Tyler Posey: “I’m just a punk rock skateboarding kid from a small town”

The former 'Teen Wolf' star turned guitar hero is going it alone with a debut EP

We’re barely a minute into our hour-long interview with Tyler Posey when the former Teen Wolf pinup unselfconsciously cuts through any Zoom awkwardness. Whipping off his top to show us the huge new tattoo emblazoned across his back, Posey grins at the screen as he tells NME the wound has “pretty much healed” but still feels “itchy” enough to interrupt his sleep.

The fresh ink fits perfectly with Posey’s pop-punk rebel image. He’s currently promoting ‘Happy’, the second emotionally cathartic gem of his new solo career, which follows a decade of thrashing about on stage in various guitar bands. Though well established as an actor thanks to his six-year stint on MTV’s then biggest scripted show, any rock star antics took a backseat while he built up his acting creds. But since Teen Wolf ended in 2017, he’s had more time to devote to gigs and riffs. “I want to do the Jared Leto thing,” he says, “by pushing both acting and music to the forefront of what I do.”

“I want to do the Jared Leto thing and pair acting with music”

With his top back on, Posey returns to the desk at his home in LA’s Studio City neighbourhood and explains why he got such a bold tattoo. He picked this particular image – an enormous Jesus figure – because it “has some Latin roots in there”, reflecting the fact that he is half-Mexican, and because it spoke to him on a spiritual level. “I’m not very religious,” he admits. “I just liked the idea that this dude put his own shit aside to make a difference for other people. That’s kind of been inspiring to me lately. I’ve been dealing with some annoying bullying – online bullying – and shit like that. And so I kind of want to… I mean, I don’t want to be Jesus…”

At this point, Posey lets out a self-deprecating laugh, clearly aware that comparing himself to Christ might be a bit much. “But,” he continues, “I’d like to make a difference in the world and sacrifice my own time and energy to help people.”

Tyler Posey

Posey knows first-hand that appearances can be deceptive and even ostensibly successful people can need help. Born into an industry family (his dad is prolific actor John Posey) in Santa Clarita, California, he believes he was always headed into the entertainment business. As a kid he appeared in movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger (Collateral Damage) and Jennifer Lopez (Maid in Manhattan). Then in 2011, when he was still only 19, Teen Wolf gave him a complex, layered lead role – he played Scott McCall, an ordinary suburban teenager who transforms into an evil-thwarting werewolf – and his profile immediately exploded. Yet at the peak of his meteoric rise, tragedy struck. His mother, Cyndi Garcia-Posey, died of breast cancer in December 2014, and Teen Wolf‘s fifth season was dedicated to her memory. Posey has also struggled with drug addiction and online abuse directed at, among other things, his sexuality. The toxic torrent of cyberbullying, he says, has affected him a lot.

“Someone asked if I’d been with men [as well as women], and I said yes,” Posey recalls while discussing his headline-making OnlyFans account. “Since then there’s been this really loud person online – I’m pretty sure it’s only one person – and they’re trying to call me a ‘gay-baiter’: pretending to be gay to get money, essentially.” In February, Posey revealed that he is dating Phem, the alt-rock singer he duets with on debut solo single ‘Shut Up’, a spiky punk-pop nugget that dropped in March and also features Blink-182’s Travis Barker. Today, Posey says he is still figuring out his sexuality – with Phem’s help. “I’ve been with everybody under the sun, and right now I’m in the best relationship that I’ve ever been in with a woman, and she’s queer too.

“Something in my gut was telling me to go solo”

“She’s helped me realise that I fit under the queer umbrella and that I’m sexually fluid, I guess.” Posey quickly corrects himself. “No, not ‘I guess’. I don’t want anyone to take this [interview] and be like: ‘Well, he was kind of wishy-washy about it.'”

Posey says it’s “bizarre” that he’s being accused of ‘gay-baiting when he’s only tried to be honest, but also points out that the comments have been “really cruel” – he’s even been told he should kill himself. “And [the troll] made this one comment that kind of sparked me wanting to do something about cyberbullying,” he says. “They said: ‘I killed your mother’ – like, this person actually claimed they killed my mother.” Posey knew this was just a despicable provocation, but was shocked someone would even think to type it. “I’m sober now and I’ve been working a lot on my mental health, so I’m in a place where I can somewhat laugh at that kind of thing,” he says. “But I know that other people who deal with this kind of shit may not be as strong mentally.”

Tyler Posey

Getting sober is a recurring theme on Posey’s upcoming debut EP, ‘DRUGS’, home to the singles ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Happy’. He hasn’t announced a release date or track list yet, but says the record is “all about me struggling with drugs and then getting off of them”. Part of ‘Happy”s second verse – “Yeah, I know how to nod / Nodding, I’m half awake / With my eyes rolling back, can’t you tеll I’m okay?” – is a reference to a “drug term called nodding out”. “It’s when you’ve taken too many opiates or whatever and you’re kind of doing this nodding out thing where your eyes are rolling back in your head,” he explains. “So it’s a very violent visual of somebody [who’s] really fucked up on drugs.”

Though ‘DRUGS’ is Posey’s solo debut, he’s been playing in pop-punk bands since he was 12. He calls Blink-182 his “favourite band ever”, then shows us a mini Tom DeLonge guitar on his desk to prove it. “It still blows my mind that I have Travis Barker on my fucking song,” he adds, calling the drummer’s contribution to ‘Shut Up’ the “sprinkle on top of everything else in this project”. Posey previously fronted the Blink-inspired band Lost in Kostko, who formed in 2009 and played legendary Sunset Strip venue the Roxy three times before splitting in 2013. Later, Posey played and sang in another pop-punk combo, PVMNTS, with whom he released the emotional 2018 single ‘Standing (On My Own Two Feet)’. “I can still feel your touch, I just miss you so much,” Posey sings in tribute to his late mother.

“My new EP is about struggling with drugs”

Soon after departing PVMNTS in 2019, Posey formed a new band called Five North with childhood best friend Kyle Murphy. They dropped their debut EP ‘Scumbag’ the following year on Big Noise, the LA label co-founded by Goldfinger frontman and Blink-182 producer John Feldmann. Feldmann worked with Posey on both ‘Scumbag’ and ‘DRUGS’ and is clearly an important figure in his life: they hang out “almost every single day”.

Refreshingly, Posey admits that going solo now is a commercial decision as well as a creative one, reasoning: “My name has a pretty decent following [6.2 million Instagram followers] and I feel like not taking advantage of that would be stupid.” He also points out that the recent pop-punk resurgence has been driven by solo artists like Machine Gun Kelly and Mod Sun. “This solo EP is still the same band [as Big North],” he says, “but something in my gut was telling me to take this route. It has freed me up a lot to be really artistic.”

It also made sense for Posey to focus on music during the pandemic. Though he managed to shoot an indie thriller film called Brut Force last summer, he says acting “took a backseat out of necessity”. In the post-Teen Wolf era, he’s branched out with an impressive performance in the Blumhouse horror movie Truth or Dare, TV appearances in Scream: Resurrection and Gregg Araki’s offbeat comedy series Now Apocalypse, plus regular voice work in Fast & Furious Spy Racers and the Marvel Rising franchise. Today, he says he’s “more strategic and picky” about what he takes on. In 2019, The CW cast him in a reboot of cult ’80s film The Lost Boys, a project that had obvious parallels with Teen Wolf. Posey admits it felt “very similar” and says he had “mixed feelings” when the network decided to recast the reboot after being disappointed with Posey’s pilot episode. “It would have been awesome to be on that show,” he says, “but at the same time, I’m like, fuck, maybe that was a good thing? Because I would have definitely pigeonholed myself into a certain kind of character.”

Tyler Posey

In fact, the only Teen Wolf-style project he’s now interested in is Teen Wolf itself. Unlike some actors who seem irritated to remain closely associated with their breakthrough role, Posey is keen to revisit it. “The fans are non-stop online asking, ‘Where is season seven?’, and I’m right there with them,” he says. “I would love to do one last hurrah for Teen Wolf. You know, that show ran a whole gamut: it was horror, it was supernatural, it was comedy, it was a funny buddy show.”

As Posey pursues other acting opportunities and promotes his solo music, he also has another, more unusual income stream: OnlyFans. He joined the content subscription service in September, not long after fellow actor Bella Thorne set up her account and was accused of diverting potential revenue from the struggling sex workers who flocked to the platform during lockdown. Posey hasn’t attracted quite such vehement criticism, perhaps partly because of sexist double standards, but in February, he complained that being on OnlyFans was “mentally draining”.

“I would love to give ‘Teen Wolf’ one last hurrah”

Today, he seems a little more sanguine about the experience. Though he and Thorne were brought on board to “widen the platform’s scopes” beyond x-rated content, many of Posey’s subscribers arrived with particular expectations. “They were like ‘I want a video of you sucking your toes’ or ‘I want a video of you jerking off’. It was stuff like that really made me feel like an object,” he says. Because he’s “obviously not a sex worker” and doesn’t “want to take anything away from anyone who is”, he’s tried to carve out his own lane. “Instead of just posting naked pictures, I’m really trying to show an insight to my life that I don’t do anywhere else,” he says. Still, this content policy has definitely dented his revenue: he reckons he had 75,000 subscribers at his peak but is now down to “10,000 at most”.

He has pledged to donate all of his OnlyFans earnings from June to mental health and cyberbullying projects, proving that he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is. But come July, he says his future on the platform is “undecided”. “I love where my OnlyFans is at right now,” he says. “But the other part has kind of scarred me in a way. If it’s so sexualised for me, you know, I feel bad for not giving people what they want.”

Tyler Posey

Rather sweetly, but perhaps a little naively, Posey even remains convinced he can win over his troll as he spreads awareness of cyberbullying. “I want to help him just like anyone else,” he says. “I want to show people I’m just this fucking punk rock skateboarding kid from a small town who happened to grow up in the acting world. But I also believe I can make some kind of positive difference in the world, and I’m willing to sacrifice the time and energy to do it.”

It’s a pretty massive ambition to verbalise, but then again Posey doesn’t really do reticence – he’s the sort of guy who shows you his new tattoo as soon as he meets you. And in a way, it’s this strikingly direct approach that might just help him to cut through the online noise.

Tyler Posey’s new single ‘Happy’ is out now and his debut solo EP ‘DRUGS’ is due later this year via Big Noise with a North American tour just announced