Interview: Touch Sensitive’s long and winding path to his debut album
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Interview: Touch Sensitive’s long and winding path to his debut album

Image by Cybele Malinowski

There was a time when many people thought a debut album from Sydney funk lord Touch Sensitive would never happen. After bursting onto the scene in 2013 with the extremely popular Pizza Guy/Show Me release, the former Van She member went on a hiatus, releasing only a handful of original material over the course of four years. Although he remained busy playing live with a number of Australia’s most loved artists, he remained very quiet on the new music front.

That was until May of this year, when Touch Sensitive unveiled ‘Lay Down’, and announced that an album four years in the making, ‘Visions‘ would finally be released via Future Classic on Friday 15th September. Recorded across Sydney, LA and New York, ‘Visions’ is a smooth mix of disco, funk and electronica that only Touch Sensitive could muster. Ahead of it’s release tomorrow, Stoney Roads caught up with Michael Di Francesco to chat all things album release, and see what he’s been up to!

Stoney Roads: Hi Mikey, thanks for talking to Stoney Roads today!

Touch Sensitive: Hey man, no worries at all.

SR: So “Visions” is out this Friday (15th September). Are there any people or places that inspired the album?

TS: I think I would’ve liked to have touched on some more tips than I did but I guess the album is just a combination of all the things that I like and my take on them… But I kind of realised as I was getting to the end of recording that there were more things that I wanted to do but I hadn’t had a chance or the time to do them… or the ones that I did do that were in that vein I didn’t get finished or didn’t make it on to the record so it’s kind of just everything that I’ve been into over the last little bit.

‘Visions’ artwork

SR: Yeah it’s been a long time between releases for you, was it a matter of trying to fit years of experiences into this one project?

TS: Yeah definitely, and you know what, for a long time I didn’t feel like I could finish anything, and I didn’t really like the things that I was doing, and then I just kind of… it’s easy to forget that you can finish stuff. And I was being super critical of it all and not thinking that it was good enough and then it kind of just got to a point where I came back from America where I was just hanging out, and the Future Classic dudes were like “Okay, so you’ve got 2 months to finish the record.” So there were some things that were actually made in those two months and then there were some things that had literally been on sitting on a hard drive for four years.

SR: That’s really interesting because I know ‘Lay Down’ was a song that you’ve been playing live for a long time. I remember seeing you at Listen Out in 2013 and hearing it and thinking it was sick then waiting four years for it to be released!

TS: … Yeah…. Sorry…(laughs) And you know that there were literally 30 or 40 different versions of that song… I just kept changing it and changing it and not necessarily making it better either just making it different. In the end it ended up being a bit of the original one and a bit of the new one.

SR: You talk about being self-critical of your music… is that what lead to the little hiatus you had?

TS: Not really, I mean I was doing stuff with other people like I toured with George Maple for a while, I did all those Flight Facilities shows… I was still doing sessions and doing shows and stuff but there was no real urgency or no one really putting pressure on me to do anything. I was kind of, you know, writing and fiddling around and twiddling and working on stuff but there was no real plan except for vague talk of “We should do an album…”

SR: Was that from Future Classic? 

TS: Yeah. But it wasn’t really until four months ago when I was like “oh shit this is really happening… I’ve really gotta finish it”. But yeah, like now that it’s out I feel like I can do anything. Like if tomorrow I was like “you know what, I wanna make a whatever record” I could do it. I feel like I have this freedom now to move forward… to move ahead… so it’s good. It’s very therapeutic!

SR: The anticipation and waiting between releases seems to have really worked for you and you’ve managed to make it a positive thing. Would you recommend this path to young musicians in an age where people chew through new content so quickly? 

TS: I don’t really know… I think when you make something you have no idea if people are going to like it or not. I think if you like it, that’s a step in the right direction. But I don’t know, I think I just got lucky I guess. If you make something and people like it that’s really nice because you never know what’s going to happen.

SR: Did you ever expect Pizza Guy to blow up as big as it did?

TS: No. I really didn’t at all. When I did that I didn’t even show any of my friends, my girlfriend, like no one… I just kind of kept it secret and then it did well. And I think maybe because it did do well afterward I was kind of like “oh shit, what do I do now?” I kind of felt a bit of pressure to follow it up. And the other thing was that Touch Sensitive’s output has always been few and far between so when that did happen I was like “oh, well now what?”… but since then it’s always been a casual thing, there’s no rush or there’s no sense of urgency. When something’s good or when something’s right, I’m confident I can take it to the label and they’ll be like “yeah cool its ready now… lets do it.”

SR: Was there a time when you thought a Touch Sensitive album would never happen?

TS: Yeah and I think mainly because from the Van She days I know how much is involved in making a record. When you do it with 3 or 4 other people that’s one thing but when you do one by yourself it’s a completely different thing all together. So I was a little bit like “shit… that’s a lot of work,” but I’m glad that I did it.

SR: Speaking of Van She, how much did being involved in that project help build the foundations for you to go solo with Touch Sensitive?

TS: Yeah it’s been good, because a lot of people that I know, I know from those days… Or there are some people that will come to a show and say “we loved that band” or “we remember seeing you wherever”… so it’s been good I think the main thing is the experience of touring and being a musician and knowing what its like to be part of this scene. I think from a professional perspective, you know, knowing what is to be expected of you and that you have to be at the airport at a certain time, those little things of the day to day for an artist, that really helped me. But as far as people saying “oh that guy was in that band”… I dunno how to gauge that. I wouldn’t say that it’s been detrimental, or if it has been detrimental no one has said it to my face so (laughs).

SR: (laughs) Maybe we’ll get some comments on this saying “fuck Touch Sensitive, I hated Van She”

TS: Yeah… (laughs) “That was shit and so is this!”

SR: (laughs) So has the new album changed the live set up in anyway? 

TS: Yeah so Listen Out I’m having a full band… So that’s for four shows and then there’s a whole bunch of other dates which we’re going to announce heaps soon so yeah. Because I’ll have new songs and they’ll be out and people will know them it basically just means I’ve got more content that I can play with and that I can mess around with because not all of them will be right for a club show… But the other thing is, that I kind of realised while I was in America was that because I had just been playing my own stuff in every set, all the time… If someone doesn’t know you it’s a little bit hard to make that really work in a club. There was one set where I was throwing in other tracks that I liked and whatever and made the ratio 70-30 and I found that it worked better… So this time I’m going to put a bit more effort into doing edits of songs and making them my own and doing extra shit to them so even if people don’t know my stuff they might know something else and it will still be interesting to them.

SR: Speaking of festivals, I think I’m in the majority when I say I’ve got many happy memories of watching you play Pizza Guy while the suns setting with a couple of drinks in hand. Do you have a favourite memory of playing that track at a festival?

TS: (laughs) Thanks! I think the Listen Out that I did, the very first one (2013). When I had just come back from America and Pizza Guy was out here. I remember coming back and getting booked for the gigs and doing them and I was on the stage and there were people there to see it and I was like “oh shit… People actually like this song.” That was a really good moment for me. But oh man there are so many good memories. I haven’t had any disasters yet, touch wood…

SR: Is it weird hearing people sing back the sample to you?

TS: Yeah it’s hilarious (laughs). Actually I remember there was a Splendour In The Grass where people were on shoulders and stuff. Any time that there’s people on shoulders, that’s always a good sign and it usually happens during that song. It makes me feel good about it when I see people on shoulders.

SR: Now what came first the funky moustache or the funky music

TS: Ooh probably the music… Actually, as soon as I could grow a moustache I kind of just left it there. I feel weird without it… I look a bit weird without it, but it’s not long really anymore it’s just a bit of a shadow, it’s a comfort blanket, is that what you call it? Like a comfort towel. You know it’s not really cold but people carry a jumper around over their shoulders… It’s that kind of vibe.

SR: It’s your little comfort blanky you’ve got at all times.

TS: Yeah exactly it doesn’t really serve a purpose… but people say “oh you have one of those you look like a porn star” or “you look like a creep” I actually look creepier and weirder if I don’t have it!

SR: (laughs) You know everyone with a moustache says that!

TS: Yeah but you know what the other thing is? They’ve been around since the beginning of time it’s not like a new thing. Like beards, two or three years ago everyone had one, but man has had a beard since the beginning of time, it’s not really a new thing!

SR: Are you trying to reduce the stigma around the moustache?

TS: (laughs) Yeah totally!

SR: So you’ve shot visuals for the album that were all done in Los Angeles. How much of the album was written in the USA? 

TS: Ok so ‘Lose it all’ was done there, ‘Comfortable’ was done there, ‘Don’t stop the beat’ I did over there. I’m just trying to remember off the top of my head. I’d have to have a look but I’d say it was 50/50 here and there.

SR: And are you based half/half between Sydney and L.A?

TS: Well I’d say I’m more Sydney. I’m Sydney unless I’m not here… But if I had to choose I’d probably like to do half half. I mean I like going there but I like being able to leave whenever I want as well you know. I’m pretty lucky I’ve got lots of friends there and stuff and whenever I go there I always have a really good time but after a while it kind of gets a bit full on… There is always something on, and I always come back so fat as well!

SR: (laughs) Now there’s a song on the album called ‘The Mystery of Cats’ What’s that all about?

TS: It’s just about the ongoing struggle to understand and communicate with them. So like, they know that we don’t understand them and we can’t communicate with them that’s why they’re aloof they’re just like “eh I know you can’t understand what I’m talking about.” But yeah I have two really cool cats that were actually a big part of the record as well. Getting in the way and walking on top of things when they’re not meant to!

SR: Any chewed cables or leads in the studio?

TS: Oh man every single lead that I have in the studio that is hanging down has teeth marks in it. It’s Kevin in particular he just loves leads.

SR: You’ve been known to have a mean sample game, however the new album has a few vocal features on it. How do you decide between what’s going to be the main feature of a track?

TS: You know… So what happened was there’s a track on there called “Falling (ft WILLS)” which was one that was done about four years ago. And he sent me that vocal and I was like “this is amazing” and then that kind of changed my perspective on whether or not I wanted to be cutting up vocals and cutting up acapellas and making tracks out of them that way. I kind of felt like “you know what, I have a really good vocal, this has set the bar for other vocals” and I kind of felt like you know, it’s really easy to grab an acapella and sample it and splice it up and make a song out of it that way. I’m not discrediting artists who use that method, because you know that’s all cool but I sort of felt like eh, I’ve done that, I don’t need to do it again, the challenge is getting a vocal that isn’t the latest trick or whatever. And that’s tough because songs these days they don’t even really have a chorus, the chorus is just a cut up pitched thing with lots of effects put over the top of it… And it’s all Flumes fault (laughs).

SR: (laughs) It really is isn’t it!

TS: Yeah it totally is!!

SR: Touch Sensitive, thanks for chatting with us today man and good luck with the release of Visions! I’m sure you’ll see lots of people on shoulders at Listen Out!

TS: No worries man, thank you very much!

Touch Sensitive’s debut album “Visions” is out now via Future Classic. Stream it below and peep his tour dates.

Saturday, 23rd September
Catani Gardens @ St Kilda, Melbourne

Sunday, 24th September
HBF Arena @ Western Parklands, Perth

Saturday, 30th September
Brazilian Fields @ Centennial Park, Sydney

Sunday, 1st October
The Sporting Fields @ Victoria Park, Brisbane

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