When I-Voice calls Ricardo Tobar one October morning at his flat in Paris, the Chilean producer is in a good mood. Speaking to him a few weeks ahead of the launch of his debut album Trellis, our conversation is punctuated with the kind of outbursts of ironic opinion, refreshing candour and humorous self-depreciation that denote an artist who is finally comfortable with where he is at.
Born and raised in the Chilean coastal city of Vina del Mar, Tobar came to public attention in the mid ‘00s with a series of auspicious 12” releases on Border Community; a label, it is revealed during our interview, where he wasn’t always entirely comfortable. Subsequent records for the likes of KnopjemusiK and In Paradisum saw the young producer forge his signature sound; a unique blend of warm, melodic techno and angular electronic experimentation.
A move from Berlin to Paris a little less than two years ago saw Tobar knuckle down and begin to record and shape his debut LP. The result is a glorious audio-narrative through soft-around-the-edges techno and electronica. A hybrid of analogue warmth and digital precision, the album actively joins the dots between dark cavernous club spaces and bedroom listening, its idiosyncrasies mirroring the image of its creator.
Hi Ricardo. How are you finding life in Paris?
It’s more stressful here than Berlin [laughs] When I was in Berlin I got the feeling that people were just walking the streets and feeling relaxed, but here in Paris, people push each other in the metro and on the streets, and I get the impression that everyone is always working. I’m usually really slow in my work as a producer, but being in a fast paced surrounding has meant that I tend to get more done. I’m finishing more songs and, obviously I finished the album here too.
Yes, you’ve been putting out music since 2007 but only just got round to releasing an album. Has the move to France been the catalyst for reaching the point where you felt could make an album then?
I had wanted to make an album in the past, but I wasn’t ever sure of what [I wanted to do]. Eventually I decided I would just ‘do it’ and not worry.
Trellis is Out Now on Desire RecordsWhat were the worries that kept you from recording an album in the past?
Well, I was on Border Community before and everybody there gets really stressed with the music that they put out, so I was fighting with all that pressure. [Up until then] I had been making music for fun and when you have all this pressure to do something better than last time [it can stifle you].
So, instead ‘Trellis’ emerged from a natural place?
Yeah. In the past I thought that it was really difficult to make an album, but I seemed to just make Trellis in a very straightforward way. I realised it wasn’t as hard as I imagined and that perhaps I could do another album next year.
So this is the beginning of a series of annual albums from Ricardo Tobar then?
[Laughs] I don’t know about that. I always say things and then they take much longer in reality.
Let’s talk about the album itself. It’s full of melodic, analogue-sounding techno. I’m imagining it was recorded in a messy studio covered in cables and old drum machines. Tell me about the recording process.
It wasn’t how you imagine at all. I recorded the album in the tiny room I live in with my girlfriend, because here in Paris the rents are crazy. So I couldn’t have all that [hardware], my girlfriend wouldn’t allow that! I produced the music on my computer and then put it through a tape machine, before putting it back onto the computer.
I don’t know how to make music for the dance-floor. I don’t know how to make hits. Even if I wanted to make a dance-floor track, I never could...This might sound a little bit strange, but ‘Trellis’ to me has a very European sound. To what extent does your Chilean heritage inform you musically?
I think it does inform me, but I can’t explain how. It’s a feeling more than anything else. I mean, I don’t feel European at all. Even living here, I still feel like an outsider. It’s a completely different culture; I understand it, but it’s always different to me.
In the music I make I feel [this cultural division]. But, I don’t listen to much Chilean music, so [the musical points of reference] are likely to be closer to American and European sounds.
When you were making the album were you thinking of how it would transfer to the dance-floor?
I don’t know how to make music for the dance-floor. I don’t know how to make hits. Even if I wanted to make a dance-floor track, I never could.
Does that bother you?
Only sometimes. When I play live obviously I want people to dance, but it doesn’t bother me when I’m making music. For Trellis, I wanted to use the 4/4 kick, but not just for the dance context but also its continuance.
The album is coming out on Desire Records, a France imprint known more for their post-punk releases than their techno. How did that hook up happen?
I was making the album and sending the sounds to some friends in Paris, and one of them was friends with the guys at Desire and played them my stuff. So one day, out of the blue, I got an offer from Desire. I hadn’t heard of them because they are really underground and don’t really promote their records.
But, I went through their backcatalogue and I was really amazed; all these great post-punk records. I was surprised that they liked my album, but I thought it was cool because I wanted to get away from all the....
[Pauses] One of the reason I stopped putting records out on Border Community was that I was getting put in a box with other artists who were producing stuff that I didn’t like. So I wanted to put the album out in a way that wouldn’t associate it with [a certain genre] and going through an underground label offered a way to do that.
I don’t think I could ever give up music. Even if I lived in the street, I’d still make music. It’s not like I want to make music, I have to. It’s a part of me...I’m getting the impression that you are pretty much finished with Border Community. That chapter of your musical career is done with.
I think so. I don’t have a problem with them. Perhaps I will work with them in the future, I don’t know.
You tweeted last week that the album has been leaked. Does that kind of thing wind you up?
I don’t really mind. All albums are leaked now. In fact, it’s kind a compliment [laughs] I don’t make money from my releases anyway. I’ll probably make about a hundred Euros from the album, so I can maybe buy something from the supermarket with the revenue from the album.
That must make it near impossible for a relatively underground artist to make a living.
Yes, it’s difficult. I recently read an interview with Regis and he was saying that the real underground artist never has any money and can’t afford equipment, and he’s right. But it makes it hard. You want to put everything you have into a record, but you don’t have the money to do that. You have to keep trying to make music and playing gigs and saving money. In fact, I’ve only just reached the point where I can afford to buy real studio equipment. Before I only used my computer, both for producing and playing live. I’ve always believed in the punk idea that you should do something and then trash everything. Music should be more like that and less about private jets.
Were there times over the years when you were tempted to chuck it all in?
I don’t think I could ever give up music. Even if I lived in the street, I’d still make music. It’s not like I want to make music, I have to. It’s a part of me. And it’s not just music, but all art. I can’t stop writing poetry and drawing too. I just can’t stop.
Trellis is Out Now on Desire Records
|Ricardo Tobar Online|