Just three years ago, Tyler Bertges' ethereal indie-pop alias Hermit's Victory was a rising star in the music community. As a member of the now-defunct local record label Hearts and Plugs, Bertges was quickly gaining a following for the stark and beautiful compositions on his 2015 self-titled debut. The songwriter's reclusive streak added a layer of reality to the music's sound. But, just as he was becoming a scene mainstay, he fell almost overnight after drawing an offensive caricature of an African-American child with oversized lips and ears, in chains. "Slave Baby" was scrawled beside it, as a take on labelmates Brave Baby's name. The drawing was posted on Hearts and Plugs' Instagram, supposedly in good fun, leading to the label dissolving after an exodus of most of its artists. Bertges came forward after several days, before sinking into the background as more African-American artists in the area began to finally be heard when they said that Charleston's music lacked diversity.
While Hermit's Victory looked like it disappeared, Bertges never really stopped making music under the name, even releasing an album last year. Recently, he began performing again, and we sat down with him to discuss the last few years.
City Paper: In 2018, you dropped a new LP, Easy Fruition. What were the inspirations for the music and lyrical content?
Tyler Bertges: Easy Fruition is a collection of songs from July 2015 to December 2017. The inspiration stemmed from the rotting of one romance and the blossoming of another, which included an overnight move from Columbia to Charleston. Obviously, the "slave baby" drawing impacted my whole life at the time, and definitely influenced my writing of the album. I felt shame over everything. I felt paranoia in my interactions. I felt appreciation for people who stood by me. I was pretty depressed, honestly, which made the creative process therapeutic [or] cathartic [or some other] stereotypical term. Inspirations also included wearing Hawaiian shirts and drinking Corona every day for a month ("Fun in the Sun"), my lifelong obsession with claw machines ("Claw"), this coworker kid who would annoy me with his nonstop Mountain Dew-fueled chatter and '80s music all day as we worked in a T-shirt factory ("David"), a cosmic game show I got trapped in during a lucid dream ("Eleven Year Game Show").
CP: How do you think the time with Wolfgang Zimmerman at Rialto Row, where the album was recorded, affected the LP's sound?
TB: Wolfgang and I have our process down by this point. I record all my shit on my own in my room, then bring it to him, and he takes it to the next level along with all the badass musicians that frequent the Row. Ryan's one of my best friends, and I respect his approach to creating music more than anyone.
CP: Why did you choose now to start performing again?
TB: I had the opportunity and went with it. I was apprehensive to get back out there, but the feedback has been very positive. The last show we put on, I felt, was one of the best Hermit's shows we've ever played.
CP: What has been the biggest challenge in getting back out on stage?
TB: The biggest challenge was the mental hurdle. I am constantly in my own head, shuffling through worst-case scenarios. My favorite Tom Petty lyric, though, reminds me "most things I worry about never happen anyway."
CP: It's been over two years since the now infamous "slave baby" incident. Looking back on everything that went down, what do you find yourself reflecting on the most?
TB: Upon reflection, the "slave baby" incident feels like a life lesson from the universe, and I mean that in the most non-stereotypical way possible. I made a big mistake, other people made mistakes, and a lot of people were justifiably angry. At the time, I deflected a lot of the blame and responsibility. Ultimately, though, I feel like the situation opened the door for a bigger conversation. Since then, it feels like there has been more of a focus on inclusiveness and diversity in the local music scene. I was definitely ignorant to the fact that so many people felt unheard and unrepresented.
CP: Out of all of the subsequent events that the "slave baby" drawing had (Hearts and Plugs dissolving, Southern Discomfort forming, Hermit's Victory falling out of the public eye), what has had the biggest personal impact?
TB: I don't think Hermit's Victory will ever get to where it could have gone. At the time, things were on an upward trajectory. I, personally, was in the midst of what I had deemed "God's Jubilee," where blessings flowed without measure. "Slave baby" brought that era to a swift end. I lost a lot of confidence and felt pretty shitty for a while. It made me feel weird around people because I felt like people probably felt weird around me. It felt like a lot of people that didn't know me at all had a lot of opinions on who I was as a human — that's a tough situation. To be honest, I still hang on to negative feelings that center around the whole scandal.
CP: What is the next step for Hermit's Victory?
TB: The next step for Hermit's Victory is to keep on creating. That has always been my next step, regardless of moniker.