Sam Thomas is the newest member to the Just Music fold. Blind Theatre, due out mid 2013, is his epic debut album, which we can't wait for you to hear. Sam took the time to talk about its recording; here is what he had to say.
The album took 2 years to record; how did it feel to finally let go and send it for mastering?
Sam: It felt amazing. I never thought it would take as long as it did to finish. We were only in the studio one day a week though so during those two years I spent most of my time waiting for that one day to come back around again. When I work on my own I work solidly and tirelessly until the job is done so I had to learn to be very patient. At times it was frustrating to say the least so it felt so good to finally have it all done and to finally start being able to think ahead. It felt very strange at the same time though; I didn't really know what to do with myself for a month or so after completion.
How long had you been sitting on the material? Was it all written around the same time?
S: The album has actually taken more like five years to finish if I go by when I first started writing parts of it. Its first incarnation was a 27-minute continuous track that I recorded myself in the studios at university, originally I wanted a folk/grime duo called iAm1 to do vocals on it but that never happened in the end. That track ended up as Ojera, Arnold's Circus, Blue Cologne and Lanterns. It was longer before but we did away with the ending. Gift, Soar Mill Cove and Isis were three I wrote during the two years recording at Cafe Music and the rest of the album was adapted from stuff I'd written for various uni projects and commissions that came to nothing.
Is there something you particularly want to convey to someone who has just listened to Blind Theatre?
S: There are a lot of general themes, feelings and ideas that my producer (Mark) and I were trying to get across. We wanted the whole album to sound like a journey involving a big old steam-punk type of machine, hand made and rough around the edges, broken but doing the job it a charming way. There are various points where we wanted the machine to be powering up and powering down. Another main theme was a nostalgia for that childlike sense of imagination, the way kids see the world through magical eyes. One way I attempted to achieve the nostalgia thing was by putting a few of the same simple notes in various different environments so that hopefully the listener gets a sense of familiarity without being quite sure why, whether it worked or not I don't know! Another example was trying to make the strings sound old and grainy like those lovely old Disney recordings. Hopefully people will come away with their own different ideas though, the things I've just mentioned are personal to me really.
How much did the experience of recording the album with Mark add to what you had already?
S: Hugely, indescribably. Mark completely got what I was trying to do musically and took it 10 stages further in terms of environment, mood, feeling sound etc. The obvious thing to do with my demos would have been to quickly spruce them up sonically but Mark went so much further than that. He got obsessed with 'the listener' and how they would be feeling during all the different sections. He would also constantly play devils advocate, making me justify any twiddley guitar lines or fancy drum fills for example. I suppose the wrong producer would have either let me noodle away and just focused on the technical side, or pulled back the reins so much that I just resented them. Mark got the balance just right, any debates were healthy, we're great friends and both feel very comfortable questioning what each other are doing at any time. The last thing he wanted me to sound like was 'the guy who plays all the instruments' and I couldn't have agreed more.
How important was your time at University of Westminster in your musical journey?
S: Very important. It was a good course for giving an overview of the music industry but for me, the main reason why I wanted to go there was because of the 7-day-a-week studio access. I just buried myself down in those studios and constantly badgered the technicians for help and advice. I learned far more from them than in any of the lectures, I went in knowing basically nothing about how a proper studio worked and came out with various demos, which ultimately landed me the deal with Just Music. I generally recorded what I wanted to record and then adapted whatever I had to pass the modules. I worked out that I easily made back my tuition fees with studio time; I literally spent my whole life down there.
What does 2013 look like for Sam Thomas?
S: It's hard to tell! I need to wait to see how the album is received before I can make too many plans. I'm thinking a lot about how I would play it live at the moment. That's something I would really like to do but it would be a big commitment for other musicians so I'd need a reason to do it and a budget. I think the album would lend itself really well to having a strong visual side so that's something I'd like to explore a lot. I also have a lot of new ideas in my head (maybe another album's worth) so it would be good to use some of them, writing to picture is also something I love to do so hopefully those sorts of opportunities might start coming my way. I'm now renting a flat from Mark in his studio so I'm ideally placed! At the very least I hope by 2014 I'll no longer be working in a restaurant!