Billy’s Bubble and the next generation of rock–a conversation with Billy Tibbals
There’s something so cliché about being afraid to turn 20, but I think every 19-year-old resonates with this sentiment. L.A.-based musician Billy Tibbals can relate as his new EP Stay Teenage comes out in April. Billy graduated high school only a year before I did, so when my friend Maeve McGuire and I spoke with him at Songbyrd in D.C. last month, it felt less like a formal interview and more like a conversation between three very different people who all shared a similar passion for music. The highlight of my night was seeing someone my age who, like me, is slightly awkward and loves collecting obscure records, light up the stage with the confidence of a seasoned rockstar. Here’s what we talked about before he took the stage:
Carolina: You’re from London?
Billy: Yeah, I was born and raised in London, and I moved here in 2014 with my parents.
Carolina: Did L.A. affect your view on music at all?
Billy: Definitely, yeah. I just love L.A.! L.A. is awesome.
Maeve: Oh really? West Coast, Best Coast?
Billy: I think I’m going to stay there forever. It’s one of those places where you can get stuck there, but I’m happy to be stuck there. It just clicked with me.
Carolina: Is there a big music scene there? What’s it like?
Billy: Yeah. My drummer, Reza, he’s in a band that I really like called the Uni Boys. There’s a group of us that are all doing the same sort of thing that have similar influences. We hang out and make music together. It feels like the early days of maybe a bigger scene. It’s small right now, but it’s good.
Carolina: And when you talk about influences, who would you say is your biggest influence?
Billy: This sounds very obvious, but The Beatles are the best band of all time.
Carolina: I saw [Paul] McCartney over the summer. Amazing.
Billy: I’m jealous; that’s awesome. I grew up on The Beatles and The Beach Boys and a lot of classic rock. Then I got into weirder obscure things in high school. So, a combination of weird power pop bands who put out one record in the 70s and The Beatles.
Carolina: Something that stood out to me in your bio online was the mention of surrealist literature. How did you get into that?
Billy: Oh yeah, to be perfectly honest, surrealist isn’t the right word. William S. Burroughs, I’m a big fan of his and The Naked Lunch. I like oddities and strange stuff.
Carolina: If you could see one act live, who would it be?
Billy: The Clash. If you’ve seen videos of them live, their energy is just fucking crazy. I would see them in 1978.
Carolina: I know you’re releasing physical music. Do you have a record collection? What’s the favorite record you own?
Billy: I do. My prized possession is this weird private press compilation of a bunch of songs from the early 70s that was made for a radio station. It has stuff I can’t find online, and it has really good stuff. I don’t remember what it’s named, but it’s a weird pop-rock compilation.
Carolina: I love finding records made for college radio or something that are super rare or have the label for promo only.
Billy: Yeah! That’s my favorite, the best stuff is when you buy something, and you don’t know what it is, but it looks kind of cool. Then you put it on, and it’s awesome. That’s what’s fun about collecting records to me. It’s about discovering new music.
Carolina: Sometimes, I judge a book by its cover when buying albums.
Billy: That’s exactly what I do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but when it does, it’s amazing.
Carolina: When did you graduate high school?
Billy: Right when COVID lockdown started, so the class of 2020.
Carolina and Maeve: We were 2021. What’s it like to tour three years after you were doing Zoom school?
Billy: It’s wild that it’s been three years. I was graduating right at the tail end, so I didn’t do that much Zoom school. It was definitely weird; I remember going to class one day, and there was only one kid in the classroom. Everyone just left, which was surreal.
Carolina: Is that when you started making music, or were you doing it before the pandemic?
Billy: That’s when I started really getting into recording. During the lockdown, I was doing recordings on my own. I have a studio in my parent’s garage, so I holed up in there and recorded a bunch of songs.
Carolina: Would you say your style or sound has changed since then? Just because I know my music taste was very specific with intense phases at that point.
Billy: Yeah, somewhat. I think when we get back from tour, we’re going to work on another record and sort of try to figure out what that sound will be. We’re always listening and trying to find new music.
Carolina: Tell me about the process of making your new EP.
Billy: It was a lot of fun. It’s called “Stay Teenage.” The record sums up that moment in time for me of graduating high school and the COVID lockdown. Thinking about friendships and experiences that I had throughout high school and drawing upon that. That thing of figuring out how to become an adult or whatever. I want to stay a teenager and play rock and roll shows…have fun.
Carolina: I’m turning 20 this year… definitely scary.
Billy: That was the thing. I wanted to stay young, so the record is about staying young, having fun, and a lot of other stuff.
Carolina: Does it bother you when people say rock is dead?
Billy: No. I don’t really care. It’s dead to them but not dead to me. It’s not great right now. It’s not on the radio, but I don’t concern myself with that kind of stuff. I live in a little bubble.
Maeve: Do you have a name for that bubble?
Billy: I should…no, I don’t…Billy’s Bubble!
Carolina: So, we’re writing this for our school’s arts and culture magazine. Is there anything you would tell a bunch of music lovers our age that I left out?
Billy: I would say consume as much as possible but also go out to shows and do stuff. I spend too much time listening to records and watching movies all the time, but I think it’s important to go out and have a social life. Go to as many shows as possible. Get the scene started in Washington.
Maeve, Billy, and I continued to talk about the band’s time in D.C., which included Billy’s excitement to see the White House and Lincoln Memorial. We gave him some recommendations for D.C.’s punk scene, and he told us about his times in high school going to shows around L.A. He talked about the tour, which lasts until the end of March, and the nervousness he felt about playing so many shows in a row. When encouraging me to finally pick up the lonely guitar in my dorm room and learn, he downplayed his own musical abilities and said that he was not even the best musician but loved writing songs.
Maeve and I asked if he was living out his dreams on tour, and he replied, “Yeah. Really it kind of feels like it.” Anyone watching Billy perform that night could tell he really was living out all our glam-rock, rock star dreams as he strutted on stage in an eccentric 1970s outfit and played songs from his first release, “Onward and Upwards,” and his new EP, Stay Teenage.
Catch Billy Tibbals on tour with Mac Saturn this year and hang out with the band after the show. Stay Teenage comes out in April. Give his single “Onwards and Upwards/Lucy” a listen in the meantime!
Carolina Permuy is a sophomore in the SFS studying CULP. Maeve McGuire is a sophomore in the College studying biology.