Amon Tobin interview – “it feels really good to be a little scared”
As the last of Tobin’s tribe of alter egos drops its debut album, we ask – what next?
Amon Tobin, the Brazilian born, Los Angeles-based former resident of Brighton and beat experimentalist told the world earlier in the year: “I’m at least five people, maybe six.”
He wasn’t joking either. The release this week of West Coast Love Stories, his latest album – but the first under the name Stone Giants – marks the completion of the set, so to speak. It’s two years since his psyche-rock flavoured Only Child Tyrant project launched, and since then we’ve had an album from his club-centred Two Fingers, enjoyed the haunted house melancholia of Thys & Amon Tobin’s ‘Ghostcards’ and seen how The World As We Know It appears to the folkier-tinged Figueroa.
West Coast Love Stories is another remarkable collection of music with its own flavour – a hint of the woozy harmonies of the Beach Boys here and the pastoral psychedelia of The Soft Machine there. But it’s still very much – and very clearly – an Amon Tobin album too.
When this Juno Daily reporter chatted to Amon in his LA studio to get the lowdown on the album, he’s at pains to point out one thing that he thinks has fallen by the wayside somewhat in the reporting of this creative schizophrenic.
“Something I haven’t got across well enough to people when I’ve been talking about this stuff is that it’s important I get across – Figueroa isn’t me trying to do a folk record, Only Child Tyrant isn’t me trying to do surf rock or whatever. It’s like I’m trying to get these musics I love and make them all electronic. It’s all electronic music, at least apart from my voice.”
Ah yes, the voice. West Coast Love Stories features sees Amon ‘s vocal skills develop on from the Figueroa album – a move that he admits was outside his creative comfort zone. Which was sort of the point, not to mention being something that ties in with the album’s theme, namely the emotional jeopardy of falling in love, knowing that making a fool of yourself is something you have to risk to get anything significant out of life.
“Singing was terrifying,” he admits, “the whole thing. But it feels really good to be a little scared. You’re quite awake when you’re a little bit terrified.”
Did the generous touches of Beach Boys-esque harmonies reflect the influence of LA and California in general?
“I think that was generally more true of Figueroa actually. That was really… well, I felt very much like I was trying to formulate some understanding if where I lived. I’m not native to California and when you grow up, I grew up in England mainly, you have all these reference points for California and like anyone else from England, they come from movies and all the cliches that you hope to find when you come here. You hope that they’re true and they’re real and they validate the constructs you’ve made. So a lot of that seeped into that record. But with Stone Giants I guess – it was more about trying to make really simple songs. To see if I could make songs that were songs.”
The album is also the culmination of a lengthy first phase of life on his own label Nomark, after a lengthy and very fruitful relationship with Ninja Tune. Part of the need for independence, he says, was the desire to operate these parallel projects. “I just wouldn’t be able to do this on a ‘proper’ label,” he laughs, saying they’d look at plans and immediately mark them as unworkable.
It’s taken him eight years of work, often on several projects at a time, to get to the point he’s reached right now, where each exists in its own space and maybe even begin to interact.
“It takes me a long time to make music in the sense that I have to take a lot pf steps back. I start by copying things I like and then deconstructing them and developing that. It’s a long time before I end up with something worth sharing with people.
“A lot of things I do are things that people have bene doing forever but which are new to me. Here’s a thing I’ve never tried. Or take things that have loved a life and have a string lineage – take it and see if I can make it my own. Figueroa, Stone Giants -they’re all aliases that I’ve had for going through that process really. They all took a few years to get to that point really where I thought I can say this is my voice on this now, so it’s taken years. With the Stone Giants album, I finished a lot of the songs and recorded them again and again and again and then mixed them recently. I wrote the songs over the past eight years.”
We noticed that Figueroa has a guest spot on a track on the Stone Giants album (as indeed ‘they’ did on the Only Child Tyrant album)…
“I just think that’s hilarious. I like the idea of this meta universe…”
Just don’t fall out over the royalty split, we urge…
“We’ll have different artists at different stages of rehab… “ he
Will ‘they’ continue to collaborate with each other?
“Now it’s the time when I’ve brought them all to a kind of zero crossing point where now I can start developing them all in tandem. I had thought about making a record at some point that was like a crossing point between a few of the different artists including myself (as Amon Tobin) and making this very hybrid record. Because all these things are interchangeable, they’re all electronic music.”
And indeed, from the formative years of his career in the 90s, when he was a round peg in the square hole of trip hop and then drum & bass, the barriers between different styles of electronic music have broken down. “It’s true, look at Little Snake,” says Amon of his choice for a Juno Daily – In The Mix session during his tenure as guest editor, “he just does his own thing, I find that encouraging , especially in someone so young.”
Moving on from this point, and many albums down the line, what keeps him making music?
“It’s a bit like having kids – you want to have things that will interact with the world, perhaps after you’ve gone.”
In the more immediate present, he’s looking at Two Fingers live shows in the US in August, and seeing where that takes him. The pandemic and being deprived of gigs – both as a punter and a performer – has seen him reappraise his attitude towards live extravaganzas. “I think deep down we all know that intimate shows are the really special ones,” he says,. “Some of the best gigs I’ve seen over the past few years have been people who’ve been touring people’s living rooms.“
He contrasts that with the huge – and widely lauded – audio visual spectacle that accompanied his ISAM album tour, which had him encased within a huge cube. “It was very comfortable for me.” He admits, “I might as well have been at home in my living room. The older you get, the better you get at putting all these walls up and the more unlikeable you become.”
It’s typical Tobin – time to tear down the walls and start putting himself – and his other four or five personalities – under pressure all over again. And long may it continue, we say.