“I don’t care about trying to make music for anyone else, I just want to make it true”: Tourist on ‘Everyday’
Transformation and liberation are two of the major themes present on TOURIST‘s second LP. Everyday features ten beautifully crafted cuts leaning more towards ambience than any of his work has before. The record is best heard through headphones from start to finish, and at its completion, you can’t help but feel a wave of completion wash over you.
The sound design is spacious, calm and thoughtful, and from the first inklings of the record’s opening bars, you’re immediately propelled into another world of blissful field recordings, quiet musings and a completely fluid sense of creation. I think more than anything, this album wholly resonates a sense of empathy that you can’t help but take on as the record progresses. You’ll find yourself feeling things you didn’t think electronic music could make you feel, and for that, the record emerges wholistic and beautifully maximal.
It’s been three years since Tourist last returned to Australia. He’s set to return next week, with a run of dates kicking off with Pitch Music & Arts Festival in Vic, Days Like This in Sydney and a couple of headline shows along the east coast.
We chatted about the new record, lessons in authenticity and the liberation that comes with understanding what that means as an artist.
Hey Will, where am I chatting to you from?
I am in Seattle. Land of Kurt Cobain. And the real rockstar, David Grohl. That was my dad joke there.
Got that one out of the way.
We’ve actually spoken with you before. I had a read through our interview with you around the time your first record came out in 2016. At the start of it we mused a bit by saying that tourist by definition is subject to a visiting foreigner, yet in terms of artistry you could not be more at one with your craft. Listening to your new record, I have that exact same sentiment. It seems like this is the most comfortable you’ve been with exploring and creating. Would you say that this is the case?
Yeah, I’m very complimented that that comes across because that’s certainly how I feel. When you make music, hopefully something is transmitted to someone else. That’s really the goal isn’t it? It’s cool to think that you got that from listening because that’s definitely how I feel.
You’ve always had this really constant, steady stream of music out into the world, just looking through your catalogue. You’ve release music 2012, 13, 14, 16, 17 and now you’ve got the new record out into the world in 2019. How did writing this record differ to that of your previous releases?
I think this is the record I wrote with most ease. In a way it felt completely natural. Maybe something’s changed in my head over the last two years, but I really do have a commitment to want to put as much music out into the world as possible because life is finite, and I’m so lucky to do this for a living. I think I’ve really got to this place where I’m at peace with making music and putting it out and not thinking about it too much. I make things for a reason whether I can figure out why I made a certain thing a certain way, I don’t know, but there’s a kind of channeling that I’m trying to do now that’s really a commitment to just trust in the process, and put out the result of the process really. Maybe I feel quite liberated because I make music primarily for myself as a means to explore how I feel and almost become a better person in a way.
One of the things that’s really dawned on me with this album is the lessons that I’ve learnt about myself doing it. It was so inspiring because one can write music and sometimes you fall into the trap of the market it’s for, the climate it’s released in and how it sits against your previous work, but I think I’m just abandoning that way of thinking in a big way and actually just making a commitment to put out as much work as possible and trust that something will speak to people. This one, Everyday was certainly the album that helped me discover that way of thinking.
It does sound as though you’re very liberated. Do you ever feel like you fall into this pattern of having to create for the sake of creating?
I feel an impulse to create things because I love how sounds make me feel and how sounds can make me feel. To me it’s the most endless source of happiness and wonder. I’m making music not because I feel obligated to, I’m making it because I love it. The process is the goal for me. That sounds strange, but the process of being able to create is the most rewarding thing for me as a human. It all sounds a bit wanky, but I don’t feel as though I’m any good at anything else and I’m okay at this and it brings me unending joy so I just want to do it. That’s it really.
Would you say that creating is a form of catharsis for you?
It seems like through this process, you’ve learned a lot about not only yourself as a person, but as a musician too. What would you say that the overall process of creating this record taught you?
I think it taught me to trust in the process, to actually revere it and to try to not abandon everything because I’m not Mozart, I’m not Beethoven, I’m not Aphex Twin and I’m not The Beatles. I’m just a guy who makes music and I’m not a game changing artist, so once you’re liberated from that, it’s the most amazing way of thinking.
I feel like there’s a purity to saying that actually, no I am just going to immerse myself and I’m going to do it in a way that I will always try and do it in the best way possible and try new things and not be complacent, and not really think about my listeners because that’s a pretty reliable way to feel shit about yourself as a writer. If you do that, you never know what anyone wants. There are people who like certain parts of my songs and they don’t like other things. You can’t please everyone, so the only reliable thing I can do is try to please myself, and I think I realised that, that was the lesson I learnt. The only goal of music as an artist should be to make something that speaks to you and just hope that it reaches someone else and hope that in that purity of doing it for yourself, that maybe that will come across to other people and it will actually end up speaking to them a lot more. You can hear when people are writing music for other people, you can just hear it. You can hear their goals, you can hear the decisions they make, you can hear the kind of shallow end of their – they’re dabbling in things because they know that a certain market exists and that if they create this, it will just work. That doesn’t really inspire me, so I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is to just trust in the process and to finish everything. There are things on my record that I thought didn’t really go, but actually at the end of the day, it’s a catalogue of three months of my life, and that’s it. That’s what I ended up with, so hopefully it speaks to people.
When you talk about it like this, the process sounds so simple, abandoning making music for everyone else and bringing it right back to this core idea of making music for yourself. It’s almost laughable how simple it sounds, but how difficult it may be to get to that point.
I’m not saying it’s easy, I really suffer from self-doubt. But the thing is, everyone does. And once you realise that everyone suffers from self-doubt, you’re almost vaccinated against that worry because you can always put out more music. People don’t remember the things that they don’t like, they remember the things that they do. It’s such an inspiring, liberating thought because it frees you to just make stuff and it puts you in a mindset that is kind of untouchable in a way because you know that you can just write more music. It doesn’t matter. It’s not going to be the world’s greatest piece of music. I think that mindset is the one to cultivate because it’s the one that will create music that is authentic. I think that’s all I care about doing. I don’t care about trying to make music for anyone else, I just want to make it true. I think that’s what’s interesting in life, when things are true. There’s something beautiful about that. Love is true, beauty is true, human’s can be beautiful and true. People are incredibly complex and they are much more complex than a lot of pop culture gives them credit for. I think that we have an obligation to try to bring out the weirdest, most subtle, most tender parts of people as an artist. I try to. I don’t know if I succeed. A lot of art, I’m not sure. That’s that.
I think you’ve definitely succeeded in capturing the complexities of humanity. Electronic music is such a difficult medium to do it in as well because mainstream perception of it is a bit dismissive, people think it’s not as emotional, but I think you’ve succeeded in creating a highly emotional record through the sounds that you’ve chosen.
We’ve talked about the process, I wanted to ask about some of the challenges you may have faced when creating this record.
I think the biggest challenge is the most simple one, which is yourself. It’s only ever yourself that you’re banding against. When we’re battling against ourselves, we’re battling with a voice inside our heads, you’re battling against cynicism, you’re battling against defeatism, nihilism which is a horrible trait. Nothing means anything and everything will be gone in 10 million years or whatever it will be, so what’s the point? I try and drown out the voices of cynicism because if I only listened to them, I wouldn’t make anything and I would be a bit of a wreck.
I’m not really into art that is post modern, ironic and self-referential. I like things that celebrate romance and actually celebrate things that are fleeting but real, and there is a real challenge as an artist to try and battle against your own self-doubts and I think the only way out of that situation is to know that my intentions are good. I’m not trying to make bad music, I’m not going to be the best musician ever, and actually, the challenge is to make it as good as you can. It’s worth making these pieces of music that don’t change the world, but they change you and they make you grow. Once you celebrate that kind of mundane, mediocreness of some things, actually you can put them aside and finish them, and then you actually end up with a body of work. Not every ten pieces of music on my record will speak to everyone, but that’s fine. It doesn’t need to be hit after hit after hit after hit, that’s not how life goes. I think the challenges were those things. I think those are really the universal challenges of just being someone who tries to make stuff, is to just not listen to those nagging, very convincing voices in one’s head that are incredibly alluring because there’s always someone out there who’s better than you and has more of an opinion. But you can’t live your life like that because you’ll never do anything or try anything. You have to be willing to fail.
You’re coming back to Australia soon. In our previous interview with you, we mentioned that during your performance at the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney, you announced that that was actually your largest headline show to date. Which is insane! That must seem like a world ago to you now.
You can hear me struggling to talk. I still find it ridiculous that there are 500 people who know me in Sydney. That to me is ridiculous. I never don’t want that to be ridiculous. I want that to be absurd because I think there’s a huge amount of pleasure to just be derived from knowing that – I mean if there are only ten people, that’s still fine. When you kind of amplify that one connection to a scale of like a crowd of people that you don’t know and that know you and are united by something, it’s difficult to talk about how much that means because really, yeah, I can’t get over it.
My show in Chicago sold out to like 300 people. New York sold out too – 700 people. I’m like what the fuck? To me it’s absurd, I can’t get over it. It’s not the goal though, it’s never the goal. To be popular is never the foal, it’s about doing something real. It was amazing that first show at the Oxford Art Factory. I’m coming back, which will be good.
I wanted to ask about that. How are you feeling about coming back?
I can’t wait! I’m incredibly lucky to be able to go to Australia. It’s a long way for an artist to be able to do that. It’s very overwhelming. It’s really nice to be able to play more music, different music. To have more music that will make your set more interesting I suppose.
How have you translated this new record into your live performance?
The record itself was never really designed for live, which was quite liberating because if I had thought about just making a live record, you’d assume that there’d be some sort of propulsiveness to it maybe, in the way that U was much more direct. The challenge was being able to translate these pieces of music from a headphone experience to a club. A lot of the work has been creating new versions that you’re only going to hear if you come to a live show because if I were to simply play the pieces as they exist on the record and mix them like a DJ would, it wouldn’t really flow. So it’s been about creating these specific edits for live, like you know, looping long sections for tracks, removing certain parts, teasing them into things, it’s actually been really fun. Doing a more ambient led record, if I can perform that live, I can really just do anything I feel. There’s no limit to going back and doing something more direct, or even going even more ambient. I’ve really enjoyed that process. At first I was really sort of baffled as to how I would do it, but it just evolved.
Do you think that process of having to shuffle everything around and rethinking it all has allowed you to further connect with the music that you originally made?
Yeah, definitely. That’s an interesting point. With my most recent record, they don’t really start in a linear way. There’s lots of ambience, and field recordings and things. There are points at which it feels like it’s coming in, and then it doesn’t, and then it does. Turning those pieces into more linear records has been really fun because it shows that maybe they could have just been written like that, but actually it was much more interesting to make them in a way that was maybe more impressionistic. Reducing the number of colours in the palette has been more interesting. That’s quite a good way of thinking about writing sound.
It’s been a few years since you’ve been back here. What have been some of your highlights in between?
Well, obviously I got married which is wonderful. That’s not a musical thing though
That’s important though!
It’s important if it’s right, and it’s definitely right [laughs].
I think it’s been incredibly liberating writing this second record. I’m not a big artist, so I never had that second album worry. It’s been really thrilling to just put out more music and it’s really implored me to kind of make a commitment to myself and my friends and fans to put out as much music as possible, so everyday really kind of kicks me into this gear of productivity and I love it, so that’s been a real highlight. Just by writing this record, I feel like I’ve learnt so much. I never really thought that would be the case. Often people talk about records in career terms, but I’m talking about it as being a human being which has been amazing to kind of kick myself into this slightly more productive realm. It’s also nice to know that I don’t need to go and write featured songs. Not that I have anything against featured songs, but there is a purity to the process of working alone and there is an enjoyable aspect of working in collaboration. There’s no rules really, and that is an inspiring thought.
There’s only one collaboration on the record, is that correct?
Yeah, it was with Shura, my friend. Really, that’s her song. I’m just lucky to have been able to put that out for her. It was this beautiful demo. I wish I’d just put it out as a piano thing, because it’s really great. I love the idea of taking that and turning into this kaleidoscopic dance record. I love her and I’ve been working with her quite a bit. It’s really great to work with artists who are so inspiring. She’s an important voice in pop music, I think.
It feels like you’re very choosy about the artists that you work with. Do you tend to only work with artists that you feel you have a genuine connection with?
I’m very choosy. I can’t make everyone great, I’m not great myself. I love it when you meet great people and they want to work with you, it’s just the greatest compliment in the world.
TOURIST AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
March 8th -11th
Pitch Music & Arts, Victoria
Days Like This, Sydney
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NEW SHOW ADDED
The Flying Cock, Brisbane
Interview by CAITLIN MEDCALF