A vocalist, songwriter, and producer, Tropics - real name Chris Ward - is one of British music's most potent, yet also most mysterious figures.
Two albums in, we still know very little about the artist himself. Left with just the art to go on, we're aware that this is someone who is incredibly disciplined, who pushes himself forward at every turn.
New album 'Nocturnal Souls' is incoming, a fresh statement from an artist who continually seeks out points of evolution.
Out on June 29th, it feels like the completion of a journey, the fulfilment of a certain period in the songwriter's life.
Here, Tropics speaks to Clash about the making of the album - and why it will be his last...
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I began writing this album before I had really finished 'Rapture'. The track title of that last album kind of birthed the idea of moving even further away from electronic contemporaries and revelling more in my taste for live instrumentation and jazz tones.
I could never completely call my music jazz because I like using my voice and sensibilities of catchy pop music and I believe I take a lot of influence from R&B/modern blues. But I find myself listening to music that comes under jazz and soul more than anything.
At the end of 2015 a lot of things began changing for me that I perhaps hadn’t thought would affect me, or shift me onto such new and different paths as much as they have. Back then I was definitely in a strange place. I had a lot of personal issues, I was going out and drinking way too much and in retrospect feel like I lost track almost completely of why I was making music.
With the last album I had sunk into the displaying of emotion and affection for somebody who had hurt me, for reasons I couldn’t at the time understand, portraying that through music. There’s no denying it to be at the forefront of my music more than it ever previously had been and I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to detach myself from those songs emotionally after I had decided to release them.
When that album process was done I truly felt lost, I didn’t know what to do with myself and I had a music manager and a label working it as a music release and I freaked out a little. I definitely over-thought these things too much, there's no denying that. But I decided to leave a record label who had been pretty good to me and I had built friendly relationships with, which had meant a lot to me, and also to leave my manager of four or five years who had grown my project with me... We fell out pretty badly.
I couldn’t bare to deal with people involved in my project and they for sure couldn’t bare to deal with me. It was around this point that I kind of started to believe that this project was over and I probably wouldn’t release any more music as Tropics.
Anyway, yeah it got a bit too emotional at that point, so I decided to move to Los Angeles for a little time out where I ended up living for the next two years. What I don’t want to do is talk to much about LA as a place, because that is a huge rabbit hole, I want to keep it music related. It’s all connected of course but to keep it simple let’s just say I’ve got a love/hate relationship with the place. I believe it brought a lot of good to me, my health, my energy and my peace of mind but it came with a price of solitude and being so far away from home and British things that I may not have realised I appreciated so much until I left.
I wasn’t travelling back and forth a lot, I wasn’t really travelling at all at that point when moving there, just exploring California. I just knew I needed to not be in London or think about London too much. I hardly knew anyone out there apart from a handful of lovely friends.
I did meet one musician in particular just by chance, who I kept seeing around my neighbourhood. He ended up becoming a dear friend. We shared a lot of tastes in music, similar drives and passions etc etc and spent a lot of time together in a music making environment.
I believe a lot of me even finishing a record out there is down to him and the enthusiasm he had showed toward me and what we were both trying to achieve. I was going very deep into listening to jazz, soul, funk, psych-rock and all these records from the 70s that I’d only really scratched the surface of before. There seemed to be a never ending treasure chest, which felt more interesting to me than anything else happening around me.
A lot of Italian 70’s music I was discovering, specifically composers who would use synthesisers and classical strings and jazz/groove stuff. Bands like Cortex who have that kind of rich old jazz groove with hauntingly beautiful female falsetto vocals.
This beautiful palette of sound that was so emotional and cool and so organic. It’s a sound that can always be associated with the ‘west coast sound’ in history so it fit nicely but a lot of that music was actually from Europe back then. There was something in this sound and this music that was so timeless that it was able to reset me and learn how to appreciate music again. I wanted to make the same kind of music.
Composers like Piero Piccioni, Jean-Pierre Mirouze, Arthur Verocai, even listening intently to Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' which is one of my favourite albums of all time. It taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted to achieve again through music. How to be personal and have fun with composition and make the kind of music I wanted to make, a singing bowl full of all these contemporaries that resonated them when my fingers touched a piano or when my mouth opened to sing. I’ll never be as good as them but they drive me.
So 'Nocturnal Souls' is a very personal album and a discovery into letting go and moving forward into making music that I’ve always wanted to yet always felt in the shadows of. I spent two wonderful months in Mexico City having a lot of time to myself where I was able to concentrate in a fresh environment, in a city that I loved spending time, to record the album and pretty much get it all finished.
This will also be the last album for Tropics. I'm excited about this decision; the music I'm making is moving further away from the sound it originally was and what I can’t help but feel its sort of ‘expected’ to be. I'm writing new songs now for a new project, which feels like another much needed baptism and I can’t wait to start sharing it all...
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'Nocturnal Souls' will be released on June 29th.
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