Consider yourself a fan of R&B music? Allow me to introduce you to Tiyon “Songwriter TC” Mack, a triple-threat singer, songwriter and producer based in the US. If you’re not already acquainted, you’ll certainly be familiar with his growing catalogue, having already worked on tracks on some of your favourite R&B albums of the last few years – Brandy’s Two Eleven, Keyshia Cole’s Woman To Woman and Tamar Braxton’s Love and War to name a few, the latter earning three Grammy Award nominations in 2014.
Currently hard at work in the studio writing with other artists, shooting his own documentary and finishing his debut album, we caught up with the singer to talk songwriting, music inspirations, the current state of R&B music, working with Tamar Braxton and more.
How did you get your start in the music industry?
I got my start from doing covers and remaking everyone’s songs online. I used to have a page on Soundclick in 2003-2004. I was so young and was just recording stuff on my computer… It was really bad, but I would do anything just to get my stuff out there. Then producers started hitting me up like, ‘Yo, do you write? You can really sing. I’d like to work with you’. From there, that’s how everything started, and I wasn’t even writing at that time. I was just trying to sing.
Who are the artists you’ve really looked up to and been inspired by on your journey so far?
Whitney has always been my main influence as far as control, singing, the way she can deliver a record and how she is on stage live. There’s nobody I’ve felt can touch that, and when I was a kid, I always looked up to that and aspired to be that great, have that control and be that amazing as a singer to where when I sing, people are like, ‘wow, he’s great’. Other influences are Brandy, Toni Braxton and Michael Jackson. I think all of those people are who TC is, with my own thing added to it.
A lot of people have compared your vocal technique to Brandy, how was it when you worked with her for Two Eleven?
The song that I did for ‘Two Eleven’, [“Wish Your Love Away”], didn’t go through Brandy, but it went through Breyon [Prescott], who is the person she’s signed to. I did the song with Mario Winans and it eventually got sent to Breyon and the label, and they went crazy over it, so that’s how everything came about, but I wasn’t with Brandy when she recorded it.
Are you planning to work together again in the future?
It’s possible. Anything’s definitely possible when two people come together for the music. She’s amazing and she’s definitely been one of my influences growing up, so I really have nothing but the utmost respect for her, so I would definitely love to work with her again, but it’s all in time.
When you’re writing songs, do you write with an artist in mind or does that come later once the song is already written?
It depends. A lot of times, like with “Wish Your Love Away”, the songs come from experience. Stuff that I would go through, I would just write about it, and I wouldn’t think about putting it on a specific artist. I would just be building my catalogue up, unless somebody sends me a track and says, ‘we need this for Tamar or we need this for Brandy’, and then I’ll write for that specific person.
You wrote and produced a number of tracks on Tamar’s Love and War album, and fans of Braxton Family Values saw that when the two of you first got into the studio, you weren’t necessarily on the same page. How was it working with her?
It was difficult. It was very difficult. She’s one of those people who knows what she likes, so she’s very stubborn with a lot of things and being that I was so young, when we were working she kind of dismissed it like, ‘oh he’s a baby’, but as we started working she understood me and I understood her and everything started flowing. We still have that mentality where we butt heads all the time, it’s just hilarious, but I think we both know that our chemistry is amazing. I haven’t connected with an artist like that before and I’m just glad to be a part of her whole movement. She believes in me and she’s taken me under her wing. We’ve just been creating amazing music.
What was your personal favourite on the album?
There’s so many. That album is really great. I love “Stay and Fight” and I didn’t even do that one, but I did vocal produce, and I am signing backgrounds on it. I love “Pieces”, “White Candle”, especially when she sings it live, as that’s a whole other experience, and “Thank You Lord”. When I did that record, it was something I was just writing from experience, so for Tamar to bring her interpretation to it was just amazing to witness in the studio. We definitely took that record and just soared with it, so I was excited. I’m just excited about the album period.
We know Tamar has been working hard on the album’s follow up and you’ve been involved. Can you give us any hints on what we can expect on the tracks you’ve worked on?
Sanging! I can’t really say much, because it’s not my album. Even though I’m a part of the whole album, I really don’t like to say too much until stuff is released so they can’t be like, ‘you shouldn’t have said that’, so I try to stay clear of that. But, she’s really using her range, and her vocals are really healing. As a lot of people know, she suffered a vocal injury with the last album and because of her work ethic she’s just always working. The doctors told her that she has to stop singing, but she sang through it. She felt like her fans deserved ‘her’. So for a while she was going through vocal issues, but she’s getting herself back together and her vocals are so amazing on this album, so I’m excited about it.
You’ve already worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, but who are the artists you would still like to work with?
I’m just a person who loves to work with different artists. I can’t say one person in particular, because honestly out of everybody who I’ve wanted to work with, I’ve worked with them, and I’m excited about that and blessed for that. But, of course, there are other people who I really want to work with, like Britney, who I’ve grown up with, and Rihanna. I did a song for Beyoncé that she recorded a while back, but it was never released, so I would like to get back in [the studio] with her. I like real singers who can really sing, like Deborah Cox. I like people like that who I can go in [the studio] with and push.
What do you think of the UK music scene?
I’m really not familiar with too many UK artists. I do know Jermaine Riley. That’s somebody who I really love; he’s very dope. He used to be a part of the group Fundamental 03 over in the UK, and they were big supporters when I first started putting music online, so I’ve always followed them. They’re amazing songwriters and singers. I like Cherri V too. [Pauses]. Who else?
Sam Smith doesn’t count now, because he’s in the US [laughs]. I’m talking about the UK artists who we don’t really know over here. But, of course, Sam Smith is amazing and he’s definitely getting the credit that he deserves, so big up to the UK. I’m just not familiar with everybody who is there, but I’ve heard of a lot people through shows like X Factor UK and different stuff that I’ve watched.
Have you been to the UK before?
I have not, but I want to. I’ll be there soon, I promise.
We’ve seen recently that R&B artists in the US, and even more so in the UK, have struggled to sell albums in the same way artists from others genres do. What are your feelings on this, and what role do you think R&B music plays in the music industry today?
The problem is… It’s urban music, which is listened to by more African-Americans. We can go to the barbershop, and we can sell somebody’s CD for $5, and somebody will buy it or they’ll download it illegally and not even think about it. Then those same people will go buy Adele’s album or go buy Sam Smith’s album, but they won’t support their own community. They’ll just download it [illegally]. I feel like people are the reason why R&B is dying. They want it so bad, but they still [illegally] download the music. If you want to change music, you need to start supporting. The artists who you support, you need to buy their music so R&B can stay alive.
What albums or songs are you listening to at the minute?
Honestly, I’ve been in my own world, so I can’t say that I’ve been downloading music like I would want to. I haven’t really been listening to everybody else’s stuff, because I’ve been working on my own, so I didn’t really want to hear anything that’s going on. But, I do love Elijah Blake, who is actually one of my close friends. He played me his album, which is about to come out, and it’s really amazing. I love Mila J too and Chris Brown’s new album. I’ve just been in my own world, and l still listen to artists that I grew up on like Whitney, Brandy, Michael.
I would love to hear an Elijah Blake/TC collaboration…
Well, there’s a song that’s going to be on his album that we did together, that I produced and he wrote, and you’re going to hear both of our vocals on it.
You mentioned you’re working on your album too. Do you a have a release date for it?
I don’t have [a release date]. Actually, I’m with my engineer right now, and we’re mixing the album… It just needs to get mixed and mastered, and then figure out the tracklisting – all the minor stuff, but everything is basically done. I’ll shoot videos end of April or early May, but I’ve been focused on Tamar, because my stuff is done. Her’s is about to come out, so I kind of pushed everything back for myself and focused on her album so she’s good and then I’ll be able to put everything out.
In the meantime I’ve been doing negotiations and getting distribution deals sorted, so my album will be out in stores. I do have a single and I’ve just had it mixed. I’m excited for everybody to hear it, but right now it’s just the negotiations and making sure that my album comes out how it’s supposed to come out. I don’t want to just throw it out there. I really want to promote it.
We’ve heard snippets on Instagram, but what else can fans expect in terms of the sound you’ve gone for?
Well C-Note is actually mixing the whole album. He’s here in LA with me right now. The sound is R&B-Pop. I feel like I’m very diverse. I was born and raised in Kentucky and grew up around country. I looked up to powerhouse vocalists like Whitney too, so you’ll have big ballads on the album and the regular stuff you can dance to, but more so feel good music. I wanted to make my album genuine, because I’m a lover, so I want to talk about love and all kinds of stuff. I’m not a dude from the hood who pops bottles, smokes weed and all that stuff, so you won’t hear that from me.
You’ve also been working on a documentary as well, so can you tell us more about that and when we’ll get to see it in full?
We’re still shooting while we’re still in the process of creating the album, but it’s definitely going to come into fruition soon. I can’t say when everything is going to come out, because I’m in the process of working on it right now and then the follow up plan of how everything is going to be released, so I try to put little snippets out so people can be excited about it, because I know I’m taking forever. But, it’s not my fault; blame Tamar! [Laughs]. I really am working on everything to make sure everything comes out, but when it comes, it’s coming; I swear!
Interview by Nathan Miller