Tourist Interview - Depth and Purpose

UK producer Tourist is renowned for his compelling electronic sounds and intricate production style. We covered his latest releases and recent album Everyday as he delivered a collection of bold and refined tracks once again. We caught up with William Phillips, the legend behind the Tourist project about his latest album and upcoming shows ahead of his time down in Australia.

Futuremag Music: Hey Will, how’s life on tour?

Tourist: It’s good, thank you. I’m in Seattle and it’s a bright sunny day here which is not usually what one expects. Shows have been really good. I’m very lucky. It’s been a noticeable step-up from when I was here about three years ago.  

Futuremag Music: How do you feel like your approach to music has developed since your last EP?

Tourist: It’s become a lot more instinctual and I’m not overthinking things as much as I used to. I want to be as prolific as possible and to make as many albums with my life. I started writing Everyday in January last year and finished it in May. I learned so much doing it, like to trust myself a lot more and not overthink. A lot of the time when you write music you’re not listening to it. With a lot of the music I wrote on my new album, I had to learn how to listen a bit more. That’s an unexpected consequence of writing music – you learn lessons about yourself and that’s strange. You think that the point of writing music is to make a song, but I’ve discovered deeper parts of myself and it’s quite enriching. The idea that other people like that is also really valuable. I’m viewing it as this new process of learning more about myself and learning more about the world. I feel like it’s been a real change since my Wash EP in 2017.

Futuremag Music: Can you tell me a bit more about the writing process for the album in terms of the production process and how it all came together?

Tourist: I tend to work on about four pieces of music at once as I like to observe the relationship that develops between them. I find it’s a good way of writing an album. I enjoyed working on about four or five things at once and then just dipping in and out of them and moving between them. I wanted Everday to be seamless to encourage people to listen from start to finish. Quite a cheat way of doing that is making sure the tracks flow into each other. Conceptually it was an interesting move for me because I didn't really know how to do that. I made that decision early on for it to be difficult to tell the borders of where one songs ends and one begins.  

I liked those spaces in between because that’s what this record is about. My first album was a very direct reaction to something that had happened to me. Whereas this one was more subtle because my life has changed so much and it’s a reflection of that. I don't really know where songs begin and it’s actually not that interesting. I’m more concerned with trying to make something and I think music will start in completely different ways each time. I actually made a conscious effort to start the production and creative process in a way that’s uncomfortable each time. I always try to do something that I’ve never done before and see what the result is. I wasn't working in a big studio and I wasn't working with other people. It was just me exploring that creative process. It was really enjoyable from what I can remember of it.

Futuremag Music: What are some of the themes and messages underpinning the album?

 Tourist: I like the idea that the album is a mirror and people can find meaning in their own way. I don't want to be explicit and try to coerce people to feel a certain way. I suppose the themes are elements of life that I find interesting – the mundane and the day-to-day. Not everything is special, not everything is heartbreak or happy, sad or jubilant. Sometimes it’s in between those, and I’m really interested in that. Probably 95% of life is mundane and it’s only mundane because we maybe suffer from a lack of imagination. We don't really celebrate the mundane in a way that we should. There’s something nice about being reflective and being in the now. It’s all sounds a bit hippie and new age which is not my angle. It’s more about just being content and a lot of the music came from that place. I think some of the other themes that leak into that are mental health, my family and people close to me, and growing older. All of those things I’m confronting and learning to grow with as a person.  

Futuremag Music: How do you go about exploring some of these themes without the use of major vocals or lyrics?

Tourist: That’s my most favourite thing in the world is trying to tell a story with sounds. It’s what makes me so excited each day. There’s ambiguity with sounds – you can hear something and someone else can hear something else. I love the ambiguity of how sounds can make us feel. I think that’s why I’m bad at making club music. It just doesn't interest me. It’s designed to make you feel a certain way and it’s almost predetermined. I think it’s great and obviously important, but for me I’m not interested in it so I’m not good at it.  

I think my intention is what helps me create these moods. It’s about making a mood more than it is a beat. I don't really see myself as a typical producer in the electronic sense. I obviously am, but the angle I produce music from is really about trying to put things together, juxtaposing sounds and exploring how those things really feel. That is endlessly interesting to me and offers me unending rewards. I don't sit around and think that this song is going to sad or this song is going to be this. I just play with sounds and see the relationship that starts forming between them. The music writes itself after a while because I’m not consciously making these decisions. It's quite a mediative process. That’s why I struggle to talk about specific things. I could talk about using minor chords or pitch shifted vocals or beats in a way that make people feel a certain way, but I don't actively try to do that. I just pick up sounds and mould them and form them into different things. They create these spaces I suppose.

My biggest influence is generally not music, but rather painters. I realise how ridiculous I sound when I say that. I’m more interested in their approach to things because I like transposing that into music. It’s their creative process that interests me.

Futuremag Music: What about those spoken lines at the start of ‘Emily’? Why did you choose to include them there and how do they tie in with that particular track?

Tourist: So Emily is my sister. We all have our personal stories and I don't want to reveal too much about hers. As it says, ‘When you wake up and get to the end of the day, and you haven’t done anything and you think it’s just been a trial’.

It’s quite a defeatist way of thinking but actually I wanted the song to be a reaction to that. I wanted the song to illuminate someone and show them the light that they have. It’s saying to them that I know how you feel but this is how special you are. It’s a token of that I suppose and I think that’s what that became. I really loved the sentiment of the vocal sample and I think it sets the tone in an interesting way. As you said, I don't get an opportunity to tell people what my music is about, and words are a really good way of doing that. So sometimes you can place words into pieces of music and they really start helping people understand a slightly bigger layer. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling when you get to the end of the day. Not every day is transformative and it’s quite alright to acknowledge that. Not everyday has to be this incredible grand moment, and so much of our society tells us that we should be our best selves and always be on show. That sentiment really spoke to me.   

That piece of music is for her, and hopefully it makes her feel something.  

Futuremag Music: Moving on, you’ve got some shows and festivals coming up in Australia in March. What can fans expect from these?

Tourist: Well obviously I’ll be pole dancing for the first 20 minutes which is a bit part of the new show and people have really enjoyed that so far.  

No, I suppose it’s my music. It’s a bit of a journey. Sometimes it’s a bit more chest-rumbling and sometimes it’s a bit more for the mind. Hopefully people enjoy it. I love Australia and it's crazy because I never really thought I’d see fans there. It’s been unexpectedly overwhelming. I love being down there because the energy is incredible. It’s strange being around people you don't know who but tell you they love you. That’s the most bizarre, dangerous thing that can happen to a human. Hopefully they enjoy themselves. That’s all I care about. I care about connecting with people in a way that matters. It's not about me. It’s not about my story. It’s just about music that everyone enjoys.

 And great food obviously, and great wine. Sydney and Melbourne have got it going on.  

Futuremag Music: A funny one to wrap it up, if Tourist was a cocktail what would be in it to best describe you and your music?

Tourist: So I was in Mexico recently and I had this Mezcal with lime, chilli and sparkling water. It was so delicious because it was so many different things. It was kind of sweet, smoky, refreshing but also had spice. You’ll have to find the name of it. My music is a bit like that. I don't want it to just be nice. My biggest fear in life is just making plain thing. Hopefully there’s just a bit of chilli in there for that purpose, and smokiness, hopefully a bit of depth.

But I don’t know, maybe just one of those boot schooners you guys do. What’s that called? A shoey? Yeah it’s that. I’m a shoey.

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