereo system. And we would just play it on the aux and mix it in the car. And while we were mixing it, we would pick up our friends and shit and be like, “what do you think?” then drop them off back at their house. We spent a whole weekend just driving around, mixing that record in his car. That’s probably the longest I’ve spent in one continuous session. I recorded that whole tape within like two weeks.
That’s work ethic.
I mean, yeah, that’s what I love. If I could be in the studio from two in the afternoon to three a.m., I would do it. I wanna be a studio rat; it’s just having that opportunity. Finding that place you can go and work on stuff.
Going back to writing for a minute, what’s a personal favorite lyric you’ve written recently?
Oh man, I’ve got a new song that I’ll play tonight that I wrote and recorded two or three days ago. In the song, I say “Broken 40 bottles on the concrete,” [which is] something about my mental state, and then I pause and say, “I might die before I wake, but I don’t plan on dying broke.” I really like that lyric. I also have a lyric on “Pink Skies” that I fucking love where I say, “Hoping on a second chance at life / In case the one I’m living in doesn’t feel me right / I heard heaven got a show tonight / I’m waiting in line for a chance to see Prince.”
You touched on mental health there for a minute. Do you feel mental health is becoming more of a prevalent issue in music? What are your thoughts on the correlation between making music and mental health?
The thing is, if you do anything creative, it can really wear on you mentally. Especially when you’re trying to put it out and give people attention. I think it’s important to focus on making music that you like. I was having a discussion the other day about this with somebody. It’s a lot more important to me that I really am proud of my music and that it reaches this massive audience, potentially. That’s what it really boils down to. I doubt myself every day. I’ll listen to a song twenty times a row mixing it and not want to do it. It’s important to have a team around you that’s like, “No, this is good, you should do this.” Because without my team, it would be easy to fall into this spiral of “Is it ever gonna happen?” That’s the biggest thing to me: telling creative people “You should be creative for the sake of your own spirit.” You want to gratify your soul. You’re not making music for other people, you’re not drawing for other people, so that’s how I feel about it.
What’s your day to day life like?
I just transferred to Georgia State, so I’m going to classes every day. I’m trying to get a job because I got to pay rent. Aside from all that, I’m going to my manager’s house one or two times a week just to plan shit. I write lyrics almost all the time. I got my little setup at my house in a little room. I really try to get all my shit done for school and everything and then spend as much time as I can in there each night.
If someone were to come to Atlanta as an artist, what’s your #1 advice for them?
I would say, if you’re coming to Atlanta as an artist, you have to understand that everybody here is very competitive. We expect a certain quality. From our contemporaries and from those maybe making it better than us or whatever. I don’t care where you’re from or how many subscribers you have on YouTube or followers or whatever. You have to come and bring your energy to the stage. You have to know that Atlanta is not just the trap capital. Basically it’s one of the hip-hop capitals of the world and one of the music capitals of the world. We don’t fuck around with wack shit basically.
Many thanks to Sara Brown for transcribing this interview.