Interview: Tom Baxendale (Part 1)

By on Wednesday, 2nd November 2016 at 11:00 am

If you’ve been following TGTF regularly this autumn, you might already have read about Sheffield’s Tom Baxendale and his new album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’. Released at the end of September on independent label Backwater Collective, the album is Baxendale’s solo debut, and like most fully independent music ventures, it was a true labour of love for the journeyman singer/songwriter. Completely self-recorded and produced in Baxendale’s home, ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is a prime example of how high-quality musicianship can blossom outside the restrictions of typical music industry channels.

I chatted with Baxendale via Skype at the end of September, around the album release, and the usual challenge of arranging an interview across oceans and time zones was complicated somewhat by Baxendale’s day job as a graphic designer for a publishing company. I caught him still sat at his desk at the end of his work day, though this turned out to be perhaps not as inconvenient for him as I initially imagined. “I work from home,” he revealed, describing a situation which both pays the bills and allows him some flexibility for making music. “It’s a good set-up. I can’t complain.”

Aside from work and family activities, Baxendale also records his music at home, and he talked about the retro sound quality of ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ as a direct product of that recording environment. “If I could, I would make something that’s more contemporary sounding, really. But it’s all kind of homemade, and I was working within my significant limitations, and that’s kind of how it ended up sounding. I made it on Garage Band on my laptop, just in my house, wherever I could find space that there weren’t children running around or people trying to do things. And I haven’t got very much good equipment for recording or anything like that, I just kind of cobbled it all together and hoped for the best.”

In fact, Baxendale didn’t even start recording with the intention of making an album. “I started this album just for fun. I had a spare day, [when] my wife was off somewhere with the kids for the day or something, which doesn’t happen very often, that I’m just sort of sitting round the house with nothing to do. I recorded ‘Red Rag’, the second song on the album, and I thought ‘that’ll do for a demo, that’s not a bad demo’ sort of thing. And then I listened to it more, and I thought, ‘well, actually, I don’t know if I need it to be any better than that.’ And I just carried on recording from there. A couple of songs later, it was kind of obvious that I was making an album, but I didn’t really mean to at first.”

To counteract the “homemade” quality of the album’s production, Baxendale tried to emphasise the strength of the songs themselves. “I think that if the songs are good and you’re just trying to serve the songs with the arrangement, I think that you can get away with quite a lot. The average listener doesn’t really listen with those sort of ears, like an audiophile’s ears. I think most people just listen to whether the songs are good and whether it’s working or not. That’s where I put all the work in, whereas I think if you spend money going into a studio, unless you’ve got quite a bit to spend and you can spend a bit of time on it, the priority just becomes kind of capturing the song professionally, rather than actually exploring the ideas. That’s what I like about this sort of home production, you can spend as long as you like on it, and I think it works.”

I mention the lyrical strength of the songs on ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, and ask Baxendale if this is what he means about “serving the songs”. “Yeah, definitely,” he says. “I think [the lyrics] are important. But I don’t think they always have to be the most important thing. I don’t know, it really depends on the song. I think it’s legitimate that sometimes the lyrics are just a kind of a passenger in the song. Probably my favourite song on the album, the one I’m most happy with, is the penultimate song, ‘An Old Hand’. I would say that applies to that, to me that song’s all about the sound and the chord progression and the melody.”

Baxendale played all the instrumental parts on the album — guitar, drums, bass and keys — himself, as well as singing the vocal tracks, which tested his skill and extended the recording process considerably. “I’m not a drummer at all,” he confesses, “but I can sort of play a little bit. Just to get a useable drum part would [take] like, 2 hours, whereas a proper drummer would just do it. And I don’t really play the keys very well, so again, all the parts for that were like, same thing. So, yeah, that meant it dragged out.” He was able to complete the recording process in about five months’ time, from August to December 2015, with the album release finally happening this September. “It takes a long time to go from having finished something to actually releasing it.”

Stay tuned to TGTF for part 2 of our interview with Tom Baxendale, which will post tomorrow. In the meantime, you can check out our past coverage of ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ right through here.

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