Interview: Tom McRae

By on Tuesday, 2nd February 2010 at 12:00 pm

Quality Singer / Songwriters are a rare breed – for me only three are worth your hard earned money – Ben Folds, Joshua Radin and the wonderful former Mercury nominee Tom McRae. He’s got a new album coming out in February, which is sure to be a fantastic collection of melancholy and stories, so put on your PJs, snuggle up in your favourite chair, pop on an album (I’d reccomend his self-titled debut), and read our interview with Tom….

Hello Tom. What are you up to today?

Packing up my studio, moving out of my house, and getting ready to go on tour.

Your new album is set to come out next month – what’s been the underlying theme / idea behind it? Has it been an easy album to make?

Like all the other albums it’s a collection of chapters of my life over the previous few years, wrapped up in a few minor chords. The hurricane theme seemed to reflect the turbulence of the last few years, but it’s calmer now. Maybe it’s the eye of the storm. It was the easiest album to make, out of necessity. I played, engineered, recorded and mixed most things myself. I was a joy to work with.

You were one of the key people that bought the Hotel Cafe tour to the UK and Europe – the two times the tour came are possibly my favourite gigs ever, such energy, such talent. Are there any more plans to bring the tour back to the UK? I’d imagine it’s a small nightmare to co-ordinate?!

Bringing the Hotel Cafe gang and ethos to Europe is one of the things I’m most proud of. More commercially successful acts have probably already learned the lesson that this type of show will leave you bankrupt – so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to undertake such a thing. Live music does not make money, eventually this myth will be dispelled. Unless you’re playing big venues, for big ticket prices, or your band play for free – the tours always lose money. I’m of the philosophy that money is the worst reason to do something, or not do something. Is it fun? Will it be a great experience for musicians and audience alike? Then do it, worry about it afterwards. I’d love to do it again, maybe a touch more success, a slightly bigger audience, and a bigger bank balance and I’ll try it again some time.

Your new tour is obviously coming up. What can we expect from your set this year? Are you a fan of touring, or would you rather be back at home writing music?

I love touring, luckily. I write wherever I am, if I can find a quiet place. This is the biggest band I’ve ever taken on the road, a crazy thing to do, but hopefully it’ll be the rock set, energy, noise – well, as much as I can generate anyway – something to contrast from the trio tour of 2007.

Before you go on stage do you have any weird and wonderful rituals?

No. No rituals. That way lies madness. I warm up my voice, try and have a kip, pour myself a wee whisky and walk out on stage.

What would be a cool location you’d like to do a gig at?

I’d like to play in the smouldering ashes of The House of Commons.

Congratulations on passing your driving test recently. What’s next on the “big life achievements of Tom McRae”?

Thanks. I was public transport boy for years , but it became unavoidable. A lot of things seem that way when I’m behind the wheel. Next for me is carrying on with the next record, organise some unusual one-off gigs, find new things to be enthusiastic about, maybe write a book – move to the country and grow chickens. Do you grow chickens?

It’s that time of the year when everyone looks back at the year that’s been and the year that’s coming up. What was your highlight of 2009? What about your lowlight?

This maybe a bit out of date now, but my highlight of 2009 was Obama being inaugurated. Already the glow is gone, the hope is dissipating, and rolling 24 hour news has destroyed civilised society – but having been in New York when he was elected, it was a momentous moment.

Likewise, what are you most excited about for 2010?

I’m most excited about going back on the road with a band, I play most years solo, duo etc, but there’s nothing like making music with friends night after night .

What music / artists are you really enjoying at the moment?

I really like Mumford and Sons, the Noah and The Whale record is good. I’m truly upset that Lhasa De Sela died in January – she was a genius.

I’ve been enjoying reading your sporadic blog posts on McRaethism. Are you a big fan of blogging / social networking and that internet malarkey?

I’m kind of agnostic about the internet – I keep being told it’s great for people like me – but I seem to have fewer hours a day to do music and that annoys me. But if I’m going to be involved, and try and keep my head above water in this new world, then I would rather do it with humour and as much good grace as I can muster. I see it more as an extension of the live performances, it’s a different side to my personality, that may not necessarily be obvious through the music. And once the album is out and I’ve toured, I’ll probably recede into my shell a bit.

Finally, what TV, films and books are you really enjoying at the moment?

Right now I’ll read any biography going – fiction seems to be on a short repeating loop right now, but that might be my age. So Alan Bennet, all political memoirs, George Melly’s autobiographies, that sort of thing. I think I’m trying to find tips on how the hell to survive into my middle years. I watch The West Wing over and over, and The Flight of The Conchords series 2 – but unless it’s on dvd, I can’t organise myself to be on the sofa at the right time and Sky Plus is a mystery to me. Films – I do this ‘love film’ thing, so I catch up up on all the classics I have absorbed by cultural osmosis but never really seen. I’m shocked how good some of those films are. The Bicycle Thieves? Amazing! That and obviously anything starring Will Ferrell or Michael Cera. My tastes are either broad, mixed, or confused, depending on your view.

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