A Chat with Saint Idiot (10.09.21)

The brainchild of Slovak-Canadian art-pop artist Tomáš Andel, Saint Idiot’s sound has a complex eccentricity about it. We speak with the singer-songwriter about his musical inspiration, new album Alternative Utopias from a Nostalgic Future, discovering new music and much more!

OSR: What is the backstory to your new album Alternate Utopias from a Nostalgic Future?

Saint Idiot: This album is about exploring masculinity and reintegrating lost, undernourished, unacknowledged, excised dimensions of myself, starting with reclaiming my emotional reality from certain unspoken codes of “traditional masculinity.”

It is the end result of a series of adventures in brutal self-honesty that I undertook when I realised I had spent most of my life projecting my own shadow onto other men. Believe me, it’s a lot to unpack – I’ve written about this extensively for my series of personal essays for Next Gen Men.

At the same time, it’s so much more complex than I just put it. The more I looked for a single “toxic” or “traditional” masculinity, something we’re all well used to talking about by now, the more I seemed to face the fact that no such singular thing neatly existed for me to stare at and, just like in magick, by naming this amorphous thing I seemed to keep giving it power, to keep it alive around me. It’s so tricky to peg down.

I can’t begin to claim that I figured much out. The album started with questions I had and just led me to a set of more refined questions which has been useful. For one, I think it’s deeper than identity politics. For another, I think there are many, many healthy, valid “masculinities.” I agree most with my friend Anthony, who is heard speaking on the album – he says, “there is no wrong way to be a man; no wrong way to be a woman; no wrong way to have a body.” So how come when we say “toxic masculinity” we somehow all know what we mean?

I’m not sure, but for me, the most productive way forward was to focus less on masculine identity and begin focusing more on the traits of openness, humbleness, compassion and togetherness, something that we probably agree can lack a little in certain constellations of masculinity.

While there are strange feedback mechanisms in masculine circles that tend to drive us away from these traits, I don’t think it’s just men that have internalised these exact mechanisms. When I realised that, the investigation became less about categories and more about lifting up those traits wherever they can be found as a constructive offering.

OSR: What inspires you to make music?

Saint Idiot: It comes from a lot of places for me. I need to feel like I am creating something in my day to day, otherwise, I get restless, anxious and sad. So, it begins as a personal need. It’s always been like that, and music is the thing I’ve always been able to sink myself into pretty consistently.

I love the way we can pretty much soundtrack our lives nowadays and how it commits things to memory. Like, every time I hear Tim Hecker, for example, I’m completely and utterly back riding a hostel bicycle through half of Tokyo – I have that forever now.

Music has been like a guardian angel in my life. It has often understood me at my most inexpressible. I like the idea that something I make can maybe do that for someone. Maybe it transports them out of a tough situation for a few moments or expresses something in lyric or melody that was beyond words for them or that they aren’t ready to say out loud yet. When you find a song that really does that, it’s precious and singular!

OSR: What is your creative process?

Saint Idiot: I consume a lot of music, make playlists of stuff that really touched me in some way, mood board for visuals and then spend some time finding sounds and textures that take me where I want to go. I’m very texture/”colour” based on music.

The rest is pretty unromantic – throwing shit at the wall and lots of it. All my songs start out even denser than you hear them now, at which point I get to do my favourite part of making music: paring it down, carving. To me, music feels like sculpture carving a form out of a giant slab of raw material.

I go out for feedback very often, especially with lyrics. I try to write lyrics about things I want to learn or strive to become. With this album, it was about being a better man, or more simply, a better person. I’d write lyrics, show a friend, we’d talk about it, and I’d come away with a sharp insight into something I never considered. This would repeat many times until I felt like I was saying something that felt valuable and new to me, even as I was writing it. In both cases, music and words, it seems to be a process of discovery more than anything.

OSR: Do you have a favourite and least favourite track on the album?

Saint Idiot: My favourite is probably ‘Eggshell’. I wanted it to be like this other world, really rife with living things, like the most optimistic vision of Earth 200 years from now. This siren song of what could be if we all turned away from the sort of novelty-driven capitalist grind (new gadgets, extract, new gadgets, extract, here’s your iPhone23), and internalised living from a place of generosity and compassion.

My least favourite is ‘Change Agent’ and that’s probably because it’s the most vulnerable on the album. I have to admit, I’m still struggling with offering my voice so naked of any instrumentation and singing so prosaically about courage and the value of being wrong

Saint Idiot live performance
Photo credit to Stefan Andel

OSR: If you could change anything about Alternate Utopias from a Nostalgic Future, what would it be?

Saint Idiot: I’m not sure I would change much, which is surprising for me as I’m definitely a never-happy perfectionist. By no means do I think the album is perfect, but at some point, I’ve accepted that perfect doesn’t actually mean good. Likewise, perfect would preclude the possibility of conversation and this album is, in a way, an invitation to conversation.

OSR: What is your best review to date?

Saint Idiot: Adrian Prath of Berlin On Air said that he “couldn’t hear a clear refrain or a fixed structure” in my song ‘Talk’ and although he usually puts value on that, he found the track “so outstanding precisely because of it.” I don’t like writing in simple structures, probably because I never feel satisfied nor do I feel like I am any good at writing in simple structures. I come from very experimental backgrounds in music and art, but I’m not trying to write outsider music. So to hear that the meandering not only works but is a point of strength was extremely affirming.

I was also lucky enough to get in touch with one of my favourite writers/thinkers/podcasters, Doug Rushkoff, who said the music is more like opera than pop – much more epic than pop “and environmental; the real deal!” That made my year, Doug!

OSR: If you could be any colour, what colour would you be and why that specific colour?

Saint Idiot: I think I’d go for lilac or lavender. There used to be these beautiful, lush lilac bushes at a place I loved once and although I never did this, I always fantasised about just, like, walking into them and staying there – kinda like that Homer Simpson meme. It’s just the most calming colour and I’ve symbolically attached lilac to care and caring in my own life.

OSR: What do you think is the best way to discover music nowadays?

Saint Idiot: I was thinking about this just the other day. I firmly believe that whatever music you make, someone out there has been waiting for exactly that kind of music all their life, but it’s so troublesome to get past the algorithm to get it to them. It’s the algorithm that’s the gatekeeper now. I read somewhere that to be considered a competitive advertiser by Google you have to have an ad spend of 10k a month. I’m sure it’s easy to see how this is unfair to most of us.

What’s left is word of mouth. I think the best way to support and discover musicians is to make sure you’re part of a music sharing network. It’s neat that Spotify can guess what you’ll like and all, but nothing replaces curation between friends and the emotional effect that exchange has. Spotify is transactional, sharing music with your friends is human, it’s gift culture, it’s more than the sum of its parts.

Make each other playlists. Lend out CDs. Say “I really wanna show you this,” and sit down with someone and play them a song. Resist using good music as a blanket of ambience. Besides, there’s brilliant music far more suited for that.

OSR: What do you hope people take from your music?

Saint Idiot: An hour in their favourite armchair that takes them someplace far away and, more ambitiously, some balm for these troubling, often divisive times.

OSR: Do you have any message for our readers?

Saint Idiot: I learned that that story you tell yourself about yourself should never feel like it’s unconditionally complete. The second you say “I’m a good person” and you believe it without asking yourself how you could be better (not in a neurotic fashion but often enough that you never outdated your own self-narrative), you start slipping.

I learned that being a good person has to be an active, intentional, constant striving. This could be a fact of life to you already, but to me, it was a huge point of maturation and it really changed my life since.

Thanks to Saint Idiot for speaking with us. For more from Saint Idiot check out his official website, Facebook, Instagram and Spotify.

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