Thomston On Making Unashamed Pop Music With No Prefix

Male popstars are few and far between in Australia and New Zealand. There's a tendency for males making pop with any sort of prefix to skew themselves towards less mainstream channels. That's exactly why Thomston could be the next best popstar.

He's a 20 year-old New Zealander who, at such a young age, understands his place in the music industry and is acutely aware of what's going on around him from the changing face of albums to what it means to be a popstar in 2016. By "what it means", he knows that there's no boundaries, or in his words there's no longer a, "cookie-cutter pop method".

It's this awareness that has led him to create one of the best debut records of 2016 in Topograph. It's a personal yet relatable project that values the form of the album while also delivering 13 songs that stand confidently on their own.

We caught up with Thomston just before the release of the album for a chat about the state of pop and, of course, the makings of the album.

You've played a few shows now. It must be amazing to see people singing songs that you wrote when you were much younger back to you?
Yeah, I think my favourite thing though is when it's people's Instatgram bios. That's a commitment making it your Instagram bio because that says something about you as a person.

It's interesting you say that because before I found on Instagram a Latvian fan page. When you've got a Latvian fan page you know you've made it.

They like, sent me a package of Latvian goods. It was amazing. They sent me this box and they'd drawn a portrait of me, they got a picture of my cat photoshopped with wings because my cat is an angel and red bull. They also sent me Latvian chocolate. I loved it. And an American fan sent me all these pop tarts and chocolates.

That's amazing though. For something you started in your bedroom very young, to know your connecting with people all over the globe, is that gratifying for you?
In some ways, I don't feel young. I have early arthritis, my knees click everytime I move (laughs) but yeah, it's really cool to me. The first moment where it really struck me was when I played my first ever public show which was in Paris because for some reason in France the music has really taken. I went there not really knowing what to expect and they I get on stage and there's this one song in particular where everyone is singing along and I'm wearing in-ear monitors and I can hear them through it and not much gets through that. They were singing Burning Up and I was like, "is that happening?" I had to turn around and be cool, calm and collected when I was fighting back a feels tear.

That's the power of the internet. You never know where you're going to take off...
Yeah for so long they'd just been display names. I'd noticed this influx of number from France but then you go there and meet them and they're real people and they're not just a display name. It really took me back. Like, those are people and my music has reached them and it's impacted them in a way that's made them come and meet me in person. And then it's like, why is there even a music industry?

You can reach the other side of the world with one click...
And I can travel and live the dream. It's so weird. It's never lost on me.

It's been cool to watch the New Zealand scene blossom in the last few years from Kimbra to Lorde to Lontalius to Broods who you've toured with. That must be inspiring to watch them and know it doesn't matter where you come from anymore?
Yeah and all those people from New Zealand that have done well are so kind about it. The fact Broods are me to support was lovely. They'd mentioned me in interviews earlier on about how they'd seen me at a high school band competition - me by myself with my keyboard and a loop station. They remembered me from that and when they saw I'd put out music they were like, "oh my gosh it's that guy from the high school competition we were judging." That was special. I met them for the first time at an awards show in New Zealand and they came up and gave me a big hug. They're just so humble and so sweet. They genuinely just want people to do well around them. That's kind of against the New Zealand culture in a way. It's tall poppy syndrome so they'll befriend you in a way when you're doing really well and when there's something in it for them but if you're not doing well enough they'll ignore you. It's so bad.


I like where your sound sits at the moment because you've got a triple j vibe to you but you've also got a really pop vibe and you're unashamed in saying it's pop music which is ridiculously rare. So many people tell me their music is indie-pop or electro-pop...
It's like adding some stupid prefix to it makes it cooler. It's pop. And pop is broadening in such a huge way where you have artists like Rihanna and Beyoncé who are putting out left records without clear singles. There are strong songs but you wouldn't consider a song like Hold Up to be the single. And how all of it was sent to radio at once. Everyone is ditching that cookie-cutter pop method and it means that pop to me isn't a dirty word anymore, at least I don't think it is. It's a really interesting time to be making pop music and really exciting but I also think that with these huge artists that are making these left records, it's kind of making space for new artists to push through with really immediate pop songs. It's interesting, you;ve got these big artists that have become cool through their big work where they weren't cool at the beginning. And then you've got these artists who come up cool and then become mainstream and some of them retain that cool and some of them lose it.

With popularity people often feel that they need to strip you of indie cred...

Yeah which I think is so silly. It's just the thing. There's an environment and a culture around new music that is kind of off the radar. It's like you need to be the first on it and by the time the rest of the world has caught on you've moved on because you're a superior being. But, yeah, I love pop music in many forms so I'm not ashamed to say that I've made it.

I love the point about Beyoncé and Rihanna creating a lane for people to do things differently. With Beyoncé letting fans choose the singles, people are deciding which one they want to run with and it's indicative of a general trend where the power is being put in the public and the artist's lap. Do you feel when you're releasing music now, it's not pressure from people above you, it's pressure from the audience?
Yeah. I finished this record and picking a single has been a nightmare for me. And because it's safer to do a traditional roll out and have singles on it...because I feel like you have to be a Beyoncé level to drop everything at once. For me, putting out singles has been really difficult because I've been living with these songs so long and you lose perspective of what is immediate and then suddenly you're giving them to people and everyone has opinions. Sometimes I wish everyone could just hear the album and pick what they like and then put out singles. That's my dream.

How did you choose which of your songs that you released prior to the album to put on Topograph?
Collarbones is just a really special song. It was on an old EP but I feel like it's a really special song and it's really connected with people in a really personal way and I feel putting it on the record will give it a platform to reach more people. And then there's a song that I put out last May called Expiry Date. I knew when I made it that it would be the last track on the record. I thought it summed up everything that I wanted to say and it was a good full stop at the end of the record.

It's cool that you were thinking about the album so early on. About five years ago we heard so much chat about the album dying but there's been a resurgence, for example it used to be all about the singles for Rihanna but this year it was about the album.
Exactly and Work was still a number one. It hasn't compromised singles validity but I think that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, the album is dead thing. What it meant is people stopped making albums sound like albums. They would just sound like a collection of single and they wonder why people buy a couple songs on iTunes or just add a couple of songs to a playlist. It's because it's just a bunch of singles and they pick the ones they like rather than this has flow, this has, you need to listen to it in a certain order. A bunch of the tracks on my record have transitions that move from work track to another seamlessly. To me, I can't separate the two. When I play them live they need to be played together. I think that's important. I think albums aren't dead but if we keep saying they're dead, they will die. Album are alive, I'm going to say.

Often when artists take off on Soundcloud or on the internet they feel like they've got to get to this point where they've got to release an album and it's a big scary thing. Was it daunting for you?

In a way, yes. I'd put out an EP and then I was like, "no more EPs". And then I'd started making these songs and I wasn't ready to make an album yet. I was making songs that I thought were going to be a record but it turned out to be the Backbone EP and that was my gateway to Europe. I think the album has been a stressful ordeal for me. I've put a lot of personal pressure on it because I feel like it's my first impression. I put out the EPs and technically they're my first impression but I feel like once you put out your first album you've said it. I was scared that I didn't know who I was yet. I think partway through the album I was like, "no, I know exactly who I am". I've doubted myself a lot but I've made something that I'm really proud of.

It's sometimes great to watch and listen to - an artist who is still trying to figure themselves out. Even Broods, their first album was great but it feels young compared to their second album. It's not a sound change as much as it is confidence.
That's true, I thought the same thing about their second record. It's so much more confidently pop. The last album was ethereal and beautiful but I agree that this album feels very determined and it has a focus and direction. You listen to it and you're like, "they've killed it".

Can you see yourself getting more confident from your first release to now. Are you singing louder?
Yeah. I made a song the other day that's not on the album but I played it to my manager and he was like, "wow, you're singing like it's a single". But it's true. You start to figure yourself out and then suddenly you can channel this confidence. I think to an extent I've tapped into that at certain points in the record. But the record as a whole, it feels like a confident record but it does feel like a young record to me because I'm still young.

Topograph is out now.


In a dream world commercial radio would look like this...


Commercial radio has always been whinged about. In fact, I’m yet to hear anyone who raves about Commercial radio. Despite the emergence of spotify, iPod inputs in cars and digital music in general, what radio plays continues to translate to sales. And while sales nowadays also put pressure on radio to play high-selling tracks, if radio takes a chance on something, it usually means the public does also.

This week the radio airplay charts are a grim sight. The only Australian act that features is Justice Crew and they’re followed by international artists Nico & Vinz, Mr. Probz (Yeah, us either) and The Madden Brothers. The number one song, Nico & Vinz’s Am I Wrong was spun 898 times just this week. Compare those artists to any of the Best of 2014 lists doing the rounds and you’re likely to find no similarities.

It’s an age old question but why does radio seem so mundane? It comes down to the fact that it doesn’t like to take risks. Trend-wise it follows American radio playlists and, to some extent, British radio, meaning that it rarely gets to dictate what should be played in the way a station like the UK’s BBC Radio 1 can.

I spoke to the Music Editor at News Limited, Kathy McCabe last year who said, “Commercial radio in Australia is pretty much programmed mainly by what’s happening in America. A few British artists sneak through but it still tends to take its cue from whatever Ryan Seacrest is doing.” This hits the nail on the head. Australian radio is suffering from a lack of innovation as it is so far down the cultural food chain.

This may also be the reason that radio shies away from home-grown talent. 12 of the top 40 artists played on radio this week are Australian. While that may seem positive, this includes Iggy Azalea, Sia and Five Seconds of Summer who spend more time away from the country than in it at present. It’s also interesting to note, that all of them bar one (Sheppard) are signed to a major label.

McCabe told me “We still seem to have this bizarre cultural cringe in terms of the support of Australian music that should be far more fundamental particularly on the airwaves.” The cultural cringe is often what prevents Australian artists from reaching commercial radio. Iggy Azelea found it onto Australia radio but not until she was adopted in America with a record that has no Australian fingerprints on it, really.

It’s worthwhile to look at the fact that on the rare occasion a track that sounds less commercial crosses over it ends up doing pretty well. There’s a little song called Somebody That I Used To Know that shot Australian, Wally de Backer to the top of the charts in this country and then all around the world.

In 2007, Gotye won Best Male Artist at the ARIA Awards to a collective “who?” At the time his album had failed to make the top 20, while none of his singles had charted. Heart's A Mess was the album's first single, a song that has now featured on the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

Somebody I Used To Know wasn’t a record made for commercial radio but was one that was swiftly adopted when its video went viral. Without that video, one could speculate that the record never would’ve made it to commercial radio.

A few more examples of songs that have crossed over into the mainstream include Flume’s Holdin’ On, The Black Keys’ Lonely Boy and Lana Del Rey’s Video Games. The three of them sounded completely foreign on commercial radio but with each play a revolution was started. Flume is now the most sought-after electronic artist in the country, the Black Keys have been upgraded to an arena-band and Lana Del Rey has just debuted atop the ARIA charts with her sophomore record, Ultraviolence.

Turns out being different ain’t such a bad thing.

It’s easy to whinge but hard to come up with any solutions to commercial radio’s problems. So, below are a few artists that would find a comfy home on commercial radio while keeping their innovative edge, independent status and creative control.

Meg Mac

22 year-old Megan McInerney has only released three tracks but already she’s carving a name for herself on Triple J, having already taken on the infamous Like A Version. Her tracks have a straight-forward simplicity to them with optimistic pop-hooks that would be delectable to commercial radio. If radio were to take a chance on a young Australian artists, my money would be on Mac.

An alternative to: Adele, Sara Bareilles

Most radio-ready track: Roll Up Your Sleeves


Why she’s not on radio: She’s a self-made artist who is neither flashy nor self-gratuitous. Had she been a winner of The Voice, her tracks would be eaten up by radio.


Let it be known that I have nothing against Lorde, but she didn’t exactly make it to the top from nowhere. At 13, she was signed to Universal Music Group which certainly helps with radio airplay. Segue from that to 18 year-old Kiwi artist, Thomston, who’s just released his debut EP Argonaut. His dark, pop tunes could be the perfect antidote to some of the over-thought music coming from male songwriters at the moment. It’s got the sort of electronic undertones that radio is devouring right now.

An alternative to: Lorde, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith

Most radio-ready track: Anaesthetic


Why he’s not on radio: Being a young, unsigned artists from New Zealand doesn’t really bode well for you on radio here.


Girl bands have had a resurgence of late but if you look at the radio charts you wouldn’t know. There isn’t one to be seen in the top 40. M.O. are three girls from London making ‘90s throwback R&B. It’s full of great pop hook, bouncin’ beats and perfect harmonies. Think TLC with a hint of Destiny’s Child.

An alternative to: Little Mix, Neon Jungle

Most radio-ready track: Dance On My Own


Why they’re not on radio: It’s beyond me. The ball is in Britain’s court. Once they catch on, Australia will follow.


This Nashville trio is slightly too enigmatic at this point to make it in the mainstream, but their songs suggest otherwise. With four tracks to their name so far, they’re showing a knack for velvety, synth-pop. It’s melodic enough to stick to radio and also has enough street cred to see it on Triple J’s playlists as well.
An alternative to: Nico & Vinz, Mr. Probz

Most radio-ready track: ILYSB


Why they’re not on radio: They’re far too mysterious right now. Radio doesn’t like that. It wants somebody who’s going to say “This is LANY and you’re listening to the hottest radio station on the planet”.


Liz is the First Lady of Diplo’s label Mad Decent and she’s producing damn fine, millennium RnB. She evokes nostalgia from the golden days of pop/RnB when Britney was queen and Xtina was the dirrrrtiest gal around. Touches of Ryan Hemsworth-esque electronica ensure that Liz sounds contemporary while having a throwback sound. It’s as if she was the sole survivor of the dreaded millennium bug.

An alternative to: Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj

Most radio-ready track: All Them Boys


Why she’s not on radio: She’s channeling an RnB sound that hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet. While the RnB revolution has flooded online blogs, Ariana Grande is perhaps the first artist to bring it to radio. Hold tight Liz-lovers.


Here's the full list of what we would play if we got to take over the radio for a day:




8 Songs by New Artists Under 21


Following the news of Rafael Nadal’s WImbledon defeat to 19 year-old Australian Nick Kygrios overnight we thought we’d find the best eight tracks right now by artists under 21. Why? Because it seems at the moment, once you’ve reached 21 your life is over. These youngsters are impossibly talented and while these songs will delight they will also make you more unhappy than when Adele hit number one all around the world at the age of 21. Don’t even get us started on Lorde.

XXYYXX- Zygote

XXYYXX is not necessarily a new artist anymore, the American producer has been making releasing beats for over two years, however, he’s still impossibly young. At 18 years of age, XXYYXX has amassed a Soundcloud following of 165,000 and already toured Australia with Laneway Festival. Zygote is his Mary J. Blige-sampling track released today. It’s an unrelenting, tempo-raiser inspired by future RnB. Another notch on XXYYXX’s belt.


Madbliss- Crash

It’s enough that this Californian producer is only 16, however, he’s also been producing beats for three years. Most of us couldn’t even work Garageband by that age let alone produce audible music. Crash is a smooth, laid-back that pumps along in no hurry. It’s such a self-assured effort for a sixteen year-old that shows incredible restraint and a feel for hidden melody.


Thomston- Motley Crue

Being only 16 and from New Zealand, Thomston was always going to draw comparisons to Lorde, however, with his new Argonaut EP he is forging his own identity. Motley Crue is a standout from that EP, and acts as a certain ode to youth. “Drive all night, sleep all day” he sings over a throbbing, dark beat joint by the odd handclap. It’s slightly dissatisfied and derranged like any teenage anthem should be.


Tove Styrke- Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You

So many young artists try to act beyond their years, that’s why it’s so refreshing that Swedish artist Tove Styrke sounds every bit her 21 years. Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You is an obnoxious chant song that sounds sassy, youthful and rhythmic. She barely gets a breather in this three-minute runaway train that gets better with every listen.

K Stewart- Speechless

19 year-old K Stewart was the live vocalist for fellow youngsters Bondax, but has now broken out as a soloist. Her latest track, Speechless, was produced by Karma Kid and featured by Radio 1 presenter Annie Mac. It follows in the path ‘90s throwback RnB, as she runs through her vocal range like Mariah while having the restraint and fragility of Ashanti. There’s a huge future ahead for this Londonder.


Little Simz

Little Simz is a 20 year old rapper from North London who is making a name for herself with her brash, aggressive raps laid upon smooth beats. Devour is off her latest EP E.D.G.E and is produced by acclaimed British producer Jakwob. There’s a certain Azealia Banks flavour to it without the feeling that she’s going to fly off the handle at any second. She’s sounds confident yet organic and totally committed to her craft.

Aleksander- Ultraviolence

Aleksander is an 18 year-old singer/songwriter from Brisbane who’s just released his debut EP, Mah, Jong, Jong! His look and sound channels bold male songwriters like Alex Turner, Jake Bugg and even Johnny Cash. A few weeks back he dropped a cover of Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence on his Soundcloud which showcases the very strength of his voice. To have a tone and presence such as his at the age of 18 is baffling.


Darcy Baylis- How Can I Live?

Darcy Baylis is a 19 year old producer from Melbourne who’s already made a name for himself as electronic maestro Namine. He’s now ditched the moniker and is doing it under his own name. How Can I Love? is the most immediately melodic track he’s made yet. It’s underlined by a pulsating beat and peppered with ‘90s keys. It sounds like an anthem in its most minimal and stylistic form.



Throwaway Thursday


We've closed down, the liquidators have been called in and we've been given 'til midnight before they burn the place down for insurance. It's the last ever sale. Every song must go! Everything is free, this price is not to be repeated. So come on down to Throwaway Thursday with your empty pockets. Anna Lunoe, Thomston, Avec Sans - there's something for everyone. Bring the kids, bring the semi-trailer and get in before everything goes!

Listen: HAERTS - Hemiplegia (Avec Sans Remix)

London duo Avec Sans have done it again; injecting their signature cheerful disco-pop and splashes of synths into HAERTS’ melancholic track ‘Hemiplegia’. They’ve extracted some of the rock, cut-and-pasted the vocals and thrown in glittery effects which all make for a sure dancefloor-starter. The track can be downloaded from their page, as well as the entire Avec Sans collection, for the small price of a Facebook like.



Click to access Avec Sans' Facebook page 

Listen: Thomston - Salt

18-year-old Thomston featured on both our '5 Artists You Need To Hear Right Now' and ‘10 Songs You Need To Hear This Week’ so obviously we’re a bit obsessed. He had us in deep with ‘Anaesthetic’ and now he’s returned, bringing back his wise-beyond-its-years voice and grungy backing track, with ‘Salt’. This latest (free) offering was only uploaded 4 hours ago so best get to this one quick before everyone else.


Listen: Bombay Bicycle Club - Home By Now (Louis The Child Remix)

One of the more languid tracks from Bombay Bicycle Club’s album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, has been given a techy, Nintendo-inspired rework by Louis The Child. It makes for a fun listen which manages to take you away to a faraway, pixelated land of mushrooms and rainbow roads. Want all that fun but are console-free? Do the next best thing and download this number from Louis The Child’s Soundcloud.


Listen: Anna Lunoe- Bass Drum Dealer

Australia’s new dancefloor queen is tearing it up overseas. She dropped this one in her Coachella set in April and caught the attention of many including Skrillex. Skrill (is that what kids call him these days?) mixed and mastered this one. The result? “House-inspired jungle rhythms” that are completely free to download. That’s our girl.


Listen: Popcaan- Where We Come From

'Where We Came From' is the debut album from Jamaican reggae-man Popcaan. As expected, the album is one to get down and dirty to with plenty of dutty dancing to be had. As the soundcloud notes, musicologist Wayne Marshall says the album “gives voice, as the best reggae does, to the contradictions of life in a society rife with inequities and yet so rich.” So, if you’re lookin’ for a voice or even just a bit of a butt wriggle, press play.


Watch: The Police vs. Grime Music

This documentary hosted by grime rapper JME, reflects on the cancellation of a grime event by police in London and more broadly investigates the relationship between London police and grime artists. It’s an interesting exploration of London’s form 696 which mandates that promoters and licensees submit a risk assessment form 14 days in advance of an event in London detailing the style of music and target audience. Many have labelled the Form ‘racist’ and ‘discriminatory’.


10 Songs You Need To Hear This Week


It's the long weekend. You're going to need tunes and you're going to need plenty of them. Lucky we've got you covered. Here is a very beat-driven Top 10 Songs of the Week:


1. Caribou- Can't Do Without You

This one's off Caribou sixth studio album, Our Love and it's full of those warm undertones we've come to expect. The "Can't Do Without" is a deep, all-encompassing treat on the ears and teases until the song’s climax. It doesn't come until a minute towards the end, but when it does a rush of synths hit like a gustful wind, most likely bowling you over.



2. Thomston- Anaesthetic 

This New-Zealand whizz-kid will surely makes waves with his immaculately produced brand of dark-pop. His voice is crystalline and runs alongside a slowly bubbling beat. There's a certain fluidity to the song that's hard to resist.



3. Montaigne- I Am Not An End

This song’s been added to high rotation on Triple J this week and there's a good reason for it. I Am Not An End is a self-assured effort driven by a confident and pertinent voice. Its melodic strengths are too memorable for this song to just be a fleeting love.



4. How To Dress Well- Face Again

Tom Krell is certainly not churning out sunshine at the moment, but he's so good at melancholy it's hard to care. Following the fluffy Repeat Pleasure, Face Again is a much darker expedition not too dissimilar to the Weeknd's early mixtapes. It's not traditional in any way. It twists and turns in odd directions but it's confusing and thrilling at the same time.


5. DJ Dodger Stadium- Never Win

DJ Dodger Stadium are selecting some choose stadiums. The "Never Win" vocal sample speeds proceedings along nicely before it escalates into high pitched squeal. Meanwhile, the drum pads are packed on and the deep bass gets more and more pertinent. Promising stuff from Jerome LOL and Sammo Soundboy.


6. A G Cook- Beautiful

This is Nintendo music. That's what it is. And it never sounded so good. It's bubblegum pop, that seems to take cues from K-Pop. Amongst all the oddity, there's a beautiful vocal melody running alongside.



7. Foster The People- Best Friend (Wave Racer Remix)

You can tell Wave Racer has had a hand over this from the get-go. There's trap-inspired drops, Atari synths and high-pitched vocals. It's either annoying or highly danceable. Take your pick.



8. Lily Allen- Bass Like Home

This is apparently the 'unofficial' anthem of the World Cup. We'll take this any day over Pitbull. It's an extremely British, deep-house number that ratites some incredibly literal lyrics. It's a little bit kitsch but that's half the fun of it.



9. Jack Garratt- Worry

The Chet Faker brand of electronic music has grown in popularity of late and this is another one that adds to it nicely. It's full of sparse beats, delicate keys and falsetto, capping it off with an instantly recognisable chorus.




10. Polica- You Don't Own Me

Polica stick very close to the original but it doesn't matter because Channy Leneagh's voice is so perfect. It's the first time we've really got to hear it away from a coating of auto-tune. It's heighty and allows the chorus to soar.

Listen here.