INTERVIEW: IS TROPICAL – Share tour stories, influences and music with Mark Millar

IS TROPICAL: hear new track + UK/European tour has started. 3

How did Is Tropical form, and how did you decide on the name ?

Hey! We formed on a muggy day in October in a South London squat. We had been playing together (the three boys in the band) for a while and probably were waiting to start rehearsal. It was a bit miserable and ramshackle and on these kinds of days we would just wildly improvise music and songwriting, implementing escapist-style lyrics and electronics, weird syncopated drums, anything that felt different or exciting. We were pushing each other to realise we had started something new and of itself without realising. We decided to put some songs on MySpace under a new name (I remember vividly) once our mates we shared the space with stopped complaining and started coming down to listen to what we were doing. It was a supportive and very creative environment but the band’s name and sound were totally reaching out to someplace else, something more.

What were your main musical influences growing up?

We all had quite similar musical tastes in the past in that we were listening to all different kinds of music. None of us came from musical families really or had any training or ambition to play, but music for us was eclectic, varied, interesting and inexhaustible. We also came from the first generation that made the transition from mixed tapes off the radio to full blown P2P bacchanalia. At one point or another we all listened to hip hop (Wu Tang, Ice Cube, etc) punk music (all kinds – I remember being at hardcore shows when I was barely able to walk. I declared myself ‘straight edge’ because I was ten years under the legal limit to drink in the US). Kirstie lived on Dolly Parton, Stone Roses, Supertramp. She was cool.

Vinyl, Download or CD?

If I’m honest I do listen to music on YouTube or Spotify. Though they are strangling independent music, it’s a problem I don’t think I’m qualified to solve myself. If a band is really good, I’ll show support by buying merch and a vinyl. I have a record player but it’s at home and I’m only there like five days every few months. But my record collection is something where I store value, it’s an investment… I was deeply disappointed when I found out I wasn’t one of those lucky kids that gets to inherit a great record collection. For me music will always be really important. It tells me something about myself at any moment, when I step back and note what kind of stuff I’m listening to. I appreciate the time and care that goes into producing a great record both sonically and visually. CDs are worthless – they look horrible and break and smash and the artwork is hard to stare at. I’d like to posit that the commercial nature of the cd was one of the mortal wounds of modern music as we know it.

How is the tour going, any interesting stories?

Awesome man. We played a show a couple of months ago. We had a great band supporting us, our friends from London called Many Things. They know how to write a song, seriously. So now we are in Oslo waiting for a flight to New York to hang out with our label Axis Mundi and maybe record something. We have a couple shows out there as well. The whole tour was fantastic but the story which is currently making me smile is remembering our sound engineer Grant totally boxed but having a blast hiding from us under the stage in a big sub woofer thing. We looked for him all over the place and when we eventually found him he was crouched down way in the corner , with this creepy red light from the woofer bathing his face in sick light. He just smiled and said ‘Check out this place! My house! Hahahaha!’ And then we had to leave. My neck is really sore btw.

What song on the latest release are you most proud of, and why?

Ah, that’s hard because I think the project as a whole is going to be so interesting and it’s been very different from the traditional album model. So we are just in love with the concept right now. It’s been the first time we have played songs without having released them beforehand. That is amazing, and I remember really liking when bands did that. So the five parts of the album will tell their own story I think, and the love affair for us will come out of the unique opportunity to play and get it heard around the world. We are two parts in and there’s some awesome stuff left to go, it’s very exciting that it hasn’t just all been disposed of in freedom-torrent land or dismissed as either single or filler by a sometimes complacent music press. No offence, Mikey

How do you usually approach song writing?

Very soon after doing/making/seeing or feeling something. Hard and with no shoes on.

How do you breakdown the songwriting responsibilities.

I think we all have our own rituals for songwriting now. It used to be us in a room shouting over each other ‘hey! Let’s make it go TSChHhHhhH’ or jamming out… Or maybe even two demos on top of each other if it sounded exciting; now we’re all voice memos and 96k and portable sound cards and modular synths. Personally I like to have a song and sit on it, both musically and conceptually for a while. Until some point that I feel it’s ready in my head (usually I’ve amassed about 60 esoteric tabs on Firefox and played it to death on a piano) and then it goes down in a few hours. I’m also really into recording radios or snippets of melody or a big metal tank that sounds cool, and using that as an entry point to an idea. But we are all different. Gary’s really good at taking an idea you’ve got and bending it, bringing colours out of it you didn’t think of. And Simon is really good at initiating moments of creativity between us.

What inspired the concept for your vinyl releases?

I think we just looked at what we had done the ‘normal’ way of putting an album out and tried to espy a more fun way of getting it across. We were always on the road and that has become our M.O, so we wanted to incorporate that directly into the Music. We wanted to get back to the phenomenal energy of writing and creating, rather than saving ideas for months and then reproducing them all, under time pressure, in a studio. We also wanted an opportunity for every song to be able to sit out there on the windowsill, even the shortest or slowest or least ‘radio’ track – to be heard and appreciated and the story behind it felt and not missed or caught up in a larger, obscure context. Most of all we wanted to use the totall freedom that Axis Mundi let us have when we signed to them. We wanted to make a record which was as special as possible – and represented us, in a way – without being stifled by convention or formality.

What are your views on the current state of the record industry?

There are lots of labels out there doing exciting work and releasing great music, literally keeping it alive. But it’s not representative of the breadth and depth of the power of music. Literally every single human on the planet is moved by music and still it’s a hard thing to make music and release it, even when people think you’re great. That’s a sign of something g wrong, and I hope that we get out of this unhealthy period. I heard someone say the other day that the Internet may be a negative force on music because everyone is now able to write a song. It’s just a contradiction! It used to be that culturally we had a few heroes we idolised and they had a big slice of the pie each. Now the pie is 1000000000 bigger but no one can figure out why they are hungry. I blame trying to enforce things like MPAA and an industrial system of production on music. Industry isn’t able to change and adapt, and industry by nature tries to hold onto the resources and means of production it has. Soon the huge boring monoliths will crumble and we will all play on the lovely beaches they created, their rubble and dust will get between our toes and we will laugh. And musicians will be showered with praise and all be given free tree houses.

What music are you currently listening to on tour and what would you recommend?

BTTMS, Psymon Spine, Many Things, M+A, Nicholas Jaar, Mac Demarco, Glass Animals are cool as well.

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