Wishes is the moniker of Sydney musician John Towey and the name attached to the sparkly, euphoric I Want To Be Alone With You. It’s Wishes’ debut track but it’s one that’s captured the attention of the internet immediately because it’s soaked in accessible melodies that call for your attention straight away and stick to your memory.
The song has been on high-rotation here at Cool Accidents and while he’s been announced as the support act on Neon Indian’s December tour, we were left craving more after the sugar high of his debut song. To make sure that song wasn’t all we’d be hearing from him we tracked him down to learn more about the Wishes project and put a face to a name.
Towey turned up for our chat in Sydney in a leather jacket, immediately dropping the news that he’d been pulled up by the police earlier in the day. It’s not the sort of aesthetic I’d expected from the man behind one of the most carefree and joyous debuts of the year. His tough-guy image unravels though as he reveals he’d gotten himself in hot water with the police for j-walking - a crime that most would’ve forgotten was even a crime in the first place.
The Sydney vocalist and multi-instrumentalist is, as it turns out, one of the nice guy’s. In fact, his only crime may be stealing your heart with his neon-drenched electro-pop tunes recalling the sounds of 2009 when Passion Pit, Phoenix and La Roux reigned supreme with their electro-tinged that disguised big pop songs as indie jams for the cool kids.
Even though we’ve only heard one tune from the Wishes project so far, the addictive I Want To Be Alone With You, there’s plenty more where they came from. We went in deep with the convicted j-walker on the Wishes project exploring the myriad of different influences and sounds that are being injected into his tunes.
How did Wishes come about?
I played in Convaire for a few years and then I started working at a studio doing production and helping out in a songwriting capacity with a lot of people but I was still working on my own stuff while I was there. Basically over the years I recorded a whole lot of songs in my spare time but it wasn’t really working towards this as a project in particular. I eventually looked back a few months ago and had a body of work and called up a few people and they were like you should put it out. It’s been a really improvised process and very organic. It’s been doing what comes to me.
What’s the plan for Wishes in terms of releasing material?
Over the next year I want to put out a few singles and then maybe an EP but I’m liking it in the sense that because I spent a couple of years in the studio taking my time there’s a lot of material to pull upon and I don’t feel pressured to put stuff together immediately. Now, I’m more about the live show with Neon Indian which is a whole other beast of work.
What’s the live setup looking like?
It’s just me. Yeah, for the Neon Indian shows it’s just myself. I play a few instruments. I play keys and guitar and know my way around a drum kit so I’m going to try and do as much live as possible. But there will be a lot of samples because I’m a producer. But I’ll try and do as much as possible live instead of working off a backing track.
The Neon Indian shows seem like a perfect booking for you because your sounds are so closely matched. Is he an influence?
Yeah huge influence. I’m a massive fan from way back. From his first album. I’ve seen him three or four times. I DJ’d at one of his shows when he was last out here in 2013 and got to meet him and was a total fanboy. I’m crazy about him. I went up to him before he was going on and was like, “what do you want me to play? What do you want to listen to?” nerding out on him.
You’ve obviously been holed up in the studio for a while. In that time does what you want to achieve change?
Yeah. I haven’t set any expectations for the project. I’ve played in different bands over the years and you can get yourself into a headspace where you’re like I want this to happen and I want this to happen but it’s just so much better when you’ve got zero expectations. In terms of the sound it’s definitely changed a lot. I Want To Be Alone With You, I recorded that maybe three or four times in different styles. So that’s the luxury and the downfall of having so much time in the studio. You can be so all over the shop. But that’s been good. I’ve got a lot of stuff which is diverse and different but it’s hard to not sound like myself so it still sounds cohesive. But because it has been a few years if I listen back to the things I was recording a few years ago it’s totally different.
Are those shifting sounds a product of what you’re listening to or the people you’re working with?
I think a bit of both. Definitely what I’m listening to at the time. But I do try to collaborate with as many people as possible and there are always people coming through the studio as well.
Do you listen to a lot of new music or do you try and stick away from it?
At the moment I’m listening to heaps of new music but then six or seven months ago I really went back to what I was listening to when I was 15,16 or 17. I do get fixated on something and get obsessed with it. Like when Neon Indian came out I was obsessed and chill-wave was all I listened to so a bit of both but I do try and keep up with stuff. When I’m not doing the production stuff and when I’m not working on music I teach guitar to teenage girls so I have to teach them what they want to know.
What’s on the teenage girl playlist?
I know Taylor Swift back to front.
Maybe you could do something like the Ryan Adams 1989 cover album.
Yeah exactly. I know that album back to front.
All jokes aside. What kind of stuff would we find in your collection?
At the moment, I’m a big fan of the Jamie xx album, the Neon Indian album, the Tame Impala album. In addition to that I’m listening to a lot of Four Tet, going back. Aphex Twin I came to really late. I’m going back and discovering all of that.
It’s been interesting this year to watch electronic acts putting a real emphasis on live performances like Shlohmo and Four Tet. It seems like it’s similar with you where you want a synthetic element but you also want the human side too.
Definitely and it’s such a challenge to pull off for those guys. I haven’t seen Four Tet but I heard he’s amazing and I’ve seen stuff online of Shlohmo that looks really great. James Blake live - he mixes all the elements. That’s definitely what I want to do at the Neon Indian shows. It’s important. Growing up I played a lot of instruments. I know a lot of producers don’t know instruments but I went and studied guitar and it’s something I really want to bring to the live show. But it’s such a fine line between compromising the sound and then if it’s programmed it sounds so precise so it is a balancing act. But that’s the goal to do something that’s live and electronic but also captivating.
Were you an instrumentalist before you were a vocalist?
Yeah totally. I’ve never had any vocal training. Singing was just something I obnoxiously did. Guitar is my bag. I studied it and rehearsed it and was assessed on it. But what makes my vocal unique is it’s so improvised.
Is there a certain element of convenience to it if you can lay down your own vocal on a track rather than using other people?
Yeah to an extent. I sang in Convaire. At first I was a bit self-conscious but yeah it’s a little bit of convenience but also I’ve got a kind of weird voice so all my stuff sounds the same and you can gauge the vibe straight away. It puts a bit of a stamp on it.
If you could choose any other vocalist to feature on a Wishes track who would you choose?
I’ve actually never thought of that. I could use Bowie if he’s free. I love Kevin Parker’s voice. He’s got that vibe. Grimes would be amazing. I’m a big Grimes fan and getting in on her new music at the moment. Young Thug. His verse on the Jamie xx track is amazing and a rapper would be awesome. I’d probably do something that hasn’t been done before.
In the future can you see yourself doing an album?
Yeah it’s something I’ve always fantasised about doing. Maybe if I get a whole lot of money (laughs). It’s a challenge. Songs take so long if you really want to sit down and nut them out and be pedantic about them. I love albums and I remember albums. Whether it happens soon though I don’t know.
There’s two ways of doing an album now. You either sit on it for three years and polish or you go into the studio and bang it out in two weeks like rappers do.
I’m the sort that would disappear into a cabin for three years. I would work out how it all ties together. It would probably be a concept album. I do love albums but for Wishes it’s not something that’s on the horizon. I want really solid good tracks.
- Words and pictures by the interns' Sam Murphy and Bianca Bosso for Cool Accidents