Providing the ambient soundtrack to your broken hearted summer.

Photography by Phil Sharp

Last year, one track over all others stirred something almost indescribable. It was a song wracked with sadness and desolation; rippling ambience and a beauty so subtly insistent, it took on shimmering, shape-shifting meaning, lending itself to whatever emotion happened to be prevalent that day. The work of Tropics – aka Chris Ward – ‘Soft Vision’ came to be personal music salvation of the most exquisite kind, even if the initial intent was more upbeat.

“You’re right about getting the heartbreak and the emotion from it,” Chris explains, “that’s pretty spot on. I like to build tracks on a summer vibe but due to the different sounds and layers, you can pick up a lot of different feelings from it. It’s hard for me to put into words but it’s about betraying a feeling through the music.”

A final year digital music student, Chris has made the not inconsiderable journey to London specifically for the interview and as such, it makes the introduction endearing. Attentive and eager to talk, it makes conversation sat on a sunny day extremely easy going. After the obligatory enquiry about the journey and talk about his degree course, talk turns to his impending album. Chris’ bedroom production days of just making music for himself and posting the results online are already long gone.

“I actually signed with Plant Mu quite a while ago. They got in contact with me after they came across some early demos on Myspace and the next minute I know I’m getting a phone call from Mike Paradinas (Planet Mu, Head Honcho) and I thought it was just my mates messing around. I was there asking if we could do a video conference just so I could get some visual confirmation for myself,” he smiles.

It’s the increasingly familiar story of a bedroom producer done good but in Tropics’ case, it hasn’t meant he’s about to hurry or compromise his working process to stay ahead of the curve. Where his ‘Soft Vision EP’ became an unexpected landmark, Chris was just as keen to close the loop before preparing for his full length debut.

“I can be really picky about what I want to be released because there were certain things I thought just sounded dated or weren’t up to my full potential. There are some elements I rushed in it and it was quite a step back from what I was working on at the time and thought I’d try something a little different, put some reverb on the drums, and give it a power but still keep it quite delicate with that ambience and underwater type sound.

“With the album, I want to get as much out of it as I can so I might finish a track and then walk away and come back a couple of hours later with a fresh set of ears. But there are songs I made a couple of months ago I listen back to and think “Shit, I could change that bit” but I think I’m getting into a regime now where when it’s finished, it’s finished. About a year ago I wouldn’t be able to do that – I’d be six months down the line and I’d hear so many errors in the tracks I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it myself but I think now I’m going to like how I’ve done the tracks for a while. Hopefully,” he smiles.

It’s a guarded realism that characterises many of the current wave of young producers. Focused to the point of creative obsession, they’re their own biggest critics, and while they’re happy to extol the privileges of being a musician, it’s the quest for perfection that drives them on to succeed. “There hasn’t been as much pressure as I thought,” Chris admits, “In terms of Planet Mu, I’m left to get on with it and they’ll give me certain deadlines and I won’t hear from them until closer to the time. It’s definitely made me more of a perfectionist because before I was just making tunes in my room for myself and if it sounded alright, it was enough and I’d upload it. Now, I’m thinking about every single detail and knowing something is going to be released definitely has an impact in terms of my motivation.”

But with the internal, and external, focus firmly on his upcoming debut, you might expect Chris would be starting to feel the pressure as the deadlines loom.

“I’m trying not to really,” he laughs, “I just think I’d put more pressure on myself. I think I’ll get out of it what I put into it at the end of the day. I’d like to be able to work on another album but this time I think I’d know where I was with it straight away. I think I’d be able to go in and record it in much less a period of time and know exactly what I wanted to achieve.

“For me, having the opportunity to write a debut album is a real privilege so it’s something I’ve always wanted to have that continuity and that narrative as something you can play from start to finish and have that journey.”

It’s clear Chris is compelled to ensure that the album is a true reflection of the emotion and experiences he wants to convey. His vision might have been soft first time round but you feel that he won’t settle for anything less than perfect, now.

Originally published in issue 27 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2011

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