We hear a lot of Nick Drake, Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot influenced acoustic these days – heck even Sufjan Stevens, Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes and Iron & Wine influenced stuff, so it is hard to really pick something that stands out. But Tom Bolton did – and it’s little wonder why – this long-time songwriter has been working out his material around the world for a good long time and his Australian roots mixed with a love for Ryuchi Sakamoto, Arvo Part and Michael Nyman won our hearts over. It grabs you before your intellect has a chance to kick in with its jaded analysis and sends you on a wave of daydreams. Fred Frith-styled ambient guitars meander under his simple strumming and gorgeous silky voice that recalls Robert Wyatt.
MusicZeitgeist had the opportunity to ask Tom some questions about what is banging around in his head:
These days most of the music I listen to is local and live, small gigs by musicians around my home town. And also jamming in people’s lounge rooms, listening to what other songwriters have been working on. Nobody you’ve ever heard of.
Early days, when I was a kid, it was everyone at the church, everyone singing. Real community music, no bystanders, everyone joining in. At home my parents and sisters, at the piano, trying out harmonies. In the late ‘sixties and into the seventies, radio and records came into my life. I drank in everything I could get. That included The Mamas and The Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Beatles, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. By the time I got my first guitar and started writing songs, I was reaching out for different kinds of music – Kraftwerk, John McLaughlin, Ry Cooder, Steely Dan, Patti Smith… and it kept expanding over the years… The Cure, YMO, The Smiths, David Sylvian, Sinead O’Connor, REM, Yello and so on… too many names to mention.
The whole thing for me is about ‘the song’. At least in terms of what I’m writing and playing. Genre, arrangement, and instrumentation aren’t so important to me in the long run. My tastes in those things have changed over time and keep changing. Of course I like some styles and sounds more than others, but whatever is happening at that level, I want to stay open to the underlying song structures in everything I hear, and let the essential aspects of the song get through to me.
I do listen to instrumental music also (Michael Nyman, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Arvo Part) but for different reasons at different times. I’m very careful about my lyrics, craft them as carefully as I can… but I don’t even know the words to most of my favorite songs… the tune rules!
Maybe I’m just trying to recreate those amazing moments from times in my life when particular songs had a massive effect on me… like sun coming out from clouds and shining onto my face, or like diving into water. I’m not setting out to break new ground, or prove a point about music. I just wanna write songs that feel… like that!
My first album took three weeks. My second album “When I Cross the River” took three years. I’m hoping to start on the third soon, and I reckon six months might do it.
Then, there’s the life-long journey into performance. How to deliver songs, how to let the voice go wherever it needs to go, how to build up a conversation between my guitar and my voice, how to make myself available to the audience and invite them to travel with me into that space. It’s early days yet.
I spent years avoiding being ‘a musician’. I never wanted to get up on stage at all. Eventually it caught up with me though, and I realized I had to go out and perform. Now I just love it. It’s a great feeling, being in the middle of a show, in the middle of a song. Why would you do it unless it felt good, unless it made you come alive?
MZ: Until When?
It’s part of life for me. Whether it’s on stage, or with a bunch of friends making music at home. If there’s ever a time when I don’t like it anymore, I guess I’ll stop. Otherwise, while I’m breathing I’ll be wanting to write songs and make music.
I’ve been lucky to play a lot of great gigs… folk clubs, house concerts, and acoustic venues where everyone in the room is listening and the energy is warm. Venues where I can really hear and feel every note I’m singing, and the guitar rings sweetly. Where I can hear my acoustic bass-player properly, and blend harmonies with him. Playing in noisy bars doesn’t have so much charm after that!
Folk/acoustic festivals are another situation where my music makes sense. Larger crowds, but people are there for the music.
At the moment I play wherever I can land gigs around Australia. I’m working on setting up a 2009 tour in USA and Canada… we’ll see how that goes. This is very grassroots, freeform, working it out as I go along. As a completely independent musician I have to find all the connections, chase up all the shows, and make it all happen myself… there’s no machinery here, just me.
Find out more at: www.sensibletom.com/
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