SAVE BBC 6MUSIC: Thomas expresses his feelings about the potential closure 6Music at youtube
XFM XPOSURE WITH JOHN KENNEDY 17th March 2010.
Here’s fan recordings of just the songs Thomas covered, not the interview (the sound was distorted)
JK: I’m very pleased to say that I have Thomas White here in the studios of XFM; Tom, welcome back.
TW: How’s it going? JK: I’m very good, how are you?
TW: I’m alright. JK: You’re looking very well.
TW: Am I? I’m feeling very good too.
JK: Congratulations on the album, it’s out this week.
TW: Thankyou very much.
JK: It has to have one of the best album covers of the year, I would say.
TW: I was thinking like a modern update on the Court Of The Crimson King (info) which I kind of think it is. It’s a photograph, it’s not a painting but it’s a similar ultra-closeup of a face and instead of screaming the person involved is pushing blackberries into their eyes.
JK: So at a casual glance, it looks as if somebody is gouging out their own eyes.
TW: The picture’s called Berries and it’s by a friend of mine, an artist called Keith Boadwee who’s based in San Francisco, he’s an art lecturer. He’s a modern artist and does work in various formats but it’s a picture he did and I kind of thought, hang on, that’s an amazing sleeve. He was a fan of ESP back in the day and he was happy for me to use it.
JK: It looks brilliant. So we now know that isn’t your face on the cover.
TW: It’s not my face and it’s nothing to be scared of. People look at it and they’re kind of freaked out and it’s nothing to be freaked out about.
JK: In some ways it’s sweet as well. TW: It’s just some fruit.
JK: It’s just some fruit being squished; when it’s being squished the juice looks like it’s blood running down the face.
TW: It’s a striking image though.
JK: It’s a really striking image. Is it being pressed on vinyl or not probably. But it would look amazing as a vinyl sleeve.
TW: We’re working on that. It would look ace on a 12″ though.
JK: It’s worth taking a trip to a record shop just to have a look at the sleeve I reckon.
TW: Or perhaps buy it. JK: Well that would be the next step. TW: You’d hope.
JK: Well, with tracks like The Last Blast how can they resist. The album is called The Maximalist with the best sleeve of the year so far.
TW: I’m chuffed.
JK: The Last Blast is such a great track but it’s kind of like a glam rock number to my ears.
TW: That was one of the first tracks I recorded and I put down the backing track for it in the live room when I was recording the last album with Brakes. We were up in the studio in Glasgow. I just went in and put down the drum track and started laying guitars down and by the end of the day I had this thing and as with much of the stuff I record, I kind of blindly put down the music and then the lyric and melody is a complete afterthought, you know. The fact that it turned out like that is a complete accident really.
JK: And so that is all you, you’re playing everything on that?
TW: There’s a lot of cornet by a guy called Phil Sumner who plays in British Sea Power and my brother played a bit on there and I just put the whole thing together.
JK: On The Last Blast, is that all you?
TW: The version we just heard there, that’s the single version because the album version is sadly rather expletive ridden and can’t be played on radio. And so a guy called Damo Waters who plays drums with me; fantastic drummer, the best drummer I know – I won’t say the word but he is beyond good. He’s an incredible drummer and he plays with me live and plays in Electric Soft Parade. He played drums on it and my brother played the piano. So I had a little help with that. The main part of the record, I kind of put together bits in studios and then bits in my room and stuff.
JK: You play a bit of everything don’t you. TW: Yeah.
JK: So for those who don’t know the history, Thomas White began with Electric Soft Parade and your brother and you’re part of Brakes and you’ve played in British Sea Power?
TW: Yeah there was one tour where Woody knackered his back, doing some housework, I still don’t know what… and I played drums for them on a UK tour. Mainly really the last year I’ve been playing with Patrick Wolf who has just been an absolute pleasure – and continue to. I’ve just played on his new record.
And he’s fantastic, he’s a million miles away from what I’d usually write on my own. A real star and a real out there musician. Really experimental and he’s actually completely influenced how I’ve wanted to dress up the band and present my live show on this new record. He’s been a massive influence I’ve got to say.
JK: And he’s a really nice bloke as well, he’s been on the show quite a few times.
TW: He’s a diamond.
JK: He is, he’s really sweet and he’s willing to do anything really in terms of how he presents his music. So he’ll play it on a mandolin or he’ll play it on a laptop or he’ll play it with an orchestra.
TW: That’s the mark of a good song in itself, if you can represent it on any instrument and it comes across. He’s just a real inspiring guy. And I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that if he’s listening.
JK: I’m sure he’d be very chuffed. But we’re focusing on you. Thomas White is such a great name, it should have a Sir…
TW: See, I just read a really harsh review that started off “Thomas White, not a very rock n roll name, is it?”
JK: I think it’s a good name.
TW: I think it does the job. It’s my name, what am I going to call myself? I’m not gonna change my name, I’m me. I’ll stick with that.
JK: I’m trying to think of a more rock n roll Tom name but it doesn’t matter, does it?
TW: Verlaine? That’s pretty good, pretty exotic.
JK: He changed his name I suppose didn’t he, to get that.
TW: He did didn’t he! I thought that was his real name.
JK: No it’s not, he changed his name. So some people do it but you’re more real. That’s what it’s about. You’re keeping it more real.
TW: I’m more real than Television everybody.
JK: Television is a construct, it’s just as invention. But I digress. You’re armed with guitars and Andrew…
TW: Mr Andrew Mitchell of Dundee band The Hazey Janes. He’s here with me playing guitar. Say hello Andy.
JK: So tonight, intriguingly, with The Maximalist out in the shops, graced with one of the best sleeves of the year – if not THE best sleeve of the year, you’re not going to play anything from The Maximalist?
TW: Well I have this thing, you build up versions of songs that you have with the band and you get used to the sound of them and for me anyway it feels very awkward sometimes trying to replicate that acoustically so we’ll do some versions of other people’s songs and hopefully turn people onto other artists as well, you know.
JK: What are you going to play first then?
TW: We’re going to kick off with a Sparklehorse song, this is called Maria’s Little Elbows off the album Good Morning Spider.
JK: It is Thomas White performing on Xposure XFM sounding fantastic. You’ve done this before I think, that was ace.
TW: Thankyou John.
JK: And that was a version of a Sparklehorse song, which song was it again?
TW: It’s called Maria’s Little Elbows off his second record.
JK: It’s Mark Linkous RIP really. Was he a big inspiration to you?
TW: A massive, massive inspiration certainly on me and Al’s first record – Holes In The Wall – really odd little details like the vocal sound, the vocal production, little crisp kind of distorted little vocal sounds and lyrically just a huge huge inspiration. Can’t say anymore than that really. He’s a massive influence on what I do still you know.
JK: Somebody who managed to combine all sorts of things across various different records which in a way you’re still doing today.
TW: I try to but most importantly though, he made country music or Americana, whatever you want to call it, I’d never really connected with it at all and he was the stepping stone or whatever for me to kind of get into that kind of music. It had never particularly done anything for me before and his kind of sound bridged it. It’s kind of odd production and there’s weird stuff going on but it’s also very kind of plain middle America kind of sound.
JK: Which explains why you’re dressed as a cowboy tonight. TW: Am I?!
JK: I’m being silly. But that sounded great, really really good. And you’re going to play a few covers so what would you do next?
TW: Well if it’s alright, we’re going to stick to America for this second one. This is a much loved band of ours, Guided by Voices.
JK: Mr Robert Pollard. He’s been on a mission in the last kind of year to release the most amount of albums…
TW: Seemingly as many as he can.
JK: It’s almost like one every couple of months, under his solo name or one of the other bands that he’s got.
TW: He’s always done that but he’s getting on a bit isn’t he, so he’s cracking on.
JK: Incredibly prolific though – you’re incredibly prolific too.
TW: But not with my own songs; I do various different things but all his stuff is like his songs. It’s amazing.
JK: And the quality, he does seem to have quite a high quality threshold, the majority of it is up there I think.
TW: Well I don’t know a lot of his solo stuff but Guided by Voices stuff is…
JK: I’ve been listening to Boston Spaceships… TW: Ah that’s his new band.
JK: He’s had a few albums by Boston Spaceships in the last year and there’s also Robert Pollard solo stuff and luckily I get sent a lot of this stuff so I’ve been able to listen to it and play tracks from it.
TW: He’s brilliant. I’ve got to say, anyone who does high kicks during their gigs… high kicks and buckets for… sorry I can’t say that word… JK: Urine I think you can say that. TW: Puke and urine.
JK: Part of me wishes I’d seen those farewell shows, they sounded amazing. A bar onstage and a bucket for the other stuff. Amazing. Are you gonna do that with the Thomas White tour?
TW: Possibly Paris, Paris is our last show. So maybe we’ll get blind drunk and be terrible.
JK: Have you been playing just songs from The Maximalist as part of the tour?
TW: The first segment of the show is the first half of the album because it all runs in sequence with no gap so we’ve done the first 5 tracks of the album in sequence with no gaps, then we have a little chat to the audience, then we do Accidentally Like A Martyr which is a Warren Zevon song and maybe the last little bit of the record as well. I always like to represent the album well, to give people as much of that as possible rather than playing old stuff. I like to keep it new.
JK: But not tonight. Tonight it’s the turn of Guided by Voices.
TW: Are we good to go? JK: Yeah let’s do it.
JK: Excellent, Thomas White and Andrew from The Hazey Janes performing live on Xposure XFM, that is a Guided by Voices song, what was the title of it again?
TW: Game Of Pricks. JK: Ouch it’s like needles and stuff. TW: Very sharp.
JK: Which album is that from? Do you have a favourite Guided by Voices album.
TW: The kind of mid to late period like from Do The Collapse to Earthquake Glue – so you’ve got Do The Collapse, Isolation Drills, Earthquake Glue. Those three records and Under The Bushes Under The Stars, that’s a great record and Mag Earwhig! There’s a lot really.
JK: There are a lot but there’s a lot to choose from. So if anybody liked that song…
TW: The very early stuff; kind of Propeller and Bee Thousand is a little harder. Maybe for a newcomer start with the TVT records era, the mid-fi Ric Ocasek produced stuff and work back from there.
JK: Excellent. Guided by Voices – Guided by Thomas White tonight.
JK: (after playing Accidentally Like A Martyr) That is the cover that you were talking about, that’s Warren Zevon and it’s now part of the live set. So what made you decide to put that as part of The Maximalist?
TW: A friend of mine, Tony, years ago he used to play me Warren Zevon stuff and again, we were talking about country stuff; if it’s something new to you, you need one song or an artist to find your way in through. Warren Zevon, he was part of that West Coast… him and Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris, all the songwriter circle type thing, late 60’s. It took me a long long time to get into him and then I bought an album called Excitable Boy and that really… every song on it, it was the right time for me I guess. I’d been aware of him for a long time and then I got that record and it seemed to me like no-one was giving him any props or talking about him. And he died a few years ago, 2003. People don’t talk about him too much. And I also think, even if it’s your own record and you’re putting out your own album, there’s no harm in giving other people props and giving a little nod to people. And also if someone’s listening to your record and they see this song’s written by someone else, that kind of spurs them on to listen to them.
JK: I haven’t read it but there’s a really good autobiography that he wrote.
TW: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. It’s actually written by Crystal Zevon, his ex wife. It’s candid to say the least. It’s got big passages of his diaries. It’s rather dark and doesn’t paint him in a particularly good light but for me that doesn’t tarnish his own songs. I leant it to a friend of mine, Clanger, and he was like; “he just sounds like a !!” – whatever the word is. He read the autobiography and was like “I don’t want to listen to his songs, he sounds like a complete nutjob”. If you’re already into his stuff…
JK: It’s tricky isn’t it. I read an interview with Simon Rattle recently and he was saying “when I think about Wagners life and the kind of man he was, I’d never want to conduct Wagner ever again”. But he continues to do so because he thinks the music is incredible.
TW: Absolutely. There’s a certain kind of extreme nature to some of these peoples lifestyles and possibly if you were caught up in it, it wouldn’t be too pleasant but the art that they create is totally vital or whatever. But it’s a hard balance to get.
JK: So, continuing your mission to share the great work of others, you’re gonna perform another song, by somebody else. Tell us about this song.
TW: This is I’ll See You In My Dreams which was a big hit in the twenties on the hit parade and has continued to be so for many different artists; most recently Joe Brown did a version on ukelele and I’m kind of half-way between a ukelele and a real guitar with this thing I’m playing tonight. It’s kind of a short scale guitar. It’s a beautiful song, he played it at the Concert for George, the memorial, at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s a nice little tune and I hope everyone listening in in radio world likes it.
JK: Excellent. Well, when you’re ready.
JK: Excellent – Thomas White performing live on Xposure XFM with I’ll See You In My Dreams. Sounding great, an excellent choice of songs for us tonight. Thankyou very much Tom and Andrew.
TW: Thankyou John.
JK: And The Maximalist is out now; live dates; you’ve got one more date in Paris…
TW: We’re at the Lock Tavern in Camden tomorrow (18th March) We’re out on the road, we’re doing London, Portsmouth, York, Glasgow, Dundee, Nottingham, Guildford and Cardiff and PARIS! I’m very much looking forward to Paris though of course.
JK: I can see that that’s the main goal. Excellent, so loads of live dates still to come.
TW: Yeah, we’re out til mid April. Other things have been booked, like The Great Escape down in Brighton.
JK: And the best place to find out more is?
TW: myspace.com/thethomaswhite … that wasn’t intentional, someone already had Thomas White so I had to put the definite article infront.
JK: Not tempted to put thee?
TW: No I couldn’t bring myself to.
JK: Thanks so much for coming in and performing.
TW: Thankyou John, til next time…
JK: Til next time, definitely.