We sat down with old friend, product developer, and righteous music virtuoso Tomas Barfod for a chat about his stint in LA and his choice new, Dazed& Confused-approved album, ‘Salton Sea’.
If you don’t know who the great Dane Tomas Barfod is you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. As we’ve mentioned countless times on this blog, Tomas Barfod is the Scandinavian, musical jack of all trades who masters pretty much everything he puts his astoundingly skilled, creative mind to. Head of booking at the Distortion Festival? Check. Drummer and Producer in Whomadewho? Check. Perpetually smiling, down-to-earth musical wunderkind who finds the time to help us develop our products and answer all kinds of annoying emails that we constantly throw his way in the process? Check, microphone check 1.
As some of you may know, Tomas has a new album out, which has very deservedly received praising accolades from all the right tastemaking media (The Fader, Dazed & Confused and, yes, Pitchfork among them) and this is no fluke; 'Salton' Sea is a soaring, adventurous, thoroughly crafted and beguilingly honest pop record that draws inspiration from the Blade Runner universe and looks to synth-legend Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou AKA Vangelis for sonic cues. It’s a bit of a departure for the producer who’s previously been inclined to rock the floor with straight up 4/4 and warped yet pounding disco basslines but now ventures into more pop-ambient, everso slightly conceptual territory with an album that dares to be both different and universally appealing at the same time.
We fired a few questions at Tomas, which brought about a conversation involving Blade Runner, the increasing accessibility of state of the art music technology and wearing his ‘yes’ hat in LA.
AIAIAI: Tomas, I’ll start by asking you what everyone wants to know: how’s it going in LA?
Tomas Barfod: Well, the thing is that I’m back home here in Denmark again (laughs). But yeah, it’s been a good time. It went really well and it’s been a lot of fun and very intense in terms of actually making music. I almost didn’t play live for 6 months while I was there. I did, of course, play the odd small gig here and there, but compared to how I would play 2-3 shows a week at home in Europe, it been so much more focused on making music. And then I’ve said yes to everything, which has resulted in a lot of fun, cool projects with a wide array of weird and interesting people.
A: You did stuff with some LA-based hip hop producers, right?
TB: Yeah, I collaborated with a guy from The Pack called Young L - and worked on his album. Actually, I collaborated with a lot of other people as well, which has been a lot of fun. On top of that, It’s been great in terms of finding a new market with the Friends of Friends label… All in all, I‘ve made a lot of weird pop music with a lot of different people.
A: So you’ve basically taken a lot of different projects on and let them take their course?
TB: Yes, you might say that I’ve had my ‘yes’ hat on (Tomas points to his python printed ball cap).
A: Hah, nice. Word on the street is that you’re no longer part of the Copenhagen Distortion team. Are you completely out of the equation?
TB: I don’t work for Distortion anymore, but I do get a lot of mails from people who want to get booked for it, which I just forward. But I guess I’m part of it in the sense that I’m playing there this year. And I’m also a friend of the house, as it were, and part of it in that way… but work-wise I don’t have anything to do with the festival anymore.
A: Do you miss it?
TB: Well…That was actually one of the reasons that I went to the States: to clean out my many projects and focus on the music. I’m not involved in Tartelet Records anymore and I’m no longer a consultant for Carlsberg, and so on. It was nice to get things in perspective and focus on what’s important. Of all the projects I was involved in three years ago, it’s only AIAIAI that remains.
A: So you made a conscious decision to focus on your music?
TB: Exactly, because it’s easy to waste your career doing a lot of other things than the ones you’re supposed to be doing. The thing is also that you just have to be really good these days when it comes to music. You can’t get away with doing half-assed things when everyone can make something on their laptops, you know? That’s the reason that I only have my producer gigs, Whomadewho, and AIAIAI right now. And that’s actually four – or 5 - things (laughs).
A: Yeah, I was going to say, it doesn’t sound like you’ve cleaned things out that much. Even if it is just the music, you still play a lot of different roles. Do you ever have a hard time drawing the line between the different projects?
TB: When it comes to Whomadewho versus my other stuff, I do sometimes go:’that’s way too Whomadewho’. And sometimes when I’m with the Whomadewho boys, and I’ve made a track where the boys are singing on it, I think we shouldn’t release it, which has to do with the fact that we should use the full potential that comes with being in a band. If you take the new album, all of the tracks have something in them, which signifies that we’re a live band. There are a lot of electronic elements, but there’s always some detail, which convinces you that the track couldn’t have been done on just the laptop. Vice versa, I’m not going to make a track that has a disco groove with bass on my own album. Having said that, I do use both Jeppe and Thomas (from Whomadewho) on my own stuff – it is, for example Jeppe that sings on ‘Broken Glass’.
A: Really? I thought that was you.
TB: Maybe that’s because that’s what they said on The Fader. But it’s actually him. Poor Jeppe, he always gets overlooked (laughs). To make matters worse, he’s actually credited on the album and everything, so there’s no doubt whatsoever. But I guess it could have been me because most of it is made on a computer. He just sang one note and then I drew the melody in a computer programme.
A: Alright, let’s talk about your new album. Could you tell us a bit about how ‘Salton Sea’ materialized ?
TB: I think it actually started a long time ago. My last album was in 2007 and I’ve wanted to release something since then. I’ve put out some records on Get Physical and I did a bunch of other stuff, but nothing in the way of an actual album. However, then I talked to the Friends of Friends label before I moved to LA. At first we talked about making an EP. Then all of a sudden, I started saying: ’hey, why don’t we just release an album?`, which they agreed to and that made everything fall into place. It took a long time to find the right vocals, but when I did it the whole thing happened quite quickly. When I made the album I didn’t sit down for 6 months and make one of track after another specifically for the album. It happened quite sporadically, taking in bits here and there, which you can probably hear.
A: So you didn’t have a set idea of how you wanted the album to sound before you started making it?
TB: I would put it this way: I usually have an overall idea of direction before I embark on a project. Something or other that inspires me. That can be a track or just a general idea in my head. But the way I realize the project is often quite random and happenstance. I guess that I wanted the sound to be placed somewhere between pop, house, techno and electronica with elements of live instruments, which I’ve always been fond of using.
A: And influences and inspirations? Has living in LA influenced the sound on Salton Sea?
TB: Definitely. Living in LA has been a huge inspiration in so many ways. And working with a new label has provided a fair amount of inspiration too…A lot of the European labels I’ve worked with are about club music, which means that I’ve had to adjust my music to a club concept. For example when I made tracks they had to have a certain tempo. And even though all the labels I've worked with are super cool and very open to everything there is a sense that you have to work within a somewhat very narrow category. That’s the reason that working with Friends of Friends has inspired me; they release all over the place – there’s dubstep, hip hop, etc. Everything is possible.
A: Are Americans more eclectically minded than Europeans these days?
TB: I really think they are. For example, when I had my release party at Echoplex in LA the guy that was on before me dropped everything from dubstep to weird underground ambient sounds – I don’t even know what you call it, actually – and it was really interesting to see how it was totally cool with people that there was a huge shift in tempo from one minute to the next. Everyone kept dancing. To be honest, I don’t think you can do that in Europe to the same degree.
A: Are there any specific musical references in Salton Sea?
TB: Yes, I would have to say that Vangelis has been a big inspiration. I still think Blade Runner is an awesome movie – the ‘cold’, melancholy universe of that movie has had a major effect on me - and I actually think that you get that same feel or atmosphere when you drive around in certain parts of the US. Salton Sea is actually named after an abandoned holiday resort, so that whole alienated, abandoned vibe is something, which has been an inspiration for the album. I guess you could say that the vibe is contained in Blade Runner. The soundtrack is amazing and the movie is incredible. That’s all there is to say about that, really. It’s definitely been one of my biggest sources of inspiration for Salton Sea.
A: Nice. Blade Runner is epic. Could you talk a bit about your upcoming projects?
TB: There’s quite a bit of pop in the works – and some urban stuff. Some it is going to be very good and some of it I don’t really want to talk too much about, to be honest with you, but there’s a lot of very different projects in the works…
A: Tomas, thanks for talking to us.
TB: Don’t mention it.