Thomas White Interview

fanfare-pop.com Translation: Meeting with Thomas White, head of The Fiction Aisle.

With the fabulous Jupiter, Florida, Tom White probably comes to realize the centerpiece of his already well-developed discography (The Fiction Aisle, but also The Electric Soft Parade and Brakes). The native of Brighton comes back here to talk about his desires, the genesis of his music and his influences.

Jupiter, Florida … why this title? What does this association of names represent for you? Does it refer to a place that really exists (Jupiter is a Florida resort) or a dream place?

The title was just right – it had something magical, familiar and strange at the same time. I wanted to evoke a feeling of escape and belonging at the same time. All these contradictory things that we feel every moment. That’s what I wanted. I am less interested in the direct meaning of things these days.

You seem to have expanded your musical palette on this album, less jazzy, more pop, also injecting a small dose of electronics. Is it a deliberate desire to evolve The Fiction Aisle or did it come naturally?

With this new record, I deliberately incorporated more elements that I see as “pop” and accessible – a wider frequency range, simpler, repetitive arrangements (musically and at the lyric level), though there are still many chords, and the music is still very dense in places. I do not know exactly what I was listening to at the time, nor what influenced that change. About halfway through the recording, I played some rough mixes with my friend Andrew Mitchell, and he answered me by playing Jesus Love Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars (post-minimalist music composer and british bassist), which is a wonderful piece. The slow movement and evolution of this piece had a profound effect on me, and definitely gave me the courage to be really bold in this regard – to allow whole passages to evolve at their own pace and take more time than they should, before everything suddenly resolves – as if you’re holding your breath underwater for as long as you can, then coming in to get some fresh air.

What inspires your lyrics and makes you want to write songs?

Part of what I do is to preserve moments in my life, to revisit them and remember them more easily, and maybe learn from them, even though I’m sure I do not realize that at the moment I decide to write about a particular thing. I try not to over analyze what I do. I really do not believe in writing songs with other people or in committee. Dalí did not paint his paintings with art dealers in the room telling him which colors to use. Song writing is no different. It’s an art, and my approach is to allow the unconscious to guide this process as much as possible. Throughout the process, my conscious brain will try to intercept and shape these unconscious expressions, and it’s the constant battle: try to shut your brain down long enough to let the good things go. I think the best things happen when you are detached from other people and let the universe guide you. It is at this point that you potentially reach a place where others are not and the best art is when we come back from this place and we can translate the experience into something elusive for others. No matter what form it takes – art, songs, film, writing – that’s what I always aim for.

The atmosphere of your music is quite melancholy but it seems more serene, sometimes almost optimistic about this album. Is this an impression or is it really the case?

I think everything I’ve done may sound superficially optimistic, but there’s always a line of melancholy going through it. I think it’s an expression of what it’s like to be human, and that’s something I’m very proud of in my work. Many writers or musicians would not want to project that kind of thing, and I appreciate that it is a complex and moving thing – many people are not interested in songs that could make them sad and happy at the same time and have to deal with what that brings them. For me, it’s just the reality, and I reflect it in music. I do not see it as objectively good or bad, it’s just like that.

Musically, do you have influences or models? Do you always listen to pop or have you moved on? I find some of your songs very cinematographic, is that part of your influences? (I’m thinking of John Barry for example or a few musicals) How did this taste for the jazz or orchestral ambiances that characterize The Fiction Aisle?

There were some turning points in my writing. I’ve been very influenced by writers Simon Gray and Nicholson Baker in recent years, both using an incredible amount of detail, John Updike as well. I love everyone who can go into the details of something and get something broader and deeper. I feel that it has become something that really interests me and that I always come back to it – something very specific and lyrical in detail, often very personal and perhaps obscure to others, coupled with music that gives a greater scope to interpretation. Alasdair Maclean of The Clientele does it very well, and I am a big fan.

Do you consider The Fiction Aisle a real group or rather a solo project that includes the collaboration of musicians as needed? Electric Soft Parade was the project of two brothers, Thomas and Alex. What is Alex’s role in The Fiction Aisle?

I do not really see it as a group, unless we all play together in the same room. At the moment, the band is made up of six people – all the people who have played on the albums – but whether it’s alone in the studio with my voice and building songs from scratch, or a group of twelve musicians with a brass section, it’s still The Fiction Aisle. So far, Alex has played on the first album, helping with drums and various drums, but he recently joined the band on guitar, so he is currently very involved.

Do you intend to play in France then?

I would love to take the group to France. We are about to tour much more than we have ever done, and this new album was our best in terms of welcoming fans and journalists. We will therefore try to make the group play as much as possible in the rest of Europe. It’s a certainty.

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