About two weeks ago Londoners Is Tropical played one of the best shows Philly has seen all year, although Boot & Saddle housed a sadly sparse crowd, but neither the band nor those in attendance seemed to mind much… After all, it was a local debut of sorts… The band now includes vocalist/frontwoman Kirstie Fleck (vocalist on “Dancing Anymore”) as a full-time member. Not only was it a bit nice to break up the boys party of the electro rockers, but she proved to be the most vivaciously sassy frontperson that indie rock has seen in as long as I can remember. And although the hour-long set contained a handful of anthemic singles from their past, it focused on their latest album, Black Anything, which has officially been “fully” out since Marth 11th on Axis Mundi, but which the band has been releasing in 5 installments of 2-song, 10”s since December of 2014. For an even more profoundly interesting twist on the notion of “the album,” Black Anything was recorded on five separate continents (North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America) and allowed the mood of their geographic surroundings to inspire each particular pair of songs. The songs run the gamut from tropical electronic rock to pensive dance-punk and seemingly spiritual noise pop. I recently got a chance to chat with Is Tropical’s Gary Barber about the band’s evolution and their latest work.
Izzy Cihak: So this is kind of a weird question, but your debut LP, Native To, has been out for just about five years now, which is sort of a big milestone. What have been some of the highlights of the band for you in that time?
Gary Barber: I think just still being a band is a huge achievement. There were loads of bands that we were playing with when we first started that didn’t last for one reason or another, usually due to not fulfilling the unrealistic hype placed on them by the music press. That kind of thing can really destroy a band, which is such a shame. We didn’t really have that and it allowed us to grow without being judged every step of the way. We’ve also just always done our own thing without trying to please people. Travelling to far flung places off the normal touring route have been huge highlights for us.
Izzy: You’ve been releasing your latest album, Black Anything, for a while now. How do you feel like the album compares to previous releases? I know you recorded it under pretty cool and unusual circumstances.
Gary: It’s by far the best work we’ve done to date, it’s an extension of the previous question too, where it’s about us doing what we want to do. It was a very enlightening, fun, interesting, and exhausting process. Taking ourselves out of our comfort zone pushed us to make something different. It’s nice to mix stuff up.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?
Gary: Our surroundings were the biggest influence on this record. We would let the interesting environments around us seep into the recording. Also, oddly, being restricted from all the comforts of a normal studio experience made us try harder to achieve something new.
Izzy: I really love your music videos, especially your recent ones for “Fall” and “Cruise Control.” What is it that inspires the visual elements of Is Tropical? Are there any works of visual art or visual artists you’re especially inspired by, or just fond of?
Gary: The album is very dark and dystopian, so the visuals had to fit. We wanted to make videos without narratives, but instead would cemented the aesthetic of the music. Europa by Lars von Trier was the main inspiration behind the “Fall” video. As for the “Cruise Control” video, that’s meant to be set in a dystopian future where the youth are creating their own energy kinetic through dance and drugs.
Izzy: So, on a similar note, and I’ll warn you that this is a personal question, but Richard Kern is my favorite photographer of all-time and one of my favorite filmmakers: How was working with him on the video for “Lover’s Cave?” I’m totally jealous that you got to have that experience.
Gary: Richard is a total dude. When we made that video we had been up all night, and just had a party, which he captured. He’s good at that candid stuff, and just makes you feel super comfortable. We’ve kept in contact with him a bit after making that video and hang out when we get the chance.
Izzy: Finally, what are you hoping and planning for in 2016? Anything you’re particularly excited about?
Gary: We’re so excited about the full album finally dropping . It’s been a long time in the making and we can’t wait for people to listen to it as a body of work. We have a European tour planned straight after America, and then we hit the festival season. It’s going to be a busy year but playing and meeting people is what makes us happy.