Spirit Box the story so far.

Spirit Box has been out for 3 weeks. It’s still undoubtedly one of my best releases. It sounds great, the songs are strong, and Jordan and Gareth’s contributions are excellent.

The CD version comes with two extra tracks, and also a letter. Here’s an extract:

“Hello you!

Thanks for buying a copy of Spirit Box. Your support is greatly appreciated. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the record business isn’t a thing any more and it is support of individuals like yourself that helps to keep absurd, commercially insane projects like this going.

Spirit Box is a project I’ve had half a mind to write for a few years now. On my second album, Ironbark, I’ve got a song cycle called The Miser’s Will. Five songs that tell a story that I can play in my solo acoustic set. The original idea with Spirit Box was to write another acoustic song cycle, but one that tells a story about the ghost hunting device known as a spirit box.

Butcher Boy came into being when I was walking around the City of London, taking a break from making the world better as the amazing, selfless charity worker that I am, when I spied a butcher’s van. I can’t remember exactly what it said on the side, but I do know that in that instant the opening lines of Butcher Boy turned up in my head. …”

It’s been reviewed over on The Progressive Aspect, which is nice. I think this quote is a keeper:

“If you have an inkling for a little darkness in your music collection then this EP, concerning some macabre murders and Stephen King-like clowns, is perfect…the weird is now wonderful.”

I’ve also recorded a podcast with Jordan and Gareth in which we discuss the songs, the meanings behind them and the process of recording them.

I’m dead proud of it. If you like it too, your support would be appreciated. Every penny it makes will go back into making more music.

You can click here if you would like a copy.

 

The Immoral Supporters

Pasting my face onto unlikely pictures has become a regular occurrence in the ‘supporters’ group. 

Sometime in 2016 I started a facebook group. I thought it would be a bit of fun. A chance for the small number of people who liked my music to band together and have a chat.

It descended into a swamp of bullying and punning as they all began to harass me. ‘Mubla’ was their cry, for reasons that I must admit now escape me. ‘Mubla, mubla, mubla’. And occasionally ‘penguin’.

I asked them to describe what it was like being a member of the group. Here are some of the things they said:

“It’s great to be in a group dedicated to the abuse of a so called musician.” – Andy

“It’s an opportunity to peer into Tom’s psyche (and wish we hadn’t)” – Steven

“You’ve only got yourself to blame and I take great pleasure in annoying you whilst enjoying your music” – Ian

“I feel queasy.” – Alexander

“I have just come from a meeting of the Windermere Self-Immolation Society.” – Roger.

I enjoyed it when people started jokingly asking where the new album was. David Elephant, Evil Record Label Boss of Bad Elephant Music had claimed that Happy People was overdue, and the Immoral Supporters leapt on this as an opportunity to hassle me about it.

Fool that I was, I encouraged them. They started asking in weirder and weirder ways, via code and semaphore.

Now, you could argue I was egging them on. I did hide the word ‘mubla’ three times on Happy People and encouraged them to search for it. And I did pretend to be annoyed when they were asking me where the album was.

Oh. Album. Mubla. I get it.

But that was no excuse to make so many awful puns.

I could understand asking where the album was, but why the puns?

If you are not one of the unpleasant people who insists on harassing me via The Tom Slatter Immoral Supporters Group online, please don’t join in. Stay away. It is an unpleasant group.

Here is a link. Please do not click on the link and join this group. 


Hello you! My latest release ‘Spirit Box’, a ‘concept EP’ about ghost hunting and murder, is out now. Evil Clowns, murderous butchers, failed attempts at ghost hunting, what more could you want from an EP? Here’s a link.

Studying Composition at Uni

I studied music at Roehampton University. Not exactly a world-renowned institution for music, but I applied late in the day and wanted somewhere I could study part-time. It was a bit of a last minute decision, but a good one.

Some of what I studied was a waste of time, and in common with a great many students, I found most of the course tutors lacking. However, my composition tutors were great and I learned a huge amount from their modules.

Electroacoustic/Acousmatic music

I did a couple of modules looking at electroacoustic or acousmatic music. This is a classical approach to electronic composition that comes out of musique concrete. One of my favourite examples is this by Adrian Moore:

We’re used to to thinking of music in terms of harmony, melody, accompaniment. Much electroacoustic material simply can’t be thought of in those terms – there might be tones, but they aren’t necessarily going to be tuned notes. There might be foreground and background, but accompaniment and melody aren’t the right terms. Instead we can think of gesture and texture.

Gesture is almost analogious to melody – it’s those sounds that are focused, moving, perhaps in the foreground – almost a solo voice that moves through time.

Texture is more likely to be in the background, perhaps more static – a feeling that stays for a time rather than a moving foreground sound.

Music as sculpture

The biggest lesson I took from having a go at this kind of music was in putting all those seperate sounds together into one piece. With harmony, melody, rhythm and all the ‘normal’ musical ideas out of the window, I found that my main concerns were things like pace and shape. It seemed sensible to leave long pauses of silence, or to worry about whether the gestural material joins together properly. Tiny details seemed incredibly important, and much use was made of the volume and panning automation in Logic.

Learning about electroacoustic music took me out of my comfort zone. It made me really explore some of the things that can be done with technology, and made music seem more than notes and chords – it’s also about timbre and shape and feeling and texture.

‘Proper’ music

I did lots of more regular composition at uni as well. I don’t really have any recordings made at the time, but the bassoon piece in the middle of this very sensible episode of my old podcast written for my sister’s recital was written just after I left uni.


This piece, Firecracker, was written for a string quartet – probably incompetently – but became a louder more guitary piece on my recent Murder and Parliament album. A lot of the pieces on this began life when I was at uni.

Do I think everything I did at uni was worthwhile? No, and much of it had a classical bias that I found maddening. But I learned a lot about how to write music while I was there, and I‘ve used those skills every day of my life since.

Why I don’t write personal songs

My dad died when I was fifteen. Cancer. In my memory it was a few short moments from him complaining of chest pains in our kitchen, to him being close to death in King George’s hospital. It was only a few months. I remember it as being both instantaneous and lasting forever.

At the time I wrote some songs about it, but ever since I’ve held back from that sort of writing.

My lyrics are not about me. There’s a style of lyric writing that is ultra-confessional and sometimes it’s brilliant – Tori Amos has some amazing songs that are all about the most painful, heartbreaking moments in her life – but I can’t do it. I tried when my father died and for a fifteen year old I think I did the experience justice, but now I can’t imagine singing songs about such personal episodes of my life.

For me music is transcendent, which is just a pretentious way of saying escapist. Escapism gets a bad rap in art, as if it’s somehow shallow, but I absolutely don’t think it is. I want songs that tell you a story along to a rock drum beat with some funny chords and silly solos. I want to do – in a different style – what Iron Maiden do. Cos singing songs about dreams and monsters and science fiction stories and taking lots of other people of a journey is more fun, more mature and more of a challenge than writing about your own feelings.

I’m sure I read once about Bjork telling Thom Yorke that he should be less self-indulgent. That the audience matters more than his feelings. I’m not sure if he ever really got that, but it’s something I’ve always felt pretty keenly. The point of music is to evoke emotions in others. Going around emoting is doing exactly the opposite.

To be honest, because of that I find confessional writing a little dishonest. You can’t feel heartbroken all the time. That break-up from fifteen years ago can’t possibly feel as raw now, as you sing it for the thousandth time, as it did when it was an open wound and you happened to grab your guitar. Whereas that fictional story? That’s true every time you sing it.

Having said that, here’s a recording of a song from when I was 15 and all emo. It’s not a bad song in my opinion, despite the obvious influences and lack of singing lessons.

My songs aren’t about me, and how I’m feeling. They’re about the audience and how we can all feel something joyful and silly and escapist together.

We recently marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, which is why it’s on my mind. I’ve lived more of my life without him than I lived with him and I am sure all my memories are more than little inaccurate.

My mother was a music teacher, but actually my dad was just as much an influence on my music as my mum. During the period when he was ill I borrowed a four-track recorder from my school and started to figure out how to record songs. Our bathroom was next to my bedroom, and it was when my mother was helping my ill father in the bathroom that he heard me messing about with this four-track recorder and suggested to her that they buy me my own four-track. So in more ways than one, all this music is his fault.

But I don’t write lyrics about myself, and I certainly wouldn’t write a blog post about anything so personal. So you didn’t read this, it isn’t here.

Spirit Box released today

I am very pleased to announce the release of Spirit Box, my new EP.

It’s a collection of murder ballads with songs about evil clowns and overzealous butchers. It’s about death and ghosts. It’s acoustic and noisy and dark and murdery.

You can stream it on bandcamp, download it, or buy a CD with two bonus tracks.

Murder ballads and other dark songs

I’ve always enjoyed songs about the darker things. Songs about characters in extremis, pushed to the edge and pushing back. Songs about murder, and killing and weirdness. Nick Cave, Tom Waits, the darker traditional folk songs.

I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when I started to love songs like that. I’ve always liked heavy metal, which has its fair share of horror songs. As a very young child I liked musicals, and that’s stayed with me, even though a great many musicals suffer from not being Sweeney Todd.

But wherever it started, I like music that’s melodramatic and macabre. Here some inspirations:

Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads

Where the Wild Rose Grow by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue is one of a great many Nick Cave songs I could have picked. The juxtaposition of a pop princess and a raving madman stoving her character’s head in then putting a rose between her teeth works beautifully. What I particularly love about this is that if you were listening with half an ear you could be forgiven for thinking this was a cheesy love song, rather than a murder ballad.

It’s also unforgiving and bleak. Apparently the older, more traditional murder ballad folks songs would contain verses where the murderers get a proper comeuppance. The law, or at least justice, would find them. Not so this song. The tradition changed, particularly over in America and murder ballads just focused on the dastardly doings of the antihero. This Nick Cave song is definitely in that tradition. There is no light. He just kills her. And yet musically it is a straight ahead, simple song.

What’s he building in there?

The same cannot be said of Waits’ What’s He Building in There. That ain’t no normal song. This is character, through and through.

What I love about the video in the link above is the melodrama. It is dark, but the audience are happy to laugh as well. What’s often missing from more experimental stuff on record is the audience reaction. Laughing is okay. If it’s weird, it’s weird.

Waits’ songs aren’t always about murderers, but so many of them are populated with these weird, over the top characters who get up to all sorts of strange things. I know people always focus on the unique character of his voice, and rightly so, but for me what stands out are the protagonists of his songs.

Sweeney Todd

I couldn’t write about the music that has influenced me without mentioning this show. Sweeney Todd has a special place in my dark little heart. I’ve never seen a live show so blood soaked and gleefully, messily, violent. And Sondheim is a genius, isn’t he? The words are genius, the accompaniment grotesque and perfect. And there are moments of real beauty in the melody, but every one of them is undercut with an air of menace.

In short, I like ’em dark.

What about you? What dark, storytelling songs would you add to my list?