Auvinen first donned the name Tin Man in 2004. Just as L. Frank Baum's fictional character had no heart, but a great capacity for humanity, Auvinen's music brims with emotion, even if it appears to lack the requisite parts for it. The guise also gives voice to his seemingly long-held fascination with identity. Auvinen's father was a carpenter from Finland; his mother a Canadian exec for Apple. Together, they raised him in Sacramento. In this homebrew of cultures and classes, it's no surprise a personality like Auvinen's emerged, or that he chose a character as ambiguous as Tin Man to represent himself. Chatting over drinks in Melbourne, though, he was anything but mixed up, using his soft voice to explain the deliberate nature of everything he does.
Tell me about the name Tin Man.
Tin Man is a character from the famous film The Wizard of Oz, which is also a series of books from the depression era. The Tin Man character is something like Frankenstein's monster, or the androids in Blade Runner, that are not human, but want to become more human. The Tin Man character in The Wizard of Oz is trying to find a heart, so that he can become human. And then in the end, when he arrives at his destination where he can finally find the heart that he's been looking for, the wizard says something like, "Well, you already have character enough that you don't need a physical heart. Within your ambitions and desires, you showed that you're human already."
I like this story, and I also like these characters, in terms of music, in that they're made up. They're all made—invented—by other people, scientists. So I thought this kind of makes sense for music in a way. Like, as a musician, you're also sort of inventing these characters, in the same way that Frankenstein made his monsters from assembling bits and pieces from the past to make a living entity on its own.
So you have quite a post-modern view—that everything's been done, and that you're just re-assembling the pieces in different ways?
I could say that I feel like, yes, everything has been done before. But it's not that I have a cynical feeling about recycling anything or trying to create something new, even though it's not new. Especially in music, the history is always that everything's taking from other places, so you just have to continue to produce, even though you're not going to invent a new world.
Doesn't that create a certain sense of futility, as an artist?
No, I think I'm good with that. I think if you had the ambition to invent something new, then you would probably be miserable. But I feel like my ambition is more like, you realise that you're working with old things and maybe looking toward the future. Then suddenly, you get a view on what's happening now. So I think that's a great thing. You're trying to make something, and you suddenly see in a very short period of time that you're in this moment, and that the music you're making is about this moment in time.
So basically, even if you're making something similar to what was around 20 years ago, we need this constant stream of new stuff to suit the context of the current time?
Yeah. If you keep presenting something, then you keep asking people how they feel about it, it's a temperature gauge for what the consensuses of people are. How they feel about things going on within culture. Any time you present music to people, they react to it somehow. So it's kind of a pulse—taking the pulse of an audience all the time.
And you get a kick out of that?
Yeah. I think it's challenging to see what's going on in the time you're living in, because you're so immersed in the moment. I think it does help to get a feel of what's going on in the world.
I think I read somewhere that when Wasteland came out, your mum was really interested to see if a record that bleak would be better received due to the global financial crisis happening at that time.
It wasn't so long ago that came out, but now I have a very clear view of how that was really directly connected with the financial crisis. Whereas at the time, I was just reaching out for something sort of newish, or trying to piece together some of the things I thought were going on. In retrospect, I can say, it does work as a historical document, it does reflect a little bit of that moment in time.
How would you describe your world view? Are you optimistic, in general?
Yes, [laughs] I'm optimistic, for sure. A lot of people talk about these days, "Oh, the world's on the edge of collapse." Maybe that's true, but at the same time it seems like everything is endlessly growing. Seems like there's always the potential for total collapse, but somehow everything's just always going on. And even when things are going wrong, I still enjoy all aspects of Western culture, which seems to never go away.
I was going to ask how that relates to your music, but I think that's a great metaphor in itself. Your tunes are melancholic—recognising the potential for collapse—but there's also this undercurrent of euphoria, of enjoying the current time. Let's talk about your vocal tracks, though. You sing about some pretty dark and unusual things, yet people are still keen to label them as pop. Why do you think that is?
The catchy melodies [laughs]. Honestly, I think it doesn't really work at all the way pop works, but maybe it just has one little piece of the pop equation, which would be a catchy little hook, or something that sticks.
It's a nice compliment, but I see myself how far away from pop it is. I do listen to a lot of pop music, and I toyed with the idea that maybe I could make pop music one day, but I'm sure that I can't. It's a strange phenomenon. Pop music, in a way, you listen to it and you say, "Oh, it's all just formula, there's this big machine behind it, anybody could do that." But it's not. Of course it's very minimalistic the way it's put together, but there's a certain magic that somehow people impart, and it's just perfectly put together, whatever this equation is. I don't think I could ever do that.
It's interesting that you see that as a compliment. I think many of your peers would feel the opposite.
I mean, I do believe in the underground, and I love the underground. I definitely feel like a part of a lot of the aspects of the underground. But somehow, I don't really believe that the underground totally works the way I had imagined it to work, that there's as much give and take as I thought. Originally I thought the idea of the underground was that you'd be joining a gang, you know? [laughs]. You'd just be gangster and badass and down with everything, and then everybody else would be down for you. But I think the underground's a little bit different than that now. I think that's still the case a lot of the time, but also the underground is more vaporous that I thought it would be. It kind of bleeds out in different directions.
So I guess people in the underground would be against pop, because it's kind of this big, normalising factor that you're trying to escape from. But I grew up with pop music with a basis. Basically everybody has. I also find that I get some kind of fulfilment from listening to pop music. It's not something that I need to fight against, in defence of the underground, because I already participate in the underground.
But isn't it the nature of the underground, that it has to be vaporous? Someone gets a unique idea and then it filters through, without that giant normalising factor to compete with?
I don't know. There are different ideas of the underground. The vaporous idea would be like, say, William Burroughs's idea of independent agents operating in different places as part of an underground. Not connected at all, but they're all some kind of anarchists fighting together. But when I think about underground club culture, I think of something more like gangs—people that stick together really tightly. But it's more like the former. It's more like William Burroughs's secret agents who have the same kind of codes, but they operate separately.
Talking about the The Wizard of Oz and William Burroughs—do you read a lot?
Not a crazy amount. I have a few favourites. Usually, when I'm working on an album I'll have a chunk of literature that I'll be focussed on. So right now, I'm just finishing a record, and it's really centred around some books by J. G. Ballard. When you're working on a record, you usually have maybe a chunk of writing, a style of music, a time period, a producer, as a reference point. So I will have that, but in addition for the lyrical content, I'll usually have a literary figure.
Are there other records of yours linked to specific literature?
The first ambient record, Places, was Jorge Luis Borges. Wasteland, T. S. Eliot. Scared had some Burroughs in it. Vienna Blue was F. Scott Fitzgerald.
What do you feel the point of including vocals is?
I don't know if I can articulate that really well, but I'll try. For example, on the new album I have coming out, I have a bunch of songs where the vocals are really important for me. But the label is not so keen on the vocal parts; they'd rather have instrumental versions. And I can understand that, because it's so often the case that electronic music avoids vocals as statements or detractors. But for those songs, I am going to leave the lyrics in. Because it seems very essential to me, somehow, to put vocals on, even if they are detractors. Otherwise, I feel like I'm just throwing water in the ocean; I'm just putting out some more techno tracks.
It's important to get some sort of opinion across?
Yeah. That's the thing, instrumental versions are totally flexible [for DJing] to make it into all kinds of narratives, but if you put vocals on something, the narrative that's already built-in is more restrictive and to-the-point.
Your vocals are always pretty ambiguous, though.
Less ambiguous than the instrumental versions.
It seems like you've backed off the vocal stuff a bit.
It's coming back. I guess I took a break for a while because I just wanted to try out some more stuff. Like Neo Neo Acid was just melodic acid lines for the chill-out room. Some of the other records, too, they're not part of an album, but they're a statement about something.
To return to your point about taking the pulse of society with older-style music, do you feel like you can keep making instrumental albums like Neo Neo Acid for another ten years, and they'll still be worthwhile?
Yes. I think so, actually [laughs]. Yeah, why not?
For a lot of artists it's vital that they do something really different with every record. Why isn't that the case with you?
When I listen to other artists, I can see when their next record is substantially different, but it's never new. It's so rare that I listen to something and I'm like, "Wow, that's the fucking new shit. I've never heard something like that before." That's never happening. So I would never have that ambition, "Oh, I'm gonna make something new." I do have changes in my records, but it's just changes in attitude and tone.
What do you think about the idea that acid itself is a cliché, that it's had its time?
Fair enough. But as an acid fanboy, I can say acid will continue. I'm sure there's much more to it that we haven't heard yet.
What do you like so much about the sound?
The first thing that drew me to acid was it seemed so... non-musical. It didn't seem to be about a series of notes or a phrase. It was just this flowing, organic piece. That, and also, before I had always liked a lot of bass-centric music. You know, funk music, hip-hop, techno and house. It was just a great combination for me: bass-centric music, its constant, unending modulation and also that it's kind of abstract.
You've doggedly stuck with acid. But it lines up with the fact that you haven't made an effort to be part of the clique. You also chose to move to Vienna, rather than somewhere like London or Berlin. Do you feel like an outsider?
Yeah, I am an outsider. But it feels good to be just slightly connected to all these other people in different places, and things going on. That feels great. And also I think being on the outside is a double-edged sword, but in the end I think I feel really good about all my successes. Like, "I really built this myself, or with just a few of my friends." I'm really proud of that.
In other words, it's worked well so far, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it?
Yeah. But I'm not a diehard underground guy. I'm a free agent, so who knows what will come up next? I could work with a lot of different people.
It's not important for you to be physically close to other musicians?
Vienna is a good place to work actually, and a nice place to live. But I think I never wanted to move to Berlin or a place like that because I was afraid to see my reflection on the street too much. The independent electronic musician trying to make it. I was afraid, I wanted to stay away from that. That I would see people with the same ideas, and the same ambitions.
You like to challenge your own views, even if it means feeling like an outsider, or even out-of-place?
Yeah. I think it's also good not to be too exposed to everything that's happening at the moment. Which leaves me maybe being too retro all the time, but I try not to be totally connected with whatever is happening in the scene at the moment.