After loving latest single ‘Drifting Off In A Care Powered Balloon’ – and admiring him from afar for what seems like forever – TMB finally caught up with current obsession Tony Njoku to discuss his unique brand of flitting balladry in flux, his new single, and what the future holds:
Hi Tony! How are you doing?
I’m well thanks, currently listening to the new Iglooghost record. It’s lovely. I’m such a beat head at the moment.
You just released your new single ‘Drifting Off In A Care Powered Balloon’. How’s the response been – and is it a taster of an upcoming album?
It’s been great – a lot of lovely messages from friends and listeners, and have gotten a few positive reviews already. And yes yes, this and ‘In All Its Glory’ are on a new project coming out somewhen next year.
Talk us through your creative process. How do you write your music? Live, it sounds a little improvised or more fluid. How do you decide which ideas to fix on record?
That’s always such a broad question to answer! Regarding how I decide what goes on the recordings, it’s really trial and error. Like with ‘Drifting’, it started off as an 8-9 minute arpeggio and Wurlitzer improv. Then I sang over 5 minutes of it and added various other instruments and sounds; then began cutting things out and adding little details ‘til I got what you hear now. And my live thing does have a lot of improv going on, but I like to set the parameters so it can’t just go anywhere, there’s a definite end to the song or a chorus I have to prepare for. I can’t just play terrible piano solos all through the show.
“I think what I’m trying to do is find meaning rather than make it.”
And regarding my creative process, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and what I think I’m trying to do is find meaning rather than make meaning. With ‘Glory’ I said it was this ‘unearthing or excavating of my inner character’ and that’s very much the same with ‘Drifting’. When I look back at those tracks there’s a clear sense of what I was feeling and where I was at mentally. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you at the time but now it’s very clear. On ‘Glory’, I was in a very dark place, I was constantly ruminating on my situation at the time and willing to just let out everything that was inside my head, hence the title ‘In All Its Glory’. And ‘Drifting’ is also quite self explanatory when you read the lyrics, it’s about moving from a dark place to a place of solace; and only being able to get to that solace by having caring figures around you. You always hear artists say “making their work is like therapy”, and I suppose that goes for me too. Making art helps me understand where and how I am, it really brings a lot of my subconscious to light.
Your music sometimes seems to sew two different genres together, mixing delicate balladry with denser, glitchy electronica. Is that a conscious decision?
That’s interesting. It’s not a deliberate thought at all. But I suppose what it is, is that in my growing up the two most profoundly impactful kinds of musics were either very dense electronica or emotive balladry where the voice took centre stage. At 15 years old I wanted to sing like Nina Simone or Anohni. ‘I’m A Bird Now’ was all I listened to around that age. But I also loved making beats of various genres, so I guess it was inevitable. Also it’s the clearest way I can establish my creative voice. If I just played piano and sang I wouldn’t feel like I was sounding totally like me (although as I get better at piano I’m sure I will). And if I just did beats all the time I would miss singing.
Who are your favourite musicians at the moment?
I’m really enjoying Perfume Genius’ latest album. Also that song by Arca, ‘Anoche’, is my favourite this year. Of course as I write this I’m listening to Iglooghost, so that as well. Other than that I’ve not been searching for that much really. I’ve been making a lot of music and am mainly listening to my new stuff.
Who are your heroes? Why?
Hero is such a strong term. I don’t think I look up to anyone that much anymore, but I do really love and appreciate what a lot of people are doing. Olafur Eliasson’s work with his Little Sun project is quite inspiring. I love that he’s attempting more and more to bring art into the political conversation in a practical way. So rather than just making a statement, he’s trying to make art that’s ergonomic, art that enhances human life in making people more efficient and comfortable. That’s truly empowering, far more than any protest song… Although those are also very important as they shine light on issues that need to be addressed.
What does the future hold for you? What are your plans for the next few months?
Putting out more music early next year, and going to be performing a lot more shows all through.
Last question! What’s the one thing the world needs to know about Tony Njoku?
That beyond all else that surrounds what I do as an artist, right now, all I want is to create the soundtracks for your journey of self discovery and enlightenment.