Up next on The Shortlist we speak to music producer Tourist about his new record, Inside Out – a poignant new album that embodies the circle of life, being written in response to the death of a close friend, as well as the birth of his daughter.
Like all the best conversations, it begins with a disagreement about scones. I am from Devon, and Will Phillips, better known as the electronic music producer, Tourist, was born in London but raised in Cornwall. In scone terms, this should make us mortal enemies; the two counties have famously divergent approaches when it comes to the application of cream and jam on a scone (the Devon way is cream first, jam second; the Cornish way is jam first, cream second; I belie my roots and always do it the Cornish way, don’t @ me).
“The way I would answer that dilemma is what would you do if you were having jam on toast?” he muses. “You’d put the fat on first, wouldn’t you. So it must always be the cream first.” It seems a little early in our chat to tell him that’s he wrong and so I quickly move things along.
Trivialities aside, we are having this discussion on a blue-sky, spring day because Phillips is on the cusp of releasing his latest album, Inside Out, his fourth and perhaps most personal yet. “My music does tend to hint at things that are going on in my life,” he confesses. “So it’s difficult to talk about this record without getting very deep, very quickly.”
He started putting it together right at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, a time that sadly happened to coincide with the unexpected death of a close friend who lived in LA. “I found myself in a position where I couldn’t get over there to visit, I couldn’t see my friends,” he adds. “And at the same time we found out that my wife was pregnant. It was a very strange time.”
Flutters hinting at this dichotomy of emotions are present throughout Inside Out, a record that confronts conflicting ideas like past and future, birth and death, love and loss. It teeters delicately on the frontier between melancholy and euphoria and consequently or perhaps confusingly, turns out to be his most club-inspired outing yet. “I think that’s because I was deeply feeling a lack of connection,” he explains.
“And so I was trying to find music that I wanted to hear with others. In the past my music has been downtempo and introspective but this one is hopefully more to be enjoyed with others in a space. A lot of artists started writing ambient records during lockdown but I think I went in completely the other direction. I guess it’s like a dance record about death.”
That contradiction might sound crass but many people who found themselves grieving during the pandemic — for family, friends, fun, the lives we used to live, can share the sentiment. Even in the darkest times it’s still possible for hope to unexpectedly burst through and though beautiful, it can lead to a complex web of feelings that makes little sense at the time, only becoming clearer with distance.
“I wasn’t trying to be exploitative of the experience, it just flowed out,” he says. “I was trying to do something every day that felt positive or at least cathartic. The album stemmed from two polar opposite events, and I was in a very existential mindset, so those were fertile topics for writing music because it became such a healing thing for me. It felt so necessary.”
Music has served as an outlet in this way for Phillips since he was a kid. “I found a lot of hope in it as a young boy,” he says. “My parents divorced when I was about six and we moved down to Cornwall, which I didn’t love that much because it was so different to London. But I found a lot of solace and happiness in music. It amazed me that music could make you feel things you’d never felt before. And I still feel that way. That’s what keeps me going in a sense.”
That drive for new emotional discoveries has led to remixes for Christine and the Queens, Wolf Alice, Chvrches and Sophia Kourtesis, as well as a Grammy win for Song of the Year as a co-writer for Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ back in 2015.
But of all Phillips’ releases, it’s Inside Out that reveals the most tenderness. The first single, ’Your Love’, is a poignant tribute to the departed: “I think the first time I heard it, it made me cry,” he admits. “There was something very sincere about the sentiment of asserting a statement of love over and over on a dance track. It’s the one resounding sentiment I’d love people to take away from the album.”
‘Avalanche’ meanwhile, is a shimmering slice of immersive UK garage sampling the vocals of Ellie Goulding, and ‘Eternal’, the final track on the album, features whispers of his daughter’s heartbeat. “It’s the last thing you hear,” he explains. “I recorded it when we went for a hospital appointment one day and it works as a statement about both me and my friend and me and my daughter.”
Reluctant to announce the arrival of such an intimate album with just another heartless square on Instagram, the Inside Out release coincides with a LANDMRK collaboration in which fans can follow an interactive map across the world to find in-real-life snippets and movie clips of Phillips revealing the personal stories that inspired the tracks. “It felt like a nice way of honouring the record,” he remarks. “People have been sharing stories with me too, and that’s been really humbling.”
In general, he’s wary of the pitfalls of internet culture. “I don’t love it,” he affirms. “I think it gives you the illusion that you’re keeping up with people but actually you’re not, and I feel as though we’ll look back at all this one day and cringe.” He’s nostalgic too, for a time when there was space for new ideas and music genres to grow and bloom without the depressing threat of instant commodification.
“Back in the late ‘90s UKG wasn’t the thing,” he reminisces. “So I was into different music to my mates. I felt quite alone in my taste, and I actually quite liked it. I stumbled across stuff that other people weren’t into and it felt like my own little world. It’s a depressing time to discover music now because everything is everywhere all the time.”
The ultimate aim then, is for Inside Out to resonate on a deeper level than say, TikTok. “You put it out, it interacts with the universe and then whatever happens, happens,” he says. “You have no control over whether the initial meaning gets subverted but that’s the price you pay as an artist. That’s why the joy should be in the process of making things.” In a way, Philipps has already achieved this goal by creating an album that commemorates death but that’s also joyfully full of life.
In doing so, he locks us into that blurry place we call the present, a place where the past fades and the future lies tantalisingly just out of reach. For better or worse, the jam and the cream mingle messily here, and they taste all the better for it.
ON THE PLAYLIST
With these tracks, I wanted to sum up the fundamentals of where I came from musically.
As a teenager I was confused by my diverse taste in music, and in the late 90’s – it felt like one had to choose a tribe. Skater boys don’t listen to UK Garage, but I did! After university – I really embraced eclecticism. I realised I can I like The Cure, LTJ Bukem, Enya, Arthur Russell and the Chemical Brothers at the same time and that’s a good thing. I think that was one of the biggest lessons I learnt, to embrace everything, and bring it into my own music. If there is a thread between these tracks, I think it’s that they are melodic and moving. Which are probably the two most important things I try to achieve whilst writing music.