Welcome to Maker Mondays, where we introduce you to the world of D.C.’s “makers”: local artisans who are setting the game on fire with new and inventive fine art, crafts, music, or other creative ventures that we think you should start to notice. This week, we’re introducing you to Myster Music, the record label fronted by Myster, a luxury cannabis accessories company with a shop in Petworth and one caught in legal limbo in Bethesda. More on that later.
I sat down with the label’s lead producer, Doug Walters aka Grey Goon, vocalist Jay Hayden, and Myster’s owner and founder Davis Clayton Kiyo and talked nascent imprints, a music industry in flux, and hurdles on the road toward the greater mission of their cannabis vision.
What do you make?
Doug Walters: “I make music. It’s kind of what I’ve always done. Working with Myster is just a way to make it better. Make it with more people and get a better platform is the goal.”
Why do you make it?
DW: “I have always had to write songs. As a lifestyle and as a business model, it’s pretty difficult. Largely at this point I’m so deep in. I have a lot of skills in this particular world, but it just feels compulsive. I just write songs, I make music, and I have several times over reinvented my life in order to keep making music and just make music all day. I don’t know. It’s just what I have to do.”
Where are you at in the stages of development?
DW: “We opened the studio in Hollywood. The Myster studio is on Sunset and Highland, which is the epicenter of the chaos of Hollywood. It’s a very surreal street experience. Jay and I wrote “Mariah” a while ago and have just been sitting on it for a little while figuring out what to do with it. We flew Beau Young Prince out, who’s from D.C., and we have an EP with him. We just released one song.
“In terms of the business side, a lot of our costs are covered by the relationship Myster and I have, in terms of music production, recording, mixing, and mastering. We have a social network that’s pretty big that we push stuff out through.”
Do you think the age of the mega corporate record label is dead?
DW: “There’s definitely something broken in the music industry clearly. Partly from downloading and partly the obstacles for discovery and listener choice and artist distribution are gone. The means of control that record labels had vis-à-vis distribution no longer exist.
“It’s funny. When I go tell people ‘Yeah, we just launched this new record label,’ people kind of take a minute and they look at me and they’re like, ‘So what is a record label?’ And it’s true. What a record label is is up for question. I think we’re really on the cusp of really figuring some shit out in terms of what you can do with brand alignment.
“A lot of record deals will be three options meaning they get you for the next three records, with a big cash advance that the record label then has to recoup. It’s just a big, slow, lumbering system. Myster’s just trying to sweep in, cherry pick a song. They benefit, we benefit, and ideally the whole thing will create a synergistic community of dope music where fans feed fans essentially.
“Myster is trying to sell Myster products more than they’re trying to sell records. Music is advertising in this instance. It is like a vehicle for authentic advertising and outreach that fuels cooler…I mean is cooler than that. Who cares about a fucking ad? But a song is a meaningful thing. I think if you can create a meaningful thing that is also an advertisement that’s a pretty cool option for brands.”
So how are you getting your stuff out there?
Davis Clayton Kiyo: “I had an idea for a magnetic rolling tray three years ago. I made this thing called the Stashtray which is an all-in-one magnetic rolling tray. There was a write-up in BYT about me and the whole thing. I basically took that idea and decided to launch a full lifestyle brand. Like for real lifestyle brand, a lot of companies say they are even though they’re like a t-shirt company or something like that. Now we’re stepping into the music area and also the apparel side. The brand is hot, people respect it and like it, and we just want to use the presence of the brand to get into more of the artsy side.”
DW: “So far I’ve done all the production, and managing the releases, and doing a lot of the promo myself. Right now we’re doing one song every two weeks, which is a pretty tough pace for me to keep up with, but because there are so few barriers to working with artists because the contract is brief and straightforward, it allows us to just move instantly. I would love to just become a hub of dope shit. I really think there’s room for this to be a network of creative people releasing things through this growing platform.
“I feel like the Spotify playlist is the new radio. It’s the discovery vehicle. It’s like the old days. If you get on the radio, people hear it, they buy the record. If you get on Spotify playlist nowadays, people hear it, they buy the record.”
Jay Hayden: “As soon as you release your song, if it does well in numbers, in a week’s time, you’re automatically put into the [Discover Weekly] algorithm. If your song is good, it’s gonna stay on the Discovery playlist. That’s how your song grows. In this platform, once you put something out and it hits social media, it’s going to pick up organically once it reaches a certain threshold. Once they hit a certain amount of people, it’ll just keep going. Some things…people listen, they skip it. Versus other songs they hear, they add it to their playlist, next thing you know they’re at a party, plug in their phone, play the song, everybody Shazams it and then it goes viral organically, word-of-mouth.”
Do you have a succinct way to reference the type of music you’re making?
DW: “Because I’m producing a lot of it, I think that much of the flavor is kind of surrounding my style. Psychedelic R&B is a decent descriptor. There’s also some pop stuff coming out and I’m working on some folk records that maybe we’ll put through there. I think most people now listen to different genres when they have different moods. I know I certainly do. Open-ended is really the answer. What we have done so far is largely melodic hip-hop and psychedelic R&B but I hope it expands.”
So what’s the artist roster look like? You got a bunch of D.C. guys, some LA guys, is there stuff in between, or you trying to stick in the two cities?
DW: “No, those are just the cities where we are. I enjoy that we rep D.C., because I think there’s a little bit of a hip hop moment going on right now here. I’m excited to be a part of that scene. But it’s just been where we’ve been finding the dopest people, in those two cities. Definitely open to hearing stuff, if you want to include an email address and say ‘Send music.‘ ”
DW: “Rae Sremmurd. Fat Trel, who’s D.C. I haven’t really thought about this before…The Weeknd? That’s so unrealistic though I don’t even wanna let myself chase those thoughts.”
DW: “I think doing a festival would be incredible and I think it’s conceivable. Probably in D.C. because that seems to be the real central hub of what we’re doing.“
DCK: “I think I want to do artist showcases. I want to do them here [in Myster’s Petworth location] but also bigger locations. This is a head shop but I’m really turning it into an event/bar space.”
Do you feel like this city is a good market, what with the new laws regarding decriminalization and legalization?
DW: “Myster opens doors definitely. I feel like weed is still taboo enough to be cool but not taboo enough that you have to totally hide it, which is like a pretty good place for an entity to be at. Music and weed go well together, obviously. I think also just the industry in general. It’s a fascinating legal situation, a fascinating cultural situation.
“It’s also problematic. If they were selling bee honey devices we wouldn’t be in this legal debacle. So it’s a double-edged sword. I think you get some attention and some hype from the marijuana affiliation but I think also there’s obviously problems still. My mother is not very excited about it. Understandably, I suppose.”
[Background: Myster owner and founder Davis Clayton Kiyo is embroiled in a legal battle in Maryland, where Myster’s flagship store was raided. Kiyo said that a previous bust over a decade ago put him on the police’s radar. He also says that the CBD oil cops purchased in a sting operation is totally legal, and they were merely looking to bust him for an illicit weed operation that didn’t exist. Now he’s facing three felony charges. That’s not my story. Washingtonian has it, though Kiyo doesn’t like the way he was framed in the piece. Based on quote selection and intentionally untrimmed filler words (“like”), I think he has a point. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.]
DCK: “Now that they took the [Bethesda] store, I’m still paying the rent at the store, and I had to let go of a bunch of employees and I’m doing all the work that I had them do. And the lawyer fees, the loss of inventory, it was $50,000+ worth of inventory, shitload of money in our bank accounts.
“I’m very annoyed by the situation, but I do not blame the Montgomery County police or even the police altogether for the shit. They are just doing their jobs, even though I don’t agree with the rules that they have to live by. And I don’t think they do either. The cops that were in there when they were raiding my shop, one took the Stashtray and he was like, “What is this? Where did you get this? This is so dope.” and I was like, “I invented it. I made that. That’s why this whole thing’s here.” He was clearly like, maybe he doesn’t smoke but his boys smoke, he was excited, this cop. And I was just pissed he was excited. It’s so stupid. And then as I’m being handcuffed and walked out the door, that same cop was like, ‘Oh yeah man, maybe when all this is through I can invest in Myster!’ ”
DW: “It has been a major setback in terms of cashflow for the label itself. The ripples of the impact of if this is really a wrongful arrest are dramatic, all the way down to whether we’re making a music video for this artist that all his hopes and dreams are tied up in it. I don’t know, that’s maybe too much of a sob story.”
It seems tough though, because you got caught out for something that’s on the therapeutic end of the cannabis industry, that’s supposed to have medicinal properties.
DW: “Walmart sells the exact same thing online. There’s vagueness in the Maryland laws, so there’s a conflict in federal and state laws that will potentially be defined in this case.”
DCK: “You can sell CBD oil that’s made from hemp, and I have USDA certifications proving that the oil we were selling was made from hemp. But in Maryland, they have the Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, which doesn’t even deal with cannabis or hemp. There’s a line in it that says you can’t sell any oil that contains any THC. That counteracts how you can sell CBD oil that’s made from hemp that contains a minute amount of THC. One of those laws has to change.
“Me being charged and going through this situation actually makes it a bigger deal. Instead of just trying to make products, and make a profit, and make cool things, we’re actually in a position now where, if I win this case, it’s going to create case law in Maryland so it’ll actually prevent this type of shit from happening to future entrepreneurs.”
DW: “I think there’s a genuine humanitarian aspect to Myster’s mission to both celebrate the culture, of which cannabis is part of a greater Venn diagram, and to change the narrative about pot.”