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For Teddy Truman, It’s Never Too Late For Creative Expression

Written by on June 1, 2022

Pictured above: Teddy Truman by Toan Nguyen.

Chicago artist Teddy Truman knows there’s no one Chicago sound — just like there’s no one path toward achieving his goals.

Whether entering rap battles in high school or starting a group with friends in the 2010s, Teddy Truman has always had a love for making music. Growing up on Chicago’s West and South Sides, he was exposed to the vast spectrum of Chicago music from an early age. He attributes much of his artistic inspiration to the broad range of powerful artists out of the city and surrounding suburbs, from Common to Kanye to Fall Out Boy.

Upon leaving the Army in 2018, Truman hit the ground running in pursuit of his passions. Though he was afforded opportunities to travel during his time in the Army, he explained the monotony of his work and lack of self-expression made him realize how highly he values creative freedom.

“I was boxed-in to the point of depression,” Truman recalled. “Those feelings helped me shape my words in ways that I could not prior to leaving town.”

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Toan Nguyen.

Truman was determined to build up his skills, and enrolled at Columbia College Chicago to study audio design and production. At Columbia, he gained invaluable experience working with professional-grade equipment and interning at local studios — but also an understanding of how everyone’s musical journey looks different. 

“Whichever route you take will never matter as much as your work ethic, creativity and determination,” he explained.

Truman’s March single “Money Counter” — which was featured on Vocalo’s May “Poised To Break Through” playlist — serves as a reminder of why he started making music in the first place: for the love of the craft, not for the sake of making money. Truman hopes his listeners take from his music whatever they need, just so it impacts them in a positive manner.

We heard from Teddy Truman about the importance of creative freedom, the varied sounds of Chicago’s music scene and more. Read the full interview below…

Tell us a little bit about your musical background! Your Spotify bio says you began your musical journey after a stint in the US Army. Did your time in the Army influence or motivate you to make music? If so, in what ways?

Music has been my passion since my high school days. I was a huge battle rap fan and I often found myself getting into freestyle battles at school — many of which I lost! The earliest remnants of my musical journey trace all the way back to around 2010, as part of a group called “Team Magic.” I used to go by “Unforgettable Scotty,” and I had no real direction in music. We were just a bunch of Chicago kids hanging out and creating music and, eventually, we all ended up going our separate ways. I left for the Army and began to save up money and build on my writing skills in hopes that I would return home and continue doing music someday.

Once I got out of the Army permanently in 2018, I came back to Chicago and that’s when my music career officially began. I immediately enrolled in Columbia College Chicago and used my savings to build myself a decent home studio so I could get started making music as consistently as possible. By 2019, I was writing, recording and mixing my first demo project, “Behind the Scenes: The Teddy Show,” as well [as] an EP called HerbnLegend with a group of the same name. Both of those projects dropped in 2020. 

The Army had a huge influence on my music in the sense that it showed me exactly where I wanted to be in life. I missed creating music and being around other creatives. The Army paid the bills and I traveled more than I could have ever dreamed of, but it was far from fulfilling. Mundane work, with little to no freedom of expression… I was boxed-in to the point of depression. Those feelings helped me shape my words in ways that I could not prior to leaving town. 

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Toan Nguyen.

What’s something you love about the Chicago music scene? Something you think could or should be improved?

What I truly love about Chicago’s music scene has to be the variety. You can literally line 10 artists up and get 10 completely different styles and sounds from them. People love trying to box us in and hold us to one sound, but just being out here and touching bases with the artists in the city, it’s super easy to see that we are not a monolith. I absolutely applaud that. 

In a weird way, that might also be the thing that keeps us apart. The music scene is really cliquey… a lot of the time, people stay within their friend groups and hesitate to branch out. That goes for artists as well as potential listeners. Of course, much of that has to do with how divided the city can be due to other things, but music should bring us all together and it’s super unfortunate that it doesn’t do that as much as it could.

How has the city of Chicago influenced your music or your identity as an artist, if at all?

The city was a huge influence on my music, as well as my identity as an artist. Growing up on the West Side early in life and the South Side in my teens, I was exposed to so much of what this city truly is musically. From listening to Twista, Do or Die, Kanye West, Common, Lupe Fiasco, to legends like Gil Scott-Heron and Earth, Wind & Fire — and, hell, even Fall Out Boy and Plain White T’s on the punk rock side — I knew that I could just make music that I loved and, somehow, the people who liked it would gravitate to it. 

I can easily go from rapping some bar-heavy stuff to playing the drums and singing some soul or funk-inspired tunes, and I attribute that to our city and the multitude of sounds that come from here. When I started doing music, I could see people like Smino and Chance the Rapper coming out of left field with these animated flows that people really gravitated towards. Then, on the other side, you had artists like Kembe X and Mick Jenkins who could rap circles around pretty much anyone in the industry. With artists like that coming out of the city, you can’t help but [be] inspired and want to contribute to that landscape that they all have helped lay for Chicago artists.

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Kiana Lopez.

Tell us the story behind your single “Money Counter.”

“Money Counter” was a single that came as a result of a few random in-studio sessions with my boy BlackieChan, who produced it and helped mix it. I initially passed on the beat because I was in sort of a lo-fi, boom-bap bag at the time… but as we worked on a few other songs, I circled back to the beat and wrote the song one night. I rapped a snippet in the studio the next day, and we instantly agreed that we needed this song out and in circulation. The passion behind the beat, the performance and the lyrics made this a given for us. The concept is simple: is “the dream” we’re chasing making music, or are we just chasing the mighty dollar? 

You attended school at Columbia College. Tell us a little bit about your experience there — what did you study? What do you think is the most important lesson you learned during your time there, in class or otherwise?

At Columbia I studied audio design and production. My goal was to be able to mix my own music, and I wanted to do it at an industry level. Overall, the experience there was far from unique. It felt like going to school anywhere else… I had been to a few other colleges briefly, including Harold Washington College. By the time I got into the courses for mixing and mastering music, I had already taught myself how to do it from YouTube videos and trial and error on my own songs.

The good that came from attending Columbia, however, was in the opportunities it provided. I got to intern at a few local studios that I would not have found if not for the school’s connections. I also had a chance to familiarize myself with industry-level equipment before I could even dream of affording it, and as I learned about things like wiring, speaker placement, acoustic treatments, etc., I applied it to my home studio. 

The most important thing I learned from Columbia was that there are no shortcuts, but there also is no such thing as “too late.” Your path is your own to take, and if you focus on improving in your craft, you’ll start to bear the fruit of your labor. Columbia helped me realize that there is no “official” path being a musician, but also that there is nothing wrong with taking the college route if it fits. Whichever route you take will never matter as much as your work ethic, creativity and determination in that path. You have to actually make music in order to get better at it, and you have to actually put it out in order to be heard.

What’s one thing you hope listeners will take away from your music?

My music is an open canvas for listeners to interpret however they see fit. Of course, it’s important for me to deliver my story as well as the stories of some of the impactful individuals in my life — but overall, I just want people to enjoy good music. As a listener, I remember plenty of times where I was having a bad day or something crazy had happened and music pulled me into a place of comfort and healing. There have also been some amazing times where a certain song helped to forever stamp that moment into my memory. If I am able to do that for just one person, then I’ve accomplished what I had set out to do.

What’s next for Teddy Truman? Anything listeners should be on the lookout for?

Coming up next will be another onslaught of singles over the summer in preparation for another EP. I just recently dropped an EP called Dark Matter, produced entirely by my dawg MoonKid and mixed and mastered by yours truly. MoonKid also lent some additional vocals and mixing on that joint. Listeners can also be on the lookout for [a] new segment of The Teddy Show called “Poetry in the Parks,” which will be dropping over the fall. Getting back into my sad boy bag as the leaves start to fall and whatnot. I just want to keep the pressure on and apply it til I can’t push anymore! Thank y’all over at Vocalo for having me and thanks for being early! 

Follow Teddy Truman on Twitter and Instagram, and stream his music on Spotify below.

Interview by Milo Keranen and Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by Morgan Ciocca

Edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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