In conversation with Tropics
Interview by Shannon Lawlor
Christopher Ward, better known as Tropics is London-based singer, songwriter and producer. Since 2010, Tropics has shaken the electronic and pop realms with his ability to cast mesmerising and seductive atmospheres over soulful, and uniquely produced electronic pieces and textural sound excursions. From the immersive, dub-stylings of Tropics’ 2010 debut EP, Mouves, released via Planet Mu, to the genre-defying alt-pop ringing of Rapture – Tropics’ third, and highly praised LP released via Innovative Leisure in 2014.
Now, scheduled for 29th June via + FOURS, after a four-year-gap between writing and recording Tropics’ aural-glistening, nostalgia-soaked and HIGHLY ANTICIPATED fourth LP, Nocturnal Souls, will finally emerge – including appearances by friends and ex-lablemates BADBADNOTGOOD, this surely marks an inevitably triumphant return to yet another genre-defying excursion through expression, emotion, sound, setting and even beyond.
We caught up with Tropics on clean-slates, pony microphones and recording his new album, Nocturnal Souls:
For anyone foreign to Tropics’ soulful stirring, how would you personally describe the music you produce?
That’s always been difficult and I still haven’t prepared myself for that question. But whatever the style (and it evolves, fluctuates and grabs influence from all kinds of music), I tend to always aim to create a sort of dream world, or another world of nostalgia and exported emotions, within whatever genre you want to say it sounds like. Every song is like a little diary entry and is personal to me in some way and nowadays they only seem to come to fruition when I go through something. I don’t write stuff for the sake of it – I used to, constantly just make, make, make – but now that I don’t perhaps that’s why there’s such lengthy gaps between my releases, they’ve always come along at certain points in my life. As long as what I produce has a connection with somebody when they hear it then that’s great, it becomes as real to somebody else as it is to me and they can make up the description.
Tropics’ fourth studio album Nocturnal Souls drops on June 29th via + FOURS. Could you detail this recording process? And how it may have differed to writing and recording 2014’s Rapture?
Yeah, it was definitely a different process than Rapture which mainly entailed the addition of travel. But in a different way to touring. With Rapture, I had gigs always coming up in which I could try songs out and get influenced by what happened and what I felt on stage to then take to the drawing board, and back again. I stopped doing gigs for Rapture a while back, and got very in-the-zone of just wanting to produce and not perform, which may be selfish, but it just was where I felt comfortable. I had a lot of ideas that came to mind right at the end of Rapture. I wrote the title song as one of the last pieces of music for that album, which I think opened up a new world of experimenting for me, with live instruments and putting the electronic production in the back seat. This album definitely follows suit in that way but also brings inspiration from many different kinds of music. I don’t know what happened, but with Rapture I was very influenced by everything going on around me and as soon as I finished that album – it’s like i stopped being receptive to everything and wanted to shut myself off from new music, industry, blogs, everything. I made a lot of decisions based on emotion and gambling back then, like the decision to leave the label I was with, the management. I felt like I had to really kind of wipe a slate clean in every sense. I then moved to Los Angeles where I had been spending some time, and I started listening to a lot of older music which i felt had a kind of sensibility in atmosphere, emotion and soulful jazz tones that I appreciated. The palette of ‘60s and ‘70s experimental jazz, psych-rock, italian soundtrack music etc was pleasing my ears far more than electronic music.
One of your newest singles “Never Letting Go” is drenched in atmospheric nostalgia. Would you mind elaborating on the inspiration, or meaning behind this particular piece?
I’ve been told that ‘Never Letting Go’ sounds like a lot of different kind of things, and that’s maybe because I was experimenting with it on so many levels. There was an emotion laying into it from some stuff I was going through and I wanted to experiment with new ways of getting that out through my voice. I’d recently been playing with this falsetto just when walking around the apartment and vibrato and all that stuff, the more I started to have fun with my voice the more these weird haunting but pleasing results came out. So I tracked it immediately and wrote the lyrics over this loop of a groove and synth sample, then I just kept building it and involving it from there.
Working with Planet Mu in the past must have been quite an exhilarating experience. How did that all come about and what did you take from the experience?
That was a long time ago now. We’re talking when I was just 22, and in my second year of university. They wanted to sign me ,and I didn’t even know who they were, or what that really meant. They definitely have their following and certainly did back then. It was cool to be part of something that was UK heavy, I love being able to represent home at any opportunity. It did some good things for me, but essentially I didn’t really feel there was much more for either of us to get out of working together after that first album.
If Tropics could choose that one ‘dream-collaboration’ with anyone on the planet – who would it be with, and why?
There are so many people I could say, but today I think it would be Jaco Pastorius. The jazz-bassist. I’m writing these new songs which I just took a break, from where I’m trying to develop driving and harmonious bass guitar lines, which is new for me to have such a focus on. I think he would be cool, so I could just hang out with him, or ask him loads of questions and/or watch him play! He seems like some pretty wild company. Plus I do love a bit of Weather Report!
What are your thoughts on the electronic music culture and current scene? How do you feel it could be improved, or even just changed in any way?
I mean, I don’t really know much about that if I’m totally honest. Electronic music is so like pop music now, or RnB, or EDM or whatever. That’s not a bad thing, I just think its reached a point where its routed in so many genres that it’s just become a kind of go-to-backdrop. But I do think there are and always will be select artists who use it with a certain unique and captivating touch!
Are there any pieces of equipment, instruments, hardware or software that you feel is absolutely vital in creating Tropics’ signature style or tone?
It changes a lot, especially since I’ve moved quite a bit overseas over the past two years, haha! I have developed a habit of selling stuff, and then buying something different on the other end. But that just became part of the process for me; switching, changing stuff, seeing what works best for me. I recently just departed with my sE microphone which I used for the last album and the two EPs before that. I’ve had it since my early 20’s. It kinda stopped working properly. So I tried to do the therapeutic thing of shedding and looking forward in an attempt to grow and further evolve into a vocal sound I’m maybe even happier with through a new mic. Although, the one I got since then feels kind of.. pony… so, maybe that wasn’t the best idea..!?
Care to mention any of your own personal playlist favourites at the moment?
Yeah, I know its been out for a while but I recently got hooked on “Doomed” by Moses Sumney. A friend of mine plays in his live band so I went to see him perform when I was in LA. I had a moment listening to that song where it made my eyes well up. I put it on my playlist but kind of avoid listening to it for that reason. haha. But I’ve found myself playing it a lot this week! There’s so much raw emotion happening there.. Also “Livid” by Eliza is so nice; super sexy and groovy. Effortless and sassy. Keep playing this song “Wild Child” by a band called Shopping too. I like that upbeat girl punk give-a-f**k pace – it gets me up and out of bed!
Besides the release of your highly anticipated new album – do you have any other plans for Tropics lined up for 2018 and beyond?
I’m currently writing more music in London. I’m in a really good place right now, which has never resulted in me writing music in the past! But I’m excited as I have a load of new songs in demo form right now that I’m gonna start recording properly. And maybe some room to work with other artists, and also bring the live show I have planned in my head into fruition!
Preorders for Nocturnal Souls by Tropics coming soon!
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