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 yourself but now that we live in the modern time I think people do everything by themselves. That’s why we’re in LOQU, that’s why we’re not trying hard to get a studio job because we want to be the studio, we want to market ourselves, and I think it is important that you find a brand for yourself because it shows people that you are independent. Instead of being handed the job. It’s not a negative thing, it’s actually pretty good because we’ve been given the tools to become what we want now all that matter is how much hard work you are willing to put in.
TF: I think he is absolutely right, these days you have to have some kind of entrepreneurial character if you want to get you brand out there because these days there are so many independent start-ups, so many independent artists, independent everything. It’s over saturated. To climb above and be noticed depends on whoever can market best, and it is so annoying because as an artist you just want to focus on art but 2017 the world doesn’t work like that. Whoever markets themselves the best gets noticed, it not who is the most creative, or who is most talented, or who works the hardest, none of that stuff matters anymore.
Explain how it is to do this kind of thing in a city like Oxford, a city that does not have a strong base for film and music? Is it difficult to feel inspired by this surrounding?
SA: Surprisingly, it is quite the opposite, because in Oxford there is nothing but that drive of emptiness is something you just want to fill. You want to be like ‘I need to find a photographer, I need to find an artist, I wanna put everyone on a plateau, I wanna show everyone here’s the community’, that’s what Oxford has actually driven me to do. I have seen so many creative individuals that people have not witnessed, individuals that I know that other people have not socialised with, that's the best thing about Oxford. Oxford has this huge potential but I don’t think anyone has crossed it. People always say we’re gonna do this we’re gonna do that, we’re gonna put Oxford on the map but none of them do it, only thing Oxford is known for is historical buildings and education. You don’t really come to Oxford for its art and culture. But I feel like we can harness that. If I lived in London I would be a completely different person, I wouldn’t be this hungry, I would’ve probably gone on to do something normal. Since there is this need and want in my life I’m desperate to get it. That’s why I feel fortunate to live in this city because I met people like you, Dzi, Bruno, Tobi, Tee, Malik, Arcade. All these people are now in my group and it would never happen without me wanting to create art and hungry to collaborate.
Tobi, you are from Manchester, and Manchester has it own vibrant music scene, how does it feel compared to Oxford, is this place less inspiring than it is back home?
TF: Well… I never really recorded back home, I actually started recording in Oxford so I don’t know how it feel like to record back home but I know there’s a bigger musical scene, but Santos is right, the emptiness does actually drive you to wanna do stuff, at the same time I feel like eventually, we’re going to move somewhere else. I don’t see myself staying in Oxford too long because I feel like for what I’m doing I need to be in a city where there is a presence.
SA: My plan is to move to London, I was actually born in London and there’s more of a film scene there, I need something more lively and more people to interact with, it’s all about networking. You can’t be in a village and expect to network with anyone artistic because you are always going to go to a place where there is more and London is the biggest city. I feel like it also has the biggest hive of young people, young intellects, artists. I just think that I am better suited to that city than Oxford.
Santos, you have this new production company that is gaining some attention, what do you hope to achieve with this company and what is its future?
SA: In the future, I want to change LOQU Films to LOQU. When we first started LOQU we were in uni so we were in a film based environment, it was all about short films, music videos, promo videos, and the works, but over time I’ve seen all of us grow into something else like Dzi has become an amazing colourist, you are a cinematographer and a publisher for the company but you are an artist, and then Bruno is a writer (faint laughter from somewhere for mysterious reason). My goal for LOQU is to create an art platform, where everyone can put their work on display. We are filmmakers at the core but we want to be part of a community, only time will tell how my business plan will perform, but one hundred percent before I die I would have told you that I would have died, ‘cause there’s no way this is failing.
Similar question for you Tobi, what do you hope to achieve with your music? Do you have ambitions to fill up a stadium one day, do you hope to go on tours?
TF: You can hear it in my song, you can hear it in my lyrics, I talk about touring all the time, I talk about crowds, I talk about shows, everyone wants to be recognised for their art but to me, it’s never about numbers. It might sound cliche but through some of my darkest times music has brought me out of it and if I can do that for somebody else, if I can give somebody hope then my music has done its job so why not reach as many people as possible because at the end of the day I don’t know who I’m helping, whose life I’m saving, I don’t know who I’m giving a second chance to, and that inspires me to make music.
WAITING AND WHAT U WANT BOTH AVAILABLE BELOW