Interview: Amon Tobin

The funny thing about making music is that, the more you do, the more you discover and the more you get curious about.

When it comes to electronic music producers, there are few as well respected as Amon Tobin and his output of music has always been stunning. This has continued with the release of his brilliant latest album How Do You Live. Gavin Brown caught up with Amon to talk about the album and his recent music under various aliases as well as NFTs and the bold plans he has for his label.

E&D: Your new album How Do You Live is out now. Have you been pleased with how the album has gone down so far?     

Amon: Yeah, it’s been really nice. I don’t really know what to expect ever and it’s always really lovely when people are positive about what you do, so yeah, it’s been great.

E&D: How did the creation of the album go. Was it pretty straightforward having more time due to the pandemic and did that change the way you worked this time?

Amon: Not, not particularly. I am a bit shut away in general so I found it quite conducive to making records in general, just being able to focus and and get on with things. It’s been a really productive time in general just because I’ve had a lot of loose ends to tie up I’ve been building on for quite a few years. I kind of tried to make the most of it and use the time to tie up as many loose ends as I could. This album being, I guess, one of them.

E&D: Was How Do You Live recorded at the same time as your Stone Giants West Coast Love Stories album?

Amon: Some of it was, yeah, some of the Stone Giants’ record was made over a number of years and this album had tracks that overlapped with some of that, so some of it was, was done around the same time.

E&D: Do you often work on different albums at the same time?

Amon: Well, I sort of do it in chunks, when you say at the same time, it sounds like I’m skipping between things in one day, you know, and actually doing them at the same time is more like a long period of time, I guess. I might work on something for a few months or a few weeks and then work on a Stone Giants thing for a few months or weeks over a period of years, so I guess they’re sort of done at the same time, if that makes sense

E&D: With the Stone Giants project, have you been pleased with how that’s being received and have you’ve got plans for new music from Stone Giants in the future?

Amon: Yeah. Well, the thing with Stone Giants was such a new thing for me, the same with Figueroa, Only Child Tyrant and all these aliases. I wanted to try and see if I could get them to a sort of maturity before I released anything, at, maybe that’s not the right word, but just to a point where I felt like they stood on their own feet, you know? It was sort of a learning process that took a long time and now I’ve managed to make the first record for all of these aliases. The next step would be to make the follow-up records for the aliases, including Stone Giants. I’ll be working on other albums for them, as well as some of the other aliases.

E&D: With your other aliases, Have you had those ideas in your head for a long time?

Amon: Yeah, For a really long time. I’ve been trying to figure out how I could take things that I was really interested in from different kinds of music and look at them all through a unified lens. The idea is that all of these things are just electronic music, right, but it’s like Only Child Tyrant, what would happen if I took a surf rock and then made it through an electronic lens and with Figueroa, what if I took guitar based folk music and made that through an electronic lens and Stone Giants was kind of taking love songs and making them electronically. It’s kind of the inverse of me being an electronic producer that then goes and makes a rock album or  makes a folk album that’s more like an electronic production of folk and rock and all these different things.

 

E&D: Did you ever think of doing a full rock album and just doing it onto your own name or did you always want to do it through the electronic lens?

Amon: The idea was to try and make these kinds of distinctions between each project so that could I could fully dive into them without really worrying about how somebody might have an expectation of something under my name. To be honest, if it was up to me entirely and I wasn’t considering the outside world at all, I would just make everything under one name because I really think everything is just music and I just make electronic music and this is all electronic music.To me, it’s all just one thing, but I think just out of politeness, really, it’s not really fair to kind of delineate things a little bit so that people who might come across them will have some sense of what that project mean, that body of work, et cetera.

E&D: When you do live shows, will you be doing them under your own name and would we consider doing live shows under your aliases well?

Amon: Well, my plan would be to try and make all of these things performable. It’s difficult when you make electronic stuff, you can’t really perform it. I’ve struggled with that for years and my plans for performance are kind of always what was available and technology driven. What I’ve made a decision to do some time ago was to focus just on the music and not have the idea of performing influence what I write, because then I’d be at a place where I’d be like, oh, well, I can’t possibly make this piece of music because I’d never be able to perform it. I don’t really want that to influence or get in the way of what I write, so I’ll make music that’s impossible to play live, and then I’ll worry about how to play it live afterwards.

E&D: Is there any music you’re working on at the moment that you can tell is about?

Amon: Well, I wish I could get into this. I’m doing something with people I’ve really looked up to for some time, but it’s a little early. That feels like one of those annoying teases but it’s just what’s going on. There’s a few things that I’m trying to do outside of what I’m doing on the label, but to be honest, it’s been such a lot, to do all these albums under different names under my own label as well, that I feel like I’ve got enough to be focused on with building the label, developing the next albums for each thing. I think the next thing we release will probably be an Only Child’s Tyrant child’s record. There’ll be an Only Child’s Tyrant single early next year. I’m also thinking about doing a release for a project I did with Meow Wolf,  I made made the music for an installation they did  and we’re trying to think about how to release that next year as well. It’s just the usual kind of hazy future.

E&D: You’ve been very prolific with your music for the past few years. Do you always like to stay busy when it comes to creating music or fid everything just come together at this time?

Amon: Yeah, it’s more like it has to find a way out and I don’t really have enough hours in the day for the things I’d like to do, so it’s less trying to keep busy and more just trying to manage all the things I really want to be doing.

E&D: Is there still a lot of avenues you want to explore with the music?

Amon: Well, yeah. I mean, the funny thing about making music is that, the more you do, the more you discover and the more you get curious about, and it’s one of those things like endless openings of doors, you know, the more you open, the more doors there are, and it just keeps going. You keep on learning and discovering. It’s pretty much endless.

E&D: You got into selling NFTs recently. Is that something you’ll be continuing to do with your music and can you see it only getting bigger?

Amon: Well, I think the interesting thing about the way we’ve done NFTs is we partnered with a platform that frames them as just music, so unlike a GIF or an image or an animation and the idea with this was to, to see if there was an appetite for just music, you know whether that could be considered something worth buying or collecting, but again, the idea with it is that it’s the music is available for everyone to hear, but if you want to collect it, you can also collect it. It is really just an experiment. We’re looking at it like a possible distribution alternative, much like we’d have Spotify and then we’d have Bandcamp and then maybe we’d do an NFT of the album as well. It’s such early days for all of this that we’re just testing the water and seeing what it’s like. And

E&D: What has the response been for them like so far?

Amon: Well, they’ve all been collected. Predictably there are the backlash people that get very angry at new technologies and are very vocal on places like Twitter and Facebook and whatnot, but that’s been a very familiar thing. I remember very well transitioning from spinning records on vinyl to try different mediums that were digital and having the same kind of public outcry. Then, when I did the ISAM show, there was an equal amount of suspicion and resistance and contempt. There just is with any new technology, and so I think that you kind of take that on the chin as you go, and you try things out that you’ve researched properly yourself. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to have a sort of poorly researched kind of vitriol online when there’s 120 characters than there is to explain something nuanced.

E&D: What else has your label Nomark Records got planned for the future?

Amon: We’re doing new albums for all the aliases and we’re possibly signing different artists as well, which would be quite a relief for me to have a label which isn’t just me. We’re looking at opening it up to other people, but I think the thing that I’m trying to explore now as well, is building a community around the label that might translate into a virtual space at some point. Creating a kind of a physical environment, like a physical in quotation marks environment where we can consolidate all of the different personalities and aliases as well as a community around it.

E&D: Was your time on Ninja Tune influential for you to start your own label and did you learn a lot from being on the label?

Amon: Oh, definitely, and I still tap Peter Quicke over at Ninja for for advice on a regular basis, and try and glean as much information as I can from a label that’s been around for a long time. Obviously it’s a very different thing when you have a label and something like mine, which is more like an experiment, a vehicle for releasing lots of aliases. It’s not a traditional label, it’s quite an ambitious project, but it’s not something that you can really compare to anything else because I don’t think anyone else has been mad enough to make a label solely inhabited by their own aliases, so it’s very difficult to find advice on what to do with that, but yeah, I do tap them for guidance as much as I can.

E&D: What has been the biggest learning curve with the label for you?

Amon: I think a lot of it is just to do with, I mean, first of all, it’s not just me, you know, I’ve got a really good team that I rely on and I lean on a lot to try and make all these things happen. I think if anything, what I’ve learned is that you really do need to rely on other people and their expertise and give people the space to do their job, you it’s something I’m still, I’m still learning because I tend to micromanage everything, but I feel like that’s been a good thing, working with other people and trying to make it as a collective enterprise.

E&D: How was it you got into electronic music in the first place and what made you want to make that kind of music?

Amon: Well, I started out as a kid. I worked for a summer car washing and got a twin cassette recorder and recorded the radio and started making edits of the songs on the radio and got more and more into sort of tape edits. Then that moved into early sampling, then that developed into more elaborate editing and manipulation with sound and then fully recording and synthesis. It’s been a very gradual process learning about sound and how it works and still learning about sound and how it works. Honestly, what I’ve always done is kind of what I’m doing now. I remember when I first started making music, I thought that I could make the music that I was listening to and it turns out I couldn’t at all and what I could do instead was make a weird, warped version of what I was listening to and what I’ve tried to do is embrace that over the years and view it as well. I guess that’s maybe my personality or just whatever I bring to the table and that sort of misinterpretation of what I’m hearing. I kind of leaned into that with these ideas, I guess as well because I figure I was kind of a misinterpretation of folk like Our Child Tyrant or rock with Figureoa, that kind of thing.

E&D: Thank you very much for talking to me. It’s been brilliant and looking forward to, to what you got coming up in the future with your music and the label.

Amon: Thank you, it’s been a lot of work, but really worth it and really interesting to do as well.

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