Power Trio Bares All, But, Please, Don't Objectify Them.
London’s Is Tropical are guerrilla warriors fighting for real music. They’re battling for substance over image in a world that can barely remember a time before the Lana Del Reys gripped music in their manicured, airbrushed paws. That’s why they started covering their faces with what looked like pieces of old curtains. You see, they wanted to keep the focus on their bold electro rock and away from any of their other charms. (But we have learned they’ve been abandoning the masks of late, and the trio is happy to report it’s working out okay.)
This might make them sound like they aren’t any fun, but that’s really not the case. Their aim, after all, was to draw serious attention to some of the most mammoth hooked, fist-pumping pop songs this side of the Ice Age. If that sounds like a contradiction, you’ll find even more on their Kitsuné-released debut album Native To, which combines raw rock energy, sweet melodies, and esoteric lyrics into something well-worth focusing on. But what is it?
Brainy, hard driving electropop? Catchy, uplifting dance punk? Before their Brooklyn date with Crystal Fighters, guitarist/vocalists Simon and Gary and drummer Dom sat down with us and sorted it all out. The conversation was often tongue-in-cheek but always enlightening. Read on if you’ve ever wondered what was under those floral scarves.
So, you’re not wearing the masks on stage anymore?
Gary: It’s kind of a more recent decision to de-mask. Yeah, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass. It started off as a kind of ritual and now we’re so close we don’t need one.
Dom: We kind of ran out of answers to the question “Why do you wear masks on stage.” That was part of it. My favorite one was “Nobody questions Andrew Lloyd Webber for making his cast dress up as cats.”
Simon: Also, some people thought we were standoffish when we were wearing the masks. After a show we love to chat with people, we’re real social. So now we’ve played a couple of shows without masks and we’re more engaged.
Why did you start wearing them?
Gary: Originally, it was because we wanted it to be about the music. We didn’t want to be …
Simon: Poster boys. You see a lot of frontmen are just pouting their lips and trying to make eyes with girls and it’s just horrible to watch.
Gary: We wanted to just separate ourselves from that, so we wore the masks.
Did they work?
Simon: Some people focused on it too much.
Dom: We tried to get away from the artifice but then it became a bit of artifice in itself.
Gary: It created a theatrical kind of atmosphere when we played live. And seeing that as an image there’s an air of mystery to it. People were intrigued by it. It worked in the early days.
Simon: I guess it’s like we’re a girl and a guy is talking to our breasts and we want them to stop.
Dom: Hello! My eyes are up here!
So, to bring the focus to your music, how is songwriting going?
Dom: We actually know how to do it now, which is good.
Gary: We’re just writing constantly at the moment.
Simon: We’ve got tons of new ideas. At this point maybe twenty new songs that we’ve demo-ed. And we want now like a producer to have a kind of vision for it. And after this American tour we’re going to pretty much go straight into the studio.
Dom: We want to find our Phil Spector. The good thing about songwriting so far is that in the beginning we didn’t know exactly what it was going to turn out like. We were just taking little bits from all of our influences and the three of us have such broad influences that after we made the record we still weren’t sure what it was. Now that we sort of know the basics of writing a song and know what works from playing live it’s a lot easier.
Simon: Certain bits that you wouldn’t think would work, like this one part where it breaks down to just the bass. In a demo that’s really boring but live that’s the part in the song where everybody goes nuts.
So now that you know how to get what you want, are you trying to write a certain kind of song?
Gary: Pop’s always been it. Uplifting chord progressions.
Dom: Music that will stay on people’s computers for years.
Simon: And it’s weird because we have quite a weird idea of pop. I’ll write something that I think is really pop and I’ll play it to a friend and I’ll be like that’s really pop isn’t it? And he’ll be like, “no.” And you’ll think of ideas in your head that are really cheesy and you’ll go “no, I can’t do that.” Like, I don’t know how people got away with soft rock in the ’70s.
And yet people are kind of nostalgic for that stuff now.
Dom: The only reason people are nostalgic about music though is that they don’t know what’s coming next. They just want something they already like because you don’t know what the next thing you’re going to like is. If you don’t know that your favorite record is going to come out in a year from now, you’re like “Oh, man, music is dead.”
Are you optimistic about the future of music?
Dom: Of course! You might as well be a covers band if things aren’t moving forward.
Gary: Imagine back a hundred years ago, like, a bard with a flute. If he thought that was the limit of music we would be fucked.
What do you guy’s hope people do at your shows? Do you want people to dance?
Dom: Make out with your girlfriend. Don’t worry about it. Look, someone could be standing there at the show staring at a mobile phone and you go “Oh, what a prick,” but he could be tweeting “This is the best day of my life.”
Simon: To be honest with you, when we play a show and the crowd is going crazy, there’s nothing better than that. And people come to a live show because they want to have a good time. It sounds cheesy, but our job is to make sure it happens. And sometimes you have to give them a little bit of cheese. You’ve got to warm them up like “Hello Brooklyn!”
What do you draw on for the lyrics? They remind me of old legends.
Dom: There are a couple of our new demos based on myths. They’re just really symbolic stories, aren’t they?
Simon: Yeah, we we’re playing in the south of France and there was this cove. And our girlfriends were there as well. And I was having sex with my girlfriend in this cave that was by the sea. And when we got back we asked about it at dinner and they were like “Oh, yeah, that’s called Lovers’ Cove.” There’s these two rocks there and there we’re these two young teenagers that went there to have sex and the tide came in and killed them.
Dom: And those rocks, that’s their fossilized graves, that’s what they say. We’ve got a new song about that.
Gary: I think it’s good to talk about myths. And we’ve got a couple songs about history as well.
Simon: You know Fela Kuti, the singer that had his own state and he had that big song in the ’80s called “Zombie.” Our song “Zombies” is kind of like an homage to him.
And he’s kind of a mythic figure. You like to draw on things that are larger than life?
Gary: Yeah, and locations. Like “South Pacific.”
Simon: I mean songs that are like someone telling you about how they went to the shops and bought some beer or something like that. There’s only so much you can do with that.
Gary: If you tell someone a story that’s a bit more fantastical it takes their brain to a better place.
You have these messy aspects of your music and then you have these tight pop melodies. Is that something you are going for? Are you trying to strike a balance?
Dom: Classic pop music is always messy. The Ronettes sound ridiculous. The quality is awful, but that’s what makes it so classic. So, you try and do that. It feels real when something’s not too perfect.
So, what happens then when you get really good?
Dom: It’s never going to happen. We’re incapable of being too good.
Simon: We’re punk at heart. In the sense that we can’t get our shit together. But we really like pop melodies. My iTunes is pretty embarrassing.
Gary: There’s a lot of bands that try to avoid it but I think they’re only shooting themselves in the foot. Because if they do something that they know a lot of people are going to like then they want to revert back to something that’s more underground. People are scared of big hooks and I don’t think they should be.
Dom: If you’re going to make music you might as well try to write the best song ever, right?