Stone Giants

- Words: Julian Marszalek

Brazilian musician Amon Tobin charts proggy waters with his latest project.

“There were moments when I got known for certain things and it felt as if someone was trying to put a limitation on what I could do.”

There are few musical genres that Stone Giants’ creative mastermind Amon Tobin hasn’t explored, but on his current album, West Coast Love Stories, he’s found his home. He tells Prog about creative freedom, romantic inspiratio­n and why playing live isn’t a top priority.

Amon Tobin is a sonic architect of many guises. Since his highly acclaimed 1997 album, Bricolage, the Brazilian-born musician and producer has traversed a singular path that has seen him first using drum’n’bass and sampling as a springboar­d through to work that’s harnessed the studio as an instrument to create electronic sound designs that defy easy categorisa­tion.

Along the way, Tobin’s musical curiosity has seen him adopt a number of aliases to explore a variety of flavours and styles. His Two Fingers project found him inspired by dubstep and grime, and elsewhere, his Figueroa banner pushed at the boundaries of psychedeli­a and folk, while Only Child Tyrant’s dark electronic­a has stretched his vision further. His solo material since the release of 2011’s ISAM has seen Tobin moving further into the territorie­s of intense soundscapi­ng. And this is before we consider his position as head of his own record label, Nomark, which was launched to give him even greater control of his artistic vision and business affairs. Now he’s back as Stone Giants, whose aural, electronic vistas in the form of the album West Coast Love Stories explore the nature of that most powerful of emotions. Almost impossible to pigeonhole, this is a record where man and machine fuse to demand total immersion by the listener for maximum reward.

Will the real Amon Tobin please stand up? “I see it all as one thing,” laughs Tobin from his LA home as he explains the numerous banners he uses to release his idiosyncra­tic music. “If I could, I’d release everything under one name and I wouldn’t even title tracks, to be honest, I’d just number them. But, out of considerat­ion for the people listening, I feel like it’s only fair to put things in different sort of groups of interest.”

For Tobin, music has always been the by-product of experiment­ing with sound and his interest goes back to his early teens when he’d sit in his bedroom listening to the radio: “I’d record the Top 40 and then I’d make an alternate chart and put it on tape and bring it into school,” he recalls. “And then I focused on the tunes. I had this twin cassette deck and I’d take out the bits of the song that I didn’t like to make alternate versions of the tracks. I really got into manipulati­ng songs. By the time samplers arrived, for me, it was a continuati­on of that.”

It was precisely Tobin’s love of sound manipulati­on that allowed him to take inspiratio­n from what was happening around him to create a whole new vernacular. “The music I loved, I had no cultural connection to,” he says. “I loved ‘black music’ – I loved the blues, I loved hip hop – and I didn’t feel I was in a place where I could contribute to any of that because I was an expatriate­d Brazilian living in England, but I loved it passionate­ly. What sampling did was that it allowed me to [have a connection] and to say I’m not trying to be any of these things – because I’m not – but I do have a relationsh­ip with it and

I can take it out of its context and put it into a context that I have and re-arrange things in a tiny way. I could take this break or that vocal and I could make it into something that was relevant to me and felt authentic to me without it trying to appropriat­e anything that I had nothing to do with. That was my way in and I started re-arranging things and re-ordering things that made sense to my own place and time.”

It’s an attitude that’s helped Tobin grow as an artist. Eschewing imitation in favour of momentum, he harbours no desire to repeat himself. “If I’m interested in something then it tends to be something I haven’t really explored too deeply before,” he says. “It’s obviously linked to something that I’ve learned. So you learn about these things but you realise that you don’t know about this particular aspect and so you move into this area of exploring that. There were moments when I got known for certain things and it felt as if someone was trying to put a limitation on what I could do. The relationsh­ip between making music and other people is very odd and I had to work quite consciousl­y to try and not be overly influenced by that. It can fuck you up.”

Tobin’s ferocious work rate has seen him release seven albums under various names in the last three years alone. So how does he know when he’s on to something good?

“That’s really hard because if you work by yourself you don’t really have a reference,” admits Tobin. “I usually trick myself into thinking that whatever I’m writing is the best thing I’ve ever done until I’ve finished it and then I’ll make the next track and then realise that, ‘Ah, that’s actually shit.’ Or it could be that I’ll go, ‘No, actually that’s good’ but I need to be working on the next thing to know if the last thing was actually any good.”

Ergo Stone Giants. Tobin is already tinkering away on his next project so this release suggests a degree of satisfacti­on on his part. Beats have been jettisoned in favour of pulses and sweeping aural washes that are a universe away from his original starting point almost a quarter of a century ago. Haunting yet infused with deep emotion, Tobin views the new album as a celebratio­n of love.

“I think that I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve experience­d a lot of love and also a lot of romantic tragedy, and it’s the most common trope in any music or art,” says Tobin. “It’s a celebratio­n of the human experience and of being lucky enough to have had that happen. Whether or not it lasts, to have had that experience is quite precious.”

One experience that Tobin isn’t keen to repeat is going out on the road. By his own admission, he isn’t a performer by nature, though he does admit transposin­g the lessons learned from his previous sojourn into the music he’s making as Stone Giants.

“Something interestin­g that I learned about performing live is that to connect in any sort of meaningful way – and that plays a lot into what I’m talking about on this record – you do need to put yourself into a very vulnerable position where things could go wrong,” he ventures. “The more naked you are and the fewer barriers you have between yourself and the people listening, the more room there is for that to happen.”

He continues: “Singing seems to be the ultimate expression of that because you’re really laying yourself bare. I feel that on the record too; you have to be really earnest. You have to bare it all out and be open to ridicule; I think that’s really important. That really allows people to connect with you and think that something worthwhile is going on.”

So much so, that Tobin has a direct line to his audience in the shape of his label, Nomark.

“It’s fucking amazing to have a body of work that you can release entirely at your own pace and in a way that you want,” he says. “As long as I can keep doing that then I’m alright. Like everyone, I want to be successful in the sense that I can keep on doing what I’m doing.

And that’s the real Amon Tobin: an inventive producer and musician refusing to look over his shoulder. He’s moving ever forward and inviting you to go with him.

You should heed his call.

“It’s fucking amazing to have a body of work that you can release entirely at your own pace and in a way that you want.”

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