OTH: For the people who don’t know who you are, would you mind explaining who you are and what you do?
L: I’m a rapper, guitarist, just a musician, a producer, sound engineer, video editor and clothing designer. An artist that’s fully efficient, independent, does all his own things. His cover art, his visuals, his sound from A to Z, no samples, and I’m pushing towards my own sound. For a long time I always liked 90s alternative rock, 70s rock & roll and hip-hop, and I never truly found an artist that incorporated them all, or at least enough. Like I would listen to certain beats or especially alternative rock and I’d go “Fuck, if the singer was rapping right now it’d be so dope” or on the flip side, when I was younger I’d only focus on lyrics and the voice, and once I started realizing beats, sometimes I didn’t really like hip-hop and I’d be like fuck if this guy did that. So I’m kind of like a guy that wanted A$AP Rocky and The Smashing Pumpkins to make music and I could never find it, so I ended up doing it myself. It’s been a long journey and I’m starting to come into my own sound.
OTH: When talking to a lot of fashion designers or people that are interested in fashion, people say “I design clothes because I couldn’t find anyone that designs clothes that I wanna wear.” and it’s very interesting because your situation is very similar but with music. You’re creating music that you wanna listen to because you couldn’t find an artist that had the vibe that you’re trying to put out, which is sick. Especially exploring alternative rock and hip-hop, the only person/group who is remotely similar is maybe Linkin Park.
L: That’s a really good example.
OTH: But is there anyone else that still does that kind of stuff?
L: No there’s not, and what’s funny for me is that one thing that is cool is that hip-hop, especially in the last 5 years, you start hearing the guitar more and more, but it’s all samples and loops. The focus is not the guitar but it’s allowed a certain opportunity. I find that in hip-hop, when X came and Trippie Redd, it opened different sounds, but I found that people would just put guitar loops. Actually playing guitar, having riffs on the side hasn’t been done, I haven’t heard it, and if so, a lot of the time it sounds more like a punk band where one of the members raps. The main focus is that you hear the rap 808s, the cadence of the song might be more hip-hop or rock, but the elements used in terms of instruments is more hip-hop, and then the guitar is out in your face. Anyways, it’s hard to explain, but there’s not really anybody.
OTH: How long have you been playing the guitar?
L: Guitar, I’ve been playing for about 4 years now.
OTH: Oh so it’s something more recent then. It’s something that you just picked up and vibed with and rolled it into creating music?
L: Well it had been in my head for a while and I sort of procrastinated on it for a couple of years. One of my favorite rappers of all time is Andre 3000 from Outkast, and he had a song from way back, 2012 or 2013, with Rick Ross called Sixteen, and at that time, he was practicing for the biopic he did on Jimmy Hendrix, so he was playing more guitar. And at the end of the song he hits a crazy verse, probably a 48 bar, and then he does a little guitar solo and I remember at the time going “Shit! That’s insane.” If I could rap and play the guitar that would be crazy, and at the time I knew 70s rock because of my parents a bit, but I never listened to alternative rock until maybe 5-6 years ago, and that just opened the whole world to me. I started to produce, and then eventually I said lemme pick up a guitar, at first you know I held it and it was awkward and I wasn’t very good. I slowly got into it and I’d say maybe after about a year to a year and a half I started being able to play and then I started taking it seriously. Now it’s part of the daily routine, it’s very present in my sound, it’s fun.
OTH: Would you say in that particular moment, when seeing Andre 3000 do that biopic and hearing that 48 bar followed by the solo, would you say that’s the main inspiration? Like when the lightbulb kind of turned on and you were like “I want to do that.”
L: Big time! And it’s a weird moment because everyone who picks up a guitar is talking about Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix, Ted Nugent, they’re talking about all these great guitarists, which is insane. When you think of basketball, everyone’s gonna say Kobe, Lebron, Jordan, nobody would say I saw Cristiano Ronaldo shoot a basketball and now I wanna play basketball or I saw Sheck Wes and now I wanna play. It’s not a direct link, it’s a weird link, because it’s Andre 3000, he’s not known to be a guitarist, but it opened me to that world.
OTH: And you were saying you had never listened to this kind of music before, your music knowledge had been passed down from your parents. Where are your parents from?
L: My mom is Quebecois but she grew up in the States in New Hampshire, so for her growing up in the 60s, 70s in the States, it was a lot of rock like Aerosmith and David Bowie. And then my dad is from Montserrat, it’s a little island in the Caribbean, and then he grew up in Montreal. From his side, when I was young in the house there was no hip-hop. Tupac to my dad, was like XXXTentacion is to a 40 year old today. it’s that age gap, it doesn’t matter how dope he is, he just didn’t grow up on that. My household was mainly Soul and R&B, like Marvin Gaye, Boyz 2 Men, like when I was a kid, 80% of the music was Michael Jackson or James Brown. My mom would play rock a bit but it was just some Aerosmith or The Beatles, but that was old rock n roll that was softer on the ears. Nobody was blasting Nirvana, talking about Metallica, that wasn't even in my head at all. Growing up as an “immigrant”, like a visible minority my friends were very diverse, but the white kids were still a minority even amongst my friends, but even when you’re super young, the rock shit was for the weird white kids, we didn’t listen to that. Most of my friends were black, latino, arabic, some asian, so we’re not listening to that. It’s funny to me now cause when I was in high school, the majority of white kids weren’t listening to hip-hop, like there were the few that hung out with the immigrants, but I remember when I was a young teen, some of the white kids would make fun of you because you liked hip-hop, so there was a big distance.
OTH: You’re 29 now, what were you doing before you started tackling music?
L: Before music, I was exploring hip-hop a bit, I was rapping, I wasn’t really content with the beats I was making. So I’d say I started dabbling in music at around 20, so there was a 4 year gap where I was going to school, working and I wasn’t producing, and that was a big step cause I couldn’t do what I do today if I could produce, mix, master and I think it was exploring without a specific goal until the last couple of years.
OTH: What were you studying before music and how did your parents react to you pursuing music?
L: I was in commerce in college, and I was working at customer service at Bell and afterwards went a bit higher up in management, but I wasn’t content. When I was young from probably 5 to 17 I did martial arts, taekwondo and that was a huge part of my life, and my dad was very involved, doing tournaments every other weekend, working out 5-6 days a week, I became Quebec champion 7 times, Canadian champion 4 times. When I was 15 I went to the World Karate and Kickboxing Championships, I got the gold medal in fighting, so it was huge.
OTH: So were you pro?
L: I was at the amateur level, pro would’ve been like boxing or UFC. But at a young age, I was at the highest level I could be as an amateur.
OTH: And you didn’t pursue that.
L: No because the thing is, even for me, fighting is a very different thing than any other sport. I loved the art of it, the competition, but as I got older, I knew that I wasn’t gonna be spending my life in the gym getting banged up. It takes a different toll than other sports, had I been doing something like tennis or basketball it would be way different. The consequences are way different, but being a fighter, and all honor to the people that pursue it, it’s a different kind of beast, and I loved it as a game and a sport, but I didn’t wanna live with pain all the time. But one thing about that is, it brought a sort of confidence, and I accomplished all of the things I wanted to in martial arts, so for them, hearing I want to do music, and having seen that history of seeing me say my goals and achieving them.
LYEN FOR THE GTI/OTH CAMPAIGN
OTH: So there wasn’t a period of you having to convince your parents that you wanted to do this, because they already trusted you and they knew you had that drive.
L: Yeah, there’s that and I think personality wise I’ve always been one to argue about things. Like when I believe in something I’m telling you I’m not asking for permission.
OTH: You mentioned being happy and self-sufficient. You picked up learning how to play the guitar 4 years ago, and now you produce your own beats, don’t use any samples, use all your own riffs that you produce, you write your verses, you design your merch, cover art. This all stems from being self sufficient, how are you learning all these things? In the lyrics from one of your songs, you go “I never went to college.” So how are you learning all of these different things that you’re applying to your artist career?
L: The internet man. YouTube. There’s obviously moments like when I first started producing, I used to go to a studio and I got pretty close with the guy who owned the studio, and he was the first guy to even push me to want to produce. He uses Cubase to produce and I use Cubase to this day, and that’s not common, not a lot of people use it, it’s not the most common DAW for music. But then I said okay I’ll go a few times, he’ll show me a couple of things, but then you’ve gotta learn yourself. And I always say we’re so lucky with the internet, and I’ve always been good with computer shit, so the one thing aside from the guitar and the writing, everything else from cover art, producing, it’s all computer shit. Even video games back in the day when I was like 9 with emulators and ROMs, I used to get floppy disks and download everything to them to the older kids. We used to pirate satellite and dish networks, direct TV, all that shit, and I was the young kid that did it. I have the card, and one of my dad's friends showed it to us once and then little me did it, so I think it’s just a confidence I’ve always had. Every time I start working with someone else, obviously I’m aware there’s a lot of people that are better at what I do, but the majority of the time I’m like “Oh I can do that, better.” OR I can’t communicate what I want to do because I’m illiterate in that software, language or whatever we’re doing, so I’m like I’ve gotta at least learn to do enough, so if one day if I want to delegate, because I’m aware I’m gonna have to if I want things to come out more frequently and once things start going and I’m doing shows and this and that, I’m gonna have to delegate certain tasks. But I want to know how to do them now, or set certain templates or a certain mood, and then whoever can take that and elevate it, they’ll be even better to do it than me, but you need to know. When you look at a corporation, when the big boss comes, he doesn’t know how to do any of the tasks, and he’ll tell you to do something in 2 hours when you really need 10. That’s why I want to learn everything so I can be someone who knows about every single task that I’m asking.
OTH: What’s the biggest difficulty you feel you’ve faced so far?
L: Two things, one is sound engineering, so the final product sounding as good as I want it to, and I think that it’s normal that it’s a never ending process, but to the minimum that I want it (his skills) I’m getting closer, so that’s a certain struggle, but now I know it’s coming with time. Each beat sounds better, and I’m getting better but it’s also sounding better as well, like If I had the skills that I’m gonna have in two years to make the same song, same everything, it’ll sound better. So you have to be content, it’s never gonna be perfect, so just progress and release when you’re content enough and keep going. That’s one that I’ve had to learn. Secondly, is finding my audience, and I think that’s a tough one because I don’t know which category I fall in. Music is different for a lot of people, for some it’s just I like this artist so I’m also gonna like this one, or some people aren’t that passionate about music so they’re just looking for the next innovative guy or girl. I think also, it’s common for people in Quebec or people in Montreal, but being an English artist is harder because you don’t get the local push and almost everyone that’s done good enough here as an English artist has had to either leave the city or needs help from outside the city. I get it, but that’s something that’s hard as well. Already, I’m not doing pure hip-hop or shit that we hear more often, so being English makes it that much harder. But I’m not thinking of that, I’m marketing my music globally, doing Facebook ads and Instagram ads, doing target audiences, interests, all in different parts of the world and my music is doing well, but it’s not in Montreal. It’s a little but in Canada, some in the States, but it’s mostly in Europe, Brazil, and I just thought, who gives a fuck? Because at the end of the day I can see where my streams are located and I’m getting a nice following now daily, and I get the DMs like Hey from Belgium, Hey from France, and I didn’t have that two months ago so I don’t give a fuck. It was a big struggle for me to understand that at first but now I’m like, wherever my music is played it’s where it’s played, but there’s still the waterfall effect of even when the people you weren’t aiming for to be listening to your music, it’ll fall down onto the others who ignored it at first.
LYEN PREVIEWING THE CREATION A SONG, OCTOBER 2ND, 2022
OTH: A lot of people when they think about music they don’t think “is it big in my area first?” You talk a lot about in your songs how this guy will mess with your shit but then another guy won’t, but you also talk about that duality exploring, if you really to categorize stuff, let's say the alternative rock is for a whiter community whereas hip-hop is with the more urban communities, and that’s something you actually mention in your song song where you say “Yeah I’m a lightskin but I do--” so can you talk about that a little more? Is that maybe something you want to continue as a theme in your music? Like you’re this guy who has an American mom and a dad from the islands, is this something that’s part of your identity that will influence your music?
L: The thing is, we’re pretty lucky that there’s a lot of ethnicity here so I never felt sort of dualed into “the white family”, “the black family”, I didn’t have that feeling, just because of friends and all that. So had I grown up further away, like I know lightskin guys from rural Quebec and they felt like the outcast or like it’s not normal. But in Montreal there’s so many mixed kids. There’s a bunch of cultures and mixed kids so since day one for me I didn’t really feel that. I feel like the only times you’re reminded of it is by other people. So I can’t say that’s something I’m gonna have because I didn’t have that struggle, but the struggle for me is the music though. Blending rock and hip-hop, I could’ve been fully japanese or fully black and I still would’ve had the same struggle.
OTH: So you wouldn’t agree if someone was like “Lyen Roza is a guy who’s born to a white mom and a black father, he’s an alternative rap artist who takes inspiration from his past” it’s not really that, it’s just you love both genres.
L: Yeah. Like it’s a cool fuckin’ story and I could easily be a phony fuck and could be like “white mom, grew up on rock, black dad, grew up on rap.” that’s not even how it was, it just ended up being like that because I picked up the guitar go into rock music.
OTH: What’s the coolest thing that’s happened since you started making music?
L: Oh boy, I don’t think there’s one specific thing now because I’m so early in, and I would say that getting DMs is recent, within the last couple of months even. But I think the coolest thing now is that my music could reach anywhere. I’m lucky because I’m still in the early process where there’s very few people so I can still pretty much know, but when there’s more and they become a lot harder to track. I think that’s the coolest thing to hear people say “Yo, we like what you’re doing.” and it just feels a little bit more understood. Connecting with people is the coolest thing.
OTH: How do you want to be remembered through your work? These questions may be harder for you because you’re so early on in your career.
L: The thing is I just want this to be my career so bad that it’s almost more the emphasis than anything else. I think it’s more personal, not even remembered, I don’t want to have the regret that I’m not proud of my work, or I’m not having fun, or I didn’t enjoy the process. I want to be seen as someone who just enjoyed their time doing what they did and created some sick ass shit.
OTH: You mentioned you have a track coming out soon, what’s another big goal you’re looking to accomplish in the near future.
L: It’s gonna be doing shows, it’ll be a big thing for me.
OTH: Have you played a show yet?
L: I did early stuff but it wasn’t with a guitar back then, so that’s a big thing. And it wasn’t my whole sound. So yeah that’s something I’m gonna be really excited to do.
OTH: How long does it usually take you to drop a track yourself?
L: It depends. The track I just dropped last week, “I don’t Give a Shit”, it’s crazy I had the same tempo, probably 50 maybe 70% of those lyrics for a completely different song. The riff was different, the chorus was different, the verses were similar, but the sound, the guitars were completely different. It was a similar cadence, and I changed everything 7, 8 days before it came out, but I had a foundation, so something like that can happen. But the song before I worked on it for almost a month. But with the last two tracks I learned a lot that I can apply to this one that’s coming out, so it’s gonna make the process easier. It’s always gonna depend.
OTH: You’re so focused on your craft and focused on doing things for yourself and staying in your lane, but is there anybody locally that you look up to or would like to collaborate with?
L: Locally it would be Nate Husser man. When it comes to rap, I don’t want to put him into a box, but he falls in the same category of artists that I like.