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Tourist: Melodies And Emotion Over Beats And Drops

Written By Sam Murphy on 04/07/2016

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Whereas any album after your debut takes a matter of years to make, a debut record takes your whole life. Every moment leading up to that helps an artists piece together their sound, carve their subject matter and refine their approach. That’s perhaps a melodramatic way to talk about an album, particularly in the world of dance music, but it couldn’t be truer for British producer Tourist.

Tourist’s debut U is a personal electronic record that sees William Phillips draw upon various pieces of his context to construct the record’s emotional heartstrings. If you take current single Run as an apt pointer to the albums to the album’s overarching sounds and themes, you’ll recognise you’re dealing with a record that wears it’s heart on it sleeve and places it feet on the dance floor.

“You have to give a part of yourself in every record,” Phillips tells me on the phone from London where he is filling time in between finish U and releasing it. U is an unmistakeable product of its maker. It’s about a failed relationship and is conveyed with very few lyrics rather trading words for beats and synths pulsating with emotion.

A record for the club and the heart, Tourist journeyed us through his debut record taking us right back to his childhood and filling in the blanks of his musical canvas from there.

It must feel great though to have the album in your hand. I saw the vinyl of it and it looks fantastic.
Yeah it’s been a real labour of love. It’s nice for something that’s been an idea for the last few years, to hold it in my hands.

The music is obviously really important, but do you enjoy the whole visual side to putting out an album?
Yeah. That’s a really key part of how people consume music. Also, like the names of tracks and the way things look, that’s really important to me. Humans we don’t just have ears we have eyes. It’s important to understand that fact and respect it in a way and try and produce art for people rather than music that is just packaged up in a nice way. We made the artwork for the album about two years ago. It almost set the tone for the album. It wasn’t until I had the artwork that I could make the record. That sounds like a strange thing to say but it wasn’t something that was stapled on afterwards. That was really formative in the way I wrote the record. I had to visualise it from the beginning.

That’s something that comes up quite often with musicians is that they need some kind of visual reference point to be able to kickstart an album but it’s not usually something created by themselves.
Yeah well my mate Jack, he’s the art director I work with on things, he’s really really really talented. He went to the Royal College of Art in London. He’s just a really good friend of mine and he can relate personally to the story behind the record. He was a really driving force behind how things look and feel. I think vinyl is important for people like me. A lot of people just exist on the internet and they make music that is consumed through YouTube. I think that’s a bit…it’s not real. I got the final copy of the vinyl the other day and it’s so surreal to hold in my hand. That’s, I suppose, the naive experience of holding that for the first time but I’m sure it will become normal to me after a while.

The ‘U’ is the main centre of the cover but as a title what was the reasoning for going with that spelling?
I wanted to call the album ‘You’ as in the correct English spelling but I think the letter ‘U’ looks a little bit more iconic. And also when we were talking about, it’s a nice shape because it’s symmetrical but it’s unfinished and I thought that was a nice metaphor for a relationship. The entire record I wrote it about a relationship that was my first relationship and it failed. It didn’t work out. I thought that the ‘U’ was a nice metaphor for that. It’s kind of two separate people starting at one point and going their separate ways. That’s why I chose it.

I think one of the really interesting things about the record, and it’s similar to you talking about the ‘U’, is finding a way to put emotion into songs without lyrics. You wrote Sam Smith’s Stay With Me which is a huge record and this album is largely instrumental but the songs still pack that emotion. Was that difficult to figure out how to do that?
Yes absolutely, you’re quite right. I didn’t make a decision to not have songs because all the pieces of music on my album, I always refer to them as songs but they’re not because they only have one or two lyrics. I didn’t want to have other people singing about my relationship so I decided to not pursue that route. It sounded a bit more honest to find words and find sounds without vocals and then construct them into a story. You’re right, it was more difficult than sitting down at a piano and linking words and going right, I’m going to right about the time we broke up or the time we fell in love or the time we had an argument. It was a really lovely challenge to sit back and think, “I’m not going to have someone writing words with me, I’m going to find words that are meaningful and those words are going to form the centre points of these stories”. It was really good for me as an artist because it really pushed me to think, “I’ve got to write a whole album about a relationship but I’m not writing it with someone who is going to write words about that relationship”. It’s almost an easy way to get across that emotion is to speak and to not have that was quite a liberating challenge. Maybe it won’t work to my favour. People might be like, “oh there won’t enough lyrics or oh, I don’t understand it,” but in my heart the narrative is there for people. It’s more interesting to not have lyrics for this record at least.

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Extending on that, and it’s something that really comes through on Run, there’s a really emotional backbone but there’s a danceable aspect to it as well. Is it a bizarre juxtaposition creating music that’s personal to you but also will be played in clubs?
Yeah absolutely. You have to give a part of yourself in every record. It’s easy to write club music that’s detached and cool and austere but I wanted to do something that was really deeply honest at the root of my being. It’s something that’s attached to a very specific and personal event. That’s my starting point. I don’t start a record by thinking I’m going to make a club record, I try and start a record by thinking I’m going to write about this experience or this conversation. I think it’s all done in the context of club music because that’s the language I grew up speaking because that’s what I used to listen to as a kid but never in clubs. I would always listen to it on my headphone walking through college or school. I experienced it in quite a different way.

What was the experience like for you growing up out of London and listening to club music on your headphones to eventually experiencing it in a live setting?
It was good. The way in which I listened to music at that age really informed my approach to creating it. I was born in London and then I lived there for seven or eight years but then my folks got divorced and we moved out to the country. From about eight to 18 I was down in Cornwall. I was still really attached to London music and culture and it was having to experience London culture growing up in the country will all my mates who didn’t really get it. They weren’t really into it so it was a really personal thing for me. I think that formed a real part of how I listened to music growing up. I wasn’t listening to it in the context it was being made, I was listening to it through a few layers of abstraction. This music that I was listening to as a kid was meant to be listened to on pirate radio stations or in clubs but I was listening to it 400 miles away over the internet in my bedroom and trying to DJ to myself. I nurtured the personal and emotive element of dance music without actually experiencing it for what it is which is to make people be together and form a certain communion. That probably had a very big impact on how I wrote. That’s probably why everything I do leans more towards melodies and emotions than beats and drops.

Do you think you needed the experiences of the previous EPs to have the confidence to make this deeply personal debut?
Yeah absolutely. The album that I’ve written, it certainly nods to the previous EPs in a way I thought that was honest. There are a few sounds that I like and there’s the more melodically uplifting stuff and then there’s the darker stuff. My first EP was more sort of sun-kissed and then the second EP was a bit darker. And after that I worked with some singers which was a really cool experience too. I tried to listen to those EPs and think, “Ok, if I’ve done these three EPs before this where do I go from here?” I tried to incorporate facets of those sounds into the record.

'U' is out 6th May.

‘U’ is out 6th May.

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Whereas any album after your debut takes a matter of years to make, a debut record takes your whole life. Every moment leading up to that helps an artists piece together their sound, carve their subject matter and refine their approach. That’s perhaps a melodramatic way to talk about an album, particularly in the world of dance music, but it couldn’t be truer for British producer Tourist.

Tourist’s debut U is a personal electronic record that sees William Phillips draw upon various pieces of his context to construct the record’s emotional heartstrings. If you take current single Run as an apt pointer to the albums to the album’s overarching sounds and themes, you’ll recognise you’re dealing with a record that wears it’s heart on it sleeve and places it feet on the dance floor.

“You have to give a part of yourself in every record,” Phillips tells me on the phone from London where he is filling time in between finish U and releasing it. U is an unmistakeable product of its maker. It’s about a failed relationship and is conveyed with very few lyrics rather trading words for beats and synths pulsating with emotion.

A record for the club and the heart, Tourist journeyed us through his debut record taking us right back to his childhood and filling in the blanks of his musical canvas from there.

It must feel great though to have the album in your hand. I saw the vinyl of it and it looks fantastic.
Yeah it’s been a real labour of love. It’s nice for something that’s been an idea for the last few years, to hold it in my hands.

The music is obviously really important, but do you enjoy the whole visual side to putting out an album?
Yeah. That’s a really key part of how people consume music. Also, like the names of tracks and the way things look, that’s really important to me. Humans we don’t just have ears we have eyes. It’s important to understand that fact and respect it in a way and try and produce art for people rather than music that is just packaged up in a nice way. We made the artwork for the album about two years ago. It almost set the tone for the album. It wasn’t until I had the artwork that I could make the record. That sounds like a strange thing to say but it wasn’t something that was stapled on afterwards. That was really formative in the way I wrote the record. I had to visualise it from the beginning.

That’s something that comes up quite often with musicians is that they need some kind of visual reference point to be able to kickstart an album but it’s not usually something created by themselves.
Yeah well my mate Jack, he’s the art director I work with on things, he’s really really really talented. He went to the Royal College of Art in London. He’s just a really good friend of mine and he can relate personally to the story behind the record. He was a really driving force behind how things look and feel. I think vinyl is important for people like me. A lot of people just exist on the internet and they make music that is consumed through YouTube. I think that’s a bit…it’s not real. I got the final copy of the vinyl the other day and it’s so surreal to hold in my hand. That’s, I suppose, the naive experience of holding that for the first time but I’m sure it will become normal to me after a while.

The ‘U’ is the main centre of the cover but as a title what was the reasoning for going with that spelling?
I wanted to call the album ‘You’ as in the correct English spelling but I think the letter ‘U’ looks a little bit more iconic. And also when we were talking about, it’s a nice shape because it’s symmetrical but it’s unfinished and I thought that was a nice metaphor for a relationship. The entire record I wrote it about a relationship that was my first relationship and it failed. It didn’t work out. I thought that the ‘U’ was a nice metaphor for that. It’s kind of two separate people starting at one point and going their separate ways. That’s why I chose it.

I think one of the really interesting things about the record, and it’s similar to you talking about the ‘U’, is finding a way to put emotion into songs without lyrics. You wrote Sam Smith’s Stay With Me which is a huge record and this album is largely instrumental but the songs still pack that emotion. Was that difficult to figure out how to do that?
Yes absolutely, you’re quite right. I didn’t make a decision to not have songs because all the pieces of music on my album, I always refer to them as songs but they’re not because they only have one or two lyrics. I didn’t want to have other people singing about my relationship so I decided to not pursue that route. It sounded a bit more honest to find words and find sounds without vocals and then construct them into a story. You’re right, it was more difficult than sitting down at a piano and linking words and going right, I’m going to right about the time we broke up or the time we fell in love or the time we had an argument. It was a really lovely challenge to sit back and think, “I’m not going to have someone writing words with me, I’m going to find words that are meaningful and those words are going to form the centre points of these stories”. It was really good for me as an artist because it really pushed me to think, “I’ve got to write a whole album about a relationship but I’m not writing it with someone who is going to write words about that relationship”. It’s almost an easy way to get across that emotion is to speak and to not have that was quite a liberating challenge. Maybe it won’t work to my favour. People might be like, “oh there won’t enough lyrics or oh, I don’t understand it,” but in my heart the narrative is there for people. It’s more interesting to not have lyrics for this record at least.

Extending on that, and it’s something that really comes through on Run, there’s a really emotional backbone but there’s a danceable aspect to it as well. Is it a bizarre juxtaposition creating music that’s personal to you but also will be played in clubs?
Yeah absolutely. You have to give a part of yourself in every record. It’s easy to write club music that’s detached and cool and austere but I wanted to do something that was really deeply honest at the root of my being. It’s something that’s attached to a very specific and personal event. That’s my starting point. I don’t start a record by thinking I’m going to make a club record, I try and start a record by thinking I’m going to write about this experience or this conversation. I think it’s all done in the context of club music because that’s the language I grew up speaking because that’s what I used to listen to as a kid but never in clubs. I would always listen to it on my headphone walking through college or school. I experienced it in quite a different way.

What was the experience like for you growing up out of London and listening to club music on your headphones to eventually experiencing it in a live setting?
It was good. The way in which I listened to music at that age really informed my approach to creating it. I was born in London and then I lived there for seven or eight years but then my folks got divorced and we moved out to the country. From about eight to 18 I was down in Cornwall. I was still really attached to London music and culture and it was having to experience London culture growing up in the country will all my mates who didn’t really get it. They weren’t really into it so it was a really personal thing for me. I think that formed a real part of how I listened to music growing up. I wasn’t listening to it in the context it was being made, I was listening to it through a few layers of abstraction. This music that I was listening to as a kid was meant to be listened to on pirate radio stations or in clubs but I was listening to it 400 miles away over the internet in my bedroom and trying to DJ to myself. I nurtured the personal and emotive element of dance music without actually experiencing it for what it is which is to make people be together and form a certain communion. That probably had a very big impact on how I wrote. That’s probably why everything I do leans more towards melodies and emotions than beats and drops.

Do you think you needed the experiences of the previous EPs to have the confidence to make this deeply personal debut?
Yeah absolutely. The album that I’ve written, it certainly nods to the previous EPs in a way I thought that was honest. There are a few sounds that I like and there’s the more melodically uplifting stuff and then there’s the darker stuff. My first EP was more sort of sun-kissed and then the second EP was a bit darker. And after that I worked with some singers which was a really cool experience too. I tried to listen to those EPs and think, “Ok, if I’ve done these three EPs before this where do I go from here?” I tried to incorporate facets of those sounds into the record.

'U' is out 6th May.

‘U’ is out 6th May.

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