How do you make personal music when the lyrics are all about wizards, demons, aliens and serial killers?
That was the conundrum Tom Slatter decided to solve with his latest album, Demon.
‘It’s supposed to be fun still, I’ve not suddenly gone emo. But I felt like I wanted to put my heart on my sleeve a little more than usual. Because this music, and the fact that some people enjoy it, really matters to me,’
‘A latter-day Victorian street-theatre barker with a guitar promising tales of mystery, imagination, ‘orrible murders and bloody great waving tentacles’ is how Tom Slatter has been described. Since 2010 he has been scaring audiences with five albums and numerous EPs of storytelling songs. There are songs about alien outbreaks, about tentacled sky-kraken, about werewolves and murderers. Tom has written about death, madness and tentacles for the best part of a decade with no sign of slowing down or turning to more ‘normal’ subject matter. ‘An unorthodox songwriter whose songs push the boundaries of what can be expected from the solo acoustic guitar troubadour’, or possibly just ‘an experiment too far’.
Demon, the new album, has still got all those things in buckets. Nevertheless it is also a deeply personal album. Inspiration came from a few places, including a couple of reviews that Tom saw as evidence that he the more out there elements of the story telling could be a little alienating. More importantly, Tom wrote a blog post about the twentieth anniversary of his father’s death, ‘Why I don’t write personal songs,’ that seemed to both explain the lack of personal stories in his song writing and begin making the connections between the music and real life that aren’t captured in lyrics.
Demon continues that theme, but in a joyous way. Most of Tom’s family are involved, whether arranging vocal parts, singing in the small choir on one track, playing bassoon, contributing weird voices or taking the photography the art is based on. There are pieces of music that use styles Tom only touched on when studying, that were inspired by real world events (before taking on a weird new direction once filtered through Tom’s brain), that talk about home and change and history. But the lyrics are all still about wizards and demons and serial killers.
Demon is Tom’s sixth album. His solo career began with 2010’s Spinning the Compass. That was the first of four steampunk-themed albums that saw Tom performing at various events across the country, from the Lincoln Asylum (Europe’s biggest steampunk festival) to the Phoenix Alternative Festival in Wales and Eppyfest in Gloucestershire. His live performances have been described as ‘discomfiting’ and ‘overly whimsical’.
Those four steampunk albums were haunted by the ghost of Seven Bells John, a murderous character that Tom finally exorcised with Seven Bells Redeemed, the twenty-minute rock epic from the album Fit the Fourth (Bad Elephant Music). The song was inspired by Tom’s love of musical theatre and heavy metal. Being twenty minutes long, it was (probably reasonably) mistaken for progressive rock and Tom was accidentally nominated for a Prog Award in 2016.
Determined not to take advantage of that hint of critical success, Tom followed Fit the Fourth with 2017’s Happy People, an album made up almost exclusively of short, verse-chorus pop rock songs. This was Tom’s first album not to have a steampunk theme, concentrating instead on a tale of dystopian near-future horror.
‘The world seemed to be descending into a dystopian hellhole. I thought we could do with a soundtrack’, Tom said about the album at the time.
Since then Tom has released an instrumental album Murder and Parliament, fought in vain to stop the members of his online ‘Immoral Supporters’ group from making awful puns, and tried to find time to work on new vocal music.
Demon will be out on July 26th.