Another recurring theme in my lyrics is love at the end of the world – or against some other apocalyptic backdrop.
I think subconsciously I’m often writing the sort of songs that could have been written by Disaster Area, the fictional band from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
“Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.”
This song from my album Happy People is all about love in a world where evil government satellites are spying on couples and deciding who is and is not a good match. It also features hand claps in the chorus, because why not?
Run is literally about Love at the End of the World. It has a verse with a funny time signature, but apart from that it’s a straight ahead rock a song about holding hands with the person you love and running as fast as you can from the approaching darkness.
What We Say Three Times Is True
The first part of my Time Traveller Suite, What We Say Three Times Is True is an 8 minute rock song about having lost the person you love in a time vortex. The Time Traveller is searching for the girl with the missing eye, who appeared at the foot of his bed one night during a time travel malfunction.
He doesn’t know that this future version of her hates him and wants him dead. He hasn’t got to the part of the story yet…
Recently I wrote a blog post about dreams and nightmares – a common motif in my songs. Another recurring theme is what I think of as ‘suspended animation’. I have several songs about characters who have, in one way or another, hidden away from the world. Distanced themselves from human contact. Here are a few of them:
All Of The Dark
Arguably the whole of my 5th studio album is about this issue, but this final track is where the main character takes his final step. Having tried to escape from the controlling, totalitarian government, he gives in and has them strip away all his memories and emotions.
Make me nameless and faceless
Scratch out eyes and teeth and soul
Make me blank and empty and void and nothing
I’ll be on the wind
Smoke mist gone
Can you take
All of the dark
All of the things I’ve believed?
It’s a long song this. Nine minutes of despair set to a rock beat. I particularly like the dreamy opening and the big rocking middle section.
I Still Smile
A much lower key approach to a similar theme is I Still Smile. This song is from the point of view of a latex robot that someone has bought in a last ditch attempt to find some sort of companionship.
I have all the time you need
I have all you want
My arms are always here
To make you feel complete
Even when you’re crying, I still smile.
Self Made Man
There are several songs that I think of as my ‘signature songs’. Some of The Creatures is one of those. So is this.
Self Made Man is about a man who has been slowly replacing all his body part with mechanical alternatives. Eyes, muscles, legs, arms, teeth. Eventually every inch of his flesh.
There use to be a woman who used to be my wife
I’ve cleaned off all the rust
From all the tears she cried
There’s one tiny spot, one little place, one last piece of flesh
This time tomorrow it will be replaced with gleaming wire mesh
Those lines are some of my best, I think.
Why do I write about this theme? I think there are several reasons. One of them is simply my influences. I love Radiohead and this is a common theme in Thom Yorke’s lyrics. I’m also a comedy nerd and Chris Morris’s Blue Jam radio show (you don’t know it? Listen, quick!) also has a similar mood.
But also, at the risk of sounding a bit too confessional, it’s a feeling I can relate to. I am definitely an introvert and there’s something about solitude that appeals to me a great deal. I am also often genuinely bemused by what are considered normal social expectations and interactions, and therefore can often feel a little alienated.
But that’s just normal stuff for us introverted people. Nothing in my life is half as weird as what the characters in my songs have done to themselves.
The first Tom Slatter Band gig happened last Thursday at The Fiddler’s Elbow, as part of a triple bill with IT and Circu5.
Did we do well?
Yes, we did!
I’ve wanted to play some of these songs with a proper band for a very long time. Three Rows of Teeth was released in 2013 and this was the first time that Mother’s Been Talking to Ghosts Again and Dance, Dance, Dance have been played live. It was also the first time Some of The Creatures… has been played in its entirety, rather than the truncated acoustic version. I even got the mad guitar solo right, which I wasn’t expecting (and which made up for the mistake in Mother’s where I forgot to repeat one guitar bit).
This was the first time I’ve played guitar and fronted a full electric band for a very, very long time and I’m really happy with how it went. Partly that’s because Michael, Gareth and Keith played a blinder (yes, the only big mistakes were mine, unsurprisingly). But also it’s because of the audience. Were there hundreds of people? Of course not! But were there more people than I expected? Yes, there were and plenty of them came along specifically to see our set. The Immoral Supporters were out in force, tentacle fingers and all, which really made my night.
The other acts on the bill were also really good. Circu5 played a great set that was equal parts prog cleverness and singalong choruses. Here’s a link – I really like the song Stars in particular.
I’d seen IT before at the Bedford in Balham a year or so ago, so knew I was in for something proggy but with a groove and pop sensibility that you don’t always find in the genre. They definitely didn’t disappoint. Highlights for me were ‘Revolution’ and ‘Hands
I can’t deny, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this gig. After more than a year off stage, this was an exhilarating return to performing. Thanks to IT and Chris of the London Prog Gigs facebook page for making the gig happen.
I’m really looking forward to the next gig which will be in May at the Raising Steam steampunk festival May 10th-12th in Bromsgrove. We’re playing early on the Saturday afternoon, at about 1pm.
All the info is at this link.
Next week’s debut Tom Slatter Band gig (we’re not calling it that. Are we calling it that?) includes a couple of songs from Three Rows of Teeth that have never been played live before:
Mother’s Been Talking To Ghosts Again
This is a tale of duplicitous spiritualists hoodwinking the bereaved and gullible. It’s got bits in 4/4, 5/8, 6/8, and three flavours of 9/8. I didn’t write with so many different time signatures to annoy Gareth Cole, but I am glad they’ve had this effect.
Dance Dance Dance
This is a song about dancing in the face of annihilation. Which, let’s face it, is what we’re all doing. Of course, a song about dancing has to have a chorus that’s difficult to dance to. So it’s in 5/4. Of course.
Three Rows of Teeth is an album of sci-fi rock songs, and I’ve wanted to play them properly for years. Next week at the Fiddler’s Elbow is going to be great.
Or awful. There is some difficult stuff here. It might be awful.
There are definitely recurring themes in my songwriting. I tell stories, I sing about murder, about steampunk monsters and body horror, about being at a distance from the real world.
Dreams and nightmares turn up more than once. Here are three examples.
Three Rows of Teeth
This is song is all about dream logic. We start off riding in a hot air balloon, which is then torn to pieces by some horrific sky creature with three rows of teeth. We tumble down to the ground only to be confronted by more monsters. This second set of monsters are evil living church steeples with spindly legs and gaping maws.
It is a strange song, even I am prepared to admit. But one with a great riff in the middle.
Spinning the Compass
The title track from my first solo album is similarly dream-like. Inspired by the Alfred Bester novel, The Demolished Man, this song is from the point of view of a person who finds their world vanishing and shrinking around them, until the very physics of the world shrinks and vanishes and stops making sense. It’s about being unsettled, feeling as if the world simply doesn’t make sense any more.
These Tiny Things Are Haunting Me
This is a fun little song about the tiny monsters that dance about at night, nibbling at your toes and haunting your dreams. The same monsters might be about to return on my next album…
My new album (out soon, I promise!) will continue the theme of nightmare songs.
None of these by the way, are actually based on real dreams. I very rarely remember dreams, but I do know that like lots of people I do have really weird dreams. Most of these songs have lyrics that turned up while I was very awake, most often while playing with various word randomisation techniques. The oddest ideas can occur in the most normal circumstances.
Thanks for listening!
… I played electric guitar with a band last week. That’s right, the inaugural rehearsal of the Tom Slatter Band took place at the Amersham Music Studios.
The last time I played electric guitar in a band was a one-off gig that was supposed to be a warm-up for a steampunk festival that in the end never happened. Before that, I couldn’t tell you. Probably we’d have to go back to when I was in college.
Amersham Music Studios are the premises of Michael Cairns who played drums on my album Happy People, and on the up-coming new album as well. Michael is playing kit for the gigs as well, and we were joined by Keith Buckman from The Far Meadow and Gareth Cole who’s played some acoustic gigs with me before.
How did it go? You know what, it went pretty well. It was a weekday evening after a long day at work, and an annoying commute for all involved. So given the lack of energy we might have bought to the studio, actually it was sounding pretty good.
The set list is a mixture of songs from Happy People, a couple from Three Rows of Teeth that I’ve always wanted to play live, Some of the Creatures… and a version of Wizards of this Town, a song that will finally appear in recorded form on the next album later this year.
Thankfully, it turns out if you get good people in the band, things go really well, everyone learns their parts and things are relatively painless. If I’d known that before maybe I’d have put more effort into it before.
Or maybe not. It’s a lot of effort.
Anyway, come and find out for yourself if I ever learn the solo to Some of the Creatures… at the first show in London on 28th March:
PS. I think I’ve finished mixing the album. Possible final mixes have been sent to the Evil Record Label boss and he hasn’t sent me any death threats in response. So watch this space, a new album might be turning up interfrasticly.
This weekend I took delivery of the last parts for the new album. Gareth Cole (who for reasons best known to himself, now wants to be known as ‘G-Wrath’. Whatever, Gazza) has done a blinding job with the lead guitar work on my new song ‘Drop Dead’. So good in fact that I’ve put a version of the whole song in the bandcamp subscribers only post.
My brief was that he should listen to a few Bowie songs, especially some of the lead work on Heathen. Of course, G-Wrath mostly ignored this but nevertheless turned out a lead part that fits the song perfectly.
What I like about this sort of collaboration is that it turns up parts I would never play. With my lead guitar parts I have always deliberately tried not to sound like a rock guitar player. My approach is that what I can do well is pick the notes you’re not expecting. So I’ll do that. Gareth here is turning out the kind of legato rock ballad playing that I just can’t naturally do. And it works really well.
In other news – I’ve mostly been mixing. I’ve learned a lot about how to do this over the last year. My Rubble and Dust/Run double ‘A-side’ single was an attempt to mix something a bit more rocky, whereas Spirit Box was a real learning curve in terms of recording and mixing my own vocals.
With Rubble and Dust I wasn’t entirely happy with the mixing of the vocals. I think I also fell into the very easy trap of piling too many layers on top of each other. Not that it’s a bad recording. It’s not. Have a listen here.
But those are all lessons for album 6 and it is sounding really rather good.
Reminder! My next gig is a the first proper full band Tom Slatter gig. It will be good!
28th March in London.
I spent the last two Friday evenings at St Paul’s Church in Goodmayes with the Barley Singers. We rehearsed and recorded an arrangement of my song ‘Cutting Up All Of Our Dreams’.
The Barley singers are my mum’s choir that she started a few years ago since retiring. They’ve put on a few concerts and my mum has written several songs for them.
I’ve had Cutting Up All Of My Dreams for a few years now, but hadn’t found the right arrangement for it. No matter what I tried, nothing seemed to work. So I sent my mum the vocal part that I would be singing, and asked for to arrange her choir around that, figuring that if I couldn’t work out how the song should go, maybe she could.
She did! It sounds great. Bandcamp subscribers can hear a rough version over on the bandcamp subscribers page.
It won’t sound absolutely perfect – we didn’t have the time or resources for that. But it does sound good, and honest, and like some people singing a song and enjoying doing so.
In other news
David Elephant, maniacal boss of my record label Bad Elephant Music has now given me a deadline to get the final mixes to him by early March. With David, the word ‘deadline’ must be taken very literally so I will do my best to meet this demand. Or else Mickey Knuckles will be sent round to remind me of my contractual obligations. Again.
But it’s okay, because I think this will work. The tracking is all done, bar vocals on one song, the mixes are mostly coming together, the demon voices have nearly been transferred from my head and onto the digital tape. The new album slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.
Be afraid. Run. Hide in the hills.