With three EPs and several singles under his belt, William aka Tourist has thrown everything he’s got into his music. His songs speak with rhythm and relatability and with a Grammy in his grasp he still quite calmly remains more humble as ever. Writing music for people who don’t dance – he focuses solely on the art of storytelling, narrating his world into a musical tapestry – with this maestro harnessing the sounds of life to help narrate his vivid productions. He’s co-written tracks with some of the biggest in the game, laying the foundations for his critically acclaimed album U that was released last May. William has been touring this beast globally since it’s inception, so as we impatiently wait for Laneway Festival to commence, we saw it only fair to delve into the musical Tourist to see what he’s packing for his upcoming Laneway shows.
I’m going to start back at the beginning. How old were you when you first started making music?
I think I was probably about 10 or 11. My earliest memories are musical ones really. I remember we had a piano in our house when I was a kid. My parents didn’t really tell me to go play it. I just used to be fascinated by it really. I was doing that when I was about 7 or 8. When I turned 10, I think computers were good enough to run music software that allows you to sit and record things. That was awhile ago, now. I’m 29, so almost 20 years ago.
Back when computers were running on DOS.
What was your first attempt at music like? How does it measure up against your most recent works?
Ha – I can’t even remember them. I was listening to a lot of trip hop and Portishead along with a little bit of Daft Punk. Forever trying to make music that sounded like that, though it definitely didn’t. I imagine it would have been some kind of moody, 90’s dance music or something like that.
Your album tells an ever familiar story of two people going their separate ways. What made you want to venture in this direction?
I think, naively, I didn’t think an album could be anything but a truthful story. I don’t know why, I was just like, “Okay cool, I’m going to make something that’s narrative based around my life and went for it.” I was listening to albums that were very story based so I think for whatever reason I thought, “Alright, I’ll write an album about my relationship.” I don’t think I had a choice, I decided upon it quite early and I committed to it. I didn’t do it because everyone could relate to this and it’ll sell lots and lots, but maybe it reached at something that was honest and hopefully that appeals to people.
What was the most memorable experience you had making “U”?
I think it was finishing it, actually, though I do believe nothing’s ever finished, it’s abandoned. I think the other feeling was it being out in the world. I woke up one morning and I was like, “Wow, this is now out there for people.” Which was a lovely feeling because it’s not mine anymore, it’s the worlds. I try and reflect on lessons you might learn while writing music and hopefully it makes you a better and more enriched being. At the moment I think the two things that really resonated in me was the gratification of finishing something and then the strange feeling of gifting it to the world when it’s released. Those are the two things that really stood out to me.
They’re exciting emotions to be experiencing. As long as its not regret. That’s probably one you want to be clear of.
You sit and you pour yourself into your work and you try and make something that is honest and not submit down to the level of cliché or cheapening yourself. You try to do something where your motivations are quite pure and that’s all good, but I think there’s just a strange feeling of finishing something. I’ve never worked this hard before so it’s quite nice to sit down and do my hardest work when I really need to.
Over to your epic Grammy win with “Stay With Me.” What was the first thought that ran through your head when they called you out and does it still blow your mind when you see the Grammy?
I try to detach myself a little bit from that because it only means something to people who believe that Grammys are important. Why is a Grammy important? It’s an accolade. Accolades are great but there are kids at school who had all their medals out on their shelves. I always thought they were a bit weird. I don’t ever aim for medals. A Grammy doesn’t provide me with the answers I need. It doesn’t allow me to walk backstage at any club, it doesn’t give me infinite amounts of money and wisdom, it’s just an accolade that is decided by the music industry. So when I think of it in those terms I think, “Wow, it’s a nice compliment” but I try to downplay it. Maybe it is a bit ridiculous that I have one. When you’re there, it’s the most important thing in the room! You get a bit Kanye about it all. “What does it mean? It’s just a medal.” I know people with many, many more Grammys than me that make music I don’t like and I know people with no Grammys that make music that’s much better, in my opinion. I always try to put it in perspective, it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s funny that a song I wrote became so popular. That’s what’s strange to me. It doesn’t hold the answers though and it’s not a crystal ball.
You just remixed Christine and the Queens’ “St. Claude.” How did that come about? What do you look for in a remix?
Hahaha – They asked. They just said, “Hey, do you want to remix this? We’d love you too.” And I was like, “Absolutely.” I get asked to remix a lot and this was one I had to say yes to. I don’t really say yes to many. I think people may feel I’m a bit picky on that front. When it comes to deciding what to do with a remix, it has to be very very different from my own music. It has to be something where I can feel I can contribute otherwise there’s no point for me to do a remix. I don’t do a remix for the money, I just do it for the pleasure of doing a remix. I think that’s a very privileged position to be in. Maybe I won’t always be in that position but it allows me to work on things that I really like so I try to work with people who aren’t in my realm of things and maybe people whose voice would never normally sit on my music. I really enjoyed remixing that song because it’s such a beautiful song. The process making it was really great also.
Your music heavily features sounds recorded through your day to day life. How do you narrow down recordings that you take?
I don’t discriminate as to what’s an interesting sound. I like the sounds of life. The sounds of walking in the forest or being on the beach. I think those are quite interesting sounds. I do a lot of recording on my phone and I tend to go through those sounds periodically and I’ll find stuff. The Christine and the Queens remix – I went for a walk with my girlfriend in the forest in the beginning of it there with the sound of birds in the forest so I thought I’d use that. These life sounds add context to things.
What’s the weirdest sound you’ve incorporated into your music?
I genuinely don’t know the answer to that, there’s so many it’s unanswerable. “Weird” maybe taken out of context on this one, but there are footsteps in the beginning of “U.” This is the sound of me walking away from my ex because I was so pissed off with her. I was like, “Right, I’m going to record this and make a piece of music.”
Is music always going to be your trade or can you see yourself diversifying into something different?
Music still gives me the most amount of closure on anything in life and enables me to create sounds that influence the way I think and feel. I’m so privileged to be able to do it. I work quite hard and the goal is when you work hard at something you strive to become less shit at it. I would love for it to be my job for the rest of my life. I would consider myself one of the luckiest men alive if I got to. It’s not boring yet, so when it gets boring maybe I’ll try something else. Maybe I’ll become a chef but at the time music is my favourite thing.
You’re playing in New Zealand for Laneway at the moment, what do you have in store for us and how will your set differ now that you have a full-length album?
About May last year I started playing the new album show which is longer and has more of a story to it. Much of the music is actually from my record. What people can expect is the “Tourist” album show which is a bit more narrative-driven, it’s not just me playing songs it’s more of a story about what I’m about musically. I’ll play my songs and there’ll be some flashy lights. Hopefully, people will enjoy it.
Catch Tourist live at Laneway Festival 2016, and grab tickets here before they sell-out.