Tomas Barfod has been working hard on his second album Love Me album while spending his time on two different continents and playing in his primary band Whomadewho. He spoke to Philippe Perez about the process of going solo a second time (while still doing many other things as well).
You seem to like to collaborate with a bunch of different vocalists. Do you structure tracks and songs around what they offer in their singing voice, or do you try to challenge them to go outside their comfort zone?
It’s a process of going back and fourth. I always send a couple of beats to them, to see which ones inspire them, and then from there it’s very much up to their creativity and work-ethic to deliver. It’s always very exciting waiting for their demos, because they can change the song even album completely depending on what they come up with. Sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned, but mostly I get exactly what I hoped for. My big part is picking out the right people to work with. And to work the music around the vocal when I get it back, sometimes it’s just a matter about editing a few things. Other times I’ll have to create a whole new song. That was the case with ‘Busy Baby’, there is nothing from the original instrumental left on that song.
One vocalist you like to work with regularly is Nina Kinert. What draws you to feature her on a lot of your songs especially on this album?
Ever since we got introduced I have loved working with her, she is easy, fun and one of the most talented songwriters I will ever work with, even if she didn’t also have a perfect voice (but she does) I would still use her for her songwriting. I actually didn’t want her to feature this much on the album, but she kept on sending me these amazing vocals.
What, to you, makes a vocalist a joy to work with?
Talent means everything in my book; I don’t care that much about image or hype, as long as the people can make good songs. Lyrics and melodies are such big part of a good track, if they are not there, there is not a song. On the technical side, having a bad singer is very demanding and takes a lot of time that could have been spend on other parts of the music. I love getting a perfect acapella from the vocalist and then sit and play around with creative stuff instead of the so-called fundamentals like auto-tuning and stuff like that.
As a drummer, is it strange having control in composing melodic sounds rather than being in control of the percussive aspect of a band?
Being a drummer is my core, but actually a lot of successful producers started out as drummers, I guess drummers have another approach to music than other musicians. Especially the last 30 years. Rhythms have been an essential part of most music, everything from underground rap and techno to top 40 pop. I’m not a brilliant composer, but I can play a mixture between school-book chords and weird random notes, that sometimes that adds up to something amazing. Other times it’s just horrible. I also do a lot of synth programming, because my approach is not what you would normally do, I even taught a class on ‘electronic composition’ at the Conservatory.
But for more complicated arrangements I turn to people that actually know what they are doing like Jeppe Kjellberg from Whomadewho or Davide Rossi who arrange strings for other artists you might have heard of – Coldplay and Alicia Keys.
You are signed with Secretly Canadian, a label that is not generally known to release music that has an electronic element to it. How has it been working with a label that is more known for its folk and darkish guitar-based releases?
I’m really happy with them; It’s a very well functioning company, that still work solely for the passion of music. I remember talking about the other acts with them and they have an amazing passion for just putting out good music and waiting until the rest of the world sees it even if it takes a few albums. That’s what has made them successful. I think my releases has been a bit harder for the regular indie release for them, because there is a lot of new aspects of my scene that they are not used to, but I think that just makes it exciting for all of us.
From what I have read you are based and making music in L.A. nowadays since coming from your native Copenhagen. How do both the music scenes of each city compare?
My base is still Copenhagen, but during the last 4 years I have been staying a lot in LA, so in many ways it’s my second home now. In my book the West Coast of the U.S. is breeding some of the most exciting acts now ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Shlohmo. In Denmark there is not so much room for diamonds, big cars and EDM-clubs, which is both good and bad, because it makes us focus more on artistic music, but on the other hand it means that Denmark produces either very introvert indie or Danish language rip-offs of US rock, pop and hip hop.
Does the place where you reside in actually have any influence on how you compose music?
The two scenes are very far from each other, the American mentality (especially on the West Coast) differs a lot from the Danish. In many ways it is super uplifting to be in America a lot, because literally everything is possible there, compared to Denmark where people that show off or think they can do something special is not rewarded. I like having both cities in my life, in Copenhagen I feel safe and have a very content life, in L.A. I have to struggle more, but it’s a very positive and open environment still. I think I have a perfect combination because L.A. is worn out in many ways and I want my music to be uplifting and happy, but on the other hand Copenhagen is cold and inspires me to make more melancholic sounds, which is also important for a good song.
‘Love Me’ is a more delicate album, in that you’ve included a softer, shuffle-like rhythm and sound in tracks like ‘Pulsing’. Was it hard to restrict yourself in songs like that rather than going all out and ding something akin to a four-to-the-floor rhythm?
I never really restrict my self, I felt like doing this kind of album. At the time I started I was fed up with house beats and in general, the electronic music culture’s focus on the ‘new sound’. So. I focused on getting the right vocals and spent a lot of time with incorporating more “timeless” elements like analog synths, strings, piano, and guitar. Even horn. I like my sound to have more dimensions in terms of rhythm patterns (I like to have some drums off-beat) and harmonies (detuning some parts of the music is also something I’ve done on most tracks).
Don’t get me wrong; I love a lot of electronic music. It’s the foundation for everything I do, but I just didn’t want to do something that many 20 year olds with a laptop do great already. I wanted to do an album that I could pick up in 10 years and I would feel it was outdated. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, ask me in 2024.
Tomas Barfod‘s Love Me is out now through Secretly Canadian. The latest single ‘Busy Baby’ has just had its video released.