On his path to mainstream success, singer/songwriter/producer Zachary William “Bill” Dess will be the first to admit he’s hit the ground running.
Better known as Two Feet, Dess literally became an overnight sensation when he uploaded his song Go F*ck Yourself to SoundCloud, just over three years ago.
Within a matter of hours, the track had racked up nearly 4 million streams, and his life had changed forever.
“I never envisioned myself doing what I’m doing now at all,” Dess told Revue. “(Growing up) I listened to blues and weird electronic music and jazz and stuff like that. I didn’t even really listen to rock, which is odd because that’s kind of what I make now.”
Only 22 years old when he first took off, Dess went from working as a cashier at a bodega and living in a rat-infested apartment to preparing for a coast-to-coast tour that included stops at several of the biggest music festivals in the business.
“I played in jazz and blues bands, but the music all just sounded like jazz and blues music. There wasn’t anything new,” Dess said. “So that’s when I started making my own music. I was always really fond of electronic music, like heavy bass stuff, so I just sort of mixed them. Not even on purpose. It was just sort of what came out.”
A drop-out from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Dess remembers having a former songwriting teacher warn him that he’d end up working at Guitar Center. His classmates didn’t understand his compositions either, ripping on his early works, and ultimately inspiring him to pen Go F*ck Yourself in response. The song has since amassed a staggering 400 million combined streams.
“I had a scholarship, and I lost my scholarship, and I couldn’t afford my classes, (so) I just left because of that,” he said. “And yeah, now they’re asking me for money. So it’s kind of interesting how that worked out.”
Although he first thought having a song go viral might help him launch a career as a producer, Dess quickly found himself steered toward performing. Somewhat reluctantly, he played his first live show in March 2017, and has sold out concerts across the country ever since.
Yet caught up in the whirlwind of touring and his rising popularity, he succumbed to a crippling spiral of depression, at what many might have considered the height of his sudden stardom.
Last summer, his single I Feel Like I’m Drowning had quickly climbed the Alternative Radio charts, on its way to No. 1. His tour thrust him in front of thousands at festivals like Governor’s Ball in his hometown of New York, and Electric Forest here in West Michigan.
But he just couldn’t make sense of it all.
He dropped out of the second weekend of Electric Forest, despite saying how much he loved his experience there, and, struggling with ongoing mental health and substance abuse issues, he turned to Twitter late last July, posting a series of increasingly troubled messages.
In a since-deleted Tweet, he wrote, “I know it may be odd posting a suicide note on Twitter. But that’s the world we live in. I’ve been completely honest with you forever. Anyway I love you.”
His feed then went dark.
Soon after, his father announced that he had been hospitalized following an attempted suicide.
Returning to Twitter, he candidly detailed his experience, in hopes of helping others.
“It’s still hard for me to talk about,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll just be walking around the block and I’ll be thinking about everything that happened and I’ll put my hand on my face, and I’ll go, ‘I can’t believe that happened. I can’t believe that I did that.’ (But) there was no point in trying to gloss over it, and I guess at this point, it’s part of the whole story. I hope going forward, if people learn about it, if they’re feeling depressed, they’ll see that I reached out and got help and maybe they’ll do the same thing.”
He continues to receive an outpouring of support from fans and fellow artists, who have contacted him to share their own personal stories.
And music has played a big part in his ongoing recovery as well.
“The second I got out of the psych ward, I started writing new music again immediately,” Dess said. “Art and performance and all that stuff are the best escapes ever.”
Last fall, Two Feet released his major label debut, A 20 Something F*ck (Part 1), as well as two new singles, Lost The Game and I Want It. He also has a bunch of new material, which he plans to release this year.
“When I’m writing music, when I’m at my computer, or I’m playing my guitar, I’m not thinking about anything else other than that,” he said. “It’s a form of meditation. So music has helped me dramatically.”
Panic! at the Disco
wsg. Two Feet
Van Andel Arena
130 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
Jan. 29, 7 p.m., sold out