Out Philly songster heads to ‘Songland’

Musician and songwriter Tyler James Bellinger has it all.

He fronts a band, KNGDAVD, that has nearly 5-million plays on Spotify. He has a single, “Blood on Our Hands,” featured in Guinness’ 200th-anniversary commercials and trailers for the film “The Public.” Another single, “You Never Know,” was featured in Marvel’s “Cloak and Dagger,” and “Say My Name” was prepared for Netflix’s “Lucifer.”

While band life is great, Bellinger is dropping a new solo EP this month, and its lead single and video, “Feel Like Home,” discusses the real-life peril of LGBTQ homeless youth and the adversity transwomen of color face.

Plus, he’s a contestant on NBC’s brand-new series “Songland,” featuring fellow Philadelphian John Legend as one of the show’s judge-mentors. Somehow, we were able to catch up with Bellinger amid all of this business.

PGN: Is it, in 2019, any easier being an out musician than it was five years ago?

TJB: I think it’s a bit easier being out now, but I would correlate that with being more comfortable with myself as I’ve gotten older. I definitely had a hard time reconciling my faith and sexuality as a kid, and also thought I wouldn’t be able to be a successful artist if people knew I was gay. It took me quite a long time to unpack that, honestly. It didn’t help that, as a kid, there weren’t many examples of huge stars that were also gay. Particularly, celebrities that I felt I connected with. I think the visibility of someone like Sam Smith makes it easier for younger artists like Troye Sivan to come up and be honest with their fans about their sexuality, but there still aren’t enough out artists out there at the pinnacle of success. I think it’s pretty shitty that we have less than a handful of truly successful queer artists. I think the LGBTQ community is just beginning to get more representation, but it’d be a bold-faced lie to say that we are anywhere near represented as much as we should be. Particularly, LGBTQ folks of color, who are even less represented. 


PGN: With KNGDAVD’s success, why did you decide to do a solo project?

TJB: The band has been a labor of love for both myself and Jon (Buscema). We’ve always been honest about the fact that we love working on that project together but that we also love a bunch of music, and we want to work on songs outside of the band. Jon produces songs for a bunch of people, and I’m always writing for projects that I’m not singing on. I have been furiously chipping away at solo songs for quite a while. I just had too much I wanted to say that didn’t fit within the sound, style and appearance of KNGDAVD. Mine is a much more organic sound compared to the band — everything from the tracking to the gospel choir to the way my voice is recorded is way different than what the band would do.


PGN: What was the inspiration for “Feel Like Home” and how did Philly’s Ali Forney Center and its LGBTQ homeless mission come into view?

TJB: “Feel like Home” was written nearly two years ago with friends in Brooklyn. I wrote the song for my partner, whose family hasn’t been the most wonderful about his being out. It was kind of a love letter to him but also just acknowledging that things are tough. I knew I wanted the video to center around LGBTQ homelessness about a year ago, so the journey to Ali Forney has been a long one. Once the video was finalized, we reached out to Ali Forney to see if they wanted to be included at the end of the video, as a way for people to learn more, and they were down. I’m just thankful to have such a great organization attached, so that people can educate themselves, seek help, donate, etc. It’s such a great foundation, so I’m thankful to have them a part of “Feel Like Home.” Everyone knew it was very personal to me.


PGN: How does going solo feel?

TJB: It feels great. I’ve really enjoyed performing live again — something the band hasn’t really done, and that’s a major passion of mine. To get out and sing these songs live is the best feeling. It’s just the start of me getting confidence back again.


PGN: How did you come to appear on “Songland” and how much can you tell us?

TJB: “Songland” was such a great experience. It kind of just fell in my lap, and I rode the wave. I submitted some songs and it snowballed from there. I can’t say much about the show aside from that you should definitely tune in to watch. The greatest experience on the show was meeting a ton of other crazy-talented writers. I’m actually at a winery in Temecula, Calif., with a bunch of them now, doing a writing camp. None of this would’ve happened without the show.

PGN: You write songs for yourself, your band and other artists. Are there subtle differences?

TJB: Writing songs comes from such an honest place, probably deeply rooted in the fact that my brain is wired a million miles a minute. Whether the song is for myself, the band or another artist, there has to be something about it I identify with. My solo songs are selfishly for me — to get out my ideas, fears, sadness, etc. The band is that voice in my head that tells me I’m a badass and its songs are those to go have fun to. Songs I write for others come about in a different way. Usually the artist is in the room and you’re writing with them or they just love a song and take it.


PGN: Are you good at crafting songs on the spot?

TJB: In some ways, yes. I have tons of voice memos on my phone that are just little ideas of melodies or little lines. I constantly bring those ideas into sessions, so it makes writing songs much easier. I think writing is like a muscle, so the more you write, the easier it is.