From his Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn-based studio, Thomas Piper Jr. balances a multitude of roles: singer, songwriter, producer, photographer, cinematographer, and director. Take a look at how his home office — the headquarters of his creative venture, The People’s Republic of Sound — is evolving into a space that accommodates his complete artistic vision.
How did you get your start? When I was a child, my mom saw me creating drum sets and playing with pots and pans. So she had me begin piano lessons at the age at three. She loved taking family photos and listening to a wide variety of music, and she and my dad gave me my first Polaroid and toy portable record player, which I took everywhere. While growing up in Uniondale, Long Island — which at the time was a West Indian suburban neighborhood — my visual and musical sense became more pronounced. I heard and saw traditional, modern, suburban, and urban black-and-white cultures. My family also traveled extensively throughout my youth. Through all the adventures, I truly enjoyed the exposure, but I really wanted to create my own art and music.
When was your studio established? What led to that point? Years ago, while working in the corporate music industry as an artist and producer, I became frustrated with the struggle to define my art by the titles that my music didn’t fit. It became a daunting task to negotiate with the gatekeepers who tried to filter my vision. I was determined to create a genre that defined my musical style and interests. I also wanted to execute all aspects of my vision. To fully navigate the creative process under my own terms, I started The People’s Republic of Sound about four years ago to showcase my work as a complete musical, visual, and technical artist. My company’s first release is the video “I Got Love” in which I wrote, sang, and mixed the song, produced and played all the instruments, and directed, filmed, edited, and designed the video. I see myself as an artist who starts with the thought, builds out the concept, and executes my total vision from beginning to end.
Tell us about your work: what you’re passionate about, what inspires you, and where you’re going. Right now I am passionate about merging moving images and music as one complete thought made by the same person. Technology now allows me that option. I don’t have to hire a video director, graphic designer, or photographer. I can produce all the things I want without any interference.
I am inspired by various sources. Museum exhibition inspires my music, be it photography, films, sculpture, art, or dance. Photography mainly influences my film work, and sometimes music inspires my photography. I’m also very much into Polaroid photography, and have two SX 70s that I love to shoot with.
Science, design, and architecture are my secret passions. How is it made, how can it be made, what are the effects on our future, our culture, and humanity — these are questions that underline my work. My favorite visual artists are Chris Ofili, Bansky, Chuck Close, and Ron Mueck. Architects and designers Ray and Charles Eames, David Adjaye, and Santiago Calatrava shape my work. In film and video, I am inspired by the moody and futuristic tones of directors Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry, Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, and Ernest Dickerson. Japanese cyberpunk animation like Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed influences my style; I like how humans interact with technology. In music, my taste is so varied: Gregory Porter, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, John Mayer, The Spinners with Philippe Wynne, Prince, Wolfgang Gartner, Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor, Bjork, and The Gorillaz. Brazilian soul music and anything with soul moves me. I also use Pinterest as a source of inspiration to collect, tell, and define my style.
Tell us about your space. How would you define your aesthetic? What do you like or dislike about it? With my company, I’m trying to redefine a creative person — to make a boutique multimedia label based around one person. The space I live presently is not ideal. When I bought the house, my girlfriend and I had to rent out the top two floors. I was going to put a studio in the basement, but I wanted to have some natural light. At the moment this is a temporary space until I take over the floor above me; I’ll then turn it into one big visual and music studio. In the meantime, I created a small workstation much like a graphic designer’s and less like musician’s, which I’ve grown to like. Space is very challenging, because on occasion, clients come over or I need to record vocals late at night while my girlfriend is sleeping. Again, it’s temporary. I’m working on making it more modern with an organic, warm feel and a touch of cyberpunk.
You have a SAYL chair in the office. Why did you choose it? I decided to buy a task chair because I sit a lot and my back was beginning to hurt me. I wanted to buy something that was the right price with great quality. I was used to the Aeron chair in bigger recording studios, but wanted something smaller and lighter for this small space. I was always a big Herman Miller fan. (I still have dreams about the Eames lounge chair.) I love the SAYL’s futuristic design, which is unlike any other chair on the market. It fits just like any other Herman Miller chair: supportive and comfortable, yet easy to maintain. The design fits well with my modern aesthetic — I just fell in love with it. You don’t know how much strain you are putting on your back until you get a good chair and you feel the relief. And I love that it photographs well, too.