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There are many ways to say "thank you" — a card, bouquet of flowers, even a song. For Tickle Torture's frequently near-nude Elliott Kozel, giving proper thanks is a complicated labor of love and lust.
"It's weird because you're trying to have sex and do chemistry at the same time," he tells us of the gift he made for a journalist after a recent interview.
When it comes to sex, Kozel isn't shy about filling us in on all the gory details as we smoke cigarettes on the Muddy Waters patio. (Incidentally, the phrase "tickle torture" itself often refers to using tickling as a means of sexual domination.)
"You have powder, and you have to get water that's exactly 98 degrees," he continues. "I had this bowl of water by my bed that we'd heated up to about 110 degrees. I put a thermometer in the bowl, then we started [having sex]. When it went down to 98 degrees we quickly put the powder in. Then we had to mix it up and put it in this tube, and I had to stand up straight and stick my [penis] in this weird gooey stuff. It takes about four minutes, so I was about half-hard by the time it was done."
You're probably wondering what kind of weird fetish called for this series of steps. It's actually not a fetish at all. To thank the journalist for her story, Kozel had decided to mail her a chocolate mold of his penis.
"We put it in the fridge for an hour, then took it out and heated up the chocolate. We poured it into the mold, then put it back in the fridge. Finally, we peeled the mold off." Voila, a confectionery delight of sorts. Still, Kozel was somewhat disappointed.
"I was hoping that it would be a permanent mold," he says. "So I could just sell these at shows. But it's a one-and-done kind of thing. So I just have one of these things now. It's just sitting in my fridge, next to the mustard. My roommates are like, 'Dude, when are you gonna get rid of that chocolate [penis], I'm tired of looking at it.'"
Each kit retails for a prohibitive $50 at Sex World, so fans won't be grabbing Kozel's chocolate privates at the merch table any time soon. For a peek at his crown jewels, just stand in the front row.
Since Sleeping in the Aviary disbanded, Kozel has devoted all of his spare time and energy to Tickle Torture's intriguing melange of funk, R&B, and noise music. Inspired by the noise scene in Minneapolis, he began writing material for Tickle Torture back in 2009, after relocating from Madison, Wisconsin. His first EP, 2012's Spiritual Machine, not only garnered him comparisons to other sexually charged artists like Prince but also connected him to film editor Josh Hegard, with whom he has since collaborated on a series of stunning music videos — including "Would I Love You," the first single from this week's release, Spectrophilia.
The title is a reference to sexual attraction between ghosts and humans. For this album, Kozel enlisted violinists from the Minnesota Orchestra. They met via commercial work he does writing jingles. "I had them play on 'You're Gonna Be My Baby,' where the lyrics are 'Maybe tonight you want to be lied to, ready or not, to fuck.' I felt slightly embarrassed," he says. "They had to keep listening to it in their headphones and I was like, I hope they're okay with this!"
Recently, Kozel released a video for "You're Gonna Be My Baby," directed by Ryan Kron Thompson, and produced/edited by Dan Huiting. The video maintains Tickle Torture's theme of eroticism, seeing Kozel through a paint and glitter-filled bisexual encounter as his sultry, falsetto voice emerges from behind a bejeweled Hannibal Lecter-esque mask, pleading, "Are you gonna be my baby?"
"The song is based off of Barry White's music, which I was really inspired by," Kozel explains. "I love music that's really positive. I got tired of all of my songs complaining about being lonely. I had just started dating a girl, and I was inspired by new love and the excitement that comes with being so happy that you met somebody."
Today, Kozel is optimistic about his romantic future. He's at a place with his sexuality where he feels safe to be open, and to continue pushing forward into newer and better things — a mentality that relates directly to his music.
"You've got to have no fear of love — otherwise it's not going to work," he says. It's looking like rain is going to start pouring down, and he stubs out a final cigarette before we embrace and bid adieu. "You have to go in with no fear."