Is Tropical - Interviews - Soundblab

Is Tropical

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Richard Morris catches up with kind-of-indie, kind-of-dance London band Is Tropical to talk about squat parties, being approached by Russian oligarchs and the hotness of Justin Bieber.

Is Topical are sitting in their tour bus. It's pretty cramped in here, not a little untidy and the only source of light comes from the street lights outside. There's also the slightly irksome fact the van's alarm keeps going off every few minutes or so. No one quite knows how to turn if off. After several attempts, during which we all decamp from the van while alternate members of the band clamber into the driver's seat and fiddle about, we give up and decide to conduct the interview as best we can. In fact, the sound of the alarm ends up being only a minor nuisance since Is Tropical are more than happy to talk right over it. And talk and talk. This is a band with a lot to say. Right now, sat in their van outside the Cockpit in Leeds city centre and getting ready to play before New Young Pony Club, they're enthusing about what they're getting out of being the support band. In keeping with the sunny disposition implied by their chosen name, Is Tropical, you quickly realise, are a band that can put a positive spin on anything.

Simon (keys, guitar, bass, vocals, talks fast like he's got several ideas percolating in his head at once): There's a lot to learn from being the support band because a lot of it you have to do quick.

Dom (drums, sports a samurai top-knot, doesn't seem to be quite of this planet): You understand your place in terms of the crowd. So we play for ourselves anyway, but kind of do that a little bit more. And it being road-tested and (making) little changes and tweaking it is really fun, because there's not that much pressure.

Gary (plays the same stuff as Simon, often seems to have some sort of telepathic link with him): These are gig venues. As soon as the bands have finished the night's over whereas beforehand we were playing clubnights so it'd be, like, a Friday or a Saturday and as soon as we finished people would stand around and dance.

Simon: The thing about this is hopefully we're at the transitional stage of going from playing clubnights to playing proper gigs. It's hard for me to get round because in London, every gig I go to the first band's on at 10 but it's a lot different at actual gig nights. It's like 6 o'clock and the main band's on at nine or something so it's really strange.

Such career-minded thinking might seem at odds with Is Tropical's image (they hide their faces behind multi-coloured bandanas on stage and often look like they're poised to dive into the crowd, either for a mosh or a scuffle), but actually they've always thought big, even when they didn't have the proverbial two pence to rub together.

A few years ago Simon and Gary were squatting around London and, enterprising chaps that they are, used the spaces they called home to host huge parties and talent-attracting live music nights.

Simon: Me and Gary were squatting in different big warehouses and places where we threw parties and brought lots of bands to play. One of the places that Gary left actually, we had the Foals playing in the basement and we had Mystery Jets. We had some really good parties and stuff and then it just got quite hard but I'm still squatting now. It's really hard.

Gary: It's dingy. (Laughs)

Simon: Yeah, it's dingy. It's pretty grim at the moment. The winter's the worst time for it.

Gary: It's like there's massive ups and downs with it, because one moment you're living in a five million pound warehouse, which is ridiculous, and the next month there's five of you to one room, all huddling round a little heater.

Simon: I used to sleep inside a tent inside a room with my friend. Just me and him cuddled up, shivering away throughout the whole winter.

Has it influenced your sound?

Gary: No, I think it's just given us a lot more time to be able to do things. If you have to pay rent in London you have to work five or six days a week.

Simon: I think we're definitely not a 'squat band'.

Gary: Yeah, we're not political in that sort of sense. If someone was like, 'Oh, you can stay round my house for free' then we wouldn't be squatting. We would just go in their house for free. It's just the whole free element that's the best.

One way in which squatting has possibly influenced Is Tropical's music, however, is the communal spirit such living often engenders. More than any band since Klaxons, Is Tropical are about the crossover between indie and dance. On songs like debut single 'When O When', with its sea shanty-meets bedroom electro sound, they position themselves right at the meeting point between those two often segregated genres and let whatever mess and glory happens, just happen. A clear indicator of this is that fact that, despite the bass-drums-guitar set up on several of their songs, Is Tropical are very comfortable with people dancing at their gigs.

Simon: Even if an audience is dancing and not clapping, that doesn't bother me, I think its better.

Gary: We had a gig a while ago in Bristol where we started playing and everyone was dancing around and going pretty nuts. We thought 'Ah, this is amazing'. As soon as the song finished it was just silent. We were like 'Fuck!'

Dom: It was like we were a DJ and there was a gap between two songs which felt kind of good cos it was a different kind of thing.

Simon: They just wanted to dance and party, they weren't the kind of crowd who stand and clap

Do you think of your music as dance music?

Dom: When I'm playing it, when I'm playing it, definitely.

Simon: There are so many different types of music and dance is in there. Personally, I want it to go more that way, the way that you'll be able to have a song that, if the DJ's like 'OK I'll play this' instead of being, 'Oh no, I won't play this, it's too bandy, it's too kinda indie'.

Dom: Wet.

Simon: It's definitely an amalgamation of different genres. We're not constraining ourselves to one particular sound. So we write a song and it might not sound quite like the other stuff we've written, that doesn't stop us from developing it as a song and thinking it's as valid as anything else. Because you get some people who, like, they make dance music and if they wrote something that wasn't particularly that way inclined they would scrap it as a song.

Gary: We're influenced by a lot of things. We've written some piano ballads and stuff but we kind of have those demoed but we'd never play it live. But that doesn't mean that we wouldn't have it and say that it's one of our songs.

Simon: I think when it comes to an album, that's important as well. You don't want to listen to 12 songs in a row that have exactly the same sound. Tempo shift and stuff is really important.

Dom: I've got ADD, so if you play loads of different kinds of music, you're always entertained by yourself. And if you're playing nearly every day for three months and you've got a varied set then you can enjoy different bits and the dynamic's always changing which is good.

Simon: Just take some Ritalin, whatever it is. (Laughter)

So do you seek to make yourselves happy first?

All: Yeah.

Gary: But I think it is important to… not tailor your songs to your audience, but also have some kind of relationship.

Dom: But I think if people listen to your music and they recognise that you've made that music out of feeding your own love of music that they're more likely to genuinely want to take that song on board then if it's like, 'Well, this song was obviously written to feel like that'. Cos it's more interesting to get on someone else's vibe than to feel like you're just being pandered to, which is kind of the same thing with the masks (which) is we're not out there going-

Gary: 'Oh, please have a good time, c'mon, c'mon.'

Simon: At the same time we don't want to alienate our audience.

Why the masks, boys?

Gary: It's to go against the other bands who kind of pose a lot.

Simon: It's just to create an air of mystery about the band and, as well, it's so that people aren't just stood there looking at a face, they're actually listening to the music as opposed to just people's expressions of whatever.

Gary: As a group, we kind of not so much feed off the audience, as most bands do, we kind of-

Simon: Feed off each other. (Laughter)

Does it mean you don't get recognised on the street?

Dom: At the gig yesterday, I was walking behind Gary and we were going to get the DVD out of the projector, and a girl went to her dad 'I just saw his face but you were too late!' (Laughter)

Gary: It also helps if you have a bad gig. (Laughter) I know if you're trying to get noticed it's a bit of a bad state of affairs to be in.

Simon: If you do want to be noticed, just keep the mask on.

Dom: The logical extension would be, if we don't want to get recognised, just sell blindfolds and then we won't have to wear masks. (Laughter) See - lateral! Lateral! You know in festivals where they've got, like, the Brain Machine? And you put those things on with, like, LEDs, and you close your eyes and they project stuff. (Blank faces and WTF expressions all round) Oh, it might be out of a dream! I always do that as well.

Do you feel like a 'London band'?

Gary: What, bands that when people watch you they just stand there looking glum? (Laughter) I dunno, I guess because we're formed in London, we've played a lot in London…

Simon: I think it's a bit less important, you know, the whole Manchester/London, kind of, Blur/Oasis-y thing. There's like four hours drive between you - what the fuck is that? It's not like New York music. I'm not like 'What? They're fucking miles away! They're so different'. I'm not fussed. I wouldn't want to be pigeonholed.

Dom: Anything which categorises music holds it back a little bit. And if you say you're a London band or a Manchester band, all you're doing is joining a little gang. It means nothing.

Simon: We went away with Egyptian Hip Hop. (The two bands toured together in February. Check the Features sections for Soundblab's live review and interview with EHH) Obviously, they're from Manchester and we're from London, but we got on fine. We really like each other's music. But I think it's mainly the print press of music that likes to pigeonhole you and give you a name.

EHH hate the Manchester band thing. It seems like if a band's a Manchester band they've got to be gray and miserable, and if a band's a London band they've got to be flashy and glamorous. Whereas you have an anti-image-

Dom: (Interrupting) I suck at being fashionable! (Laughter) I'm really bad at it! I try really hard. My samurai top-knot, I'm trying to bring that in.

People could adopt that.

Dom: You never know, yeah. When you're this ahead of the curve-

Gary: Six months for them to catch up, mate (laughter).

So how's it been since the 'When O When' single release?

Gary: Yeah, really good. We're really busy now. When we finish this tour, pretty much straight away we go on tour with Good Shoes and The Big Pink and then (there're) a lot of festival type things coming up.

Dom: A couple of gigs abroad and a festival in France. This guy from Russia asked us to go play. (Laughter) This like really rich Russian guy came to the gig in Manchester and he was like 'Yeah, do you wanna come to a gig in Moscow?'

Gary: We're on the cover of some Russian magazine. There's Russian everywhere and a picture of us. I haven't got a clue what it says.

Dom: It's called like (gibbers some nonsense Russian-sounding words). You know how they use those weird letters? It's like that. And there's one that looks like a house. And then a backwards 'R'.

What's next?

Gary: We're recording as soon as we finish this tour. Couple of in-store gigs. The gaps in between tours are only like two days. We've got to really schedule our time well. It's gonna be full-on work.

Simon: Trying to write as well in between stuff is quite tricky but even now we've got our laptops in the bus. We're trying to be as productive as we can in between playing so many shows. It is really overpowering when you've got this many shows on. Every day, even if you get a day off, you're just so knackered.

Gary: And also we've got a French EP about to be released in summertime with probably a big gig around it. There's going to be a bit of a dancier side to us.

Simon: It's not finalisedyet.

Dom: It'll probably be online as well.

You have a very varied sound. Who would you site as influences?

Gary: The thing is we listen to pretty much anything and everything. And it changes, like if a new band comes out (we) go 'Wow, this is good', and from that you can realise that different things are possible. But we haven't got one influence for the whole band. We don't want to really pigeonhole ourselves.

Dom: In the van one day we'll listen to loads of gangster rap, the next day we'll listen to hardcore dance.

Gary: Or a bit of r'n'b.

Simon: Garage.

Gary: Old rock music.

Simon: But I think most people are like that now. I don't think everybody just listens to one thing and that one thing only.

Dom: I think music tastes have gone further from being like 'Oh, ok, I like this kind of music' (and) more to having your own kind of varied thing, so it's more individual, it's like you can pick and choose.

Simon: I even recognise that from the radio. The other day, we had Heart FM on and they were playing like Kings of Leon and stuff and then they put on Michael Buble (laughter).

Gary: I think pop music itself has got really, really good again because it's been shit for a while but was it this week you had Cheryl Cole and Rihanna and they're all really, really good.

Dom: Even the stuff that a few years ago, you'd be like 'that's manufactured tosh' (but) it's like they've got a good formula now.

Are there any bands you admire and feel a kinship with in terms of attitude?

Gary: We're on tour at the moment with a band called Teeth and I really, really like what they do and also they're really great people.

Simon: I suppose friends and other bands that are level to us that we kind of listen to more. Not for influence but because to admire they way they're doing it because they're in the position (where) they haven't got a big label behind them (saying) 'You have to do this or produce this artwork'. It's all very self-contained at this sort of level which I think is maybe the most fun element.

Dom: The most fun level to be at.

Simon: When you get bigger than that, that's when other people's outside influence starts changing your ideas. I think that's important: if you show them at an early stage that what you want to do is what you want to do, then they're not going to feel that they've got so much scope.

Do you think you will resist outside influences?

Dom: I'm the opposite. I take too much on. So if I'm trying to make a demo at home, between two (different versions) it'll just sound so completely, ridiculously different.

Where are your favourite places to play?

Dom: I really like Glasgow. I think it just seems like far away.

Gary: I really like the gig you said about in Leeds (at Nation of Shopkeepers). I just think the people were really good. It is quite a rarity, if you turn up and someone doesn't know you and then to actually get a good reaction and people just being nice. That was a nice show.

Simon: For the actual look of the venue, it would be the Deaf Institute in Manchester. It's got thousand pound wall paper or something like that.

Dom: Thekla was a good one. It's in a boat in Bristol. It doesn't sound like you're on a boat but apparently it's like floating and everything. The dressing room's weird though because there's a bilge pump. (Laughter)

What do you really hate in music right now?

Gary: I want to say a band but I think we might end up meeting them soon. (After much prompting) Oh, all right - I fucking hate Biffy Clyro.

Dom: I could say I don't like Justin Bieber's music but he's hot! (Much laughter. We think he's joking, people. Don't write in!) I don't hate him at all but you know when someone gets raved about so much and you can't really see it. Even when I hear him come on the radio I'm not like 'I fucking can't stand the song!' or anything I just can't see where it's coming from or what people see in him.

Gary: You really like Mumford and Sons though, don't you?

Dom: Oh yeah. No! (More laughter)

Simon: I guess you can make a positive out of anything. There's got to be something good from every song.

Gary: Even if it's just a certain sound in a song you don't like.

Dom: As long as someone's enjoying it, it's fine, isn't it?

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