Tourist, aka William Phillips, is a British electronic musician and songwriter. His debut album “U” explores the realm of relationships all in tender waves, a soft and reflective journey well deserving of repeated listens. The opportunity for us to ask him to offer us his playlist this Saturday at 9pm
Thanks to William / Tourist
Thanks to Charles / HIM media
Interview Patricia Tavares De Oliveira
I liked the word. I was going to call myself Tourists but it sounded like I was a group or a duo. I liked the way the word’s sound. I like what it means culturally and it lets me write what I want to write. It affords me the ability to write whatever I want. I love Skrillex, he’s a friend, but you hear that name and you think of that hard electronic music. My first album isn’t going to sound anything like my second album. The word will carry that. I’m not defined by a kind of scene. I’m quite selfish perhaps in that way. The name lets me do that, lets me explore.
You have a classical training, how did you get involved in the electronic scene?
A lot of people think that. I don’t know where that comes from. I’ve played the piano since I was about four but I taught myself. I had teachers but I never really got along with them, I don’t know why. I preferred learning and making my own mistakes. It’s probably a couple of things that got me in the electronic scene. Technology had become part of the mainstream consumer market. We got a computer when I was about ten years old, and I remember thinking wow, this digital world of things is amazing. I remember getting some software for that computer that would let me write music and I had a keyboard that my dad had bought me, and the two just sort of collided. I loved that electronic music didn’t sound like anything. Rock’n ’roll is a cool thing but electronic music is the most forward-thinking expression of humanity. That’s why I love it so much. Listening to early house music like Daft Punk, I was puzzled as to how they got to make it sound the way it did. It wasn’t just the melody, it was the texture.
Have you always wanted to be a musician?
Yes. My mom asked me when I was about ten: what do you want to do when you’re older? I told her I wanted to be a music producer. I pursued it from a young age. My parents were very supportive. I’m lucky. Bless them. I think it’s because they broke up and felt guilty about it.
How would you describe your sound?
I certainly try to make things rooted in honesty. On my first album, the events in my life at that time made me want to tell a story that was personal to me. I would say emotional, but that doesn’t really mean anything. It means everything and it also means nothing, what is music if it’s not emotive. I think it’s more tender than it is aggressive. I guess tender and honest, self-indulgent. I don’t really write music for anyone else but myself. The reason is I’ve tried writing music for other people and I’ve tried writing music with an audience in mind and I always failed because I’m imagining someone that doesn’t exist. But when I’m writing for myself, I am the gage of whether this is good or not. I am the audience. Luckily maybe there are other human beings out there who are similar to me, so if I like it, because these people are similar to me and have similar stories and feelings, they will like it too. It’s quite self-indulgent in that way, I suppose. I’m always amazed at the response from the audience. It’s a wonderful thing to think music is the vehicle whereby you can connect with someone you don’t know. I try to explore parts of myself by making music. And the first album was definitely about that. I had just broken up with this girl and I was trying to make sense of it.
How is your new album “U” different from your previous work?
It’s my first album. It’s my first opportunity to have 40 minutes as opposed to 20. I’ve done EPs before and they’ve always been quite focused. With my first EP I wanted to do something that was reflective of where I was living. I was living in Brighton for a bit. I was quite happy and I was in love. I was recording the sounds of the town and the sea. I was making music that was more buoyant and joyful. I did my second EP when I was living in London. I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t afford rent. I was living with my mom and I was writing music in my bedroom. It was dark and more dancey. My third EP was songs, I wrote a couple of songs for some friends. With this new record, this is the first chance I’ve had to enjoy having more than 20 minutes to play with. I’m already working on my second album. It’s not personal. I want to make something that sounds alive, a record that isn’t about me but about humans, about being a person.
What did you grow up listening to?
Mostly electronic music. My dad loved the Beatles. My mom listened to a lot of 80’s music, synth pop like Human League. I was into Joy Division also, Massive Attack, DJ Shadow. I’ve never been really too concerned with genres. I listen to everything. I thought that was a weakness of mine for a long time but I think that might be a strength. My music has quite a lot of different tempos. I love melody. That’s a driving force in what I do. I find it more interesting what melody can do to you as opposed to words. Words are reason, everyone speaks. Melody is more difficult, more elusive.
What’s your writing process like?
I don’t really write other than to make myself feel something. I start with the goal of making myself feel something. That’s quite difficult. I have to lose myself in my music. I don’t really have any immediate method. I just see how I feel in the morning. I don’t respect or believe in writer’s block. Get the work done, get the work finished, if it’s not good then move on. You just have to do it.
You won a Grammy for co-writing the song “Stay with Me” with Sam Smith. Tell us about that experience.
It’s weird. I wrote some songs for Tourist with my friend James Napier, he’s a songwriter. He said: Would you like to have a session with this guy Sam tomorrow and I said “Who’s Sam?” I didn’t know him, not really. The next day we went into the studio and I was playing some kind of gospel-inspired chords and Sam said: I really like this. Then he sand Jimmy wrote the lyrics. My contribution to the song was the music. It did give me more exposure. It’s not my Grammy, it’s Sam’s. I’m just the guy behind the scenes. It’s in my bathroom at home. I don’t put it in my studio. It doesn’t hold the answers. You can’t define yourself by your medals. That song came out of nowhere. It’s so funny that it had that success. It’s a nice reminder that you have to keep working hard. The goal is music to me and making things that hopefully speak to people.
Which do you like better, working alone or collaborating?
I like how daunting it is working by yourself. You own your failures and you also own your success. It’s like standing on the cliff edge. You can either look down and be really scared or you can look up at the view. I greatly enjoy working by myself. I also like working with people. I do what feels intuitive, really.
Any current musical obsessions?
Dvsn, old folk music like Judy Collins, Hopelessness by Anohni. It’s surprising how good that record is. I try not to listen to new music. I end up sounding like them.
Are you excited about your show at the YOYO tonight? What can we expect?
Yes, very excited! Hopefully it’ll be a bit of a journey and carry a communal feeling. We have really cool lightning.