Interview with Tobias Sarra

Do you prefer performing live or recording, and why?

I would always choose live performance. I try to bring a ‘live-ness’ to my recorded work, a capacity for error and transformation. I love having the audience there at live concerts, but mainly I love PLAYING in real-time… The process of making this album has been really interesting and a bit of a change for me. I feel like Covid and not being able to gig really forced me to sit down and make art in a different way. Before that I’d been doing a lot of live underground performances, with Shunyata Improvisation Group, with dancers + in performance art/physical theatre spaces. I’d been planning an album for a while and it had just got fully underway right before the first lockdown, but the intention even then was to work mainly with Rob (Griffiths) recording live band set-ups. Most of the albums/EPs I’ve made up to this one have been mostly improvised, live recordings or double takes (Aka Erada – An Ethereal Thumb // Trio FCT – Recreational Scatyard). So yeah, this was a bit of a change of pace, and I’m really happy with how it’s turned out. It’s really pushed me to get into recording/producing, and I’ve discovered I actually love it, so there’ll be lots more coming. All that said, I can’t wait to get back to more regular live performance! That’s really where I feel most at home :’D.

 If you could change about the music industry, what would it be?

What wouldn’t I change? :’D For starters, the streaming revenue system just doesn’t work for smaller artists and local scenes. We need to shift to a new model that supports the artist over the corporation. The fact that Spotify’s CEO recently invested £100 million pound in AI technology for the military (UK, French and German) is a prime example of where the company’s interests lie – profit and power over all else. 

What Bandcamp offers is really promising, being able to digitally purchase music from the artists you like, and own that as a digital download, I think that’s a great system. Learning to support each other as artists, having DIY collaborative efforts that bring quality grassroots music to a wider audience is paramount. Bandcamp + Soundcloud are really positive examples on how those ideals can work on larger scales. I also think as a society we need to stop idolising the artist, I think it creates a harmful separation between audience and creator that’s ultimately unhealthy to either party. 

One more thing I’ll add. As a listener, I’ve always listened to different genres back to back, it’s just how I’ve always related to music. I get the importance of ‘branding’, and I think it’s excellent that in the modern age there really IS an audience for everything if you know how to reach it, but as an artist I see experimentation as a vital part of my practice. I could never see myself sticking to one specific ‘sound’ for the whole of my career, and I think certain branches of the music industry kind of expect you to. I’m really lucky that I GET to play around in different musical spaces and that’s something that for me is always going to be an important part of my art making. 

Give our listeners some music recommendations that we should check out!

Blake Mills, Tori Kudo, Witold Bolik, Ana Roxanne, Adrianne Lenker, Hiss Golden Messenger, Archipelago, Me Lost Me, Late Girl, Richard Dawson, Alabaster DePlume, Noisebringers, Odeijighast, Gwilly Edmondez, Mariam Rezaei, Cauls, Taupe, Cosys Ex, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Exportion, PHOX, Sam Amidon, William Doyle, Robert Wyatt, Sibusile Xaba, Islet, Lizzo, Rainer Scheurenbrand, Carioca, Mishka, Japanese Breakfast, Alex G, Mesadorm, Laboratorium Pieśni, Tarkovsky Quartet, Federico Mompou, Benoît Pioulard, Jens Lekman, Yves Jarvis, HENGE, Buffalo Daughter, Tigran Hamasyan, Laraaji, VASSVIK, Akira Kosemura, Forward Kwenda, Nguni Lovers Lovers, Sarah Davachi, Éliane Radigue, Karen Willems, Joanna Brouk, Matana Roberts, Milo, Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle, Bill Wells, Sudan Archives, Mileece, Os Tincoãs, Tal National, Amanda Palmer, Arthur Russel, Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Taupe, Ernst Reijseger, Coil… That’s all for now :’D

What’s the music scene like where you are from?

For the last year I’ve been living in a little island village in Arctic Norway. There’s not much music scene up that way, but what there is surprisingly strong. The Arctic Culture Centre puts on some high-quality concerts, and there’s even a little music venue that’s just opened up in the village (of 70 people!) which has already had some great shows! My musical heart is in Newcastle though. The scene here is incredible, with so many AMAZING acts. Having been away for a year I’m maybe a little out of touch, but there’s always been such a strong underground scene here. There’s something for everyone – a really strong industrial noise scene, some amazing folk, post-folk and traditional musicians, a lot of great electronic musicians, jazz musicians, improvisers, prog rock and a pretty decent indie/alternative scene. Tusk Festival and its fringe are must sees + Late Shows, and then there’s Lindisfarne which I hate to admit I’ve somehow always been away for… For a relatively small city it’s packed, I can’t name everything. Needless to say I’m excited to be back!

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