Record Overplayed
* *
* *
* *
* *
* *
* *
* *
* *
Tom McRae | Newcastle Virgin Megastore | 15/05/03

“One man’s miserable, self-obsessed singer-songwriter is a French person’s poet.”

Interview by Dawn / Photo (Stockton Arc 06/11/03) by Dawn

It’s a dull, wet Wednesday evening and Tom McRae and I are sitting in a little room three floors above a Virgin Megastore where he has just finished promoting his latest single, Karaoke Soul, with a live set and signing session. Tom’s record company chose to release the track because, as he explains, “it’s the only song that’s approaching radio-friendliness. It’s got drums and it’s about 120 beats per minute.” And the video? “The video’s all about not having enough money to make the video we wanted and having to settle for shooting it very quickly in a warehouse in Ealing. It’s a performance video really. It was made on the same sound stage as all those Ealing comedies, so it was quite cool to be there but, other than that, it’s just a straight video really.”

 

Onstage, Tom plays guitar and piano, while the album also features, amongst other things, a cello, so I’m interested in which instruments he can actually play. “I can play a lot of things very badly,” he smiles. “I can play guitar, piano, bass… My piano playing has good days and bad days and by the end of a tour I know what I’m doing, but at the start I’m always panicking!” And the strings? “I’ve got keyboards and samplers and string pads and when I’ve got an idea, I sit down with my cello player and we work things out together. I can’t even read music; I just sing it and, by hook or by crook, we get there!”

So what comes first - the music or the lyrics? "Chaos! Complete chaos!" Tom smiles. "I have a notebook full of ideas, a tape recorder full of little bits of music and somehow they sort of collide over time. I don't really know how it works; I haven't examined it too much."

Some have criticised Tom’s lyrics for their ambiguity, but he explains: “I know what I’m trying to capture in a song, but I don’t like things to be completely explicit. I’ll be a bit pretentious and quote my favourite poet, TS Eliot, who said that to suggest is to create, whereas to describe is to destroy. If I suggest ideas, people who hear the song can put their own images to it.”

How important are Tom's lyrics in comparison to the music? "I think they're fantastically important but, at the end of the day, they're not poems that are put to music; they are words that are meant to accompany the music" he explains. "I can't get into music if it's got bad words but, conversely, if something's got really overly thought-out, very intellectual, clever lyrics then that kind of closes the door on the emotion of it for me. For me, music shouldn't be intellectualised. It's about really raw experience."

In Britain, Tom is something of a well-kept secret – or in his own words, “because I don’t wear a suit and I’m not called ‘The Tom McRaes’, I’m not particularly big” – but his music is tremendously popular in other countries. “All these things are luck,” explains Tom. “Record companies can do their best to promote you, then just one country picks it up and goes nuts with it. It happened in France and it happened in Belgium and now it’s happening in Norway. For some reason the press pick up on it and the people are much more open. The press is not quite so driven by fashion as it is in this country; if they like it, they just like it.” Or to put it another way, “One man’s miserable, self-obsessed singer-songwriter is a French person’s poet. I can sell out quite big venues in France, so you’ve got a couple of thousand people all singing along in what’s not their own language, and that’s amazing. It’s quite humbling, really.”

Sincere thanks to the lovely Tom for being such a gentleman. Thanks also to Quinner and to the ever-obliging Mark at Wild. Visit www.TomMcRae.com for more details.

 

^ Top of Page


© Record Overplayed, 2002-2016.