Dream Job: Brian Yee
Happy Friday! I’ve been meaning to share with you a peek into the life of a good friend of mine. He’s someone who has been an inspiration to me as we went through design school together and continues to inspire me to pursue my own side projects with passion. That person is Brian Yee a.k.a Baron Meddlesome a.k.a one of the most multi talented creatives I know. That’s right; he’s an awesome designer, a fantastic illustrator, and he friggen raps. Say what? Yes! He writes his own songs and he raps them well. I wanted to ask him some questions on how he was able to juggle all these talents and maybe some of the awesome will rub off on us. Here’s Brian:
Can you tell us about yourself and what you do for your day job and what you do in the way of personal work?
Ahoy ahoy. Hmm, I’m a designer; I’m an illustrator; I’m a songwriter — I rap.
My 9 to 5 job is doing graphic design work and illustration work in San Francisco at a place called NerdWallet, a personal finance website that helps folks make smart money decisions.
I work with the social and marketing teams, alongside writers who pen blog posts with their findings on various topics relating to education, finance, or health. I make editorial illustrations; I make charts and graphs; I do page layout. I quite enjoy it there. There’s a message and a mission. I get to make art and help solve design problems. Smart folks abound. People feel like comrades — not co-workers. Annnd the office dogs keep us in check with their canine shenanigans.
My 5 to 9 job is making sure I make things, like, art; and songs. See my twist there — 9 to 5 and 5 to 9 ? haha. I made that too.
How did you come by the name Baron Meddlesome and what do you use that for? How do you differentiate between Brian Yee and Baron Meddlesome?
Frankly, ha, I devised the Baron Meddlesome name initially as a silly pseudonym to troll Myspace profiles back when I thought the concept of the social network was dumb. (I used to go by the name, Awake).
Brian Yee is my paycheck, and Baron Meddlesome is my mask.
I wanted the Baron Meddlesome name to slyly refer to my nosy nature and my need to solve drama, haha. Pulling from one of my old favorite cartoons, ‘Scooby Doo, Where Are You!’, I stole a name from those meddling kids and gave them royalty. I guess I was creating like, a new skin layer for my identity, a fresh bullhorn for my voice.
I’ve re-defined the name throughout the years as moss has gathered on the moniker. I gave my name weight. The latest iteration is on my website, haha. Anyways, to put it pithier: Brian Yee is my paycheck, and Baron Meddlesome is my mask.
And where does Nester, your red bird graphic, come into this?
I guess Nester was the catalyst, really, that helped me symbolize my approach as a creative. He used to sit atop the heads of characters I’d doodle on café napkins and diner placemats, shaped with red pen ink, nested on black-inked hair. He eventually found permanent residence on my inside forearm with needle pigment. Then when music started becoming more of a .. thing, a reality, I figured it’d be good to have a trademark for my Baron Meddlesome name. Then art school and various design jobs arrived and I realized that Nester had become an icon for reminding me to frequent higher perspective on matters.
You started out as a solo act and now you’ve combined forces with a group of friends to make “Gene Wilderness”. How did you get your start in singing and how has your sound changed from being solo to being in a group?
It started with little-kid me being mesmerized by Shel Silverstein poems in grammar school. I was fascinated, building childish poems and mimicking his playful style from ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’. When middle school arrived, I began to memorize and recite Busta Rhymes and Snoop Doggy Dogg verses, haha. I kicked off writing my own raps in high school, which rolled into post-high school, inspired by open mics and poetry slams that I began to frequent in the Bay Area. Summers and winters flew by; I kept practicing. I love words. I started writing full songs when story and concept became more important to me.
From the get-go, it had always been a group effort.
Hm .. making music has never been purely individualistic. Even though I pen all my own thoughts and song lyrics, I don’t produce tunes. Fortunately, along the footpath I’ve taken with sound, I’ve met beatmaking acquaintances and friends along the way who have been cool enough to share their fantastic beats with me — so that I could build upon them with syllable and narrative. From the get-go, it had always been a group effort.
That being said, I enjoy watching live instruments on stage. So when I started out performing solo, I think I always had a notion that a buddy manning a laptop and hitting the space bar to cue the music was certainly less than interesting from an entertainment viewpoint. So I asked some friends if they were down to start a band.
Involving live instruments enhanced all of my songs straight away — for it introduced variety and imperfection to my performance, becoming a live creation rather than being a rap recitation over simple music playback. More and more, we’ve become a band with an approach. We’re definitely still crafting our style.
Some of your songs are very whimsical and story driven. Where does your inspiration come from when you write songs?
Oh man — I get inspired everywhere I go, from the thrilling to the mundane: while walking through the dirty streets to work and while brushing my teeth; while at a birthday party at a bar and while scrubbing grilled cheese sandwich residue off the frying pan, ha. I find influence from children’s books, from film and tv.
A word or a theme or a flow or a narrative idea might pop into my head. I usually jot it down in my Google Doc of rap doodles, heh.
Sometimes that doodle gets stuck in my head and I continue to work out more rhyme phrases. Sometimes that keeps goin’ and I start to bullet point a concept in a fresh Google Doc. A song then blossoms from that flower pot.
Sometimes a rap doodle halts entirely at the initial scrawl of a lyric and I don’t return to it until three years later, haha. But always — always — all of those doodle raps are provoked by existence and the folks in it.
If someone really wanted to put out their own music (in low quantities), what tools do they need to succeed?
Hmm, you’re probably asking the wrong person if success is measured in bill and coin, haha. But .. if success is calculated in ambition to make songs; and if success is counted by a handful of friends who enjoy those songs, then I suppose that I could talk about what that someone would need to succeed.
Certainly a pen, your mac laptop, and your guitar are practical gadgets, but before all of that, that someone would need to really sharpen their worldview and sculpt their perspective, ya know ? Create from experience, from curiosity, even uncertainty. Find ways to spin emotion into inventive expression.
Then start talking about your art, your music. Show friends. Let ’em hear it. Post it. Tweet it. Tumble it. SoundCloud it. Bandcamp it. Play the hashtag game and see how far into the Matrix you can get. Press up CDs. Find a graphic designer friend to help you design it. Go to your local music stores and see if they do consignment agreements.
Be excited about it and people will be happy to see and to share, to compliment and to critique. Be meaningful and honest with your art, or people won’t give a bleep.
Lastly do you have any advice for any creative just starting out?
Study the things that capture your eye. See if you can make it too. Just try it. Don’t doubt it. You might like it. Discover your aesthetic. If you have the urge to make something, then do it.
It’s not enough to simply say, “That’d be cool if —”. Extract all those swell ideas from your head and bring it to the physical world. You might be dead tomorrow. Eff a bucket list. Make shit now.
Thanks so much to Brian for answering my questions about his creative journey of being a multi talented artist. Before you go, please listen to my favorite song sung by Brian. It’s called Dead Pan and it’s about Wendy from Peter Pan growing up and realizing she never followed her dreams.
All photos unless marked other wise were provided by Baron Meddlesome and the members of Gene Wilderness.
Hotel Utah Photo: John Joh
Gene Wilderness Logo: Daniel Mendez
Choose Your Own Adventure Photo: LorettaMay Design