Grammy night is primed to be BIG for Sam Smith, seeing as how he's nominated for basically every single award. His "Stay With Me" co-writer, however, is just trying to perfect his "graceful loser" face.
Tourist -- a.k.a. William Phillips -- penned Smith's biggest hit, along with both the singer and songwriter/producer James Napier. A vast departure from his own moody electronica, the song has earned Tourist a ticket to the star-studded awards show -- at which he knows he'll feel a little out of sorts. (He's just hoping not to trip -- unless someone makes a GIF of him tripping. A GIF would be cool.)
With his debut LP fast-approaching -- and the Grammys looming -- MTV News caught up with Tourist to talk eating pizza with Sam, his intensely personal debut and, of course, that aforementioned loser face.
MTV: Are you all ready for the big night?
Tourist: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what 'ready' means. I’m just going to go there and see what happens. I’m trying to get a selfie with Beyoncé and that’s really my only goal.
MTV: I think that’s an admirable goal.
Tourist: I think she probably wants to get a selfie with Tourist. I think that’s way up her list of priorities.
MTV: I think so, too. Sam Smith got one at the VMAs, right? Maybe he can give you some tips?
Tourist: He did, yeah, he did. He has a strong selfie game.
MTV: Speaking of Sam -- 'Stay With Me' is so different from your own music and I've heard that your name, Tourist, is a reference to being a tourist of sound. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Tourist: I don’t know if it is a strength or a weakness of mine, but I kind of sit in between quite a few genres. I’m not really in a scene, do you know what I mean?
There are a couple of reasons I chose the name. I like the word; I just like the way it sounds when you say it. I like the cultural connotations of what it means. You know, I suppose I’m a bit of a musical tourist because I kind of move about with what I do. It gives me the freedom to write what I want, really.
MTV: So, what were you tapping into when you wrote ‘Stay With Me?’ I know you guys wrote it in, like, a day and you went and got pizza in the middle.
Tourist: Yeah, we actually wrote it in about half an hour. I didn’t know what I was tapping into, but I’ve always played the piano. I taught myself how to play the piano and the piano is kind of what I do. That’s what I did in that session; I had these three chords that I thought were nice. We didn’t really sit down to write a specific sentiment. We just felt what was right.
It was good fun. And we got pizza, which is always good.
MTV: There should always be pizza when writing music.
Tourist: Always. I think we did the same thing when we wrote a song with Jessie Ware about a few months afterwards, and I said: ‘Guys, we need to get pizza because that seems to be our good luck charm -- is to have pizza.’
MTV: So, did you have pizza with Olly Alexander from Years and Years when you wrote 'Illuminate'?
Tourist: No we didn’t! We didn’t, I think, no. Luckily we didn’t. If I did that all the time, I would have to go the gym a lot more often.
MTV: So, what was that session like?
Tourist: I think the one thing I said to him was that I wanted to do something quite colorful and bright and insane. It was really enjoyable to write that record with him. He’s a sweetheart, man. He is really talented, really kind of vibe-y and he just jumps around in the studio. He’s a good dude, I really enjoyed writing with him.
MTV: You've said before that this record is very personal -- and also that you don't sing. Can you tell us a little about the elements that you wove together to create these personal tracks?
Tourist: The beginning of last year I started writing what I thought would be my album, but it didn’t really feel very honest. And, at the time, I was in a relationship with my ex for about four years. And it was not a very good relationship, really. I think we both knew it was going nowhere.
We broke up last year and I think that breakup made me scrap my album. I was like, ‘You know what? If I’m going to write a record, I might as well make it honest and it might as well have a narrative -- it might as well have a story.' And yeah, every single song on the album, every single track, serves a purpose for me. I wrote each thing to try to make sense of my relationship with her.
One of the things I do, I like recording sounds. I think I went through the voice memos on my phone and, when we first got together, we recorded ourselves, like, getting drunk talking in a bar while we were on holiday. And I found this little voice memo that I thought was lovely and it reminded me of being in love. And I used that and made a tune using that sound.
I didn’t want my record to be a real downer. I didn’t want it to be like, 'Uhh, everyone feel sorry for me, I’ve broken up with this person.’ Like, who hasn’t gone through a breakup? Very few people haven’t. And I just wanted to have a record that was poignant and happy at times, but also reflective and introverted at the other times.
MTV: So you and Sam both have breakup albums -- ones that tell very different stories and in very different ways.
Tourist: Yeah, exactly, I think I’m trying to express something in a slightly different way but the sentiments aren’t dissimilar.
MTV: Life is just sex and death, huh?
Tourist: It is. My motto in life. Sex is how we’re born and we all die. It’s just important to remember those two things. I am quite existential, I think, at the best of times. I’m often reflecting on my own mortality and that I’m not going to be around, you know, in 100 years, or maybe, I don’t know, even 50 years. But it’s important to kind of reflect, we live X amount of years and can kind of touch people’s lives and one of the ways that I like doing that is by trying to make art.
MTV: On a rather non-existential note, the Grammys: What will you do if you all win?
Tourist: I’m just perfecting my ‘graceful loser’ face -- you know, the face you make when you don’t win something and you clap and you look up to the camera and you go ‘Well done, well done, Sia or Taylor.’ That’s my face, I’m just trying to perfect that.