Is Tropical - Interview
Posted by Guest Writer on Tue, 23 Nov 2010.
A band that wear masks on stage and play facing each other? Surely they’re going to be idiots? No. You’re wrong. Is Tropical are, without a doubt, the most fun to interview. Exhausting – they talk over each other a lot and there’s an absurd amount of tangents – but Dominic, Gary and Simon are funny, charming and just the right amount of weird. Before I’d even started the interview, Dominic looked over my handwritten questions – ‘I like your writing; it’s kind of ‘I don’t give a f**k, but still quite girly’... They talked to me about films, X Factor, squatting and their broducer – amazing.
[N.B. As I said, they talked over each other a lot and sound very similar on a Dictaphone, so a few quotes may have been mixed.]
You’re just at the end of your tour with Mystery Jets, has it been a good tour for you?
Gary: Yeah really good. We’re good friends with the Mystery Jets so it’s been really nice for us. And it’s good because we never knew Tribes before this tour and they’ve turned out to be amazing.
Dominic: It’s turned out to be the best of both worlds. Because when you’re on a tour and you don’t know the band you can learn to love them and if you do know the band, it’s like home.
Simon: It’s been really good; there’s not been any faction or anything where we split off – we all end up drinking together at the end of the night.
Dominic: It’s like going back to your Mum’s house and her introducing you to her new fella and him actually being alright. And you’re like ‘oh okay he’s alright!’
Simon: Yeah ‘and he’s hot as well!’
Are you glad to be performing back in London
Gary: It’s quite weird because you find a lot of little cities around that you don’t expect to be good turn out amazing. Like Birmingham was good.
Dominic: Yeah and Ireland as well. You turn up to places where no one knows your music and they get into it but yeah, coming home is amazing.
Simon: We’ve never played the Roundhouse before technically.
Gary: We played here once for this thing where these guys filmed us with thermal-imaging cameras.
Simon: They set up like paddling pools on the ground and we stood in them and played our instruments and it only picked up heat so at the beginning it started with pretty much pitch black and then they pumped hot water through everything so gradually it just got more glowing and glowing
Dominic: When I started a put my drumsticks in the microwave so when I started they were like, white-glowing, then as they slowly cooled down
Was that your good idea?
Dominic: Of course.
Simon: Wasn’t a good idea putting them in the microwave for three minutes though.
Dominic: Yeah they were too hot. Had to play with serviettes wrapped round them. It was like a buffet gone wrong.
(to see this video http://www.myspace.com/roundhouseblackbox/videos/video/106750296)
It’s been said before that your music’s difficult to force into a genre. Do you think it really needs to be labelled?
Gary: Because of the internet every genre is just so accessible and I remember growing up…
Dominic: Yeah it’s not teddy-boys verses rockers any more…
Gary: …and you’d just listen to whatever the kids were listening to…
Dominic: …sorry, teddy-boys verses mods
Gary: …but now if you listen to most music on Radio 1 you can’t really pinpoint what it is because it’s quite diverse. Like lady gaga, she goes through different genres. I think we just fall into pop music, really. We definitely make pop music.
Gary: The only genres that have still split themselves off are metal, and to a certain extent drum and bass. Because loads of metal bands now sound well like drum and bass.
Simon: Yeah pendulum, doing a bit of cross over
What if someone said to me, 'describe their sound', what would you want me to say?
Simon: A pop band. Fun. Dancey.
Gary: Though sometimes we can have quite dark songs. But even in the dark songs it's a little bit jokey.
Simon: They're dark, but you can sing some weird s**t over the top
Dominic: A better question is, if our music was to be a soundtrack to a film, which film would it be? It would be Emmanuel Ten: Revenge of Robot...
[Everyone but Dominic looks confused]
Dominic: It's one of those really old horrible French blue movies.
Gary: Or Short Circuit 3, that would work.
Simon: I feel like we're freaking you out a little bit.
I've just never seen these films!
Simon: Short Circuit! You've seen Short Circuit!
Nope. I've seen an obscenely little amount of films.
Simon: Have you seen Sherlock Holmes?
Dominic: Well better than Zombieland.
Simon: So much better.
Gary: Have you watched Zombieland?
[Dominic is laughing]
Simon: Don't bother; it's s**t.
Haven't seen much of Disney.
Totally bypassed me as a child.
Dominic: The Lion King?
[They all talk over each other, the main response being 'What?!']
Simon: Name a film you have seen.
[They put me on the spot. I realise I should've said 'Control'.] Erm...Billy Elliot.
Gary: Oh my god.
Dominic: Get out
Simon: Starting at the bottom there
Anyway, your lyrics are quite refreshingly eclectic, where do you like to draw inspiration from?
Simon: From all over.
Gary: I think what inspires us is a lot different since...
Simon: A lot of bands sing about kind of, what they did in the day, like 'down the shops' kind of thing...
Dominic: Telling it how it is
Simon: Telling it how it is down the shops and a lot of bands can be quite escapist in their lyrics, a bit more storytelling from the third person. I think with each song we want to try a different angle.
Dominic: Also it's like in one song, the lyrics incorporate different parts and loads of different stories and loads of different narratives, as long as they all have the same sort of mood. As long as it fits the music, it doesn't have to make sense.
Simon: I'd say they're all very escapist; none of them are really relevant to us. Like relevant in the way that we want to escape, but like South Pacific...we've never been there. Probably never going to go there.
Do you think the lyrics are more important than the music?
Gary: It's all just one package isn't it? Like the singing and the music and the artwork...we concentrate quite a lot on trying to hone the whole thing as a package. Not in a way that we try and make our music sellable for people to like, buy into, but we just think it's important.
Dominic: One gives meaning to the other. You can't have one without the other.
You obviously consider artwork really important, do you have the main input into it or just find a photographer you like and leave it to them or...?
Gary: We do pretty much all of it ourselves. We have a photographer that follows us around on tour and we got him to do press shots and the South Pacific cover.
Simon: But we come up with the concepts and then get people to orchestrate it. And a lot of the graphics work we do ourselves. Actually all the graphics ourselves. And it's the same with the music video. We came up with a concept with Gareth Phillips, the person who makes our videos, and then we work together making a story board - we want to be as close as possible but if we wanted to be 100% in creative control, and we hired a camera, it would've been a nightmare. What we realised was there's actually not that much time, to be honest. Like we'll be on tour and the manager will be like, 'where's the album cover?' But it's good to be busy.
When did you film the South Pacific video?
[They all talk over each other again - 'about three months ago']
Gary: What wasn't in the video was that these two lads [Simon and Dominic] jumped in at the end. We got dragged out really far, ‘cos the sail was actually better than we thought and we had to get a speed boat come get us
Simon: We ended up in the middle of a powerboat race.
Dominic: Yeah and this guy was like, 'don't move for a bit!' you know those boats that are like, hardly ever in the water? They came beach side of us because we went out far enough for them to be able to come the other side of us.
Simon: then we dived in and couldn’t swim back because we’d gone too far.
Gary: It was at Bournemouth beach where we grew up so we went back to our home town and like, parents came down and gave us food and stuff.
When people go to an Is Tropical gig, they’re going to notice that things are different. Like, you wear masks – don’t worry, I’m not going to ask about the masks [Dominic: Yesss] – or you face each other when you play – do you think it was a brave step to move away from the gig format everyone’s used to?
Simon: I think it was kind of essential to do something to break the mould a bit. Like who came up with the whole gig format?
Gary: It happens a lot in more experimental album music that we’d listen to, but the difference is we’ve kept that formula but made pop music.
Dominic: Laos we played with LCD Soundsystem the other day and their stage set-up is really weird. Because they don’t have individual monitors, they have it kind of all blaring towards them, and then they huddle and like party in the middle. That was really cool. But the way that we play is more of a continuation of how we would practise in this basement of the squat and we would just face each other because it was easier.
Simon: Saying that though when you’re on a tour like this…like our set-up tonight isn’t exactly how we’d like it but then the monitor’s are already set up and like, amps are positioned for the headline band so you can’t just grab all their s**t and move it.
Gary: It’s good to feed off each other when you’re playing as well. If you don’t know what the other person’s doing, it’ll be s**t…
Do you worry that people won’t take to it? That it’ll distance you too much?
Simon: I don’t think so, because people have been worried about that and with wearing the masks as well might distance us from the audience, but…Dominic: I think it draws people in more.
Gary: Yeah hopefully it draws people in and after a gig finishes, hopefully we’ll end up drinking with them.
Dominic: I think if you don’t worry about it then they won’t worry about it. If you just get on with it then people just accept it.
How do you like to see a crowd respond to you?
Simon: Tops off, tensing their muscles, just screaming.
Dominic: Making wolf noises in between songs!
Gary: It’s really weird ‘cos when you go and see a band that you really love… like most bands I see I’m just in awe of, and I’ll just stand there like just watching them. But when you’re on stage you hate that; you don’t want somebody just standing there looking at you, you want them to be dancing. But then bands I dance to it’s like, I don’t really know the songs, I don’t really care that much. It’s weird because like, the fans that maybe appreciate us more will just be watching.
Simon: It’s nice to see people like, standing away from the crowd just watching intently and listening. Then you can see them clapping between songs so you know they’re paying attention. The worse thing’s when someone’s on their mobile in the front row.
Gary: But then they could be saying it’s the best gig they’ve ever been to.
Simon: But you’ll never know.
Dominic: That’s why we face each other! Because as long as we’re having fun.
Simon: That’s it though because a lot of times, say if it’s a quiet night or something or if it’s busy, we don’t really look at anybody and after I’ll be like ‘was it good’ and they’ll be like ‘I don’t know I wasn’t looking.’
Gary: Yeah and our lighting guy loves us playing in the dark so a lot of the time we can’t see anything. And then when they do come up they’ll be f**king intense strobes so basically all I can really look at is my guitar and cues.
As part of the music industry and particularly as a new band, what sort of state do you think it’s in?
Gary: I think it’s slowly getting better. There’s a lot of really good music out there at the moment and the good thing is record companies have stopped signing s**t bands because they don’t have the money, so a lot of bands that want to make more out-there music are sticking around.
Dominic: Yeah I like the fact that there isn’t much money any more. Back in the day a major label was like Rambo firing a s**t load of bullets and seeing how many they could kill but now it’s like a sniper… [mimes a gun]. Like we’re not making music to make money and I think if there’s more bands doing it for the reasons we’re doing it then there’s going to be more integrity.
Simon: Because it would always be that if you got signed to a big label and you took your album to them they’d be like ‘no I don’t like that, it’s got to be more like this’…
Gary: …so all those songs you hear on the radio are going to be like, those McFly chord changes which sound nice…but now there’s only a few small, independent labels that give you a little bit of cash, enough to live on and not have to sign on any more, so that you can focus on making music.
Simon: Have you heard McFly’s new stuff? It’s actually really good. It’s gone really kind of…solid kick-drum and processed snares and stuff .
Dominic: They actually had some songs anyway back in the day. I know like people pigeonhole bands as s**t but they had some f**king big songs! It’s just, how can you get them to like four tweens…
Simon: There’s three in McFly!
Dominic: Danny, Dougie…
Dominic: …Harry and…
Dominic: Tom! Everyone knows McFly. ‘Do me Dougie style’ – that’s the poster I had.
He’s going out with one of The Saturdays, isn’t he?
Simon: Yeah and isn’t one of them going out with that girl with the Romany-Gypsy eyes off MTV?
Gary: Oh no she’s going out with Matt Willis from Busted.
Simon: It’s quite crazy that two people with the same name got together…
Dominic: No she was called Emma Griffiths.
Moving on, do you get frustrated when you’re a hard-working bands and then people come out of things like X Factor with this almost immediate success?
Simon: We f**king love X Factor.
Dominic: [Very excitedly] We met Kerri Arrindell! Do you remember Kerri Arrindell? She was the beautiful girl with the afro.
Simon: She went to Cheryl Cole’s house and she had an afro and she was from Birmingham.
Dominic: Not Gamu!
Simon: She went out the same day as Gamu.
Dominic: Because that was the big controversy when Gamu went out and no one even cared about Kerri!
Simon: Sorry, we really like X Factor.
No, no, go on!
Gary: So I was a big fan, I think she was my desktop picture for a while. And then we were playing Birmingham on this tour and one of our friends from Birmingham was like,’ can you put us on the list’, and we were like, ‘only if you get Kerri Arindell to come’.
Dominic: And she did! And then her Facebook status the next day was ‘had loads of fun with the boys from Is Tropical’!
[Simon shows me a picture of them with Kerri]
Simon: We’ve had a mad week. Look, we met the people from Justice [shows me a picture]. And we were on Gonzo this morning with Alexa Chung.
Dominic: So you’re the second person to interview us today and the first was Alexa Chung…
Oh well how can I follow that?!
Dominic: …you must hate interviewing bands when they’re just like, ‘ I love my life!’
[Simon’s still showing me pictures]
Simon: This is where we played in Paris. It was f**king huge.
Gary: To be honest I think it’s the biggest room I’ve ever seen in my life.
Dominic: They do Disney on Ice there. Billy Elliot on Ice would be good…
[Simon’s got back to another picture of Kerri]
Simon: There she is!
Dominic: She looks like a star doesn’t she? Like not even a normal human…a star.
Better than Katie…
Gary: Katie f**king Weasel
Simon: Hey…you don’t know her.
Dominic: If you did a couple of pills and met her I’m sure you’d love her!
Dominic: Massive fan.
Gary: I don’t like her! We’re split.
Dominic: She’s amazing. She gets her swag on every episode.
Is she trying too hard to be Lady Sovereign though?
Dominic: Yeah, yeah she is actually.
Gary: My favourite’s, Rachel. She won’t win though.
Simon: Oh yeah the really sweet Liverpudlian girl.
Simon: Yeah Rebecca.
Gary: Paije I think is wicked.
Did you know he’s from Reading? I’m from Reading
Simon: Did you two…?
Never knew him, didn’t even know he was from Reading until a few weeks ago.
Dominic: You must’ve hung out?!
Simon: Did you ever have a ‘thing’?
Simon: That sucks.
Dominic: Twitter that! ‘The girl interviewing us slept with Paije from X Factor and apparently he was really bad…’
Dominic: [laughing] I’m joking we won’t.
Am I right in thinking you used to squat?
Simon: Yeah when I first moved up to London I was squatting, then Gary came and joined in.
Gary has been looking for a bottle opener. Failing that, he opens a bottle of wine with a drum stick. Wine goes everywhere]
I've never seen someone open a bottle like that!
Gary: With a drum stick? Rock and roll.
Dominic: Squatting was why I lost my job so I had to get good at music.
What was your job?
Dominic: I used to do re-touching, on photogprahy.
Oh so a proper job?
Dominic: Yeah. And then I turned up with no shoes.
Gary: We used to have really big parties and Mystery Jets played one of our parties. One of the squats we had was really small and we had a basement, where actually we first started rehearsing, and we had the Foals play there.
Dominic: Not THE Foals, just Foals.
Simon: No but we did have the Foals play.
Dominic: We had Foals play.
Simon: Yeah but it's Stereophonics isn't it, but you'd say 'we had the Stereophonics play'
Dominic: No you wouldn't.
Simon: I would.
Dominic: Unless you were referring to them individually as people.
Dominic: That's good then. Let's go with that: 'the Stereophonics'.
The Stereophonics? In your basement?!
Simon: [laughs] just Kelly Jones on his own maybe
Dominic: The most annoying voice ever
Gary: I really like him. I think he's a good song-writer.
Dominic: So do you write for tangentinterviews.com/istropical?
Gary: Dom actually wants to try and transcribe this s**t
Dominic: £20 an hour in case you're interested. Just send me the .wav and I'll transcribe it for you.
Simon: He does it as a job.
Dominic: It's my side-project because I really love typing?
Simon: Yeah. Who did you do recently, Dom?
Gary and Dominic: Alesha Dixon.
Simon: He used to write the subtitles for TV
Dominic: Yeah that was my first job in London
Simon: Like live TV
Dominic: And Jeremy Kyle! I've done loads of Jeremy Kyle. If you watch episode 437, yeah, series 4 episode 37, I inserted the word 'coelacanths' into the middle of Jeremy Kyle's script
How's the album?
Simon: Done it.
Gary: Recorded it.
Simon: In, out, put the kettle on.
Gary: Yeah we recorded it recently
Dominic: With Jim Robinson in Hackney
Gary: Who's really good 'cos he's ordinarily a sound engineer. He did like Mystery Jets, Klaxons
Simon: The Big Pink, Plan B
Dominic: The Liberty X song
[Dom and Simon sing a little bit. I didn't ask them to, but I enjoyed it anyway]
Gary: And we were like, 'can you help us make an album?’ because we wanted to produce it ourselves but we didn't know how.
Simon: And he's more than an engineer, like he's been doing other people's work. He's like insanely the nicest guy to work with ever.
Dominic: He's not a PROducer...he's a BROducer. Put that in. Underline it and stuff.
And just out of interest, who are you listening to and really rating at the minute?
Gary: [pulling down his Crystal Fighters t-shirt] Crystal Fighters.
Dominic: [pulling down his tie-dye t-shirt] Err tie-dye
Simon: No they're not a band. It's a style.
Gary: Obviously Mystery Jets every night. Tribes.
Simon: Tribes are wicked
Gary: F**king amazing
Dominic: Lazer Sword
Simon: Egyptian Hip Hop
Gary: Did we say Teeth?
Simon: Taio Cruz.
Dominic: Big up Taio Cruz. He needs a little bit of a push actually.
He's fallen behind Jason Derulo a bit I feel.
[All nod and say 'yeah' a bit]
Dominic: I don't know why!
Maybe because Jason Derulo sings his own name.
Dominic: Yeah! [singing] Jason Deruloooo! Like that?
Simon: We've got a new song like that on the album. [sort of whispering and singing] Is Tropical...
What about festivals? Which did you do this year?
Simon: We did a few actually. Isle of Wight, V
Dominic: Field Day and Underage
Simon: Field Day, Truck
You did Underage?! That's one of my favourite festivals I've been to.
Gary: It's a wicked festival
Simon: Good vibe
Dominic: Everyone gets so into the music and stuff
[Tribes are close to finishing on stage and so my time with Is Tropical is pretty much up]
Dominic: Quick Rosie! Last question!
Err... is the world going to end in 2012?!
Gary: Yeah of course.
Simon: Absolutely not.
Dominic: A civilisation which based their whole millennium calendar on a piece of stone must be accurate…so I'm saying yes.
A huge thank you to Is Tropical for their time, and to Giovanna for arranging the interview. You can find out more about Is Tropical here:
and the excellent video mentioned in the interview for South Pacific can be seen here: Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Interview by Rosie