Kyle Markland is only about to turn 20 on Wednesday, but boy, does he rock. Not only is he a professional YouTuber with a cult following, he is a published author too via Packt. With all these achievements already under his belt in his teens, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology student is clearly such a talent worth keeping watch.
Markland is arguably best known as Builderdude35, which is a household name among YouTube LEGO robotics enthusiasts. For five years here’s what he did: create video tutorials every single Thursday, sharing and discussing his theories and builds. The channel was, according to him, his “empire” and that he dedicates his work to all the fans who keep him going. A very down-to-earth guy, he is easily one of those who are truly passionate about their craft.
Nearly 300 videos and a book later, though, the young tech tutor finally—or say, all of a sudden—called it quits for Builderdude35 last April. The reason? He’s embarking on a new creative pursuit. In this exclusive chat interview with the New York-based multitalented scientist-artist, he discusses with us his latest musical venture called Lenseye and his upcoming debut album (no, not about robotics), his thoughts on work-life balance, the future of Builderdude35, and his outlook on life and success in general.
Why “Lenseye” and how did you get started? Is Lenseye a band or 100% a solo project?
Lenseye (pronounced lenz-eye) is sort of like Nine Inch Nails and Panic! At the Disco. It’s a band with one member! Right now, it’s a solo project that presents itself as a band. My dream is that someday soon Lenseye will be more than just me and include two or three other musicians as well.
The name “Lenseye” came to me after months of deliberation, as I’m sure anyone who has tried to choose an artist name can relate. I knew I wanted a name that had just two syllables so it could roll off the tongue, and I wanted the name to nod to Radiohead (one of my early inspirations) in a way. I wear glasses, so “Lenseye” seemed like a great way to express a big part of my identity while fitting all of those other criteria.
I’ve always had ideas for songs or instrumentals floating around in my head, but it was about two years ago that I decided I wanted to someday put out my own music, and I started to really get serious about songwriting and production. At that point, it was just experimenting with recording in my basement with the help of a friend who had production experience.
I’ve always had ideas for songs or instrumentals floating around in my head, but it was about two years ago that I decided I wanted to someday put out my own music, and I started to really get serious about songwriting and production.Kyle Markland
Do you mind sharing to us your usual workflow, like, which comes first, the lyrics or the melody? Also, what DAW are you on and did you have any formal training on music production?
My songwriting process is probably backwards relative to what is normal for other artists, and I think that comes from my start as a bass player. Most of the time, a song starts with an interesting idea for an instrumental and builds up from there. More often than not, it starts with the bass.
My song “Montauk” started when I was messing around with my bass and made the riff that underlines the song’s verse. I was so in love with the bass line that I knew I had to write a whole song around it. Most of the time, the melody develops to fit the instrumental that has already started taking shape. The lyrics are consistently the last part of the process and I write them to fit the melody. I always have a feeling or vibe I’m shooting for, and writing the lyrics last is my way of tying the vocal into the direction the instrumental is taking.
I got started using Ableton 10 Lite (the software that came with my audio interface) and I am currently running Ableton 10 Live on the free trial. I joke that there is nothing more indie than planning projects to fit within the free trial window of your production software! Admittedly, Ableton 10 is probably better suited to electronic music than to the rock music I produce, but it’s what I had access to when I started, and I know how to use it to get the sound I want, which is ultimately what matters.
I don’t have formal production training. My friend (who produces his own music under his artist name OTT) helped me learn the basics when I started out, and I learned most of what I know from experimenting with sound and trying to shape it to get what I wanted, plus a few YouTube videos along the way. The song “Montauk” was my sandbox for honing my production skills, and it has gone through at least five major overhauls in the almost two years I have been working on it.
The lyrics are consistently the last part of the process and I write them to fit the melody. I always have a feeling or vibe I’m shooting for, and writing the lyrics last is my way of tying the vocal into the direction the instrumental is taking.Kyle Markland
Tell us about your life as a student at MIT. What course are you taking up? How do you balance your time for both music and school?
I study Materials Science and Engineering with a minor in Computer Science at MIT. To be frank, nobody goes to MIT because they want a good work-life balance, and it’s been a struggle for me since high school. My recent push into creative pursuits like Lenseye is a reaction to what I perceive to be a cold logic-driven academic life, a way of nurturing the side of me that gets lost at school.
Every vacation from school ends up being a creative purge of sorts, and that’s when most of my music creation happens. To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with academic life, but I can’t exist in that world every month of the year. I am a creative at heart and I satisfy the desire to create whenever the opportunity strikes.
Recently, I have been better about balancing school and music. I am taking lighter course loads to reconnect with my creative side, and I am finding time to practice voice for an hour on most days of the week.
My recent push into creative pursuits like Lenseye is a reaction to what I perceive to be a cold logic-driven academic life, a way of nurturing the side of me that gets lost at school.Kyle Markland
Who are your heroes? What album or albums changed your life?
My heroes, as far as individuals go, come out of the metal world: Corey Taylor and the late Chester Bennington. These are guys who are not afraid to express their struggles and lay it all down on a record or a stage. They want to be heard and they don’t apologize for how they express themselves. That balance of being vulnerable, yet unapologetic, is the bravest thing you can do as an artist, and I hope I will have the courage to do that someday.
I got my first start in music as a classical musician when I was 10 years old, and I started playing the double bass in the orchestra. I’ve always been influenced by classical music but the one piece that sticks out to me as a game changer is Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8. The work is very dark and heavy in nature. Shostakovich lived his entire life behind the Iron Curtain in Soviet Russia under Stalin’s oppression. Some speculate that the work was meant to stand as his own epitaph. The first time I heard the piece (performed in a rehearsal room in a hotel) was a moving experience that underscored the importance of having a visceral, emotional connection to music.
American Idiot was the album that changed my life. I rediscovered it in high school at the lowest point in my life, and the album was exactly what I needed at the time: the sound, the meaning, the energy, everything. I knew from there that I was going to create an album of my own. I didn’t know when, where, or how, but I knew that it was something I needed to do.
That balance of being vulnerable, yet unapologetic, is the bravest thing you can do as an artist, and I hope I will have the courage to do that someday.Kyle Markland
Whatever happened to your YouTube channel on robotics? What are your other interests?
I started my YouTube channel Builderdude35 in 2015, around the time I started high school. I published video tutorials on LEGO robotics once a week, and my intended audience was middle school students (though many adults ended up watching my videos too!).
In April 2020, after five years of running the channel, I announced that I would be retiring. It was actually a sad day for me. At 24,000 subscribers, the channel was like my empire, something I built from the ground up brick-by-brick. I knew at the time that it had run its course, and that I wanted to step away from it to have more time for creative pursuits. Since then, the temptation to return has persisted. If I can think of a creative new direction for my channel, something to breathe fresh air into it, I will return to producing content regularly.
As you may have guessed, I am a big tech nerd. I’m also a huge car fanatic and have been since as long as I remember. I’ve played just about every Need for Speed game to come out since 2003. Interestingly enough, Guitar Hero was not one of the games I played as a kid!
September’s Child, your debut album, comes out September 18, what inspired the album title and its concept as a whole? Any favorite track?
The album September’s Child loosely tells the story of my experience leaving high school and transitioning to my time at university. It’s about leaving my old world and catapulting into a new one, and my struggles to make sense of the new people that surrounded me. Because the album is semi-autobiographical, the title is a reference to myself.
My birthday is in September, but I also started my new life at university in September, hence September’s Child. My original plan was to release the album on my 20th birthday, which is on the 16th, but since that falls on a Wednesday this year, I settled for September 18, the nearest Friday.
My favorite track is without a doubt “Corporate Advertainment”. This song is my best work all around: the best songwriting, lyrics, arrangement, and production. This song was inspired by the song “Lola” by The Kinks. When “Lola” came out in 1970, music critics were outraged by the fact that the lyrics mentioned the brand Coca-Cola by name.
It was seen as a capitalist intrusion into art, and The Kinks were forced to record a new version of the lyrics that did not mention the brand name. However, today, it appears that name-dropping brands in music as a form of paid promotion is commonplace. Some “artist’s” songs seem to serve more as advertisements for corporate brands than outlets of self-expression. Hence the song “Corporate Advertainment”, which is a satire of the monetization of music.
The album September’s Child loosely tells the story of my experience leaving high school and transitioning to my time at university. It’s about leaving my old world and catapulting into a new one, and my struggles to make sense of the new people that surrounded me.Kyle Markland
There’s a good chance your debut album will become a hit. How thrilled are you about that possibly happening? Or you’re fine just being able to express yourself?
Of course, I would be over-the-moon happy if the album became a hit, but I never plan on that happening. I recognize the chances of that happening are probably slim, so I set more realistic goals for my growth as an artist. I’m hoping to get a small group of really passionate fans who appreciate my music as much as I do and build up my audience from there. It’s the same attitude I applied to my YouTube channel five years ago.
I’ve always been of the opinion that my favorite band is not at the top of the charts and probably never had a hit song. It’s possible that I have never heard of them before, and they’re scraping by with 5,000 monthly Spotify listeners. They’re in the underground and they will climb out slowly to notoriety. That’s where I see myself.
Where do you see yourself five years from this interview? And finally, what do you tell girls who are curious about your relationship status?
This is the one question I never have a good answer for because I am a “let’s see where the road takes me” kind of person. I will probably be in graduate school somewhere or working full-time as an engineer—and doing music as a hobby. I’m content with keeping music as a hobby because that means I can always do it on my own terms and I never have to compromise my art to keep myself afloat. But if it happens that Lenseye picks up steam, I wouldn’t mind going on tour with a few friends and riding that wave for a few years!
On the last question, well, the answer can be the simple, “I’m available. ;)” Haha!
I’m content with keeping music as a hobby because that means I can always do it on my own terms and I never have to compromise my art to keep myself afloat.Kyle Markland
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sam is a mediocre artist, musician, and the founder and editor in chief of UNXIGNED. He is a Juris Doctor who leads an excitingly boring life in the confines of his room juggling studies with passion and dreams. He is terrible at finding balance but gets by anyhow. He wants you to follow his artist pages and channels for when he decides to up his game. Pretty open for collabs and will mix your would-be hit song for cheap.