Having fun and getting better means more than being famous. We’ve grown organically and that’s the way I like to have a band.
By the time Tomas Barfod releases his album Salton Sea on May 21, it will be his third project this year, just behind a solo EP and an album with his band WhoMadeWho. With DJ gigs, tours and more side projects including remixes, 2012 will be a busy one for the drummer from Denmark. Currently based in Los Angeles, where he is soaking up the sun and the city's vibrant indie music scene, Barfod seems to be a rare creature in the music business. While many conversations with artists rightfully revolve around frustrations with today’s DIY world, Barfod has hit on a winning formula: Less is More.
“I don't know if I’m too old or too spoiled. But we make a nice living right now, and we have a very efficient way of running the band. Our set up makes it possible for us to do good music and have fun with it. I think this is more important than forcing anyone in the band to do anything they don't want. We don’t want WHW to feel like that. Having fun and getting better means more than being famous. We've grown organically and that's the way I like to have a band."
There are practical reasons for Tomas's approach to music. WhoMadeWho has been touring with a different drummer on some gigs because Barfod didn’t want to hold them–or himself–back. “I like some things about touring–hanging out with the guys, we have good chemistry. I just don't want to tour that much so that I don't have to put other things on hold. I don't want my DJ career or my personal life on hold. A band can consume your life totally if you don't watch out. It becomes a loop–you play somewhere, you get on a plane or bus, you play again, you get on another plane or bus. We want to keep the energy with the band going. We're all very picky about playing gigs.”
For a band that is being picky, WhoMadeWho are doing rather well. Formed in 2003 in Copenhagen by Barfod along with psychedelic jazz-head Jeppe Kjellberg and bassist, singer Tomas Hoffding, WMW put out a few of 12" singles on Gomma Records that ultimately became their well-received self-titled debut LP in 2005. Acknowledging their auspicious origin, Tomas says, “In the first year, we didn't have to push ourselves too hard because we were really lucky and people liked what we were doing.” Their fan base increased with the release of the 2009 album The Plot. The “weeping” video for "Every Minute Alone" from the 2011 EP “Knee Deep” became a viral hit, raising their international profile.
Presently signed to Kompakt, WhoMadeWho released their most recent album Brighter in January of this year. To date, they've toured and traded remixes with LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Chicks on Speed, the Rapture and their heroes Daft Punk. “In our band, we come from really different backgrounds. Jeppe was in the jazz scene, and the other Tomas was in an indie rock band, and then there was me, a house DJ–but Homework was the one album that we all had in common. We admired how simple but powerful it was, how much they could do with such few elements.”
Los Angeles right now is kind of like Berlin was 5-10 years ago. There’s a lot of stuff happening underground.
Barfod brings the same touch to Salton Sea, layering melodic vocals over bass-laden house grooves. “I had some tracks that I had started as TomBoy and a lot of years passed, I was focusing on WhoMadeWho. At some point, I felt I had to make an album, do my own thing without any compromises and get the credit for it, too. It's not like I just sat down and made this album. It took about two years or so.” Recorded mostly at a home studio, as he prefers, Salton Sea includes a little help from WMW, and his old Filur mate, Kasper Bjorke, as well as vocals by Sweden's Nina Kineri and New Yorker Lydia Ainsworth. Salton Sea, like the “Broken Glass” EP, is being released by Friends of Friends, which is home to more glitchy hip-hop artists like Shlomo.
Barfod’s music leans disco, but the label was a major motivation for moving out to California. “Back in the Myspace days, I got a message from Leeor, the founder of Friends of Friends. We started emailing but nothing happened for a while. Then we met recently and we decided to do something like an EP. It became an album. It was kind of random, but a long time coming. Eventually, I realized I needed to move here.” Adjusted to his new surroundings, he says, “It's a nice place to work and I wanted to pursue new ideas. Los Angeles right now is kind of like Berlin was 5-10 years ago. There's a lot of stuff happening underground. If I could afford it, and I had my career going on here, I would try to stay here. But, he points out, “Most of my career is happening in Europe.”
Taking up the drums as a kid, Barfod career has ben “happening” for most of his life–as DJ TomBoy; as part of house duo Filur; as a producer and remixer for Franz Ferdinand and Shakira; and of course, as part of WMW. He's released tracks on some of dance music's best boutique labels, like Kitsuné, Get Physical and Kompakt. It's been a remarkably consistent career. So far, though, that success hasn't extended to the US. “We never really had distribution here, our presence is not super strong here. We have all those gigs in Europe, but coming to America is always really expensive. It's a big market and there are a lot of exciting things happening. It's just almost impossible when you're not a big band.”
Given how the music scene has changed in the last few years, a bigger tour might be possible in the near future. “In the last three years, there’s been a lot of electronic music mixing with a lot of different things. A lot of audiences in the US are very curious about dance music right now. deadmau5 is not really my thing, but I'm happy he's got a lot of people in the US excited about dance music. Look at someone like the Weeknd, who has blown up mostly because of the Internet. A few years ago, someone like him wouldn't have such a good chance. Or Lana Del Rey. I think 'Video Games' is an amazing song. I'm totally thrilled for her. I don't think anyone can take that away from her. In that moment, there is something special.”
Whatever his undertaking, it’s the special moments that inspire Barfod. “If you're original, if you're good, you're going to blow up, no matter how you do it. You can give it all away for free or sign with a major label. If it's good, it's going to be picked up.” Offering one final bit of advice by way of experience, Tomas adds, “Think of it this way: I’ve been making a living on just music for over 10 years now. I’ve produced big names and royalties are maybe 10% of my money. The rest comes mostly from performing, and that’s fine with me. If you’re going to be happy in music, and in life, you can’t worry about the 10% you can’t control. Focus on the 90% that you can control.”