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Through the lens of Zoom, Tyler Gaca’s apartment resembles a terrarium, evoking Michelle Yeoh’s spaceship biodome from the movie Sunshine: fat leaves hang over all the proceedings as the TikTok star takes his command among endless pots. Fans of Gaca, known by the creative moniker GhostHoneyopens in a new tab, would not be surprised to find their soft-speaking muse at home in an enchanted garden; his atmospheric videos are made with the whimsy and mischief of a content creator from the kingdom of Faerie. TikTok abounds with wellness terrorists, manic astrology fiends and fascist witch aestheticists, making GhostHoney’s languid, poetic reflections feel sweet, soothing, and always slightly satirical. His playful videos have found their audience, with three million followers (including Madonna) delighting in his ongoing creative experiments.
Within the world of GhostHoney — which extends beyond TikTok into his fantastical narrative podcast Dream Machineopens in a new tab and an upcoming book — is a powerful animism, with talking spirits and ensouled creatures dropping in casually. “I think it all traces back to my earliest hyper-fixation as a little gay child, which was dragons,” Gaca explains. And within his apartment, which he shares in Los Angeles with his husband JiaHao, are plenty of living companions: the couple’s mixed-breed dog, Penny; their black cat, Salem; along with a frog, crab, and full fishtank. As the interview progressed, we’d check in on Penny and Salem, caught in affectionate embraces, kissing and wrestling. “They really do love each other so much,” Gaca says, laughing as Salem teases Penny from the arm of the sofa, “it’s almost inappropriate.”
We spoke with Gaca about the animals who occupy his worlds — both real and imaginary, his recent move to Los Angeles, GhostHoney’s Dream Machine, and what’s next for him.
How long have you had your dog and cat?
We got Penny first, in the summer of 2018. I rescued her when she was two years old. (They’re both running around my feet right now). I’d been wanting to adopt a dog for a while; we were living in Columbus, Ohio, at the time. I was frequenting the shelters every weekend and hadn’t found the right dog yet. I was working a day job, and I was looking in my cubicle at all the shelter websites and refreshing the pages every day. There was an update that said: two-year-old mixed breed, Penny. That was the only information they had, and I was like, Oh my God. This is the one. I drove up during my lunch break and we fell in love and I took her home the next day.
The cat. Yes. Found him in a dumpster. He was a feral kitten. Didn’t plan on keeping him. They’re actually making out right now [points to pets, in full embrace]. They have a very intense relationship. It was a year after we had already had Penny. I worked at an art school. There were students leaving out tuna for the feral kittens, but it was freezing cold in Ohio at that point, like late November. Salem was running back and forth, hopping off car tires. I was like: You can’t be here, it’s too dangerous. I spent like two hours, on the clock, trying to rescue this kitten. I lured him out with a Wendy’s chicken sandwich. I took him home, took him to the vet and took care of him. For a month I was trying to find a shelter that would take him in, but since it was winter in Ohio, everyone was at max capacity, so I was like, I’ll just keep him for now. And…two years later [laughs].
I love how all of your work feels really animistic and is occupied by a lot of talking creatures. What has your relationship with animals been like through your life?
Growing up, my mom worked at a wild animal sanctuary. She volunteered part-time when we lived in Oklahoma. She would go in and feed the injured owls and ducks and foxes and hedgehogs. I have a lot of memories of being really little and tagging along with her and watching her feed live animals. Sometimes she would bring them home, so growing up we had like three dogs, two cats, parrots, finches, rabbits…we had everything, like a full zoo. It’s always been a big part of my life.
In terms of the mythic creatures and your interest in worlds, where did that begin?
I think it all traces back to my earliest hyper-fixation as a little gay child, which was dragons. You know how everybody has one thing that they’re weirdly obsessed with? I was collecting dragon figurines, like the kind you get at the boardwalk, at the beach, at tourist shops…so tacky and weird. My bedroom was filled with them. That was a big part of it. I don’t know if you remember those books that were really popular in the early 2000s; they were the fairy mythology books that had the beautiful watercolor illustrations — those were my bible growing up. I was like, hungrily reading those, and my mom was very much encouraging all of that. So I was surrounded by animals, and she was like: this boy is obsessed with dragons and fairies. Good for him. I think that shaped me into the man I am today.
Are there any rituals or routines you keep with your pets?
They give each other baths every single night; that’s one of our rituals: we all lay on the bed together and they hold each other, very close, like forehead to forehead, and bathe each other, and I come in every once in a while with their daily affirmations — you’re the most beautiful, smartest girl in the whole world — to build up their self-esteem.
How has the transition been for all of you since you moved to L.A.?
It’s been pretty good. We moved in the summer of 2020. At the peak of the pandemic, my husband and I both lost our jobs, on the same day at the same time; we were both working at an art college in Columbus, Ohio, and we were both in separate zoom meetings getting laid off. Moving out here was a big risk, but we packed up a fifteen-foot U-Haul with Salem and Penny in the front seat and then drove for five days across the US to Los Angeles. They did really well; Salem slept the entire five days and was completely unfazed. Penny was a little confused, but they adjusted pretty fast. I think because they have such a good relationship with each other, that they’re like: it’s fine, so long as we’re together.
L.A. is so languid, which could be a match for the vibe of your work. What has it been like being there? What inspiration are you tapping into?
Yeah. It’s very dream-like. Time doesn’t work the same here, I found, as it works in other places. I don’t know if that’s because there’s not a strong distinction between seasons. I’ve always described my stuff as fever dream-esque, so I find that L.A. has been a big influence. [Point to Penny and Salem] They’re wrestling behind me now. They wrestle for a couple of hours then nap for the whole day.
Before we even talk about your podcast, what is your dream life like?
My sleep life was not good for a long time. When we first moved out here, I think the pressure of trying to build a career from the small TikTok career I had was kind of inhibiting good sleep. It’s gotten better now, but I’ve always had incredibly vivid, strange dreams, and I think they influence a lot of my work. Usually I wake up at 3am in a sweat, open the notes app on my phone and frantically write everything down, and it kind of morphs into a comedic skit over time.
How would you describe your podcast Dream Machine?
I describe it as an old-timey radio show and a faux-documentary. It’s a fully scripted, fully sound-designed podcast that follows the adventures of me, GhostHoney, moving into his great aunt’s old haunted and magical Victorian house in Los Angeles. The house is a magnet for all things paranormal and strange.
How has it evolved since it premiered in January?
It’s changed a lot. At first, it was going to be short, chaotic little skits. Very quickly, as I started writing out the skits in the episodes, they started to connect more and more, and it’s turned into GhostHoney’s version of a Marvel Universe, you could say. It’s like this full odyssey type-adventure that I’m writing and trying to piece together. I do feel like I’m starting to spiral into insanity, but in a great creative way.
Now that you’ve been a TikTok creator for a few years, how are you feeling about your place in it?
I actually started TikTok in the spring of 2019, so it feels like a long time now. It started out as a creative outlet; I was working a full-time job at this art school, 40 hours a week, and I was also an art teacher in the evenings as well. I went to school for painting, and a desk job was not for me. I’ve always been a performer and an entertainer as well, so just having a silly outlet was keeping me sane for the first year and a half. And then we took the risk to move to LA, and I was like: I’m going to try to turn this into something more tangible, a full-time career. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just move back in with my parents; it will be fine.
And that’s been exciting and scary. But now I do find myself thinking about, Is it going to be sustainable? What are my long-term ventures going to be? I feel like the podcast is going to be a step in that direction. I have been writing a book for the past year, which has been really exciting. I’m grateful for TikTok because it’s changed my life, and I’m going to stay on the app as long as people want me there and don’t get bored of my chaos and my musings, because I love it and I love how supportive the community is. I’m so excited to see how my career branches out outside of it.
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