This piece is part of our Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them at email@example.com.
If you’ve heard the sound of a piano while doing your shopping at Hamilton Place Mall, odds are you probably heard Trevelle Prater, who goes by TokeThePoet, playing songs during his lunch break at Auntie Anne’s.
This musician + Chattanooga native has spent the past year recording himself playing piano on TikTok, where he has garnered over 24,000 followers. We got the chance to speak with him about getting his start as a musician, connecting with fans through TikTok, and his musical dreams.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Trevelle Prater, I go by TokethePoet. I’m 29 years old and from Chattanooga, TN. I was born and raised here, so I’ve been here my whole life. I went to school in East Ridge and Tyner and graduated from Tyner. I used to be an athlete, but that didn’t work out and thankfully it led me down this road to becoming a musician. But I’ve been here my whole life and I was very big into athletics at first, and that didn’t work out, so eventually I found myself playing piano six years ago. It’s been going well ever since.
You’ve only been playing for six years and you’re completely self-taught?
Yes, right before my oldest was born. I have to thank Youtube, I learned everything off of Youtube. It helped me learn what keys to play and then I remembered it over and over.
So now you have the opportunity to play during your lunch breaks at Auntie Anne’s? We’ve also seen some of your behind-the-scenes TikToks while working there.
Auntie Anne’s has actually had me on their TikTok as well and I’ve been on their Instagram a couple of times. I was making drinks one time, right before one of our new drinks came out so it was a little promotion for that drink. It was real nice and about a couple of weeks ago.
How did you decide to start posting those videos on TikTok?
Before I even started playing [at the mall], I used to just do it at home. My wife always told me that I needed to do something more that was outside of our house, I was always just at our home recording myself. Before I started working at Auntie Anne’s I had two job opportunities, they were the same pay — I could have worked at Auntie Anne’s or The Cheesecake Factory — but when I walked in here and saw the piano, I told myself this was the job for me. I was supposed to be working here.
Now that you’re here and playing for people all over the world through TikTok, what’s that been like?
It’s been amazing and It’s very inspirational to me, a lot of people online put me on to different genres of music and music that has been really inspirational for me to continue to play at the level I do. It’s still mind blowing to me to even think about it because I get on TikTok every day and there’s hundreds of people telling me about how I’m changing their lives. It’s just mind blowing to me, it’s all surreal to me still.
What does the process look like when you get a request for a song you don’t know?
I do get so many requests, as much as I want to do everyone’s requests, but sometimes that music doesn’t align with what I have going on right now. So I do bump up some requests if I love it more or vibe with it more. That’s the thing with me, it is a vibe, if I really vibe with it and love it, I’ll take the time out to learn it. The first thing I do is search [the song] on Youtube and try to memorize the rhythm so I can actually learn it. It used to take me hours to sit there and do it, but now it takes me about 30 minutes. I sit there and repeat it over and over, it’s really just harmony. It’s pretty easy now after six years, it was very difficult at first.
Has there been a song that’s been requested you may not have known but you now consider a favorite?
There’s so many songs that people put me on to, it’s insane. I listen to this artist called FKJ, French Kiwi Juice, I listen to him a lot, but there’s this song called “Ylang Ylang” that is so universal, everyone knows it. It’s on TikTok, but it’s one of those sounds that you just know from social media and I would say that it’s just one of those songs that people really put me on to that I was really mind blown by. I actually heard somebody playing it here and I knew the song was from TikTok so I looked it up and I had to learn it immediately. It’s one of my favorite songs to play.
That’s really impressive, it takes a lot of talent to be able to do that.
I just really love music to be honest. I told myself I was either going to master a language or an instrument and Spanish was just way too hard to learn, so I decided to just learn an instrument instead.
Do you ever play your own music or just stick to covers at this time?
I’m not doing my own stuff right now, but I have worked with some local artists and I’ve learned their songs on piano for them. I worked with an artist named Dameka Rochelle playing piano and we did a live acoustic version of one of her songs. She was the first artist that let me know that I could play, I had to teach myself those songs by ear so they are very special to me.
Is working with other local artists something you would be interested in?
Oh yeah, definitely. I would definitely love to work with any type of artist. I love music so much that I would love to collaborate with any type of artist — especially singers, I would really love to have someone sing with me on the stage. A couple of people have come on stage with me here and it was amazing.
What would you say your biggest dream with music would be?
I have this silly dream. It’s like an aesthetic for me. I just imagine myself — It’s the reason I started playing piano — just playing at a bar or somewhere where people want to relax and just get away from their problems. I see myself just sitting at a bar playing music, that’s just kind of like my vibe. I would love to play for a lot of people who really just want to escape the world, even if it’s just for a couple of moments. I want to give them the time to get away, that’s my dream.
If someone wanted to book you for a show, how could they go about doing that?
For now, people can still watch your videos on TikTok?
Definitely, I’m trying to use TikTok as a platform to expand. I love Auntie Anne’s, it’s the reason I’m at where I’m at, I started recording myself on TikTok at the same time I started working at Auntie Anne’s. It’s only been one year, so I love Auntie Anne’s, but I’m trying to use TikTok as a platform to hopefully explore more opportunities that I have in this world through piano. It changes people’s lives.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start sharing their passion through a platform like TikTok?
Don’t ever doubt yourself. No matter what you create, someone in the world will connect with it and love it.There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like it, but there will always be more people who connect with and like what you do. You just have to be confident enough to share it with the world without caring about anyone’s judgment.