Carrboro-based indie band T0W3RS was on a national upswing when most of the band quit, leaving Derek Torres the only remaining member. Instead of throwing in the towel, he reinvented T0W3RS – and in turn himself – as a smart indie dance-pop act revered as much for its live showmanship as its music.
“How do you find four other people my age who are willing to stop the other parts of their lives to make music?” says Torres, 27. He realized he didn’t need to.
“We’re living in an age where EDM artists can travel with a laptop and an iPod,” says Torres, who plays the Milestone solo Friday.
The process of recording, performing, engineering and mixing the album “TL;DR” himself was tedious. “I was convinced I would loathe this record when it came out,” he adds with a laugh. “Surprisingly, I still really like it. The live show gave it new life.”
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Mainstream print giant Entertainment Weekly streamed “TL;DR” before its release earlier this month. “I was like expecting Brooklyn Vegan or Pitchfork,” says Torres of online indie media heavy hitters. “‘Entertainment Weekly’ is awesome. My name was under Beyonce’s.”
His quirky psychedelic dance pop is highly accessible – as if Of Montreal collaborated with Fitz & the Tantrums.
“I listen to a lot of pop radio. A lot of hip-hop. A lot of like Katy Perry. I really like the songs on the radio now. It’s cheesy, silly and fun. There’s this apocalyptic theme going on. Like we got to dance until we die. It’s scary, but that’s where the pop vernacular is.”
Torres also draws inspiration from his Triangle area neighbors.
Chapel Hill’s Body Games (aka Dax Beaton) assists on the track “Raise the Gate,” for instance. “He chopped up my voice, put it on an arpeggiator, and pitch-shifted it up and down,” says Torres of the ’80s videogame music-style bridge. “I consider that his verse. It feels like a pop song where the singer does the first two verses and here’s the rapper.”
“TL;DR” also gave Torres a chance to reinvent his image. He studied how artists like Michael Jackson used their clothes to enhance their performance and hit thrift stores for new threads.
T0W3RS 2.0 had a learning curve, but it has come together now whether he’s backed by an eight-piece band for special events or making laptop rock alone.
“The first five times I did the solo show it was awkward. You don’t think about it when you’re one of many. When you’re up with a group and you’re not necessarily paying attention, you’re just playing the music and your body does awkward things,” he says of downtime when he’s not singing. “I realized my eyes looked lazy and my shoulders were slumped. When I’m the only one on stage those things became important.”
He practices in front of a mirror. “I now have five or six resting poses.”