‘An imaginative blend of English whimsy, proper prog and not-prog metal,’ is how prog magazine described Tom Slatter’s latest album Escape. Not having been around in prog rock’s heyday, Tom Slatter came to the genre via his first loves of heavy metal and folky singer-songwriters, tracing their influences back and developing a love of the 70s masters as well as more recent prog bands. His seven solo albums to date throw together those influences alongside a penchant for science fiction and surreal storytelling…
I really enjoyed this gig and Prog magazine said my set was ‘powerfully performed’.
Mind you, the same review said the new songs suggest I might be moving away from my normal ‘dark, absurdist surrealism’. Actually, it’s more of a blip. The new album is a bit less absurd, but I’m pretty sure the next will be proper mad to balance everything out. On average, I will always be absurd.
Anyway, it was lots of fun. Here’s a couple of little snippets, but you need to head over to my bandcamp page to hear the set and grab a free download if you want one.
After 16 January this will be a subscribers only release.
This is episode 6 of my podcast. This episode is called ‘Fuzztail’. It features the wonderful Keith Buckman, chatting about music, playing on my album and escapism (cos that’s the theme of my new album, I may have mentioned it).
Also, I went on a bit of a mission to figure out where my missing CDs are. It didn’t end well.
(Bonus blurry Gareth in the background in the photo there. He isn’t in the episode. Which might count as a lucky escape).
I played a gig! I played a gig! Also my new album is nearly out. This episode has a bit of that gig, including an acoustic version of the song Time Stands Still from the new album.
The Voice of Doubt makes an appearance too. I’m sorry. I should deal with him.
My new album Escape will be out on Friday 1 October.
Well. What with the UK being insane at present, CDs are held up (because we live in a normal country, oh yes). But you’ll be able to hear it over on the bandcamps. It is well good. I am very proud of it. It has tunes and big loud guitars (I my be biased).
I hope you enjoy the podcast and, when it comes, the album too.
Here’s episode 3 of my podcast, An Experiment Too Far. In this episode I explain to the Voice of Doubt that I am definitely fine with reviews, it’s fine, it’s not a problem. I also chat with Ben Bell about playing keyboards for the new album. Also about cheese. And sheds.
I am very happy to announce my seventh solo album, Escape, is available to pre-order now.
As the title suggests, this album is all about escapism which for me means being a scifi/fantasy fan. Reading books, playing computer games, and generally being an indoors kid. And of course listening to lots of loud rock music at the same time. So I’ve turned up the guitars and written a load of songs about spaceships and soldiers and stuff.
You can listen to the song ‘Rats’ right now, and pre-order the album which comes out on 1st October.
It’s available as a download, as a CD, and also in a lovely bundle with an extras CD and a big long booklet full of lyrics and commentary about the album and so on. You can pre-order here.
Over the coming weeks I will share some fun stuff ahead of the album. Behind the scenes stuff, episodes of the silly podcast I’ve ben recording, maybe a sneak peak of a song or two. So keep your eyes peeled!
This and other questions were answered, or at least pondered and discussed in the second of my podcast interviews with the people who helped with my new album.
Ben Bell, keyboard player extraordinaire, was the second person to help out. Here he is, enjoying the discussion.
We talked about his keyboard playing and general creative approach. Along the way I discovered he has built at least three sheds.
When will this new podcast be inflicted upon you? What will it be called? Will each interview be presented as it is, or will I cut them up and combine them to present the discussions thematically?
I have literally no idea what the answer to any those questions is. I doubt I will until the first episode is out. Or until the last is out.
I’ll figure it out.
What else has been going on? I’ve only signed off the bloody front cover art, that’s what. Brian Mitchell, who also did the artwork for Demon, Murder and Parliament, and Spirit Box, has been helping out with this one too. It looks ace.
In addition, I’m 90% finished with text for the extended booklet thing that will be one of the optional extras for the album, and I’m making good progress on one of the other extras too.
I’ve also received Michael Cairn’s contribution to the play through video we’re making for the first ‘single’.
In short, progress is being made with this album thing and we’re making good progress towards a release.
Last Friday I had a chat with Mike Cairns, who played drums on my upcoming album. We were recording a little interview ahead of the podcast I intend to inflict on you to accompany the album release.
We had a chat about how he approached recording his drum parts, getting out of music teaching, and we also touched on escapism, the main theme of the album.
As you can see, we both had a great time.
And what does that mean? It means the new album will soon be out!
Last week I signed off the final masters, so the music is finally finished. Mastering – ie. getting all the different tracks to sit together in terms of loudness and so on – has once again been done by David Elliott/Elephant, the Evil Record Label Boss.
This inevitably means that I have now heard all the songs far, far too many times and am slightly sick of them. That’s how the album process works. The point at which you finally get to hear them is the point at which I really don’t need to hear them any more.
Over the next few weeks I’ll share more things as they get sorted – artwork, release date, how you can get a copy, all that sort of stuff. There’ll even be a single with a video to accompany it.
What does the album sound like?
This one’s the most rocky yet, with guitars at least as loud as on Happy People if not more so. There’s a bit of metal, a lot of rock, and quite a lot of prog. How much prog? Well, the first song is 12 minutes long and the last track is 20 minutes long. So quite a lot of prog.
As I said, the theme is escapism. The idea was to have a load of songs that were just fun, up tempo stuff about spaceships and stuff. And that’s pretty much what I came up with.
I am very much looking forward to everyone else being able to hear it.
I saw a funny clip from the BBC over on the twitter:
It’s light-hearted, obviously, but it made me laugh cos I’m a Radiohead fan who could talk forever about how much I like them and I am also a Stewart Lee fan and could talk forever about how much I enjoy his stand-up.
Am I as blinkered as the stereotype they’re talking about in the video? Maybe not. I mean, Radiohead genuinely do interesting and different things with timbre and rhythm compared to other rock bands, and the way they’ve woven ideas from outside rock – bits of jazz, classical and EDM – is really creative. They’re progressive in a way a lot of ‘prog rock’ bands can barely comprehend let alone emulate.
But I also had a long period of not listening to their stuff, particularly around the Hail to the Thief era, and I can absolutely see why, for example, some people can’t get on with Yorke’s voice or find them a bit too miserable.
Anyway, this got me thinking about snobbery, particularly because the idea turned up in relation to sports the other day. I am not a sports fan. I find it confusing in general, and in the case of football actively unpleasant. Why? Because I associate it with a kind of masculinity that just is not me.
I was a kid in the 90s, which in the UK meant the height of ‘lad culture’. This meant football, Oasis and Loaded magazine. Loaded was a ‘lads mag’ that, according to it’s founder, was founded in part as a reaction against the feminising nature of dance music and rave culture (according to this podcast).
Yes, I know, can you imagine such a thing?
It was blokey, masculine, and as anyone who has ever heard Oasis can confirm, offensively incurious.
That wasn’t me. I was listening to Radiohead, and all the things that got put under ‘alternative’ which ranged from proper metal, to metal adjacent things like Placebo. Some of that is pretty masculine of course, but it was the kind of masculinity that was accepting of make-up on men, and singing about your feelings, and in the case of Radiohead of actually doing new things and thinking about the music.
Liking football went hand in hand with listening to Oasis, reading Loaded and wearing your football shirt with the collar up for reasons that were never clear to me.
So, when I amused myself be pretending to not understand what football is it was really interesting when a friend or two objected. I got the impression that to some people, football is not ‘established, high culture’. They seemed to think football was still the solely working class pursuit it once was.
And it ain’t. It is a working class thing, but it isn’t just that any longer. Football is all encompassing, established culture. Not liking football doesn’t make you a snob, it makes you the underdog. It makes you unusual.
Whereas, yeah, declaring Radiohead the best thing ever, and not really listening to anything else is definitely snobbery.
Is there a point to this rambling blog post? Erm… ‘snobbery’ implies looking down on something. Hard to do that when that something is being put on a pedestal by almost everybody.
Also, Radiohead is quite good, but not the be all. And football’s rubbish.
A couple of weeks ago an old college friend posted a picture online. It was a picture of our college class from 20 years ago.
As usual, while everyone else in the picture was being relatively sensible, I was grinning like a loon (too many others in the picture to check with, so I’ve just snipped myself out so you can see my blurry, loon face).
Because of that I ended up reconnecting with a couple of old college friends. There was a theme – none have had truly satisfying musical careers.
I was pretty clever at school. Yeah, it’s kinda conceited to say so, but it’s true. I got a little trophy for getting the best exam results one year. I was always in friendly competition with Meena, the only other person in my year who tended to do as well. But I didn’t go to the sort of school that cared, so they didn’t try and keep me on at sixth form (well, apart from Mr Haque who really wanted me to stay on and do science A levels. Sorry, Mr Haque). There was no career guidance either, and I wouldn’t have listened anyway. All I cared about was music.
So I went off to college to do a music diploma, and I did well (very well. I did extra units and got really high marks. Did I mention I was clever?). I became a better musician because of that course. Then I went off to uni, got better at music, went into music teaching before switching career into a day job that has nothing to do with music.
I never made a serious attempt to make a living from being a musician. Teaching it was one thing, but earning money from performing and composing? No. Too precarious for me. I think I had the musical chops, but I never really had the entrepreneurial skills necessary.
It transpires that quite a few of my college-mates gave it a stab.
And having caught up with them, I was reminded why. It can be a really difficult job.
One was a member of a successful band, touring all over Europe and selling thousands in merch at every gig, but never making a penny.
Another got nowhere in metal bands before packing it in to sell real estate in the middle of America.
Another spent years on the rock covers band circuit, occasionally having a run of good gigs, but not really making progress for years.
In short, not huge amounts of professional success. But loads of musical success.
Away from college friends, I also know musicians who have had struggles with money, struggles with mental ill-health. All of them are musicians who have tried to rely on music as a way of making a living. The musicians I know with day jobs are generally speaking happier for it.
You put money in, you get art out is, I think, a line from the Terry Pratchett novel Maskerade (or paraphrase. I could go and check. But I am lazy). I think that’s the best way to think about music. There is this pernicious and destructive myth that a lot of us musicians fall for – that you can win the lottery and become a rock star. Just work hard enough, make the music good enough, and you will turn this art into your living.
If you can, great. But that takes a good head for business, a realistic model for making it work, huge amounts of luck, and even then I don’t think I’ve met a musician who didn’t make money from something besides performing, recording and composing.
I know for a fact that I, with my full time non-music job, make as much of my own original music as most of my ‘proper’ musician friends.
I know that thinking of the art itself as a goal has lead me to be much happier than when I thought it needed to be something else.
So, daft as he is, I am quite content with the decisions 18 year old me made.
Music doesn’t need to be a job. Most musicians don’t ever consider earning a penny from their music, the ones who do are a tiny, tiny minority. Music is a goal, a thing to create, not a thing to earn from.