Tom Walker & Tors | Interview
My best pal and I stood in front of “The Exchange” in St. Nick’s Market, staring at the heavily barred doors.
“Google Maps said it’s here?”
One unanswered phone call and quick Google search later, we were frantically running at a 4:00 min/km pace through the dimly lit Castle Park to “Exchange”, the concert venue with a distinctly omitted “The” that almost cost me the night. We made it 8 minutes earlier.
“Is this interview going to be video or audio?” Tom inquires as he pulls out a chair, sweeping some papers on the table into a vague pile.
“Audio, so don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll be using the iPhone voice memo app – very millennial-style.” He laughs before I press record, and we begin talking about the immense success he has had this year, from releasing his EP “Blessings”, touring the USA with The Script in a jam-packed leg covering 7000 miles in 22 days, and his smashing success across all social media platforms.
“Going on tour with The Script was absolutely amazing – they are proper gentlemen, and everybody was just so nice. I could have done that for a whole year, just on tour with them”
Tom is currently working on his new upcoming album with Jim Abbiss, renowned music producer who has worked on multiple smashing record successes including Arctic Monkeys’ “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” and Adele’s “19” & “21”. With nothing but praise for Jim, Tom gushed, “He’s a hero of mine…it’s nice to do things properly with loads of loud guitars and real drum kits.” Further emphasising the incredible musical journey he has made, Tom added on, “One of my first tunes, “Fly Away With Me”, I made in my bedroom on my computer in a basement!”
The discussion naturally lead into his songwriting process – like many songwriters today, the nifty iPhone voice memo app comes in handy. “I record loads of voice memos. Normally, I just leave it on in the car just while I’m driving about, and if something comes into my mind, I’ll sing something into it. So, they’re all really sporadic and when I go back and listen to them I’m like, “What the fuck is that?” “ So, does that mean he has a lot of awful songs he will never make public? “Yeah, loads, I got loads. I kind of think that 1 in every 10 songs is good, and the rest are just…*laughs*”
“He’s [Jim Abbiss] a hero of mine…it’s nice to do things properly with loads of loud guitars and real drum kits. One of my first tunes, “Fly Away With Me”, I made in my bedroom on my computer in a basement”
One must always wonder: chords or melody first? “I don’t start writing lyrics without a melody…I’ll always try to do the lyrics whilst doing the melody. So I’ll start with a little melodic idea, then try to fill that in as quickly as possible even if I change the words later, so I’ve got an idea of the structure and rhythm.” And even if Tom does dabble in jazz chords, it’s unintentional – “I did do music theory at uni, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s just all shapes to me on the guitar.” Tom further emphasises it is “all based on sound” using the unorthodox guitar tuning C#/A/E/E/A/C# in his gorgeous song “Just You & I” as a prime example. Because of his interesting chord usages in his songs, I inquired his opinion on mainstream pop music nowadays using the standard I/vi/IV/V (or some mechanical variation of that). Needless to say, it was fantastic to meet somebody with the same opinion on the issue – “It feels like a product,” Tom said. “Not something you’d invest in, like “Oh, look at the lyrics, they’re so sick!”“
Tom went on to talk about how often creative exhaustion hits; “All the time. You run out of things to talk about, especially if you’re doing loads of music and loads of fun things, you need something fucked to happen to really write a good song.” And of course, a lot of his songwriting draws upon his personal life experiences – “Most of my songs are about something that has personally happened to me – either a really good situation or a really bad one. You can’t write a song about something being medium; it doesn’t really work. “Oh, I’ve had a very average day today and everything was really average.” It’s not really a great song.”
“You need something fucked to happen to really write a good song”
His most recent single, “Leave A Light On”, which has already amassed an astounding 3.3 million views on YouTube within 2 months, is one of many fantastic examples of Tom’s ability to turn the personal into universal – an incredibly hard-hitting song, he dedicated it to his family & friends, explaining, “If everything’s going down the toilet and it’s all fucked, then you can talk to me.” Upon inquiring who his light was, Tom immediately replied his girlfriend, Annie.
On Thanksgiving Day, he very appropriately performed in his hometown, Manchester, performing a sold-out show – “I actually went for my first ever legal beer in there when I was 18 with my friends, so to sell it out was fucking cool.” This nostalgia burrowed back into the beginnings of his musical journey, from his first ever record, “Bob the Builder” (what a classic), and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the first song he remembered ever listening to, remarking: “It was spooky as fuck listening to it as a kid! It’s really, really eerie…especially the guy laughing at the end…”
However, Tom’s musical journey all began with a violin. “I always had a really shit acoustic when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what I was doing with it,” Tom reminisced. “I then went to this primary school music open day, and I wanted a guitar but my Mum wouldn’t let me have one. And they were like, “Oh, you should play the violin ’cause he’s tiny and his hands would fit on a violin!” And I was like, “Nah, I want to play guitar!” I played violin for 2 years, and then eventually, my Dad bought me a guitar for Christmas one year, brought that home, and I completely stopped playing the violin.”
His determination to pursue music only grew exponentially – purchasing a drum kit (“I became the next annoying neighbour”), a bass with an amp for £50 (“I’ve still got it, it still works, it’s fucking unbelievable!”), and a mini keyboard. Tom had to become the whole band himself as a kid, tediously recording tracks separately. Surprisingly, he didn’t begin singing until 18 years old – “I didn’t think I could sing. Ah, fuck, I couldn’t sing. It was 3 years of me being like, “Yep, definitely not singing.”And then I just kept going and going and going. Then one day, it was all good.” It sure was, Tom.
“My parents are super awesome, they definitely helped me out – they would never buy me a PlayStation, or an Xbox, or anything really, apart from music equipment; it was sweet”
So, how about music theory? I used Sibelius as a passing example, but the frustrations that arose with the mention of the software on Tom’s face was hilarious. “I can’t tell you how much I fucking hate Sibelius. I did 3 years of fucking composition, I still don’t know music theory, I just did it at the time, and never put it on my instrument; I just did it in my head. I can tell you the notes and scales, but it means nothing – just shapes on my guitar.”
Nonetheless, he expressed mad respect for those who are adept at music composition, wishing he perhaps paid more attention but simultaneously emphasised , “You just gotta pick what you want to do, and just do it – you can’t be doing everything, it’s impossible”, and Tom being the more “sit-down-and-jam-out-on-the-guitar kind of guy.” He does a lot of improvisation on stage with the same spontaneity vibe, “If it sounds good, then buzzin’ – if it doesn’t, then lose it”, but upon asking if he passes the solos around to the rest of the band, “If I asked my bass player to do a solo, he’d be like, “No.” If I asked my drummer to do a solo, he’d be like, “No.” *laughs*”
“I’m more of the sit-down-and-jam-out-on-the-guitar kind of guy”
Talking about his collaboration with Kogey Radical on their song “Sun Goes Down”, Tom profusely compliments how wickedly talented he is, and how much respect he has for the independent pathway Kogey is blazing in the music industry. “He’s sick, he’s a next-level guy who’s making a proper go at music exactly how he wants to do it and I just have so much respect for that.”
“He’s [Kogey Radical] sick, he’s a next-level guy who’s making a proper go at music exactly how he wants to do it and I just have so much respect for that”
Tom goes on to talk about the ease in discovering new artists nowadays, but the relatable inevitability of lacking investment into the songwriters themselves – “I love Spotify because you find loads of new stuff each week, but I’m kind of guilty of listening to new stuff and adding it to a playlist but not really diving into what the artist is about. Whereas back when I was growing up when it was CDs, you’d open up the CD and look in the contents page – I know that’s super outdated, but I kind of miss getting really invested into artists.” I commented on how the number of plays on his Spotify is the same as the population of my hometown, Thailand; “Big shoutout to Spotify!” Tom added on with a laugh. We ended the interview discussing the eclectic mix of sounds in his upcoming album, and he hints he’s got two songs left up his sleeve (“I don’t know what they fuck they are”).
I stopped recording, and we talked for a bit about the opening act, Tors, performing tonight. And my +1, who also hails from Manchester, made great conversation with Tom about their hometown (“It’s nice to meet somebody from up North down here”), before he turns to me and asks,
“Whereabouts are you from? You are obviously from America!”
“No, I’m actually from Thailand!”
“Thailand? Wow, I would’ve never guessed!”
We talked for a bit longer, and then wished him best of luck with the show before heading downstairs to the bar.
Needless to say, the concert was insanely electric. The opening act, Tors, performed such uniquely written songs with an immaculate three-part harmony, including a beautiful composition dedicated to their grandfather who has dementia. Needless to say, I was enraptured by their talent – Matthew’s ability to seamlessly transition between low and high notes; Jack simultaneously playing the electric guitar, the drum pads and sing into the microphone; Theo’s wicked guitar riffs combined with the flawless higher harmony vocals. Before playing “Seventeen”, Matthew asked if anybody was in love – the silence was devastatingly loud albeit two measly cheers, to which he responded, “Fuck me, only two people!?” They ended with charming humbleness, and I immediately proceeded to download their music straightaway.
And then, Tom Walker came on – his set was stunningly powerful; his voice is one you cannot forget. With the brilliant opening line, “Bristol, fuck me, it’s hot up here!”, his band proceeded to perform. And boy, did they deliver – beginning with “Fly Away With Me” and the iconic finger-picking guitar intro, he followed it with his gorgeous song “Just You & I”, and it was no surprise when the crowd knew every word to “Blessings”. He then performed his new song, “Angels”, which really got the bassist grooving along, before the masterfully vengeful “Karma” with some seriously edgy glissandos strewn in there. “Heartland” was an incredible crowd-pleaser that showcased his uniquely husky voice, and Tom got a little therapy session going with the feisty “Rapture”; Tom did this awesome guitar solo, the drummer went fanatical, and the entire audience went ballistic with the band. And finally, Tom ended with his most recent single, “Leave A Light On” – and in that moment, we were all just screwed-up misfits banded with hope in this screwed-up world.
The show left us in a daze, and we went first to directly thank Tors for an amazing performance. Upon asking how old they were, Jack casually replied, “I’m 22, and Matthew here is 87.” Theo joined in, and began chatting about how they were on tour with Clean Bandit before.
“Yeah, they were sick, it was really great!” Theo enthusiastically described; we asked what being on the road was like. “Imagine being on a tour bus with four other dudes – it was gross,” he remarked whilst scrunching his nose, before adding on, “And sad.”
“Story of my life,” I said, which elicited an initially polite laugh followed by one of full comprehension of the statement. After saying our goodbyes, we then went out to see Tom Walker holding a beer, and complimented him on such a fantastic performance to which he immediately replied, “The flu fucked me!” before laughing.
Tom Walker & Tors are all such ridiculously talented musicians – I highly admire how exceptionally humbling and down-to-earth they all were, which radiated profoundly through their songs and just as people in general. It was a massive privilege to have met them all, and I cannot urge you more to check out their music. Thank you so much, Tom Walker & Tors – until next time.