« I tried cosmic ordering but they wouldn’t accept my visa electron » – an interview with Is Tropical

Is Tropical, the new indie-dance sunlight coming from the arty londonian neighborhood of Shoreditch were coming this year to play at the Consortium for the festival GéNéRiQ.

We wanted to meet the band who got a pretty good review in 2011 for their first album on Kistuné label, « Native To » and created a buzz online with a very controversial video clip which we heard about even on the french television studio sets.
The three of them, Simon, Gary and Dom are comfortably waiting for us in the dressing room,  enjoying a beer when we finally arrive. There’s a bit of a panic when we realize that the notes for the interview were forgotten at home… They simply laugh about it and explain to us that they never give the same answer twice anyway. Phew !

It’s easy to feel comfortable with these guys around, they’re funny and with the three of them together, well let’s put it this way ;  the more, the merrier.

We talked about their work with the french agency Megaforce, the artists who inspired their haircuts, the choice of the label and the sexual orientation of Connan Mockasin.








You used to live in an arty warehouse when arriving in London, just squatting there. Is ithere a big community living like this over there ? Did this help you with  your music ?
Simon : Yes, i think in South London there were a lot of people and many different places like this, around Peckham. We turned our place into a gallery and at the same time there was also another group called The Children of wah wah that had a gallery as well down the street. That scene now is completely gone, everybody from those two places have gone to do professionnal things ; there’s a fashion designer, a writer… Also squatting’s becoming illegal in London.

Gary : People are getting kicked out right now. That’s how the Conservative Government is,  they basically don’t want empty houses occupied by people who’re not paying for it. They would rather have them empty and go to waste instead of having people making something good of it.

Simon : It definitely helped us because we didn’t have to work, we got to be around a lot of creative people.

Gary : You’d get a photo shoot for free because you’d play at the photograph’s party in return. Just recycling each other’s skills.

Simon : I guess it was like a living workshop.

So it all happened two years ago for you guys. Through Myspace ?
Simon : I think a lot of people heard about us through myspace like a year and a half ago. I don’t know if people still go on myspace to listen to bands now.

Gary : I think we were just touring in the early days and probably the word of mouth got back to certain people and we were just trying to spread the fact that we were available… If that makes any sense…

Simon : It’s kind of a good thing but also a curse when you’re a band in London, because even at your first gig, most people are going to hear about it, you haven’t really got time to evolve. But then maybe if you’re a band in the middle of nowhere, playing over and over again, you won’t get any coverage. But if you play in London…

Gary :  If you play your first show and you’re shit, people won’t come again.

Dom : He says that like it’s a bad thing but it’s not necesseraly bad to sign a band and have the group play for ten years in a room, getting all greasy and introverted.

I read that you wanted to be signed on Kistuné.
Gary : You’d want anyone you trust as a good label to represent you. The people that they had worked with before had gone to do really good stuff so you know they are going to be suited with however you work and the kind of music that you make. And their audience is the sort of people we wanted as our audience.

Why ?
Gary : They’re open minded people, they’re not just looking to hear the same old generic stuff. If you try to do something different and those people did see foreward with Klaxons and Foals, before that music was popular. They jumped on it and they could see the vision for what some people would be interested in. So if you know it’s a light minded group of people behind you it makes it much easier and a lot more interesting.

Simon : Yes and we like the whole idea of being independent instead of a major company because the people at the label are very close. Gildas, the owner is an artist and you get to interact with him quite a lot. Also being on the french label is good because Kitsuné release worldwilde while a lot of English labels release only in England. So we could still be touring over and over again there before we’d actually leave.

So who’s your favourite artist on the label ?
Dom : I really like Citizens. They’ve also discovered this girl from Brooklyn called Computer Magic.

Simon : My favourite are the good looking boys from Beautaucue.

You’ve played for the festival Les Inrocks Black XS, last year. How do you feel about a festival that’s labeled with a perfume from Paco Rabanne ?
Dom : If they did not give us free bar we’d have a problem with it.

Simon : I didn’t even realized that.

Gary : I guess it doesn’t matter who’s put money into it as long as the showcase’s good and there’s good people.

Dom : People need to be spending money on music, we don’t care who it is.

Simon :  Now the industry’s different because nobody buys record anymore and they download it for free. And being in a band is a job where you don’t actually get any money but if companies put these shows forward and you get to play then, to be honest with you, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from…

Gary : It’s not like they’re trying to take over the world, they’re not on every street corner…

You say you’re tired of being always referred to as being part of the London scene and England. If you could change nationality, which one would you pick ?
Gary : Probably Indonesian. Because of the Dutch Indonesian three piece from 1965 called the Tielman Brothers who were just amazing. So they’re an inspiration to me.

Dom : Pfff, i don’t know how i can follow that. It was beautiful… Well i do like that country, Costa Rica because they don’t have an army, they seem like cool dudes.

Simon : I don’t know, it’s a good question…

Dom : Swedish because all the girls are hot right ?

Simon : Yeah, anywhere in Scandinavia.

Gary : I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’re not actually sick of being English. It’s when you’re bound to somewhere that you feel a little bit like you want to get out. But when you’ve been away from three months, it feels good to come back to London.

Dom : Yeah finally, no more crazy americans.

What about them crazy americans ?
Dom : They need to cut down the bullshit with the sizes… Every meal in the restaurant are enough for four people, it’s crazy.

Simon : Everything was so big, it was ridiculous.

I first heard about you thanks to the video The Greeks
Gary :  Like 80% of the people that discovered us this year…

Simon : Yes, thank you Megaforce !

They’re the french agency that did the video clip right ?  How did you meet ?
Simon :  Well we’ve always been a fan of Megaforce before we got signed. We knew they lived in Paris and we wanted to go drinking with them. So that’s what we ended doing couple of times when we were playing in Paris. We asked them about it and they said it was possible. We were like « oh really », we were being cheeky. It finally worked out and they did a really good job.

Dom :  Plus they’re bros, and they’re really handsome as well.

Gary : Yes, we’re brothers with them now, like family. We’ve got their skype adresses and stuff..

So who chose the topic of this video ?
Simon : When we started with Is Tropical we did everything ; the artwork, the videos… We wanted it to be a package. But then it came to a point where we were on tour and we needed a video and because we had Megaforce on board we didn’t want to be like « By the way guys, here’s what we want you to do »…

Dom :  It’s like meeting Picasso and being like « Yeah, don’t do it like that, do it like this ».

Gary :  We gave them some key words like « gangs » and « kids », shit like that.

Dom : They know what we like, we had a couple of nights’ out together. It was a hommage to our wild spirits.

What about the video for « Lies » ?
Simon : We had an idea for quite an opposite topic. We wanted it to be more homo erotic. But this is also the work of an artist and we were away on tour, he did good as well. A lot of magazines wrote about it. The model is a very famous, beautiful girl from NYC. Would you have liked an homo erotic video better ?

No, probably not. With that girl competing against them, the guys would have to be pretty damn hot.
Gary : Imagine Brad Pitt sucking off Johnny Depp.

Dom : That’d be sick.

Gary : That would make quite a little movie…

Apparently you listen to Radiohead when you’re hangover and to Justice as well while driving? Have you listened to the new albums ? Did you like them ?
Gary : Yes, Radiohead just suits the hangover. You can wallow in the self pity you’ve created for yourself. You can cry a little bit under your duvet.

Simon : Our music taste is so broad, it changes quite often.

Dom : Radiohead did a dvd of playing the whole thing live, it was really good.

Gary :  Simon grew his hair like Thom Yorke.

What about Justice ?
Simon : I like the new stuff. It sounds good.

Gary : Plus they did coin that sound. It’s quite crazy to invent a sound and be like « oh, sorry… »

Simon : It’s a bit more prog, it’s a bit more like a band. This is the curse of having a really big first album and you coin a sound, then you’re fucked when you have to release a second one. Our first album didn’t take off huge so it gives us a chance with the second one to build up. You can solidly build your reputation. Look at Metronomy for exemple, on every album they got bigger… Justice with their first album they came up with a sound that was so perfect for the time and now they’re fucked.

Dom : It’s like the first time you meet someone, you’re really excited about it. But then if you got out again the next night and you’re a bit hangover, and he’s the same, you’ll start to resent him a little bit.

Gary : If you really like one of their songs, from their first album, and if you took one of the singles of the new album and you swop them around. People would still have the same opinion ; that song that has been written for the 2nd one they’de be raving about and then that song that was raved about they’d be like « shit ! ».
Sometimes if you didn’t know anything about the band and you just listened to the songs and get over all of the hype and the magazines, sometimes you would appreciate stuff a bit more. It’s hard because instantly you want to hear something else from someone.

Simon : It’s like when you hate a band and suddenly you like a song, even when you learn it’s one of Coldplay’s…

Dom : Basically fame is a mysterious and dangerous game. You’ve got to sign a contract with the big man himself. (he starts grunting)

Are there going to be any videos during your live show tonight ?
Simon : Our lighting guy forgot to bring not only the videos but the cable that connects his computer to the projector. So tonight, no videos.

Gary : He’s our driver as well so he had to get up and get the van last night. He had to leave his house at 4 am to come and pick us up. So basically he had no sleep, he just forgets shit.

Dom : It’s like when you see a frog on the road and it’s been in the sun for too long and it’s very slow and dry, that’s what’s happening to him. We need to give him a little bit of water.

So you make those videos ?
Simon : We all make the videos. We used to watch a lot of Adam Curtis’ documentaries when we first started, so we used to project that. The only problem about that now is that Lana Del Rey does it and all these other bands are doing it as well.

Dom : I had no idea she was doing that. What a fucking bitch !

Gary : Linkin Park as well…

Simon : No, well everybody’s been doing it for ages. But at least we took it from certain person like Adam Curtis, who’s amazing.

Dom : He’s a BBC journalist and he does very theoretical stuff about politics and socials.

Simon :  I think that when you go and see a show all your senses should be poked.

Dom : Everybody that watches live music is stupid. So not only you have to tell them what they have to hear but also what they have to look at, as well. You just got to babysit these creeps. (laughs)

When you’re recording tracks in the studio…
(they start laughing)

Dom : We’re never going to afford to go in a studio.

Is this the reason why it sounds so lo-fi ?
Gary : We recorded stuff at home, into the microphone on the laptop, just the built-in one. Stick some effects on that and took it down the road to another half-built studio trying to make it sounds a little bit better.

Simon : 90% of the vocals on the album are recorded through a macbook.

If you get rich, would you be willing to loose that lo-fi aesthetic while recording in a real studio ?
Gary : We’d probably try to catch the lo-fi aesthetic better. So it becomes sonically easier to listen to.

Simon : Yes, there are different ways of doing it. You know the first Strokes album for exemple : Julian Casblanca’s voice sounds really grainy but the actual way he got that sound was really expensive.

Dom : Like a 10 grand compressor. But you know how you said « if you got rich », you know what cosmic ordering is ?  I tried cosmic ordering but they wouldn’t accept my visa electron.

Simon : I tried cosmic ordering and i got pizza.

I’m going to give you three artists who had an album that came out in 2011 and you’re going to tell me which one’s your favorite.
The Rapture, Metronomy and Connan Mockasin ?
Dom : My favorite one is #2. But #3 is cool because he likes japanese girl. He told me once (imitating the australian accent) « you should get a japanese girl mate, they’re wicked. They’ll do whatever you want and they love blond hair » so… Hello ! (Dom has tainted his hair blond).

Gary : Yeah, that’s Connan inspired that haircut.

Simon : Metronomy is obviously really good. But it’s weird i always though there were a lot more hits on their last album, like bigger radio songs.

Have you been working on anything new ? Like a new album ?
Simon : Whenever we have an idea we just put it down, there’s not a special moment for this in a studio for exemple. So yes, we’ve been actually working on the basis of some new songs.

Musically, are you going to take another direction with the new album ?
Simon : I think a song is a song, then in the studio you can take it anywhere.

Anything else you’d like to add ?
Simon :  Just peace and love.

Dom : Cassis mustard is quite nice.

Gary :  This is a message for mean people, you should try to like our new songs.


Interview by Sophie Brignoli, december/january 2011.
Photos : Matti Slembrouck (3), DR.
French version.