I am an hour late for my interview with Tom McRae at the University of London, having got lost in my car, dumping it and getting a taxi to the interview I am feeling a little nervous. For once though things are very much on my side and as I walk in to Tom's dressing room he is chatting to his band and they have only just finished their sound check. Nice.
J: Do you remember the first song that you wrote?
T: Roughly, I am not sure it was the very first but it was one of the first few that I finished, when you start writing songs you put together a few words and chords and tend to get bored, well I did. The first song I finished was a terrible song, I am not going to tell you the title because title was terrible but it was almost certainly about some girl that didn’t fancy me and that I was probably lovelorn and pathetic – not that much has changed really, I’ve just got better titles.
J: You played solo gigs but you have a band tonight?
T: Yeah, I’ve got a band tonight, I’ve done tours solo, I’ve toured just with me and a cello player and now I’m touring with my band so it’s different each time.
J: Does it feel nice to have a band backing you up?
T: It’s good, I like doing both, I like having the option to play in a stripped down version and do the songs in a very simple way or have the band there as well if you want to step up a gear it’s nice not being tied to either way really.
J: Do ever wish that you were part of a band rather than Tom McRae solo artist?
T: No, never, I’ve been in bands before and it’s not really something that suits me well, working in a theoretical democracy, I prefer to be a bit of a dictator, when it’s just me I don’t upset anyone, the rounds are cheap to buy.
J: What part of being a single/songwriter do you prefer?
I prefer sitting somewhere with a guitar or piano and a notebook and just writing, that’s the thing I love. I do like playing live, I really enjoy it, it’s a big part of what I do. The recording process is very stressful even when it’s going well because that’s your one shot to get something right, so I find it a bit tense. The writing is the thing I enjoy the most.
J: Do you go anywhere to write? Do you go away?
T: I just go away from other people, I go in to a room, I’ve got a little studio in my flat and I write there or anywhere I can find a corner of piece and quiet and strum away to myself.
J: Do you remember signing you record contract?
T: I do, yeah it felt like a relief/anti-climax, it wasn’t particularly exciting because these things always take so long to come through the lawyers. You think you’re going to sign it and then two months go by and then you think you’re about to sign again and a couple more months go by and start to worry that it’s never going to happen. You ink the contact and then that’s it, it’s not like a huge thrill, then the work really starts.
J: Have you set yourself any targets for what you’d like to achieve in your career?
T: I don’t think so, other than writing good songs. I think I’m making the wrong sort of music if I wanted to be hugely rich and hugely famous, I chosen the wrong sort of genre, but I do want to wirte songs that I think could be rated alongside some of the great song writers, people who inspired me, so that’s my main ambition.
J: How do you feel about being compared to David Gray?
T: I think the people who compare me to David Gray maybe comparing me more to his earlier albums, or the album that’s just come out ‘The Lost Songs’ because I don’t think there is any similarity between what I do and ‘The White Ladder’ the album that made him huge. I think people who say that haven’t really heard my album, we might be singer/songwriters, we might stand up we might play guitar, he bobs his head a bit more than me I don’t think there’s to many similarities.
J: If you could choose anyone to support you on tour who would you choose?
T: That’s a good question actually, I could be flippant about it but supporting is a weird thing. You want people that you have a good time with and have a laugh with, they’re just good to be with for the time you spend with them. I’ve got a band at the moment ‘Witness’. It’s not their full band it’s an acoustic kind of line up and they’re really cool. I’ve toured with them twice now. My ultimate dreams though, I don’t know, persuade Elvis to come back from hiding.
J: If you could choose anyone who would you like to write for or do a duet with?
T: Writing for is a weird one because there’s not many people I could write for as the people I respect write their own songs. If Mel C or Ronan Keating or Mel B or Emma Bunton came knocking asking for a song I don’t think I’d have any nice words for them –not that they’re likely to some how. Dueting, there’s some people whose voices I really like Catherine Williams, I don’t know if you’ve heard her stuff, she’s a Mercury nominee from last year, she’s got a great voice. I really like Dido’s voice, I’ve toured with Dido a couple of times, that might be interesting to see what happened.
J: What music are you listening to at the moment?
T: I’m listening to Amnesiac at the moment, trying to get my head around that, I listen to a lot of things on the road. I feel I need to constantly fill up on great songs, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Eminem I listen to, I like Jim White’s album, I listen to lots of things really.
J: Do you read reviews of your album/singles and gigs?
T: Sometimes, if I get sent them I read them, but if I’ve been sent them it normally means they’re good, so I tend to read them. I don’t worry too much if they’re that good or that bad because these things change on a whim and someone might have been at a gig and not liked it when the crowd loved it these things vary.
J: There’s an election on Thursday do you have any interest in it?
T: I have no interest whatsoever in the election, I find it insulting on every level, I find that democracy is a dying animal especially in this party political system. I think it’s about time something changed radically, but that doesn’t mean I won’t vote, I will get out there and exercise my right and I will prove the point that I don’t want the Tories back.
J: The road show gets slicker every year?
T: As far as enterainment goes like everything else it’s appealing to the lowest common denominator, I’d rather be told policies and disbelieve those lies than look at someone with a Margaret Thatcher poster. That to me is Rupert Murdoch, Sky TV, that is utter shit. But if you don’t vote you can’t moan and I like to moan and I like to make sure that the BNP doesn’t get in.
J: Do you miss anything about living in the countryside? Because you were brought up away from the bright lights of London…
T: Not a thing, no, I really appreciate it when I’m driving through on my way to somewhere and I appreciate it if I’m there for a day or two or if it’s stunning nature and I am somewhere beautiful other than that I wouldn’t want to live too far out of the shadow of Canary Wharf right now.
J: If your record label came to you to try and make you have a dance remix of one of your tracks would you fell strongly about it? Is it important that you retain your control?
T: In every respect, as much as you can, when you’re touring your away so much that you can’t take too much part, so you have to trust the people that work with you. Things like dance remixes is a tricky area, for one reason if no one has really heard of you and you haven’t crossed over in to the main stream and you have a dance hit people think that’s what you do. You then have to struggle to catch up and prove that you’re not that. I’ve collaborated with a DJ called Deadly Avenger and hopefully that track will be on his album and Rollo from Faithless has talked about doing a remix of You Cut Her Hair from the album. Those things are interesting, but it’s all you have as an artist is how people perceive you. If that gets out of your hands and out of control its not like I can hide behind a mask, that’s me, I have got to be Tom McRae.
J: So it would feel strange if you were cajoled in to appearing on Top of The Pops with a dance remix behind you?
T: Yeah, exactly, it’s something that you can do if you’re at the right sort of stage, I am not anti it in any way musically because I think it can be interesting. But right now I am really determined that everything I do is just right for me, sits right for me and isn’t false or desperately grabbing at the charts or radio play lists because I’m not interested in that at the moment.
J: You had a single released yesterday, as limited edition double A side, were you involved in the decision to do a limited run?
T: No, well in as much as someone told me that was happening and I didn’t put up too much of a fight. This is the third single from the album and the people that have discovered me possibly won’t be in the market to buy another single, maybe they will who knows. This single like all of the others won’t get any airplay, so there’s no point in doing a huge run. The real fans will go out and buy it and the limited run means that maybe it’s a little bit special for them. If I was to press up five, ten, thirty thousand they wouldn’t go to the stores because they don’t get played on radio, they wouldn’t get sold and that wouldn’t be good for anyone.
J: Why do you think stations like Independent Local Radio and Radio 1 are not playing you?
T: Marketing men rule the world, it’s purely about their demographic, we pay for radio with our license fees but unfortunately they are competing airtime with commercial radio and commercial radio want 16-25 demographic. They don’t give a shit about quality of music, they don’t give a shit about culture in terms of their impact on it. It’s just about the money and reaching people that you can sell mobile phones to and you can sell cars to. It’s background music for adverts at the moment, which sounds like I’m bitter and cynical because they don’t play me, and that’s true, I would love to have a radio hit, I’d love to have something that would get me really out there. I don’t even listen to radio at the moment, I find it insulting on every level.
J: Do you think it’s going to change in the near future? Or can you see other ways of getting yourself heard?
T: I am trying now, the only thing is without the radio play it’s very expensive. Touring is expensive; even if you do it solo it’s expensive. You can keep touring and keep touring and I’ve watched my audience build, but you can’t reach the right numbers of people to suddenly make that work, so I can’t see it changing, I’m doing my best to get my music out there without trying to make too many compromises. Until something starts to threaten radios stranglehold, unless internet radio gets itself together and people have got the technology to put out Tom McRae’s radio station and I can put my selections out without adverts. There could be adverts on the site, which people don’t have to look at.
J: You have some big fans on your website forum...
T: My site is not the most technically adept site on the net, it’s a little bit lo-fi like everything I do really, but it’s interesting to see what people write. The fact that you put something up there and they respond to you music, then people start talking to each other and it takes on a life of its own. Then your just introducing people at a party and it stops being so much about you, I think it’s brilliant, I love that about the net, it’s one of the very positive things. Napster is one of the best ways I can get my music out at the moment, I get a lot of people coming to gigs saying ‘I heard your album on Napster’, hopefully they then go out and buy it, but Napster is almost my radio station so it’s the way I reach people. There’s clips of music on my site as well.
J: Do you spend much time on the Internet yourself?
T: Not as much time as my record company would like me to, I don’t update my site very often I don’t get chance. I try to read as many of the bulletins as I can because a lot of them are addressed to me and it’s polite. I reply to them occasionally, I sit down about once or twice a week for about 20 minutes.
Tom McRae's selt titled debut album is available now, you can visit Tom McRae's official website by clicking here.