We speak to Tony Njoku ahead of his release Your Psyche’s Rainbow Panorama (out on Silent Kid Records now).
Producer, singer and artist Tony Njoku is one of the most unique artists in underground avant-pop right now. Based in London, he spent much of his younger years in Lagos, where his love for the experimental and avant-garde came to fruition. His previous album H.P.A.C used sound to explore and deal with sensitive yet pervasive topics in society, including musings on masculinity, and this album goes a step further into traversing the realm of identity. Exploring the limits of soundscapes and drawing from his own personal experiences, Njoku’s third LP Your Psyche’s Rainbow Panorama is a raw and illustrious portrayal of the spectrum of human emotion, from an artist attuned to the complexities of experimental music and its potential purpose to soothe the toils of the mind. We spoke to Tony ahead of the album release to discuss his sonic inspirations.
How are you? What have you been up to recently?
I’m very good, thank you, I’ve been doing a lot of new writing recently. I’ve also begun working with a friend of mine William Doyle – we’ve started a band and are seeing how that goes, having conversations about recording stuff. I’ve been collaborating with Lucinda Chua too, I highly recommend her stuff, she’s a cellist and her music is really beautiful and amazing live; she played at Corsica with NTS in September and it was fantastic.
You’ve mentioned before that you cite Bjork and Arca as some key musical influences. What draws you to these kinds of artists, if you can pinpoint anything?
I think about that a lot actually. Growing up in Nigeria, no-body liked that kind of shit out there. I question why I gravitated to that sort of music; it wasn’t as if it was cool to listen to it, or a cool friend introduced me to it, I just found it by accident on Limewire from downloading random stuff. From then on, I just fell in love with all that shit. I think what draws me to it is that I like stuff that is hard to listen to, I’m expecting one thing and it just turns left. I like a sonic blackout, anything that makes me work as a listener appeals to me.
Your sound is obviously experimental, do you think that experiments bring up emotions that we weren’t aware of, therefore reaping more interesting results in the final product of listening?
That’s a very interesting question. I think the word experimental is a stylized word now, it doesn’t hold its original meaning. I was listening to the JPEGMAFIA album for instance, he uses a lot of familiar references in his music, but because its collaged together that’s what makes it an experimental entity. These old references, placed in a new situation creates something which is so far from the norm, which I find really interesting.
It becomes quite uncanny in a way, which is interesting.
It does. I’ve done quite a bit of reading into music therapy, and I wonder if certain sounds can bring up certain responses. I know that when I was beginning to first listen to Arca’s Mutant, it was very jarring. It brought up some really intense feelings, and that’s what I loved about it. It was the same feeling of work, thinking this is really music that’s making me feel uncomfortable. The beauty of all music is that when you get through whatever feeling the music is revealing to you, at the end of it it’s always cathartic. When you listen to something that mirrors how you feel, it gives you a space to work through that emotion. You think oh, I’m seeing this emotion first hand by experiencing this music. Through the process of feeling uncomfortable, we become more comfortable.
This album is perhaps more intimate than your previous works. What do you think is important about this intimacy in music today?
I think this record is definitely an intimate one. I don’t think I absolutely intended it to be. A lot of the songs were written very quickly, each song took only about a day to write from start to finish, but the editing was what took the most time. I was feeling something and thinking how best can I put this into sound form. The intimacy then came from looking very closely at the things I was feeling, by osmosis if you will. Looking at these things closely began to translate into a sonic experience.
Is there a particular track that resonates with you personally, or would you say they all resonate with you but at different moments depending on the situation?
I would say ‘Unnerved’, mainly because of the lyrics. It describes a panic attack when being in a social situation, and it’s very, very real, I get that a lot and I think a lot of people can resonate with it. Also the first track, ‘Naive & Apprehensive’ hits home because I often get myself into very stupid situations. Particularly the lyrics ‘I’ve always been a fall for the record, I can’t guarantee a way out of this one’; it might be true but I’m going to try and make the best of it because that’s all we can do when we’re in an uncomfortable predicament.
The album was based on Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’, as well as your music video for ‘Confident’ based on Steve McQueen’s 1993 film ‘Bear’. How much do you feel like the visual arts and film arts influence you and your music?
They’re a great place for reference, especially when thinking of the visual side, the ideas I have are very abstract and sometimes a bit too complex. I think how can I showcase what I’m trying to talk about in an interesting way. It puts the abstract nature of the album into a context that can be visualized. With the Steve McQueen film, after watching that ages ago and then creating ‘Confident’, they seemed to mirror each-other in my mind. It therefore puts my feelings into visual context. Beyond that conceptually, I love the visual arts, that’s where I started in my creative journey as a kid, starting with painting. If I watch a Tarkovsky film it gives me an idea of a sonic space I want to create. Music is the most abstract version of art, and looking at visual arts gives a great way of bringing the abstract into easier to consume space.
How do you think this album differs from your previous albums?
Well, this is a lot better than the last two. I’m still using similar chords and sonic ideas, even the apparatus I use to make the record are pretty much the same since album number one, and haven’t added any new synths. I try to make everything using my synths, so it’s all about getting a greater knowledge of hardware music. The main thing is I’m a lot more confident on this record in terms of the ideas, and it’s an exponential growth.
What do you hope people will get from this album?
I know I have spoken about tracks being jarring, starting off with a negative idea which makes you uncomfortable, but I feel that in every song there is a positive relief lyrically. In every single track, I hope when people listen they’ll think, ‘this is dark’, but then the final moment will make them realize it’s all okay. What I want people to take away is that no matter how dark the music sounds, there is always positivity. I’m not a dark person, I’m actually pretty happy, and I want people to come away with that optimism after listening to the album, despite the darkness which pervaded.
Tony Njoku plays a sold-out show with Laura Misch at Corsica Studios on October 18th, and plays GLORIA’s debut headline show on October 24th, more info here.