Interview with Tomato Flower

By DJ Iridescence
Cover Photo by Marie Mechin

As I’ve mentioned on my show, the dream of my early years was to have a radio show.

…the dream of my middle years was to interview bands about their music.

Thanks (AGAIN!) to Freeform, this beautiful creative container of growth and community, I got to fulfill another dream on August 11, 2022, the night of the Aquarius Full Moon. It was our fourth supermoon in a row, and other cosmic energy was at play (if you know, then you know) on a day//night that marked a collective pivot point in our individual destinies. I’m going to relive the buildup to and pleasure of that night, so come along with me……

Tomato Flower is touring in support of Animal Collective, celebrating the 8/5/22 release of their EP Construction. Tomato Flower also released another EP earlier this year, Gold Arc. As an artist, knowing from experience inspired creation takes a balance of work and ease, I consider that a prolific output! My interest piqued, I seized the opportunity, volunteering to talk with this group of strangers, and was guided through by Freeform Portland station member disco diablo.

In preparation to interview them I spent some time with the presskit they sent to the station (thanks Jake Saunders @ Ramp Global), and did some virtual research to get a sense for who I would be talking to.

I came to the show feeling the intensity of watery cells in my body expanding, thanks to the moon and practiced awareness of nature’s lunar and seasonal cycles. The people near me were asking people if they had ever eaten tomato flowers and talking about how they taste.

From the jump-to of when their set started, Tomato Flower coaxed me into and through the feeling of flow, riding along with what felt like a vessel of well-cared for collaborative love. They were fantastic openers for the Animal Collective show to follow. Taking my time, embraced in Tomato Flower’s softness, I felt my mind and heart open and connect. The minor annoyances (which can feel like major annoyances in pre- and moreso, post- pandemi times) of being in close proximity to a large room filled to capacity with humans melted away. I became completely focused on where their creative output met my senses.

Once the entire venue had cleared out, I was able to conduct my first-ever band interview to the symphony of the show being broken down. The audio of that interview can be heard on Zozimos, airing at NOON Thursday 8/18, and afterwards on my mixcloud on the 10th episode of Zozimos, called COLLABORATE. 

What follows is a loose transcript of the interview plus some interaction with Tomato Flower’s responses I would have liked to make room for in the moment if time (and my time slot) were more elastic. Of course, I could have edited them in, but then what would motivate me to write this post? ; ) 

DJ Iridescence (I),
Austyn Wohlers (A),
Jamison Murphy (J),
Mike Alfieri (M),
Ruby Mars (R)

I: How does it feel to be on the road so far?
J: Feels amazing to be in new places, new audiences, on a larger scale, tremendously exciting
A: Truly unfathomable scales

I: Have you been to Portland before?
A: Not as a band.
R: I’ve never been to Portland but at the store today someone said they’d served me before

I: We are in a portal time, who knows?
A: Absolutely

I: What life experiences have helped you hone your voice individually or as a band?
?: That’s a toughie.
J: Tautologically, playing music my whole life, playing and trying to write songs when I was nine, I wouldn’t be doing it now. It sounds circular, the thing that informs the music is playing music, it’s been a lifelong practice. I think it’s like this for all of us, it’s a deep practice that’s been going on as long as we can remember.

I: So you’re lifelong friends who have also been playing music together for…
J: I mean the practice of making art in some capacity has been with each of us…

I: Right
M: We’re lifelong musicians
J: Yeah
M: To add to that, being part of different music scenes and living in different cities for substantial parts of time and participating in those communities is really informing what we’re doing now. So like, living in New York, living in Atlanta, now being in Baltimore, that’s all our experience that we’re bringing to the music we’re making.

I: So you’re not from Baltimore, you came together there?
A: Yeah. Yes, Mike! Yes, Jamison! The practices we maintain, the company we keep, how we relate with our environment, we bring all of this to our creative process! I feel that’s true for any artist. I love how well you all articulated the ways you embody your life experience and fold it, together and apart, into the music you make as a group. I feel that awareness in how your music resonates deeply, beyond words.

I: At the show, during your set, I experienced a heart and mind activation, plus dance vibes, then your (Austyn’s) guttural emotion, which was so intense. First of all, well done, across the board!
A: Thank you

I: What organ do you each feel you write or perform from?
M: In my bones, I perform with my hands and feet, all the music is coming from my bones
A: For me, the songwriting process feels very cerebral, it’s much less bodily for me than maybe other musicians. I tend to be thinking about what I want to make before I sit down and play, it doesn’t happen organically. Performing, I’m thinking a lot about breath and diaphragm especially. Focusing too much on the keyboard or guitar parts can be a catch 22 but I feel like I’m always very conscious of trying to stay full of air.

J: I would also say the lungs. I really value the [quick suck in of air], teetering feeling, a vertigo gasp feeling, and that feels like a breath related thing, some of it comes out of that.

I: Your goal is to get to that vertigo-type feeling of being at the edge?
J: When it’s best it’s like that, or when composing, when it’s truly from outside, or something I can’t fathom it’s [quick suck in of air], it’s a quick zoom out, you know?

I: Yeah, like you’re out-of-body for a moment, coming in and out?
J: Little bit, yeah

R: Thinking about it, the eyes and solar plexus

With these parts combined, you all make a functional body!

I: How do you get in//experience flow. To me, it felt like y’all were really riding it together during the show, how do you do that, especially together?

R: To me, it’s listening as hard as possible, that’s the number one key, is I can access that if I’m truly actually listening with all my mind.
A: I think also reacting to the energy of the rest of the bandmates. There’s something to be said for playing wrong notes, right, but in terms of the actual energy of the set, I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do it, as long as we’re either in agreement with each other or in productive tension with each other. So we can play a sleepy set and as long as that developed in an interesting way in a live setting, that doesn’t necessarily make it a worse set than a very energetic set.
M: Yeah, listening is supreme.

I: How do you distinguish productive tension from unproductive tension?
R: One feels good
(All agree, laugh)

I: How have you surprised yourselves?
J: Anytime I write a song, if it’s good I have surprised myself. It is in some way, not something I could have thought through, and so the surprise is the thing that makes it worth keeping, versus not. Surprise–surprising myself is an essential part of any worthwhile creative thing I want to keep.
R: Really, just what Jamison said.
A: I am surprised that I’m getting up in front of all these people, I don’t feel like a natural performer in my heart. I’m very shy. I thought I was going to be vomiting in front of thousands of people, and instead I’m playing songs which is cool and surprising.

I: Ruby, what is it like to join an existing collaboration?
R: Completely natural, because Jamison and Austyn and I have been playing music together for a long time. It’s a rejoining for me to be on this project, so it feels like getting in bathwater (laughs).

I: I noticed in the press material across multiple platforms that you center collaboration as part of your band identity. All bands are a collaboration but not all bands put it so forward. How did you learn or choose to center collaboration as part of your identity as a band?
J: For me, I always want the content of the music to lead first, the actual stuff of the songs, and that necessarily also means decentering the self a little bit. So, collaboration is almost a shorthand for saying it’s not any individual person, it’s not an image of a person. It’s this specific unit of people, right here, right now, doing this particular thing. And then to say collaboration, so pay attention to that thing. It’s not about a speaker or a personality, it’s about the stuff we have collaboratively made. It’s also literally true that songs get put together from disparate parts of different things we all come in with. So it’s also honestly how it works, it is quite collaborative, even when someone comes through with most of a song.

I: What practices help make sure that everyone has a voice?
J: Just trying to make it as good as possible. Naturally, other peoples’ ears allow that to happen. Other people can hear your own stuff better than you can most of the time.
I: Yes, I hear that.

In preparing for the interview, I noticed how consistently Tomato Flower presents as a cohesive unit. I appreciate how comprehensively Jamison explored the conscious intention in space and time to be in collaboration, how that intention can be represented and influenced by the representative appearance, as both part of and distinct from the actual dynamic of collaborating. While speaking about what works for Tomato Flower, the band members were tapping on so many important truths about how every facet of creating work together is dependent on the setting and intention, and the importance of recognizing the quality of the tension as it comes up.

I: How do you navigate the stickiness when tension starts to push into unproductive, how do you catch it from going over the edge?
A: Take five (laughs)
R: Yeah (laughs)
M: Take a little break
J: Let a song sit for a month
A: There’s one song, for instance, we’ve been in the shop on the bridge on, so we’ll bring it up and if it isn’t feeling right we put it back down again. We don’t really ever force it when it’s feeling bad, but we’ll let it rest.

I: I got very new world collective empowerment vibes from your lyrics and especially from the sound, and it feels very fortuitous to be interviewing you on the full Aquarius moon. I don’t know if any of you feel in tune with the moon, but how does it feel to channel that energy, can you feel it?
R: I feel pretty in tune with the moon
(everyone laughs)
R: My granddad was like this too, whenever it was a full moon, he would get really keyed up, and anxious and tense, and that definitely happens to me. So, that happens today, because it’s the full moon
(everyone laughs)
I: You feel anxious and tense? Or you flow through that?
R: I feel like a certain heightening of cells.

Tomato Flower was in for my request they say the station’s legal ID, which I remember hearing bands do and loving to hear how they did it. Tomato Flower chose una voce style, meaning in one voice, how angels speak.

I: Is there anything else you want to say?
J: We’re having a great deal of fun and thank you very much for interviewing us and giving us interesting questions. Which is really appreciated and it’s really fun to talk it through.

 I: Yeah! Thank you!

Tomato Flower, thank you for opening your sweet, delicate blossomy underbelly to my inquiry about the mechanics of your magic and talking it through. Thank you for being present for my questions as a group, after a day of traveling and performing, and answering with such earnestness. Thank you for previously sharing this playlist with the world for me to find and listen through and get to know you. I was pleased to feel resonance in several tracks which I featured throughout the show COLLABORATE.

This interview was truly a collaboration, as was the radio show I put together. Have a listen to the conversation in the next installation of Zozimos airing at noon this Thursday, August 18, 2022 at, or afterwards on my Mixcloud. Check out Tomato Flower on their bandcamp, insta, or twitter.