I caught up with TJ ofThaddeus Anna Greene fame to discuss his Cleveland roots, influences, how he and his bandmates formed such a tigh-knit collective, and what the concept of genre means to him.

Where did you grow up and what was it like growing up there?

So, I grew up in Cleveland. Really, all over Cleveland. It's hard to say the neighborhoods and have people understand 'em, from worldwide - but, I grew up from St. Claire to Cleveland Heights, Ohio and everywhere between those places. So, basically form the other side of the tracks to the other side of the tracks- from the hood to the suburbs. You know what I'm sayin'? And, growing up for me, I feel like I had a pretty well-rounded upbringing. Only because my pops was a certain type of person and my moms was a certain type of person.

My pops was like, a hustler, a street kind of guy and everything that came with that. But he wasn't some sort of thugged-out, heartless kind of dude; he was - and still is - extremely, extremely intelligent and insightful. However, he was forced to, or not really forced to... he chose to get his money a certain kind of way. And, with that lifestyle, came certain kinds of things. My mother was in education for 20 years and taught math, then became an administrator, so I had a really dichotomy in my upbringing. I was able to see both sides of the coin, so to speak. So, growing up, it made me kind of well rounded.

What kind of music was being played around the house?

Man. So, when I was a kid, I just remember vividly - my god, so vividly - my mom cleaning up the house on Saturdays playing all types of Tony, Tony, Tony; Raphael Saadiq, Brian McKnight, D'Angelo, Lauren Hill, Jill Scott. So, my whole entire upbringin' was just hella, hella neo-soul. And then, a lot of rap, too. Because, I mean, I was a black kid in the '90s. I listened to a lot of rap: Cash Money, No Limit, Swisher House, Mike Jonze, all of them. I mean, Kanye. It was that, mixed with a whole lot of neo-soul and R&B.

And at what point did you start getting in to doing music yourself?

I mean, my mom can sing. My mom has a real good voice. But, she never did anything with it. And she had me in the choir ever since I was kid. But, it was always a running joke in my family that, "TJ's not a singer" because I just wasn't good at it, at all. Around '96 or '97, my dad started a record label in Cleveland called Red Eye Records. And you know, he was trying to be on some Master P, No Limit type shit. Like some grime, from the bottom up. So, it was a bunch of gangsta' rap, heavy hip-hop stuff. And that kind of stuck with me. And then Lil' Bow Wow came out and I was like, "Yo!" because me and Lil' Bow Wow were around the same age. I was gonna be a rapper. But, the difference between me and him is, I'm gonna hard core and cuss 'cause Lil' Bow Wow didn't cuss. So, like, I started writing raps as a little kid. And in eighth grade I had a little rap group called the Youngsta Clique. We used to get instrumentals and burn them onto CDs and we would call each other on 3-way and record the raps from my homeboy's computer while on the phone.

Oh, man, that's awesome.

Yeah. So, then, I guess I wasn't that good at rappin' or whatever. And out of nowhere I got introduced to Fallout Boy. And then that got me into Jimi Hendrix. And when I heard Jimi Hendrix, I was like, "Yo, I want to play guitar." And it just went on from there. I mean, I still make some rap shit every now and then. I'll make a beat and rap over it. But, for the most part, once I started playing guitar, that was the main focus.

That's really cool that you have this background in other genres and have that knowledge in your arsenal and we'll get to that in a second. But, first, how did you meet the other guys in Thaddeus Anna Greene and form and start playing together?

It's crazy how that worked. I mean, I know a lot of people believe in God, but I felt like that's how it happened. Because Anthony - the drummer in the band - is my right rib, there is no me without him. I met that fool in the third grade. Oh, wait, I was in the fourth grade and he was in the third grade. And I remember vividly it was a talent show at my elementary school. And I had never seen anybody my age play the drums live. So, I go in the gymnasium and he's in there playing drums, going stupid hard. And that's when I met him and knew about him ever since then. So, we get into high school and had always wanted to do something together, but he was in other bands and I was getting in trouble. So, we never got linked up.

And then I went to Chicago for school and wrote a bunch of songs and came back. And I went to him like, "I know you're in other bands, but I got these songs I want to record. Can you be my drummer for this?" He agreed and he hooked me up with a dude who played bass who is no longer in the band anymore. And we did a record together. It took off so well he wanted to stay. I was like, "Let's do it!" And the dude that doesn't play bass in our band anymore, his brother joined the band and played guitar. And we had all known each other from the neighborhood and just kickin' it. So, Ryan - our other guitar player - he joined the band. When Ryan's brother left the band, we found Matt who's just a beast player from the local scene. Like, if you talk about bass in Cleveland and Akron, his name is going to come up in conversation. Period. He's the coldest bass player in the city. And, he believed in our music and wanted to be a part of it. That's how the band got together. This happened from 2010 to 2016, so this is six years in the making.

That's crazy hearing about you all coming together and being connected one way or another. It's not manufactured at all.

And you don't really hear about bands doing that now. It's all superimposed. You have a guy who's really good at singing so he hires a guy who's really good at guitar and then hires a guy who's really good at etc etc. For us, it's not like that though. We all really started playing music at around the same point in our lives. And we started taking it all seriously at around the same time. It just came together organically, you know what I mean?

That's awesome. And with listening to your music, it's guitar driven-a little psych-rock influence there. But, what stood out to me was that soul feel in your voice - which, now we know why. So, what elements did each member bring to the band to get the sound that you have now?

Yeah, so, Ryan is so clutch it's stupid. We'll be completely in a writer's block, can't figure anything out. And the reason Ryan is so clutch is because he is so musically green in the sense that, he really just is a self-taught guitar player who just likes to play shit that sounds dope. And we kind of all are, but we all also kind of went to school besides him. So, he's not really restricted by all these codes and rules and stuff. So, whenever we just need to get started, he'll come with something that we would have never thought of because - you know how when you're thinking on another level, you think that certain ideas are boring? He'll come with an idea like that, but it'll be a smash. Every song that has come out, with the exception of 'In Vein', has been a lick that Ryan came up with. From, 'Don't Look' to 'Bleed', the title track on the EP coming out. All of the licks, them is Ryan.

And, as far as elements that we all bring, Anthony, is one of the most musical drummers that I've played with in the sense that, not only does he play a backbeat, not only can he swing, not only can he do that Questlove/D'Angelo type shit; but, he listens. He hears musical parts. He knows when to give it more and when to cut back. And we've been playing together for such a long time that we speak the same musical language, pretty much. He knows what I'm about to say and how I'm about to say it. He knows where I'm about to do an ad lib or a lick or something like that. He'll come on with me.

And then Matt, like I said, is so polished and just such a gem. He just knows when to come in. He just assesses the situation and "boom", slides right in. You know what I mean?

And I love the way you're able to present how everything fits together like a puzzle piece. I feel like it's really rare to find bands that are homegrown and more importantly, where the members all click, musically- everyone can just feed off of each other. So how is that when you all get in that groove? Do you start with lyrics first or composition first?

It really depends. We try not to adhere to weird ways of doing things or codes. We try to do things as free form as we can. So, I might have a verse or hook, or something like that and nothing else. And then I might have heard something that Ryan did at practice three months ago and say, "Put that with this verse." And boom, we've started a song. Or Foti [Anthony] might start a beat and Matt will hit a bass line and build off that. It happens. Whatever way it comes, we take it.

Awesome. So, switching gears a little bit, you guys play live instrumentation. But today, there's numerous discussions going on about the rise of electronics in music versus "guitar" music. Do you have any thoughts on guitar driven music in the industry in 2016 and beyond? What keeps you going with and not down another path?

The whole idea of "guitar driven music" is the reason I stopped playing solos. Because, I don't really like the idea of "guitar driven music", you know what I mean? I just like the idea of "music driven music".

I know I keep mentioning D'Angelo, but, he's tops - let's be real. But, if you listen to Voodoo, we won't call that "organ driven music", we just call that music, right? And then, if you listen to Black Messiah, where he's playing a lot more guitar, we still don't call that "guitar driven music". We still call that just music. I don't know. When you can find a blend between digital and live instrumentation, I feel like that's when you can kind of come into your own and sort of break down a bunch of musical barriers. And that's kind of our goal. To get to the point where we can blend that stuff in and blur the lines of genre even further, you know what I'm saying?

Oh man, you don't know how happy that makes me. Interviewing so many bands, the concept of breaking away from genre is becoming more and more commonplace. With your band, I read descriptions calling it psych rock but I heard so much more.

That's my goal. Whatever interview I do, I'm just trying to remove that stigma of psych rock or Hendrix comparisons. You know, Hendrix is the reason, right? But, I'm trying to transcend like he did. I'm trying to... I guess blur the lines aren't the right words... but evolve with the times. Like, if you listen to Travis Scott's new album, that was unheard of in rap 10 years ago - the shit he's doing with auto-tune and guitar and some of the features he has. Everybody is on this wave of raising the bar. And I'm just trying to get with that. Like, the last thing I want to say is, "We're bringing rock back", you know? Because that's so corny.

Oh, I hear you, completely! So, you talked a lot about bands and artists that have influenced you. Are there are any current artists or producers you would like to work with or collaborate with?

Oh my god, man. Number one, Pharrell Williams. Like, I want to work with that fool so bad. Then, a tie for number one - I know I've said his name a million times - D'Angelo. I have to do something with that man. Even if it's just to sit under him and soak it all in. I'd love to work with Kid Cudi. I would love to work with Dan Auerbach. Oh, Steve Jordan and Dr. Dre.

Nice diverse list there. I like the shout-out to Akron man, Auerbach.

Oh yeah, well he's a huge influence, for sure.

Awesome. So, last question here. What advice would you give someone who is starting out in music and pursuing it full time?

I mean, shit man. The only advice I would give to somebody who's trying to be a musician or do this, would be like, practice all the time. That's the first thing - practice all the time. And then, also, if you got an idea, you got a vision and you know it's not wack- that's a slippery slope because people always say, "follow your dreams". And sometimes, that dream is wack. But, if you know that your shit is dope and it's not wack, but just aren't getting it right now, then keep doing it. Like I said earlier, my mother used to joke and say that I would not be a singer. And then I heard Hendrix and I heard Bob Dylan and I was like, "Wait, they aren't great signers either." And that gave me the confidence to branch out and now people say I have a good voice. So, you just gotta take what people say with a grain of salt. People might call you crazy. People might call you whatever. But just really keep doing what you're doing and be hard on yourself. Because that's the only way you'll get better.