“I went from working as a cashier to opening arena gigs”: Two Feet on riding viral fame to a lasting career
In 2016, singer and guitarist Two Feet became an overnight internet smash thanks to his song, Go Fuck Yourself, but how do you stay fresh and relevant once the hype has died down?
Image: Roberto Finizio / Alamy
Back in 2016, Two Feet – aka Bill Dess – became a viral sensation thanks to his compelling fusing of bluesy guitar lines with thumping electronic beats on Go Fuck Yourself. Five years and 1.5 billion streams later, the New York songwriter is back with his first-ever full studio album, Pink.
We spoke to the 26-year-old about internet fame, battered Strats, and his iconic musical influences.
Why did you choose the stage name ‘Two Feet’?
“Honestly, I don’t remember. I think I was pretty drunk when I made it, I just needed a name! That’s the best answer. And one of my friends used to call me that for whatever reason and yeah, it kind of just popped in my head in that moment and I just started using regularly. ”
When did it all start for you in terms of music?
“I was really young when I started getting into it, but I didn’t take it seriously – probably not until I was 20 years old. I was self-taught growing up and then I briefly went to Berklee College Of Music, for like a half semester. I actually learned a lot during that short period of time.”
What about the guitar: when did you get into that?
“Guitar is my first instrument – actually, guitar and piano kind of at the same time. I started on electric guitar, playing a Fender Stratocaster. I still have that guitar, it’s completely kind of destroyed, it’s at my dad’s house.
“I used to go to YouTube and as a kid I’d turn on the radio and any melody I heard, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, whatever, I’d just try to figure out the melody on the guitar, even though I didn’t know what I was doing and I kind of learned a lot just by doing that when I was younger.”
Do you still love Strats?
“I love Stratocasters and Telecasters, I own a PRS too. And for acoustic guitars, Martin guitars are my favourites. Fender endorses me – I love working with them, they are such a great company. I have about nine Stratocasters, three Telecasters and three Martin acoustics.
“My favourite guitar was customised by Paul Nieto, he’s a guitar tech in New York. I find modern pickups have a lot of buzz so I had them replaced with pickups from the 1950s that are coiled a little less tightly and they have way less buzz. That is my go-to guitar, this green American Strat.
Go Fuck Yourself was a huge hit for you, out of nowhere – how did it happen?
“Honestly, in the weirdest way. At the time I was working as a cashier and I was making music for people around me. There was a large rap scene around me and stuff like that, so I was just making beats for them on the side and I decided to start my own project and pretty much I posted Go Fuck Yourself online, woke up the next day and it already had like tens of thousands of streams and by two weeks later it had hundreds of thousands, then a couple of million on YouTube.
“I had almost every single major label reaching out to me, and then it kind of turned into a bidding war between Atlantic Records and Republic Records and I ended up going with Republic. But I don’t really know how or why it went viral, there was no TikTok or Vine yet, it just kind took off in the dance music scene.”
Did you think that you were onto something that could be successful when you were making it?
“No, I mean I had this moment, I remember I was half-done with the song and I needed to go outside, left my apartment, walked around the street, bought a pack of cigarettes and I thought, ‘Wow this song is really cool, wonder if this will do something’.
“I really didn’t think this would happen, I certainly didn’t think I would end up having a billion streams three years later. It’s just crazy.”
It must have changed your life so rapidly…
“Well, at the time I was living off of like a can of tuna a day and a cup of coffee… so I think I got a little fatter! [laughs]
“It has completely changed my life, you know? Imagine in a year and a half, going from working as a cashier to opening up arenas on tour with Panic! At The Disco.”
That sort of overnight success must have made you feel a lot of pressure to get it right when it came to making your debut album, Pink…
“The process was kind of a disjointed one – it kind of took me 16 months because I had a ton of tours in-between and it is hard to write and produce music on a tour bus, so I took little breaks when I could.
“It was a long process but I’m super happy about how it turned out. So far, I’ve got into more playlists than I’ve ever gotten in, the numbers that we are seeing are crazy. Earlier it was number three on iTunes Alternative, right below Billie Eilish. So, I’m super happy.”
What inspired the songs on the album?
“A bunch of different stuff – I was going through a process of rebuilding my life, so a lot of the songs on the album are very nostalgic and like looking back. I think it was a way of compartmentalising sections of my life so I can better understand them.”
What’s your favourite song on the record?
“Playing Guitar And Not Singing Pt 2 – there’s a part one on the previous EP and so far, the reaction of that song has been pretty strong. And I also like I Can’t Relate – it’s my first acoustic ballad and I’m super proud of that one.”
Who are your musical influences?
“Wes Montgomery, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, a lot of David Gilmour and Pink Floyd. And honestly, a lot of electronic musicians too – early Disclosure records have a big influence on me, Calvin Harris… there’s a bunch of different stuff.”
How do you blend electronic sounds with the guitar?
“The interesting thing about that is I feel a lot of music just comes out of necessity. I live in an apartment, so it was super hard for me to get together with a bass player or other musicians and jam, so I had to do a lot of it on my computer and that sort of ended up making me start blending electronic sounds with the guitar, because I just simply couldn’t use anything else in my apartment.”
What’s the most important component of your guitar tone?
“I use thicker strings than normal, and when I use my pick I really hit it hard, there’s a lot of squealing and stuff like that. I think each guitar has its own tone and it has to do with touch and the effects, obviously. Everything in my solos is bending, that is pretty much the only technique I really use. And going into chromatic scale. But I close my eyes and I don’t know what’s going on most of the time!”
Where do you see yourself in the future?
“I want to just keep climbing. Honestly, every musician says ‘Oh I just want to, you know, grow slowly and stay in my lane’ and I want to grow slowly and stay in my lane but I want to be as big as I can possibly be. Every Grammy I can get, every number one record I can get, biggest shows, sold-out shows… I’ve been only doing this professionally for three years so far, so the sky is the limit.”
Pink is out now on Republic Records.