Brian: Daniel Warren Hill is the lead singer and lead song-writer and vocalist for Yellow Tie Guy. The group has members from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and released their second full-length album "Play on Words" this past November. Daniel also wears a number of other hats as well. He is the owner of community-based record label Alchemical Records. He manages an online magazine and an online radio station. He works with his father Jim to hand-build custom two guitar amps at VVT Amplifiers. He hosts the weekly open mic night you heard about earlier, every Tuesday at Villain and Saint in Bethesda Maryland. He is also a sound engineer and producer with over 17 years of personal experience in the industry.
I first saw Yellow Tie Guy and heard about them through the Capital City showcase. Shout-out to [Christian Hunt 00:53] at the Capital City Showcase because he does some cool things. He's been an artist on there and I saw this guy on stage with the Capital City showcase. Just cool sounds, as you heard from that sound. Listeners, it's with great pleasure that I introduce Daniel Hill.
Daniel: Thank you. It's always humbling when somebody talks about you. I don't know how you feel when somebody does it for you but when somebody does it for me, I just want to crawl under a rock somewhere and then cover myself up with a blanket.
Brian: Well, thank you for tolerating me there while I did that, because I want to set the stage for them. Now ell us, how did you get started in this music thing? Where did that come from?
Daniel: The long story short is going to be that I've been singing my whole life and I've always had a passion for music and different instruments as I was growing up. I got into music as an opportunity for ... I guess you could say a career choice. I made a career choice when I found out I was going to be a dad. She inspired me to pursue my dreams and set a goal for her that whatever it is that she was interested in doing, that she could also find a way to make that successful and happen for her.
Brian: Wow. What is her name?
Daniel: Her name is Madison.
Daniel: She's seven.
Brian: Oh, Madison if you hear this, shout-out to you Madison.
Daniel: She runs the playlist in the car when we're driving. She gets to pick the songs.
Brian: Oh, yeah?
Brian: Oh, that's awesome.
Daniel: We're singing Ring of Fire together, that's a song we're learning to sing together. Also If I Had a Million Dollars, trying to get some two part things going on.
Brian: Very cool, this is what happens when you're a seven year old in a family with musicians. I love it, that is cool. Well, now ... There's a lot of things going on. I listed a lot of things in that introduction, so why don't you ... Where did Yellow Tie Guy from and the idea for the Yellow Tie? Talk about.
Daniel: When I was 11 I was visiting a camp, like a youth group thing in North Carolina at a pretty big church down there. They had brought up some of the young preacher speaker boys to come up on stage and I was one of those guys that came up, but the Pastor couldn't remember my name when he invited me up to actually come onto the stage. He goes, "You, the guy with the yellow tie. Come on up here." I'm 11 years old, and I go up and do my thing. Three years later I'm in Virginia visiting a church and they recognized me as the guy with the yellow tie, "Oh you were the guy with the yellow tie down in North Carolina." I was like, how do you remember that? I don't even remember what color tie I was wearing that day. Then it just kind of stuck with me that this was something that was memorable, and when I started playing solo shows ... When I started playing solo shows ... Oh, that's something for my school. Too many smart objects. Wrong button.
Brian: So wait a minute, so Yellow Tie Guy actually come ... that is amazing. Somebody called you out as being the guy with the yellow tie and it stuck, all those years?
Daniel: It stuck. I didn't make it up, somebody else made it up and-
Brian: I love it. Oh my god.
Daniel: When I started playing solo acoustic shows as a teenager it was just kind of a gimmick, "Oh, I'll just be the Yellow Tie Guy." Then as time went by ... the band, when I started playing with a band and we were going to record a record, it was like, "Well, do you want to be a different band name, because I'm totally cool with it." I was just using Yellow Tie Guy for funsies by myself, but I don't assume that it represents a group of people, per say. They were like, "No." I was like, "Okay, well you're just telling me you're too lazy to come up with a unique band name and so we're just going to run with this then and that will be fine."
Brian: I'd like to think of it as they loved the idea so much that they wanted to do that one too. I don't know.
Daniel: I just think everybody was skeptical about the project at first and so ... it'll be like, 30 years from now it will be like Kid Rock, "I wish we could have called ourselves something different."
Brian: No, I hope that happens. Daniel, I hope we're talking about this 30 years from now, and I can talk about the fact that you were on the show and I found out that you wore a yellow tie to church and that's where the name came from.
Daniel: That's right.
Brian: I really hope that that happens. That would be amazing.
Daniel: It stuck.
Brian: Then you also ... Alchemical Records, what is that? Talk about that.
Daniel: When we put out our first record Alchemical Records was already existing as kind of an email chain where people would just kind of hit me up and they would ask me for advice or ask me for a contact and I would go, "Well I don't have the answer to this, or I don't know how to do this for you, so let me forward you on to this person, maybe they can help you out." It was just kind of a long chain-mail email newsletter type situation. Nothing official.
When we put out the first record we used Alchemical Records as a name to stick on the back of it. It was right at the height of DIY and do it all yourself. I was like, "I'll just put that out under my own label. All these other people are putting their music out on their own label, so I'll do it too." Then once people had listened to it and had seen the album art and things like that, everybody was really impressed and I started getting some interest in, "Well how do I get on the label? What does the label do?". It just kind of developed from there. It's still very community-based in that everybody we talk to is somebody we just have a genuine relationship with at some point, or run into and meet. It continues to grow but there's no specific set rate. It's really just about trying to help ... working with the artist individually. The artists that are on the label, they get the help that I can best provide for them based on their needs.
Daniel: We mostly try to focus on providing marketing distribution. Anybody can distribute themselves, but marketing is something that you really have to work through from start to finish and it has to be a long-term goal for artists. Artist development is really what we specialize in.
Brian: Got it. When you say artist development, does that mean helping them refine their sound or come up with/finish an album, or finish a piece of work? Say more on that.
Daniel: I mean, from an engineering standpoint I might visit a show and then make recommendations to improve their stage sound from their perspective, not necessarily from what an engineer does. Then from a marketing perspective we might try to figure out how we can get them to supply me with tracks and artwork significantly before their set release date, so that way we can try to get some buzz built out about it, even if it's just from the underground or from those people that I can individually email, or share something with specifically and try to just grow it out that way.
There's a lot of time ... it takes a long time to properly market and promote. I'm not saying we're always guilty of properly marketing or providing anything, but it takes a long time, and longer than people think. They go and they spend all this money or time recording a record and then when it's time to release it it's like, tomorrow, "Here you go guys, we just finished it, and here you go." There's not necessarily a lot of forethought to-
Brian: Yeah, I heard it's a stat the other day that you should spend as much time and money on the PR for the release as you do on making the record.
Brian: That was a eye-opening ratio, because I thought it was more all about making the good music and then ... if you build it they will come does not work with music releases.
Daniel: You have to tell people.
Brian: Getting the word out there, you've got to tell people about it.
Daniel: One way or another.
Brian: Now then the VVT Amplifiers is the other thing we talked about in the intro. Talk about that.
Daniel: Well, when I was a teenager and playing in a band with my brother we got what was called a real amp, a tube amp at the time. My dad had heard it and was like, "I think I could build something like that or better." He took my mom's cutting board and brown pan and took it in the basement and cut holes in it and bolting things together and put transformers and tubs into it and he made a little 5 watt amplifier out of a cookie sheet-
Brian: Stop it. Out of a cookie sheet?
Daniel: Out of a cutting board ... a cookie sheet and cutting board.
Daniel: It wasn't as good. That amp was not as good as the amp that we owned at the time, but things improved and that's where the company developed. As I was continuing to just play music for funsies, my dad was building amplifiers. Then as things got more serious for me, things were becoming more serious for him and we started collaborating. I do not have his engineering wisdom. I've got a lot of catching up to do I come from a business mind and a marketing mind and also just trying to build that one fan at a time approach. I try to focus on web development, business development, and just working with artists, working with our continuing to outreach and find more artists locally to work with, and studios to work with.
Brian: Why would they ... there's a lot of amplifier companies out there, so what makes VVT special?
Daniel: Well I truly believe that we don't build anything ... none of our models of amplifiers are things that we are regurgitating. If you want a Marshall amplifier, you can call us and we can absolutely build you what would be a 1970-whatever vintage-hand Marshall, whatever. But those companies are already making great products that sound good that a lot of people love. We're not here to poo-poo on anybody's product. We're here to try to build something that's unique and original and really helps bring out the unique characteristic of the guitar player, rather than to try to focus on what we sound like as an amplifier company. Each amplifier meets a different need for a different style of player, and you're talking to the two guys that build the amps in their garage, literally. We've done our own R&D. We spent our money on R&D, we spend a lot of time before we release new products to work with artists to try to get it better. We've got a lot of talented players using our stuff.
I think that the only thing I hope for is that we'll have more diversity in our artists, because I think that tube amps in general appeal to an older player. I also think that it appeals to sometimes certain styles of music. We'd like to expand the artists that we're working with as far as genres, but I think as far as quality and that unique, "Hey, I can drive to the place where I'm going to have my amp built or worked on and meet the people ..."
Brian: Right, so you can actually see it in production, and see it in the DC area.
Daniel: If you make us, yeah, you can come watch us build it if you make us-
Brian: You can bring your own cutting board and then watch it become and amplifier.
Daniel: I am tempted. I am tempted to try to put together some workshops where I would teach people how to build an amplifier like we did the first time, but I can't imagine what kind of legal concerns we might have to address or safety concerns.
Brian: Probably, there's probably something. That might be a little complicated, you're right.
Daniel: We're afraid to tell people how to do it on their own.
Brian: I love that. All right, now tell us about you outside of ... we've got all these projects that you're working on, and then you as a guy outside of that. What do you do for fun? What's outside?
Daniel: Aside from music, I really like to be outdoors. I like sunshine, I like hiking, camping. I'm actually a really country-bumpkin guy. Get me away from the city ...
Brian: Country-bumpkin guy.
Daniel: Country-bumpkin, yeah.
Brian: Excellent, so that means what?
Daniel: The further away from the city I am, the more comfortable I feel in my element. Like I'm an earth ... I wear earth tones, I just happen to be that reflection of my personality where I really do enjoy nature and the atmosphere. I'm actually a bit ... I'm a recluse by nature, because I believe that the work ethic that I have means that I have to kind of keep going, keep going, keep going and I work and work and work from home until I pass out, or until I just can't stand it anymore. People have to put up with me from that end, but personality-wise I like to go hiking and camping and skiing and paint-balling and laser-tagging. I try to stay active.
Brian: Get out and do fun things-
Daniel: That's right.
Brian: -and away from the city, when you can.
Daniel: Right. The city is more of the opportunity that I see to be able to share the music with more people in a condensed area. Or like, we go to visit a lot of small cities and try to perform to a specific audience that's very open-minded to what we're about to play. As far as like, living conditions, I think I'm more much at home getting eggs out of a chicken coop than I am having my butcher be my next door neighbor, per say. If that makes sense.
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. Now, what do you have in your music collection that might surprise us?
Daniel: Gosh, well it might surprise people to learn that ... the influences that I have aside from gospel growing up in church, I think that my music is influenced from everybody ranging from Frank Sinatra to Metallica or heavier ... Living Sacrifice or a band like that. We had recently opened up for a kind of big, kind of Christian circle band called Project 86, and that's a reflection of stuff that we were into growing up, and Living Sacrifice. There's another ... the Pennsylvania metal band that was young, we were really in to. I can't think of their name right now.
Brian: Nice. All right, so some of that stuff. What about ... your earliest memory with music, where does that go?
Daniel: I was on stage singing, I mean at four years old. I'm dressed up in suspenders and a bow tie, matching-the-person-standing-next-to-me kind of thing.
Daniel: That's probably what I remember, is being young and in a barbershop quartet type situation at a young age, and wishing I stuck with that, because barbershop quartet is still one of the coolest things ever.
Brian: I totally agree man. It really ... it's amazing what they're able to do with just four voices.
Daniel: There's a certain integrity, like a pure authentic quality to having four people that have just found a way to be that cohesive. It's really intimidating.
Brian: Yeah, intimidating and really impressive. I love it.
All right, so if there's one piece of advice that you could offer, what would it be?
Daniel: As far as a musician, maybe ...?
Brian: In general. However you chose to answer the question. I love to ask it open-ended.
Daniel: Relax. Take a deep breath and just relax, because we are so busy in this area. I feel like my work ethic comes from living in the area where there's high expectations set to achieve or to accomplish things. It's great to be driven like that, but at the same time there's so many people that are in such a hurry and they don't realize that ... whether it's by being an overly-aggressive driver or by cutting somebody off for that job opportunity to try to get ahead a little faster than somebody else, it really is nonsense because we're all on the same similar path as one another, and we're all headed to similar destinations. We all are just going to get there when we get there.
Brian: Got it, so relax.
Daniel: Relax, take a deep breath.
Brian: All right. Chill out, you'll get there. You will get there.
Daniel: That's right. All things in good time.
Brian: Now if people are really interested in learning more about you and Yellow Tie Guy, where can they go online to find you?
Daniel: Well, there's a website that is YellowTieGuy.com, or it used to be just ".us", ".U-S", but we got the ".com" from a life insurance agent that was formerly selling and sharing about himself under YellowTieGuy.com.
Brian: Another Yellow Tie Guy? Dang it!
Daniel: There was another Yellow Tie Guy.
Brian: The scandal!
Daniel: That's right. We managed to get that URL, and then we're also on pretty much any social media outlet that you can think of. I'm probably personally most active on Instagram because I take the picture and share it through Instagram and it goes to these other outlets automatically. I'm actively seeing things that are going on in Instagram and things like Facebook and Twitter are harder for me because there's so much information going on there at ... so much information for me to try to retain.
Daniel: I get a little overwhelmed.
Brian: Got it. All right, so Instagram is a great place.
Daniel: Instagram is great to stay in direct touch. Or send me a message through the website.
Brian: Absolutely, yeah, definitely check out the website. It's really cool what you've been able to do and especially all- these projects too. Check out Alchemical Records, cool things they got going on over there, and the radio station, the streaming radio station. Just really cool stuff Daniel's got going on. Definitely do check him out online.