Thomas White on Dermot O’Leary, 20th March – Shaun Keaveny stands in.
Here’s fan recordings of the songs Thomas covered and the interview.
Warren Zevon’s Accidentally Like A Martyr — Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, Maria’s Little Elbows
Interview Part One — Interview Part Two — Interview Part Three
SK: Next in the studio, it seems rude to say a man because it’s not one man, it’s 4 men. It’s one man who has played with more musicians than Kate Moss; ex of The Electric Soft Parade, as they’re better known of course, ESP, he has struck out bravely and alone into the tundra of the musical landscape. He is here with us to play some new songs. It’s Tom White; good afternoon Tom.
TW: Good afternoon, how’s it going.
SK: Very good to see you guys but I must, first of all scan from left to right. It isn’t just Tom of course. It’s your brother Alex on keys, also ex of The Electric Soft Parade.
TW: STILL of The Electric Soft Parade.
SK: Ex sounds so final, doesn’t it.
TW: We still rehearse every Friday, 7pm.
SK: You really do? That’s fantastic… Andrew with the beard here on guitar and Damo of course. You’re a mysterious figure to my right. What are you going to be contributing – vocals?
D: Just a little harmony here and there.
SK: Lovely, there’s a nice understatement to your presence and I like that.
D: It’s quite rare as well.
SK: So it’s a new project, we’ve got the new album of course, The Maximalist. First of all can you describe to the listeners what’s happening on the front cover, what’s the inspiration behind it.
TW: I’m really chuffed because pretty much every interview we’ve done, people talk about the sleeve and I think that’s great. It’s a photograph that a good friend of ours, a guy called Keith Boadwee, who’s an American artist and lecturer, he lives in San Francisco. And it’s a piece of his called Berries which is essentially him squashing blackberries into his eyes. And it looks kind of quite disarming and a little bit scary at first but it’s just fruit. It’s nothing untoward happening really.
SK: It looks a little bit like a stigmata Christ pose. It looks like tears running down somebody’s face – like a mask of red tears.
TW: It’s just a really striking image I think. I saw it on his website, infact he followed ESP around when we played in California. He’s a big fan of ours and we kind of got to know him. I kind of saw it as a modern day In The Court Of The Crimson King (info)
SK: Very striking and arresting image, isn’t it. You were just talking about Electric Soft Parade. So you’re still a going concern?
TW: Yeah, we haven’t put a record out for a couple of years but… we will, we will.
SK: And it’s clear to all that this is not a Gallagher-esque sibling relationship? You seem to be quite at peace with eachother…
TW: You should have seen us parking outside a minute ago. It got pretty heated.
AW: We’re civil on radio.
SK: Actually, I must admit, off air it did get a little blue. It’s fair to say, I remember playing the first Electric Soft Parade singles about seven or eight years ago now.
AW: Thanks by the way, cheers.
TW: And you got the year right. A lot of people say “you guys came out in the late 90’s” – I was thirteen in the late 90’s!
SK: It was 2002 I think, wasn’t it?
TW: That’s the first record.
SK: Silent To The Dark was a big hit and you were Mercury nominated. So, is it a good thing or a bad thing for a young man’s psyche to have quite a lot of success quite young. Are you happy that’s happened, or would you have preferred it the other way around?
TW: I think we had to do a lot of back tracking, it kind of happened so fast; pretty much career in reverse if you like. We did all that on our first record and then we did all the evolving afterwards if you like. Most bands start on a little indie and work up and then 3rd or 4th record they’re breaking through… and it was so quick. We did have to do a bit of back-tracking and we did a lot of thinking.
SK: That you didn’t have the chance to do before…
AW: It’s frustrating to think we’re much better now, as a group, as players and people and everything. We know what we’re doing. We’ve got our craft honed. We didn’t really know what we were doing. To think we might have played shows to thousands of people and it was just a bit like a bunch of kids in a garage really, it was about that good. And yet we were given this world stage whereas now we’re much tighter… and we’re playing to 20 people back in the same garage.
SK: But you’re building it up, aren’t you. Isn’t that the problem with the record industry in a nutshell, that these days they give a lot straight upfront and it’s difficult for people to sustain that. Perhaps in the seventies and eighties, it was more likely…
AW: I was just about to say, sounds of the 70’s surely is bands getting 4 albums in and suddenly having a hit and labels believing in them that far; that’s gone.
SK: It has totally gone hasn’t it. What are the upsides and downsides of the current music culture for you as musicians would you say.
TW: Well there’s just so much music around, which is a good thing. And labels are much more – as Cooking Vinyl have been with my record – they’re much more up for putting home-made records out and home-grown things. The whole notion of a label spending 50 hundred grand on a record has kind of gone out of the window. And there’s a lot more artists releasing their own music… which does mean it’s saturated more than ever but at the same time, the internet has allowed people to release records really cheaply; formats and laptop music and stuff is allowing people to make records for next to nothing in their bedrooms… and DJ’s and labels are taking that music now as seriously as other records.
SK: It is baffling though the array of stuff that’s available to your fingertips; you can just type something into a search engine and have it downloaded within seconds. That instant gratification leaves something to be desired sometimes. It was nice in the old days wasn’t it…
TW: I still buy records. I make sure I buy 2 or 3 records every month, physical releases. I’ll never tire of having a sleeve in my hand. That’s the passion…
AW: I think it’s amazing that given that this is the way things are now; that tracks are the thing, not albums. The fact we listened to the St. Vincent album, Actor, on the way up – amazing record, an album, a piece of work, fun as well. There’s a whole bunch of bands and Tom’s record – it’s a record that goes in sequence, it’s like a piece of work and I think it’s amazing that given how the land lies now, that there’s still bands/artists out there making bodies of work – that that still exists, the concept of an album.
TW: It’s almost if you’re into the idea of an album, all that stuff drives you to make even stronger pieces, rather than just tracks or singles.
SK: For me the most disappointing thing about the change in the record industry is that they don’t fly people like me out to New York for parties anymore for album launches and things.
AW: It’s all a bit “tighten our belts”.
SK: That’s over now. You’re lucky if you get taken to a pizza restaurant now. You’ve got to pay for your own beer when you get there.
AW: We got bought our lunch today, that’s all good. TW: Thankyou Cooking Vinyl. AW: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. SK: Exactly, you should know that by now.
SK: Well listen, what are you going to play for us first?
TW: We’re going to kick off with what I think is going to be the next single off the record, which is a cover of the late, great Warren Zevon’s Accidentally Like A Martyr, which one stupid reviewer called Almost Like A Martyr – which shows you how much journalists care about tracklistings. Anyway…
SK: Take it away boys.
TW: This is Almost, I mean, Accidentally Like A Martyr.
SK: That was absolutely beautiful, I can honestly say that. Accidentally Like A Martyr, Warren Zevon, performed by the boys here and Thomas White at the centre.
TW: You’ve just named my band. We didn’t have a name. It’s “Thomas White and The Boys”… The best we had so far was Travelodge. We were just trying to find the most mundane names. Or, The Travellers Cheques. AW: That is my favourite yeah. TW: Just utter rubbish.
SK: Tommy and The Travellers Cheques, what about that, that’s very early 60’s that. D: Texture never caught on did it. SK: You could have Gumtree if you want, my original band Mosque, we decided that Mosque was too contentious, so we changed it to Gumtree. D: Spore…
SK: If you want, you can have this; The Labradors Of Perception. That, in all honesty, is going to be my next band name but I haven’t got around to using it. If you want to run with it, you can have it.
AW: You just made me choke on my coffee there!
SK: It’s a little bit Huxley, a little bit Blue Peter.
TW: Well Alex is in a band called The Power Of Attourney which is a cracking name (band name taken from youtube)
SK: But beautiful 4-part harmonies coming together… It’s nice to hear, I don’t know if you agree with me, this Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-esque 4-part vocals that are coming in. A lot more people seem to be influenced by it these days. I just think it’s a lovely thing to hear. You can’t go wrong with a few people singing close harmony.
AW: There’s a few Todd Rundgren fans in this band as well, well two.
SK: It all comes though in the music.
AW: Yeah, layered stuff is brilliant.
SK: It’s really beautiful. I hear that some of the boys in the band, especially you Tom, are quite into your cookery. Is this true?
TW: Yes I’m a fairly good cook, I like to think.
SK: So what would you do; you’re in Celebrity MasterChef and you’ve got this to cook with: shallots, capers, pork medallion, basmati rice, coconut and/or tamarind. What are you going to do with it?
TW: Sorry, say it again?
(SK repeats it)
TW: You could do light curry with that – see that’s the bit I really freak out at, the bit of MasterChef where they give you the very limited ingredients and it’s like hang on, I’d be rubbish at that.
AW: Thai green curry with pork… I would just have to punch them if I was on it.
TW: What I love about them is the way they describe the food as they’re eating it: “I’m getting sweet ginger, I’m getting savoury”… it’s just brilliant.
SK: I don’t know if anybody saw it earlier in the week, my wife and I are completely obsessed with it, and a woman – the poor, poor lady, made a cheesecake. Gregg and John tasted it and their faces turned sort of green and orange, all contorted. And John went “I think you’ve put salt in there instead of sugar”. And she had, she’d done a cheesecake with salt. Which is nothing if not original.
TW: Salty cheesecake. AW: She should’ve just used the capers and the pork, sod it, stick it all in.
SK: I think as well accidentally, Tom’s come across the better name for the band; Salty Cheesecake. You can have that for nothing as well.
D: Anchovies Cake Like A Martyr. TW: Punning away there…
SK: Don’t go yet because we’ve got another performance here, I’m looking forward to some other layered vocals. What are you gonna play for us now?
TW: We’re gonna do another sadly late great artist, Mr Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. We’re going to do a tune of his as a little tribute and it’s a song called Maria’s Little Elbows from his Good Morning Spider album.
SK: Right, fantastic, Ok. Well take it away boys.
SK: That was excellent, really, really beautiful. Thankyou very much indeed for that. TW: Thankyou Shaun.
SK: And what I also like, if I’m honest, is the fact that you’ve come in here, it’s Radio 2 and you’ve done a couple of other people’s songs. There’s a sort of a lack of ego to that I think.
TW: You’ve got to give people props haven’t you.
SK: You’ve got to give people props, that’s exactly the right thing. Tributes to some wonderful songwriters there. But, your own music here, in its entirety on The Maximalist, what can people expect when they rush out to buy it.
TW: It’s a fairly broad mix of various different influences. There was a review in Uncut magazine which kind of put it pretty well:
From the TW Myspace “The Maximalist opens the dam of ostensibly conflicting styles and releases the deluge in all its’ crazily self-confident, so-wrong-it’s-right glory. White fuses elements of The Who, Chicago, My Bloody Valentine, Queens Of The Stone Age, Badalamenti and Badfinger, which is not just a feat of cut-and-paste engineering, but also proof of his verve, vivid imagination and fervent love of music”
SK: If you don’t find something for you in the middle of that, there’s something wrong with YOU, not the music.
TW: Fair point.
SK: Before we let you go, guys, we had Professor Brian Cox in in the last hour.
TW: Sadly not the Dundonian Brian Cox, Andrew here’s a Dundonian, he was hoping to… SK: The actor Brian Cox. AW: I watched his programme the other day, not that one, the one you’re talking about. SK: The physicist. We have got a few leftover questions. By the way, Glen in Leeds suggests another band name, Discounts For Vicars. TW: Ah yes! SK: I think Salty Cheesecake myself. Here’s a question for you…
SK: Does dark energy exist Tom and if so, how can it be measured.
TW: At this point I’ll pass you over to the resident physicist in the band, Mr Damo Waters.
D: No. AW: You can’t see it, that’s the problem. D: It’s a mathematical construct, it hasn’t been proven to exist physically at all. It’s all speculation and everything is riding on all these people making these assumptions. And for all we know, it’s complete fabrication.
SK: Wow, well I’ve got one more for Damo. I thought dark energy emitted from Mariah Carey to be honest. What is the answer to the unification problem.
D: You’ve just got to get them in the mood, get them together down by the fire, it’ll all come together eventually.
SK: Well, I don’t know what to say, it’s been a wonderful pleasure to have you guys in. I wish we could just ride out the rest of the show like this but we can’t. The album is out in the shops now I think.
TW: It’s out now, as of the 15th.
SK: The Maximalist. We look forward to hearing ESP when they come back. Do you have ESP between you, extra-sensory perception?
AW: We have it. TW: We finish eachothers sentences, all the usual sibling stuff.
SK: Thomas White and The Boys, aka Salty Cheesecake. TW: Aka was it Discounts For Vicars… Travelodge!