Tobiah Frei and Santos Awogbemi discuss the challenges and excitement of being young, creative, and
(Photo credit: Brooklyn Zoo)
“I was working on this African beat,” says Tobiah Frei as Santos and I arrive at his house. He leads us into his room to conduct this interview but Santos makes a mistake by sitting on the pillow of his bed, “You know what, let’s go to the conservatory.” He takes us to the back of his house where there is two cosy couch.
Aside from being a talented musician, Tobiah is eloquent, tall, and as one of our mutual friend’s mother put it, he is ‘a very good-looking man.’ In contrast, Santos cuts an aggressive look, in every photograph of him he looks like he wants to punch the photographer. Bruno de Oliveira (LOQU co-founder) wrote a character based on Santos and described him as ‘a self-professed leader of the group and always talks loud in order to win an argument, but he is genuinely a good guy’, which cannot be further from the truth, he is probably the most genuine person on his side of Cowley Road.
These two are not just professional collaborators, they firm friends too. Their conversation contains jokes that cannot see the light of day. Santos warns Tobi that all their rude jokes recorded will be made available to TMZ once he becomes famous and it will ruin his career. One of the jokes (or partly truth) involves how LOQU co-founder Mudiwa Dzino will be imprisoned for many inappropriate things but that is a story for another time.
The music video for Tobiah Frei’s single Waiting marks second collaboration between the duo. They first collaborated for the video of What you want, Tobiah’s first music video release.
This is your second music video together, how did this partnership start?
SA: Me and Tobi met through Dzi. Well, I met him two or three years ago but it was one of those ‘hi’, ‘bye’ things, and then recently he wanted to do a music video for What You Want. So, he messaged Dzi because Dzi was constantly putting up stuff, so Dzi was like, ‘Yeah we’ll do a music video,’ but what happened was Dzi, unfortunately, got ill, so I told Dzi ‘if you don’t mind can I please direct the video,’ because I want to be a music video director when I get older. Dzi complied to the idea and then I met Tobi at GnD’s cafe and I showed him all the ideas I had for it, and afterwards we shot the video and it worked nicely, I liked the chemistry between us and I realised ‘yo! this is someone I wanna work with again.’
For Waiting… how did Waiting come along, do you remember?
SA: You made a song and NO!… It was a month after and Tobi messaged me again saying ‘Yo! you up for another music video?’ I agreed to it and he called me to his house, I listened to the song by myself and I thought ‘Oh my god! this is such a visually intense song, we need to do this video.’ So I told Tobi to give me two weeks to come up with an idea and we’ll plan everything. We planned and pre-production went well, all the ideas came to fruition and we made the video.
TF: He was obsessed with red and blue at that particular time.
This video is visually quite a departure from the monochromatic palate of What You Want, What was the aim behind this?
SA: When I first heard the song, it sounded like a very detached song. Tobi was waiting for his ex. to call him and my main aim was to signify this. When you go through a break up your mind wanders so far, and I said so why don’t we represent this by having loads of visual things to show how far Tobi’s mind is wandering. The red (light) was used for passion and the blue was used for a calming thing, so we used the blue on Tobi and the red created a really calming effect on Iman. The forest leading up to it is there just because there is a shrine there to pay tribute to Iman. The telephone booth is there because when you are waiting you feel like I’ve been waiting for so long and the fun goes, it’s just signifying that he’s trying to call her and trying to get through to her. What is the other bit?
TF: The campfire…
SA: The campfire… his final send off, him burning the picture just to say, you know what… fuck it! I’m done with this. The time lapse is just because the song is called waiting and it makes no sense that something is called waiting and there’s nothing at all, no waiting at all. And the other one is the projector, the project is his thoughts it is projecting what he is thinking. The projector was Tobi’s idea. A lot of weird things came along, the way we originally planned it, it didn’t go ahead, a lot of factors stopped us and we had to keep changing the idea that’s why it took a while to come out. Originally we wanted to release it on Christmas Eve but it delayed till February 8.
TF: Was it February 8? Oh shit! it was… Yeah! nothing ever goes according to plan but hey…
SA: I’m glad that we had all these detours because one, we’d not have done the campfire, and two, the time lapse. The moon was out that evening and it looks beautiful.
How did the idea come about? Did you guys collaborated closely, or did you (Tobi) simply told Santos what the video should look like?
TF: I showed him a few clips for ideas, and he just built around that, he took few of the ideas I showed him, for example, the scene in which Iman and me are back to back on the bed, that was something I wanted to do anyway but he incorporated it into his style. When I work with Santos I let him take the ropes because I think it works better if there is one captain so that that person can lead you to the finish line rather than two captains trying to steer their own courses, it just breaks the whole thing. I’ve realised that Santos thinks a lot like me whatever his idea is I tend to like it anyway so it’s really easy. He’s possibly the easiest person I’ve ever worked with, to be honest.
As a singer/songwriter, do you do everything by yourself? For example, write your own lyrics and create your own beat?
TF: I have a confession, I have a ghost writer guys… laughs… cut that! Yeah, I do, I do everything by myself. Sometimes I buy beats, I don’t always make my own beats it depends on the song and the mood. If I feel I have to make the beat myself, then I will. How I do it is I always write the song first and I go five hours searching for the beat. It ends up spanning over the course of the week maybe few hours a day and it’ll end up leading to five hours overall to find it. I take time…
SA: You write first then you get the beat.
TF: Yeah. I take time so I make sure that beat is really for my song. For some songs I’ve changed the beat like three times, I’ve found something better, and I’ve found something better them I’m like ‘Ah fuck! I’ve found something better’, till I’ve found something that is just perfect.
How does an inspiration come to you to write a song? Do you have a disciplined method of doing it or do you just write when you feel inspired?
TF: I feel like it's art so you can’t really discipline art because art is a wild beast you can’t tame. If I am to be honest, I’d say the shower is actually one of the most creative parts of my day. Some of my deepest lyrics and some of my favourable melodies have all been created in the shower. There’s no day I don’t go into the shower I don’t come up with the words or melody of some sort, I don’t know why but showering is the most creative moment of my day. I get off the shower quickly so I don’t forget it and I write it down or if it’s a melody sing out and record it on my phone and later I go back to it and structure it down like an essay, and I begin to write words to it. So I’d say that’s my structured process but you can’t really structure art. If it hits you then it hits you, make sure you record it because once it's gone then it's gone.
And Santos, when someone like Tobi comes to you for a music video, how do you go about your creative process?
SA: My creative process is really weird. Normally I try to think super abstract, and then I stop because I’m stuck and I begin to ask myself how does this come into fruition and what I normally do is I jump on a game, or watch an anime, and then for some reason since anime and game is all colours and such an interactive experience my mind then gets an inspiration from that and then I’m like ‘oh I want this in the video ‘cause I saw this in the game and I want this ‘cause I saw it in anime’, and then my weird mind starts going and I get very surreal vision in my head and I try to incorporate it in the video. That’s how most of my ideas happen through anime, games and surrealist thinking.
Does the final output meet your expectation or does it undermine your vision?
SA: Not necessarily, it could exceed your initial thoughts. When I initially had this video in mind, I am not going to lie to you, at first I thought it was going to be a club, and it was going to be us and the crown and Tobi sees the girl and then she runs, it was very cliche. When I do things I don’t want it to look like someone else has already done it. I want people to look at it and think that ‘yo! that is Santos Awogbemi, he did that.’ So, most of the time I end up exceeding what I originally thought. I was showing Tobi the power point yesterday and we were saying ‘how the hell did we go from this to this?’ It is quite amazing actually.
TF: When I first started making music I would make a song and it would usually turn out to be almost different, and that was mostly because my skills were limited. I didn’t know how to make it the way it sounded in my head, but these days more and more time I spend with music the more the song in my head comes out as they are in reality. And this is one of the happiest and fulfilling things that has happened to me recently. In the past I’ve felt like I’ve wasted so much time and energy and got frustrated, surely the amount you put in is the amount you get out of it, but the truth of the matter is you gain the skill set by putting time and energy into it. I’d say these days my songs sound like how I intend it to be.
As an independent filmmaker who is always terribly low on budget, how did you manage to pull off such an elaborate shoot? There are multiple locations in this video, creative use of lighting, awesome time lapse, and even a model.
SA: The best way to get people working with you, unfortunately, is to be nice and also they have to see some potential in you. I have always been broke, instead to lying around on the couch going ‘I’ll do it when I get thousand pounds’, you just have to get up and go. Then you have to think how am I gonna shot this in low budget and make it look high quality? Fro example: in this video, for the red and blue lights I bought the coloured cellophane for 50p each and put it on the photography lights that I’ve owned for so many years but never used it. And it created such nice quality lights. For locations like campfire stuff, it's not actually hard to get to, it is just £5 taxi fare from where we live. In that shoot, I had Deaglan to help me who luckily used to be a scout and he’s also a fellow filmmaker so he understands. For the time-lapse, I just bought an application for my camera (Sony A7S) and it is the best £8 investment I’ve made this year. The budget can be an issue at times but you work around it. I am a stubborn guy so when I want something I get it if I want something on the video I will make sure it comes out. And that’s the way to go about it, you have to be nice, you have to know people, you have to know your location, and you have to be stubborn.
Tobi, you are a student in Brookes University, you are quite prolific as a musician within student circle, you are consistent with your musical output as well, how do you manage time between your study and your passion? Does it ever get too much?
TF: (laughs hard) I don’t manage my time. I go to bed at 7 am, when the sun is rising. To be honest I am a very stubborn human being like Santos. If I see work, uni, and music, the consequence of missing work and uni is always greater but I always choose music regardless. If I have £400 and I have to pay rent, but on the other hand I have to pay for music video then I’d rather pay for the music video and be homeless. I’d like to say its time management but it's just about sacrificing everything for the sake of music and hope everything works out (laughs) that’s really what I do, to be honest. If I’m anything I’m bad at time management.
Do you guys think that as an independent filmmaker and musician, artists nowadays need to be more entrepreneurial, because it is tougher to get into your respective industry and social media has made self-advertising possible?
SA: I think that in the modern times everyone is becoming entrepreneurial, everyone is creating their own brand. Before people used to work super hard to get studios to get you monetised, there was no way that you could do anything by yo