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Equal parts atmospheric and haunting, the complex metropolis of Tourist's electronic music isolates his listener into a singular lonely moment. Raised by his first true love, London town, Will Philips feasted on a purist diet of '90s U.K. garage throughout his formative years, but his own music was never designed to just make people dance. Interpreting his stream of consciousness into a signature sound, Tourist's currency of creativity is borne of a preoccupation with deconstructing beautiful melodies; finding bliss and lucidity in poignant key changes, an effective melody is more important to him than lyrics. Using sound to express emotion—preferring synthesizers to his own voice—MJ Cole and DJ EZ gave him the direction his emotive music now derives significant benefits from. Building layered mixes of music around a single mood, first comes a self-sourced field recording, followed by an imagined world of deep and powerful feeling.
Releasing music under the moniker Tourist, a reflection of his voyeuristic childhood tendencies, the relatively unknown 28-year-old producer was recently awarded a Grammy for co-writing Sam Smith's platinum, multi-award-winning "Stay With Me," alongside Smith and Jimmy Napes. And now, the spotlight has suddenly intensified on the self-taught artist. Selling out his keenly anticipated London show next month at Hackney's Oslo venue, and with more performances booked at Coachella and Sonar, hype for Tourist's summer 2015 debut album, U, is building by the moment. Tourist experiences the very detail of life, and his music engages listeners with their surroundings, existence, and divine futility. In short: This is outsider music.
Interview by Milly McMahon (@MillyMcMahon)
You sound pretty fresh right now, considering the recent Grammy celebrations.
I think a four-hour flight forced me to sort my head out. [Laughs.] Me, Jimmy Napes, and Disclosure, we drunk a lot of booze. I was having flashbacks about everyone I met. I was this complete unknown dude from London sat between Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, and it was hilarious! I just had to try not to take pictures of these people. They stood up for every song and clapped, which I thought was a good sign of really being into the music of an artist.
What was the first thought that ran through your head when you woke up the next morning after the ceremony?
I'm still in a state of disbelief. I can't quite comprehend what happened. I don't want to be the guy who's defining himself by that stuff, though. It's an unbelievable compliment to receive, but it wasn't what I set out to do. I just can't wait to get back to London to be able to carry on writing music, because that's what I'm genuinely excited about.
Did you do any field recordings at the Grammys?
I did loads in L.A. when I was staying downtown. I did some this morning in New York, but I didn't do any at the Grammys; you have to be quite surreptitious with your phone. Maybe I could've heard a lot of juicy gossip and been the next TMZ reporter. My album could be laced with unbelievable insights into the celebrity world, but it won't be. It will just be London and Los Angeles, sounding weird.
Your music heavily features sounds recorded through your day-to-day, but which is the most poignant of these field recordings on your forthcoming album, U?
The introduction is the sound of me walking from my old flat to my studio. The album is about a relationship I had with a girl for four years; I think we had an argument and I was walking away from my flat to my studio to record some music. That journey is the intro and then I wrote some music around it. There's also nicer stuff I found on my phone reflecting the feelings I had when she and I just met, and we were really drunk in a bar on holiday and you couldn't tell what we were saying—it was indistinct—you could just tell it was two people having a really nice conversation about something. I wanted there to be a couple more moments that were a little more joyful.
I'm not writing house music. This is dance music for people who don't really want to dance—outsider stuff.
How do you feel about her being a prominent factor in the music at present, despite your relationship being part of the past?
I'd feel more uncomfortable if I put out something that wasn't that personal, but it'll make me cringe if people hate it. I'm not going to base my feelings on my relationship, on what people think about the art I try to make, based on that. There is no other option for me. I can't release an album of meaningless pop music. I could try, but I don't think I would look back at myself and feel proud. I'm going to bare my soul, but it's not as if I'm lyrically singing about very specific moments. It's more inspired by how I feel, and I let other people sing because I don't have a good voice. If it was me, myself singing, I might get that sense of anxiety about upsetting her, but who knows. I think the nicest thing is that we came to the resolution that we had to go our separate ways, and that's the really interesting thing about life sometimes: things aren't always meant to work out. There's a tune on the album about that, but it's without any words.
Your music is truly immersive, deep and atmospheric. Listening to a track is an isolating experience. Do you recognize that yourself when you hear the music back, and if so, was this the intention?
I think that's a result of me mainly listening to music on headphones, as that's a really insular experience for me. I rarely go out to clubs, and I rarely go out to see music live because I love the relationship between myself and a song and the melody. Maybe I try and write for myself, rather than for a bunch of people; I write for me, in my headphones. One of my favorite times to listen to music is in the morning, alone in my flat.
With headphone music, there are two types of ways to listen: You could be just entertaining yourself in a more intense way alone at home, or blasting out an armor of sonic confidence to soften a sense of vulnerability whilst walking down the street, or powering up to an interview.
An armor, that's a beautiful thing to say. And I completely agree with you; I feel like a more accomplished person if I leave the house with headphones on. I can do more, and I look forward to that walk a lot more. This is a recent thing: Within the last 50 years, people had to watch music to experience it, and I think it's unbelievable. I'm very much a result of a generation that never went out to listen to music, but listen to it alone at home. Albums like Burial's resonate in big metropolises. His music is very much a consequence of those circumstances.
You've spoken about naming yourself "Tourist" to reflect a feeling of existing on the periphery in life. How did you come to interpret that isolating experience into a positive inspiration for the music?
I think that's the result of the fact I have three sisters in my family, and my parents got divorced. I never really got to see my dad when I was growing up, so I had to become my own person a little bit sooner. I tend to go against the grain of what people around me think is the right thing to do. I'm not writing house music. This is dance music for people who don't really want to dance—outsider stuff.
You've spoken about the history of the earth and mankind being a great perspective giver for you. Is music always going to be your trade or can you see yourself diversifying into a different career pathway, or even returning to university?
I wish I had studied biology or physics; I get more curious as I get older. I look at life and get so excited. How do trees exist? What is wind? Isn't it weird that we don't actually get feelings in our heart like everyone thinks we do? Science is the one thing I love, because it's truth. Life is all around us all the time, and it eludes most people. I'm all about positivity, being kind, and just doing something that I love.