If you didn't know better, Neill Von Tally and Bocha's recording session would probably appear effortless.
In local hip-hop label Eyrst's downtown studio, the producer and rapper communicate mostly through head nods and finger gestures. Bocha, the label's newest signee, comes up with his bars on the fly, and Von Tally—Eyrst's co-founder and producer—supplies smooth, dreamy beats.
But behind each Eyrst release are hours of noodling, performing take after take and tinkering in the control room. Often, Von Tally and Eyrst's MCs are in the studio for more than 24 hours straight.
Still, you'd be forgiven for missing all the hard work that goes into Eyrst's prolific output. The label is known for fluid, organic hip-hop: Blossom's celestial R&B, Myke Bogan's hazy stoner rap and Donte Thomas' glistening new album, Colors. Though she signed to Interscope Records last month, rising rapper Dodgr released her melodic, swaggering breakout Bone Music on Eyrst, and co-wrote the album with Von Tally.
Founded in the summer of 2014, Eyrst used to operate out of Martell Webster's West Hills mansion, but the former Trail Blazer eventually signed the label over to Von Tally and Eyrst CEO Taylor Dutton.
Two and a half years ago, Eyrst moved into a 40-year-old studio next to Kelly's Olympian that has also been occupied by the likes of the Portland Cello Project and electronic producer Karl Kling. With tall ceilings, exposed brick walls and ornate rugs, it's like a dim, cozy den—a total contrast to the haunted mansion-style elevator and fluorescent-lit hallways that lead up to the space.
"I just get this sense that [the studio] needs to be taken advantage of when we have it, because the world has no guarantees," says Von Tally. "Businesses have been through enough ups and downs that at this point, I just get it while it's good. Capitalize on the unpredictability, lean into it."
Untitled Nirvana Baby and Shepard Fairey original
Von Tally knows the Nirvana baby. He met Spencer Elden—who was the underwater infant on the cover of Nevermind—through a past relationship. "It's funny, no one ever asks me about it, but I'm actually super proud of it," says Von Tally. "[Elden] had an apprenticeship with Shepard Fairey, and he made that stencil and put it on paper handmade by Shepard Fairey."
Thomas Cook & Son antique piano and Hammond organ
Since the room has operated as a studio for four decades, some things have just become one with the space. That includes a huge antique piano and Hammond organ. Von Tally isn't quite sure whom the instruments previously belonged to, or how they ended up in a tiny studio on the sixth floor of the building. Von Tally noodles with the organ when he wants some cool sounds for his beats. Often, he'll hit record before turning on the organ—it pitch-bends into a key when it's switched on, which sounds like a vinyl record starting to play.
Phillips Hue lights
Just like a stage at a venue, the live room in the studio is equipped with some heavy-duty luminance. The colors in the bulbs can be changed using a phone app, so artists in the booth can set whatever mood they want. Von Tally says everyone messes with the lights, but Lake Oswego-raised viral rapper Wynne has the most fun with them when she rehearses for her shows.
Painting by Grape God
Close to Von Tally's heart is an abstract painting by local rapper Grape God of a spaceship that hangs above the doorway in the control room. The painting includes the quote "Have you changed your mind yet?" which reminds Von Tally of a longer quote that's been in his phone for almost a decade: "You are an amorphous being and can change your views, opinions, ideas and beliefs at will."
Von Tally finds himself in the seat of the studio's control room seven days a week. Sometimes he works until 3 am, other times he starts work at 3 am. It's basically his second home. Thankfully, the control room came with a couch, which gets a lot of use. Some of Von Tally's favorite sessions are when he's working with artists so focused they go for over 24 hours and nap in shifts. "The time warp that happens when that level of focus is going on is wonderful," he says. "Plus, it's a chance to escape all conscious existential dread."
Eyrst Spring Highlights
Cult Beauty: Deluxe Version by Myke Bogan drops Feb. 21
Myke Bogan, Blossom and Donte Thomas play Treefort Music Festival, March 21-29
Willamette Week's Spring Arts Guide 2020