Man Of Many Sounds – Thomas White Interview

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The name Thomas White might not mean much to the mainstream music-loving public, but mention his two bands, Electric Soft Parade and Brakes, and the penny will soon drop. After the best part of a decade with the two bands, he’s using their downtime productively, working with a host of other artists whilst launching his own solo career.

His second album The Maximalist was released last week on Cooking Vinyl and he’s also out on tour with his backing band to showcase tracks from that complex and ambitious record — which was inspired by his hometown, Brighton. The Maximalist also includes his versions of songs by Warren Zevon and Guided By Voices.

This latest effort has already accrued top reviews from the likes of Q Magazine, Mojo and Music Week for its “kaleidoscopic, yet finely nuanced, psych-pop… 70s soft rock and heavy riffing.”

Inspired by his time spent backing up the flamboyant Patrick Wolf on guitar last year, White’s recent gigs feature a backdrop of psychedelic visuals in keeping with the spirit of his new album. No more the indie shoegazer, he’s up the front of the stage now rattling his tambourine as much as his vocal chords and engaging with the audiences.

“Playing live is the one area where things have changed for me. I used to be quite reticent, quite nervous and I used to just get up on stage and play until I worked with Patrick. He completely puts on a show with his costumes, and he has massively influenced how I play gigs now. I concentrate on the show now; obviously there’s a balance to be had but I really want our live shows to be good and I want to whack people in the face when they see us. I don’t even play anything now, I just whack a tambourine and sing.”

Thomas also used his “quiet spell” to lend his considerable talents as a multi-instrumentalist to a variety of bands, from British Sea Power to Sparks. But putting together his own band to tour the new album, he reached all the way up to Dundee to secure his favoured guitarist, Andrew Mitchell of The Hazey Janes.

“I got to know him after we toured with The Hazey Janes. They’re a band we really liked and my initial plan was to ask them to be my backing band, but after discussing it with my manager we decided it would just be too expensive to do. But I still wanted to work with Andrew — he’s a great guitarist, one of the best in that style, he’s got a really pure sound, really reliable and he’s also a great singer and a great guy. I was very keen to get him in the band because he’s super-talented. Friday is a homecoming gig for him and I’m very much looking forward to playing at Duke’s Corner. I hear it’s a great venue and hopefully we’ll have a nice fun night. I know Dundee a bit because we played the Westport Bar with Electric Soft Parade and Brakes, and Fat Sam’s.”

Despite his solo sojourn, Thomas insists that both ESP and Brakes are still an essential part of his life. “Both these bands are still going. Eamon the singer from Brakes is taking a bit of a break though — he’s moved to Brooklyn and had a baby with his partner. But we’ll still be working with him. I think what we’ll do is get together some backing tracks and record some music then send it over to him to put his vocals on top. With Electric Soft Parade we’d been together for eight or nine years and done a lot but we didn’t want it to get boring so we needed to do other things. We’re never not going to be doing Electric Soft Parade though, we just needed a year or two away from it and we’ve already written some new music together.”

“It was easy to do the solo thing, though, because I’ve never written with anyone else anyway. It’s a very personal thing — I do it on my own. And I’ve always written a bunch of stuff that didn’t get used on our albums — I always had more than was needed. But I don’t conceive albums when I’m writing, it just naturally takes shape as it happens. With the first album, I Dream of Black, I spent a few weeks recording in my girlfriend’s basement and everything just seemed to fit very easily. It was the same with The Maximalist — I had a good few tracks and it was all pretty cohesive. What I’m writing about is my position right then, it’s what I want to say at that point in time.”

Thomas admits to some frustration though at the delay in getting the songs from that point in time to the actual release. “The ideal situation would be to record your stuff and put it out that week. With the music industry the way it is, that can’t happen, but it would be so amazing to get it out right away. I kind of do that with my MySpace — I whack a couple of tracks up there every so often, sometimes a cover. It keeps things going till the record’s out. I’m still a great believer in albums, though, and I love it when a band comes to town and you go to see them thinking, ‘What are they going to play first, how are they going to play their show around the album’?”

Find out how Thomas White and his band play their show tomorrow night at Duke’s Corner. Think The Who, Chicago, My Bloody Valentine, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Beatles, Badfinger, not to mention Radiohead or Pink Floyd, and you won’t be far wrong. Support comes from local powerpop combo Crush Waves, doors open at 8pm and it’s free entry.