Why Tourist's William Phillips Wants His Music To Make You Feel Something
There’s a great deal of modesty in the music world today.
Gone are the days of a Grammy win being the pinnacle for many artists, with most of them instead becoming increasingly focused on the quality of music they make available to the world. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to name an artist who wouldn’t find winning a prestigious award as somewhat life-affirming – a testament to their hard work slaving away in a bedroom for years, hoping to inspire the world with their own brand of music.
For William Phillips, better known as UK electronic producer Tourist, the dream that never really was a dream became his reality in 2015, when he picked up a Grammy for a songwriting contribution to Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’, easily one of the biggest tracks of the previous year. Although Phillips can appreciate the prestige of such an incredible feat, he talks about it with ultimate modesty.
“I think either you assign a great deal of meaning to that, or you assign very little meaning because you can’t deal with it,” he says. “I don’t really know which one I kind of sit with, but I don’t ultimately put it on display or covet it – that would probably make me a bit of a dick anyway. I just went into the studio one day, wrote some chords and the people around me put the song together. I just put it in those simple terms because that’s exactly how it happened. I mean, no one really cares if I have a Grammy. Music to me is much more exciting than that.”
But for someone so humble, Phillips can agree that he came along at the right time in the world for electronic music. Being active since 2009, and after releasing a hefty number of EPs and singles, Tourist finally broke through last year with his album U, an accessible record of sombre thematics and a representation of a breakdown within a troubled relationship. Phillips says the emotional weight of the album is not only important to himself, but to the listeners as well, and he hopes to explore it more in the future.
“I think that’s my job, really. I like feeling responsible for that. Maybe my next record will feature things I regret, and I think the biggest lesson I learnt from my last record is not treating the listener like a kid. I don’t have to spell it out for them that I was in a relationship, but I think my intentions were always pure. But yeah, that’s extremely important of writing music. I always want my music to make other people feel how I felt at the time of writing. To make someone feel something, that’s special.
“As for live instrumentation, I mean, sure!” he adds. “It’s very prevalent in a lot of the recent stuff I’ve been doing that no one’s heard yet. [I’m] really excited to get that out as soon as possible.”
While U is ultimately an electronic album littered with samples and synths that Phillips himself says were inspired by the music present in his subconscious from his teenage years, the goal was to create something new and completely toss himself into the unknown. Phillips believes that for any musician, putting yourself into an awkward position is the best way to encourage creativity.
“I do try and experiment a lot with samples and sounds but then also tempo,” he says. “I mean, I don’t really think about electronic music, I just try and make sounds. I don’t even think about where it’s going to be played or who’s listening to it. The way I see it is if you’re a DJ or a producer, you’ll instantly make a track with the assumption that it will be played at the club, so it happens to immediately define so much of what you’re doing. I think that can rub off as kind of boring, to me anyway. So to try and keep myself tested, I’ll always try and do things different ways – working in a different tempo, make something sound darker, starting with a sample rather than a synth. The creative process really interests me neurologically and I think the point at which you get boring is when you have a set formula.”
Tourist will be hitting our shores soon as part of the massive Laneway Festival lineup, which he says is an honour to be a part of, but he has no expectations when it comes to crowd numbers.
“I’m very excited to see what Laneway’s like because I’ve never been there. No expectations of approaching 10,000 fans though, because I really don’t think that many people know who I am. But what I do know is that I’m going to enjoy myself because I really love Australia. Anything’s better than London at the moment, you know?”