Currently in the midst of a world tour, Tom Speight is an upcoming folk pop artist from London, UK. I had the chance to talk with Tom before his Boston show at the Red Room about his long winded career, from the moment he picked up his sister’s classical guitar to the creation and release of his first full length record Collide.
2. Little Love
3. Strangers Now
5. Lost to Me
5. Want You
6. Willow Tree
9. My name
10. Into the Night
BIRN: Welcome, Tom! So you’ve released 4 EPs, played more than 80 shows in the past 12 months and put out your debut album Collide last April. How does it feel to finally be noticed by such a large audience after practicing your craft with many ups and downs for years?
Tom: It feels great to have the opportunity to put out a record. It’s hard to get to that point where you can release an album, in this kind of climate in 2019. I’ve heard that most artists release about 25 songs before putting out their first record, which is kind of crazy. But I suppose it’s a good thing for developing your songwriting and sound, and gaining a larger fanbase so that when you put a record out, you have someone to listen to it. I’m really proud of the record, it’s nice to be taking it around the world and touring. Even just being here is amazing for me, really.
BIRN: You’ve mentioned that you and your producer Chris Bond wrote together in his barnyard studio without any phone signal or internet connection. That’s pretty incredible. How did the social isolation play into the emotional aspect of writing Collide?
Tom: It was more during the recording process where I didn’t have any phone signal. But I think what it gave us was this focus–having everything on your phone is great but it is very distracting. Sometimes you’re not very present with things. And I think with music, you have to be very much focused and in the moment. And it just gave us that kind of opportunity to have no distractions–we couldn’t just pop to the shops to grab a coffee or anything. It was like, everything is here that we need, and the reason we’re here is to make a record, so let’s get on with it. I’m from London, and I’m not used to that countryside kind of life. So in general, it did benefit us in some respects.
BIRN: That’s a great opportunity not only to create art, but to take a break from that bustle of living in the city. Are you going to continue with the social media breaks while writing music in the future?
Tom: Yeah, I think so. I’m gonna make another album with him (Chris) and it’ll be exactly the same–I’m kind of looking forward to it, it’s almost like a social media detox. It’s just a distraction. I mean, it’s great for when I’m releasing music and need to spread the word about it. But also the downfall with apps like Instagram, is that you feel like you constantly have to feed that machine of showing people that you’re busy. And I try and leave a bit of mystique of not giving too much away. Like, I don’t think everyone needs to know what I had for breakfast, or what I’m up to in the studio. Ultimately, you don’t really need to know that side of things. Just listen to the songs, embrace it.
BIRN: I can imagine you and Chris have gotten closer since working on the album, but before that, was there a moment that made you realize he was the right person to produce Collide?
Tom: I think he was definitely the man for the job. He did all the lead tracks of the EPs as well. It was definitely an emotional experience, and you grow closer to someone when you’re working with them. It’s an important thing to me, music is my life and you’re putting that trust into someone so you definitely have to have that respect, and faith in them. He was definitely the right choice, and as I said he will also be doing the second record. I can’t praise him enough, really. He plays about 70 percent of the album as well, he’s a drummer, plays bass, guitar. The thing that drew me to working with him was that I was testing out the songs with a lot of people, and they were focusing on mapping out the song on the computer. I remember getting into the first initial test session with him, and he didn’t even look at the computer or touch it. It was more like, if it works in the room with just us playing together, it’ll work on the record. It was nice, we didn’t even play to a click track. The foundation of the record was live, I was playing the guitar at the same time he was playing the drums, and his brother was playing the hammond organ. It felt very exciting, whereas when you’re stacking (the instruments) up individually, you lose a bit of that magic of little things like eye contact, or dynamics of playing together as a band.
BIRN: Your album is pretty emotionally intense, and all the songs contain pretty heavy subject matter. Was there a particular song you especially found difficult to finish writing? And why?
Tom: There’s a track called Alice, which is probably the rawest song on the album. It definitely wasn’t easy to record, I found myself becoming emotional when listening back to it. I was in the hospital for two months during the making of the album, as I was suffering from Crohn’s disease. And I wrote that song the day I left the hospital. The song wouldn’t have happened without that experience, so I suppose that’s the silver lining. When I listen back to it now, it does take me back to that time in my life. There’s definitely a lot of hope in the record though, there’s ups and downs. So it’s not too depressing of a listen, hopefully.
BIRN: Your story of recuperating from your illness through music is incredibly moving and speaks to a lot of people experiencing similar struggles. What advice would you give to someone who is tackling a frustrating obstacle in their life but wants to pursue their art as a career?
Tom: I think the first thing is not to be in denial about it. I know I was in denial for probably a couple of years when I initially got diagnosed. But I think if you can learn how to manage it, then it won’t beat you, and you can live your life to the fullest you can. You need to tackle these things head on and not put your head in the sand, really. It’s definitely not an overnight kind of fix. My heart goes out to anyone who is battling anything like that.
BIRN: You’ve cited Leonard Cohen as an artist that’s influenced you since childhood. If you had to choose one Leonard Cohen song or album that particularly speaks to you, which one would it be?
Tom: My mom used to play a lot of cassettes and CD’s in the car, and I think with Leonard Cohen it was his “Greatest Hits” CD–Mary Ann, Hallelujah, Chelsea Night Hotel, etc. It’s just great songwriting really, and I liked how simple his production was. He wasn’t over-singing as well–he was just telling a story, really. With a lot of today’s singers, it’s like vocal olympics, but they’re not really saying anything. He wasn’t the greatest singer maybe, but his lyrics and songs made up for it, and his honesty. I think that’s inspiring.
BIRN: You’re occupied by a lot right now, but are there any exciting future plans you can tell us about? Can fans look forward to new music soon or are you taking your time with writing the next release?
Tom: I suppose this album is kind of wrapping up before the new year. We’ve been touring for nearly two years. It’s been kind of a whirlwind piecing that together, but as soon as I finish this tour, I’m gonna start writing some songs for album 2. I’m definitely gonna put out some music next year, just not a big body of work yet, because I need to make sure it’s right. I think I’ve put out so much music in the last two or three years that there’s still enough for people to discover, you know. I don’t really know what it’s gonna sound like yet, but I don’t think I’m gonna repeat myself–it’s not gonna be like, the outtakes of the last album. I’m quite excited to get started next year with writing new songs.
BIRN: That’s great the tour is going well, I’m sure a lot of fans including myself are looking forward to what music you’ll be coming out with next. Thanks again for chatting with us!
Tom: Of course. This is like a legendary place isn’t it? I was like–”Berklee, this is kind of crazy.” I was quite nervous about playing near here.
BIRN: No worries, it’s super relaxed here, you don’t have anything to be nervous about!
Thank you, Tom!
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