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WAAAAHOOO........ IT'S TOM WILLIAMS AND THE FLIPPIN BOAT - INTERVIEW BY ANDY BARNES

 
Wednesday morning arrives with gorgeous sunshine and high temperatures in central Manchester. I’m in town early to reconnoitre a suitable cafe to interview Tom Williams and the Boat.  Conveniently situated around the corner from Piccadilly Records, I happen across The Koffee Pot.  Album covers adorn the window ledges, gig flyers cover the wall, add a heavenly smell of bacon and eggs, could there be a more suitable venue? I seriously doubt it.  
A short wait as myself and editor / photographer Mel enjoy The Koffee Pot’s culinary delights, before Tom Williams and the whole of the Boat arrive.  A slightly, green, sickly look adorn a couple of faces suggesting last night probably continued long after The Night and Day gig finished.  With full breakfasts ordered I sit down with Tom, hoping he’ll reveal the thoughts and influences behind the debut album “Too Slow”.  I’m intrigued by the lyrical content, particularly my perception of potential insecurities, although found myself rewriting most of the questions I’d prepared based on seeing the band live yesterday evening.  I decide before entering into hard hitting journalism, lulling Tom into a false sense of security the best course of action. 

ANDY: How’s the tour gone so far  

TOM: Really well.... It’s always difficult when you go to towns you’ve never been to before and also even though we’ve been going for a while we’re only just dipping our toes into national consciousness.  We haven’t had much press or anything but we’ve been hammered on 6 (BBC 6 music) but not a lot of people listen to six in the scheme of things, but the people that do seem to be pretty avid musos if you know what I mean. They want the vinyl, they want it signed and they want to come to everything so we’ve got a really nice loyal fan base that’s been swelling for around eight months now.  But London always goes faster than all the others and London has kind of become our home town now..... the Borderline show was like you know 300 people and sold out and then everywhere else round the country was kind of between 30 and 100..... it’s pretty consistent.  But we’ve just met proper promoters, really looking after you, who are really interested and really excited about the music, making sure you’re well fed and well watered, which means when you’ve spent the day in the car it just means the world to you.  It’s been really heartening and it’s nice to meet people we’ve been chatting to on the mailing list like you and to be able to put a face to the name.

ANDY: You have been pretty much handling all your promotion through the social network sites. How long can you keep that going?

TOM: Well.... we’ve got everything that we’d have if a label helped us out so we’ve got a live agent, a radio guy, a press guy, a digital guy...... but yeah, I think maybe second album is the second phase of the band where we get proper management and we get a label involved.  Not a big label, just a label to help us with touring costs and stuff.  It’s been fine up til now but it’s very difficult to do everything and then get on stage and mean it as well..... you sort of collapse after a bit it’s pretty exhausting.  There’s the great side of being really DIY, it’s the answering peoples e-mails, tweeting them back and Facebooking them and designing the t-shirts and record covers, that’s awesome.  The shit stuff is the boring stuff like sorting delivery times for test pressings and answering the e-mail of why hasn’t my CD arrived. I just don’t need to do that, you know what I mean (laughs)........... just wait. (laughs again.) And then little things like we did 200 hand made LP’s and 200 hand made CD’s for the album....... luckily they all went on the day of release, all 400 went. The downside of that is that we all had to package them and actually writing out 400 envelopes and package them up takes ages and by the end of it we were like we don’t even like music anymore..... this is shit. (Laughing.)   You just sweat it out though and we’ve sorted out fulfilment now, so as soon as an order happens it gets shipped straight away. You sort all the little things out and in the scheme of sorting every problem out as you get to it you realise you’ve got a little business going.  Every time someone buys from our store we get their e-mail address or every time they take a song we get their e-mail address.  We’re starting to build this database of people who are interested in us and I’m sure in the future if we wanted to, we could start releasing our friends music. People who are interested in the Boat might be interested in our friends music as well so you start to build a database of like minded souls which is really exciting.

ANDY: It is a great DIY way of handling things, but I’m just not sure how long you can carry on in this way.

TOM: It’s pretty exhausting....... I think if we look to work with someone else...... it would be someone who appreciated the bits that worked about what was happening at the moment. The people we’ve been speaking too.... we’d go with an established indie label that understood that you need that people contact for it to work.  The bits that work is the Twitter and the Facebook and the bit that doesn’t work is the C.D’s being late so you just tighten up that bit. You make sure that no one has any problems with their download codes and little things like that.......you just make sure things are shipped quicker....... It’s just a tweak, nothing needs to be overhauled.  It would be really weird if we were suddenly signed to Atlantic or something and then someone at Atlantic was running the Facebook...... that would be weird..... and running the Twitter....... Saying something like “Tom and the gang will be appearing on GMTV this morning” would sound rubbish...... rather than what I’d tweet “Wahoooooooooo GMT flippin V” or something.

ANDY: You’ve actually been talking to labels in that case?

TOM: Yeah, yeah...... but the albums out now....... I’m sure it could always come out again maybe with the second album...... [At this point I’m regretting the bacon butty option I took earlier as Tom’s full English breakfast arrives]. I say it all the time if we’re going to be broke and we’re going to be independent we might as well release lots of music.  We’ve found someone in Simon who produced the record who’s willing just to help so we’ve been recording in the brewery which is a big space in the countryside outside Tonbridge Wells where we rehearse.  Ant’s a cow farmer......... and he’s got a friend called Bob who runs a brewery called Larkins and he’s got this big working brewery, this big open plan barn where we rehearse. So we’ve tried recording in there, we’ve recorded four songs...... we’re going to record when we’ve got spare weekends.  There are a lot of demos knocking about so there’s plenty of songs to be getting on with. I think the aim is to try and get the album done by the end of the year....... maybe put out another one by January, February next year.

ANDY: That’s quite an output.

TOM: Yeah.....well there’s fifty new demos and I think about half the album’s  written...... there’s some really good stuff but it just needs a couple more really special ones to round it all up.

ANDY: You’d better get your breakfast before it goes cold.

TOM: Yeah I will.........I’ll pop back over in a second.

As Tom leaves to eat his full English, he suggests lead guitarist Ant take over with the interview for a few minutes.  I feel a twinge of panic realising I’m totally unprepared for a new interviewee.  As Ant sits down, I quickly think of an insightful question to open proceedings...........

ANDY: So, what’s it like being lead guitarist with Tom Williams and the Boat?

ANT: Really enjoyable [Laughs]

ANDY: A slight change from the farming background?   

ANT: Yeah, my life gets weirder and weirder the more busy the band gets. We were a dairy farm up to about eighteen months ago then we sold them as we weren’t making any money. That’s taken like a massive pressure off time wise as it’s the animals that take up most of the time......... it’s given me a lot more free time to sort of put into the Boat. It was weird cos the farm was kind of running down and the band was getting more busy so it worked. There was a transition where it was............ just mad.  I was gigging and then getting up early and I nearly died....... for about six months I nearly died.

ANDY:  Dairy farming’s hard work.

ANT: Yeaaahhh...... that’s what I mean, it’s early mornings and late nights..... it was alright for a while..... but the last few months before the animals went was really hard.......... but no, it’s great....... I met Tom in a local venue.... we all kind of met from an acoustic venue and I was playing my stuff and he was playing his stuff and we kind of played on the same bill basically.  We both had Gibson guitars so there was a Gibson guitar connection so I listened to Tom, really liked his stuff and he listened to me and we just sort of sat down and chatted afterwards.  That was the initial contact, we swapped numbers and we actually wrote a couple of songs together but it kind of went quiet after that because Tom formed another band and I was doing my thing but then the guitarist and the drummer left from The Boat and then Tom gave me a call and said would I be up for it and I was like yeah....... why not. 

ANDY: So how long have you been with the band now?

ANT: Well...... about four years...... three and a half, four years.... I don’t think it was going for that long before I joined....... but I wasn’t an original member, me and the drummer joined at the same time. We had a festival to play after about a week of joining...... I can’t remember where we were playing (at this point Ant’s full English breakfast arrives) but I remember we had all the sheets written out with chords we were playing...... a couple of songs were a bit dodgy (laughs.)

ANDY: I first saw you supporting Stornoway over a year ago and there’s been a big change in sound. Last night there were passages verging on heavy rock.  Is that your influence as a guitarist coming into the band?

ANT: I’d like to think so.... it’s been three and a half years...... my biggest influences when I was learning to play at 16 or 17...... I was into metal and so was Josh the bass player.  He was into like Slayer..... we were both into Slayer and then you kind of mellowed and I went into sort of the grungy rocky stuff....... From the rock it gradually got lighter and through then another biggest influence personally was Led Zeppelin....... Jimmy Page and stuff...... that’s quite rocky as well.

ANDY: Just a bit.

ANT: Yeah, yeah...... live wise something a bit heavier and rockier is always better........ I’m really enjoying it at the moment the new songs are all really cool and all in that vein.

ANDY: I thought the four new songs you played last night were very dark, perhaps even darker than the “See My Evil” EP.

ANT: It was weird because when we released “90mph” and released some of the more obvious pop tunes, more obvious singles........ and the ones that have done better is like “Get Older” and “See My Evil” which are the dark ones and they’ve been more popular than the lighter ones which is weird.

ANDY:  I don’t know whether it is weird as there’s so much “folky” material about, the darker aspect sounds different to the rest.

ANT: I think you’re right....... in the early days we were likened to sort Mumford and Sons....... and Stornoway to a point...... they’re quite sort of folky and light...... yeah, the folk things been around for a couple of years now so I guess it’s good to give a different edge...... I prefer the darker stuff.

ANDY: The intensity of the sound did throw me a touch last night.

ANT: People do say that....live it’s just so much heavier...... I guess it will be heavier with the new stuff because we recorded as Tom said, in this lovely big brewery....... really tall ceilings and everything sounds huge in there.  We’ve literally just thrashed it out live so whatever you saw last night [laughs] will be a rough guide line.

ANDY: So it’s bit like when Led Zep recorded Led Zep IV in the old house with the drums in the hall for the big sound.

ANT: Yeah they did it in the house with the mobile studio.  Apparently the story behind that was...... have you seen “It might get loud” sort of film... semi documentary with Jack White and Jimmy Page.

ANDY: Yes I have.

ANT: Did you see it when he said about the drum technician just brought the drum kit and just set it up for him in the hallway....... Bonham just had a go on it and it was like..... hang on a minute this is alright and they did all the drum tracks there.

ANDY: That was a bit of a strange film as it almost showed up The Edge a bit, as he seemed to be more about effects while Jimmy Page and Jack White appeared more skilled players.

ANT: I really liked it....but yeah he was “All I do is play..da, da, da ,da and I just push this button and booooommmmmm. [Laughs] even with that angle he’s still got to come up with the ideas and use the technology.

ANDY: True, but I think it’s using that technology while still showing you’re a skilled guitarist.

ANT: Exactly......... although Jimmy was from a different era he was very experimental as far as he used to use that funny......can’t remember what it’s called now.....that bar.... kind of a 70’s prog rock gadget.

ANDY: You need to have your breakfast now before it goes cold.

ANT: I didn’t want it anyway, but yeah I will. [Laughs]  

As Ant leaves to the sound of The Cure in the background, Tom, with The Koffee Shops finest full English devoured, joins us for round two....

ANDY:  The performance last night was very intense and  the album is also intense lyrically. Where does all that come from?

TOM: The most intense songs on the album tend to be from.....when we got together in early mid 2007...... we did four EP’s which were recorded in a little studio in Kent called The Granary and the fourth one was called “Doing My Best” EP and it was like a concept album about a guy that was wrongly accused of being a suicide bomber..... he never did anything..... by the end of it he was kind of contemplating it.  A lot of the songs on the album, even if they’re not from that EP tend to deal with being wrongly accused of something and that adolescent sense of injustice that seems to like....... you know it seems quite sort of inherent in an adolescent approach to anything..... no one understands me....... and a sense that sort of everyone’s doing me wrong. It seems to get in the way of you being a decent human being if you feel you’re being hard done by....... it seems usually when you meet someone that’s an unpleasant person it’s usually because they feel they’ve had something taken away from them or being hard done by.

ANDY: Like a chip on the shoulder?

TOM: Chip on the shoulder, exactly...... so songs like “24” , “Concentrate” and “Voicemail” were from that EP but they were kind of were isolated from the EP in the context of the album.  There were songs from all the different EP’s on the album and also new songs like “Get Older” and “See My Evil” which are just as intense.....So they all came from kind of different places........ “Get Older” came from just initially wanting something of a more immediate visceral nature to work in like a pub or club environment..... something to stop the chatting at the bar...... the same with “See My Evil” really. The “See My Evil” demo was kind of a jokey song and it became darker when the band got it. “Get Older” it’s like it says, it’s just a three minute bout of murder it’s about an emotion being flipped on it’s head..... it’s the people that you love you most that you hate the most when you argue with them because it matters the most..... so yeah, that’s where “Get Older” came from.

ANDY: Those two songs in particular sound to me as though you are writing in the perspective of somebody else.

TOM: It’s not massively obvious though......... is it?

ANDY: It is to me.

TOM: Is it......that’s good, that’s good.

ANDY:  There are other songs on the album however that I feel are written much more personally, possibly based on relationship issues in your life. “Train Station Car Park” sounds very personal.

TOM: Yeah, that was.

ANDY: And “Too Slow” also comes across as very personal.

TOM: No.....well the thing is that....... just because I write a story it doesn’t mean it’s not personal because I can only write what comes out of me....... all that comes out of me is what I know. Even if you use a narrative as a mechanism to distance yourself from any responsibility for what that character’s saying... you’re still saying it........ I’ve had no contact with anyone...... you know from any country or any society where they might be encouraged to do something that the greater society deems inappropriate like terrorism or anything....... so actually it’s less me commenting on how someone might feel in that situation.....it’s more me showing how me from my situation might comment on someone from that situation.... you know what I mean...... so the insight that I put on an isolated characters viewpoint is a reflection on my society.....in respect to how I think they would feel.....my ability to understand how they feel is a direct result of my media influences, what we read in the newspaper and everything.  I was trying to give a more human approach with that “Do My Best” EP... I was just trying to write about someone who would be the most vilified sort of thing you could do.... at that time in the national media it would either be a paedophile or a suicide bomber......... and then to almost try and...... not verify it..... but rationalise it as a human...... here’s a situation where you might at least acknowledge that the guys having a difficult time....... you know what I mean.  My successes or failings in analysing that guy’s character is as much a reflection on my society as me writing about him is a reflection on what I think is his society.

ANDY:  I suppose in some ways it’s the old adage, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

TOM: Yeah exactly....... but I mean the thing about this story is he didn’t actually do anything.... ever...... I mean in “Voice Mail” he’s nearly gonna.  And then it’s weird how the other songs that have nothing to do with that story echo it so like at the end of “Voice Mail” he’s in a car driving, because it’s a voice mail...... it’s a voice mail on a phone.... that’s what that whole spoken word back bit is.  And in “90mph” he’s in a car...... and then there are other things like there’s a lot of end of your tether stuff all the way through the album......  Too Slow and Get Older they could be chapters from the same book but they are from two completely different situations......... and then you know“Denmark” was written when I was eighteen..... a very earnest love song in the midst of all the other me trying to tell a story songs..... you’re not really sure what to make of it....... it tends to get flipped on it’s head a bit.... which is kind of nice.

ANDY:  Back to that relationship aspect, there are some quite harsh lines in some songs, which do suggest you’ve had some difficult times?

TOM: But you can have a issue within a relationship which is still a successful relationship..... You can have a twenty four hour when it’s.... right that’s it, it’s finished..... and then you’re like.... maybe it’s.... obviously it’s...... you know..... A lot of times when I’m writing and I have a blot what frees up the writing process is a funny one liner or a joke song...... there’s a song on the EP called “Kick The Cat” which is very similar to something like “Wouldn’t women be sweet” on the album...... where the narrative and the jokiness kind of frees up something you wouldn’t have said otherwise..... I mean “Wouldn’t women be sweet” starts quite funnily but then eventually you get to the line “You’ll be making some other man’s life a misery but I don’t care as long as it’s not me”  I’d would have never written that if I was trying to write seriously.... you get into it, you start a jokey line, you start writing quicker because you don’t care so much..... you follow rhymes for the sake of rhymes in a sort of jokey, playful, dilly way...... and then you suddenly come up with a line and wow, that would never have happened otherwise.

ANDY: So you’re saying it’s not quite all as intense as it might sound, there’s humour in there too?

TOM: There’s a lot of humour in there...... definitely. Someone said that about I think the Leeds show, they didn’t know if they were allowed to laugh or not but thought that was probably the point.  It is quite awkward because you’re meant to laugh at “Wouldn’t Women be Sweet”obviously and people do....... but “Get Older” is really over the top........ the humour is a big part of it but the problem is that because a lot of our more serious songs have got on the radio if they haven’t got the album they haven’t heard that yet...... But “See My Evil” is jokey it’s actually not about much but the whole kind of sound of the band is so raw and visceral that you give the benefit of the doubt to the lyrics which is really interesting......It’s like that new Arctic Monkey song “Don’t Sit Down Cos I’ve Moved You’re Chair” it’s one big joke, but you put it over a really amazing sounding band and suddenly it’s this playful kind of proggy 70’s thing which is really cool...... That’s the two sides to the band as well, there’s the song writing and what it becomes when the band get hold of it....... There’s a guy who wrote a review for the blog “This is Fake DIY”........ he was a long term fan that we lost track with, who ended up writing the album review and he seemed to sum that up perfectly.... there’s the songs and then there’s the sound of the band and what the band does to the songs........ it’s something that only this band could do to these songs if you know what I mean, it’s a very special two way thing.

ANDY: I think that was more noticeable last night live, you could certainly see the band influence coming through more.

TOM: You mean on some of the newer songs?

ANDY: Yes, just talking to Ant before and I said on “See My Evil” the guitar was much more rocky and took me by surprise, but so did the intensity of your singing.

TOM: Hopefully that will make you listen back to the record differently.

ANDY: Yes, absolutely.

TOM: But I mean we try to get it.......  the “See My Evil” EP had no overdubs at all so nothing redone..... that was just us playing in a room so that’s as live as you could ever get a record sounding....... but yeah live is a bit more loose a bit more ragged and you can see the people playing..... I think when you play live half of what the audience hears is what they see as well..... so there’s nothing worse than a grumpy band.

ANDY: The band also came across as really tight last night.

TOM: Well we’ve been playing for a long time...... we’ve been on the road for a week playing every day so all those big stabs and everything...... and at the end of “See My Evil” where we do that big gap....... with everyone just going there on the drop of a headstock into the ending again. It’s a real joy when everyone’s locked in like that.

ANDY: I expected the set last night to be purely to promote the debut album, but you actually played four new songs, almost as if you’ve drawn a line under “Too Slow” and are already moving on?

TOM: No...... we’re just too excited not to play them that’s the main thing.... and also we want to road test them you know......... I mean there are some new songs we don’t want to road test....... there are some real poppy songs that I don’t think I want to play live until people have got their heads round them........ stuff like “Little Bit Of Me” which is a new song....... it’s kind of a bridge between the two albums so we play the more bridgy songs..... there’ll be other songs we won’t be able to play live until the albums out because it’s kind of a different thing.  But the thing is that “See My Evil” and “Get Older” were a different thing for us, they were a bit more extreme end of what we were doing...... there’s definitely not going to be another “Get Older” on the next album because there can only be one “Get Older” in your set otherwise it becomes contrived.....the same with “See My Evil” so there’ll will be a couple of other things......... we’ve always loved the bands that have done lots of different things...... someone like Pavement or Brakes who’ll do a thrash thing one time, then an accapella song, then a blues song, then a folk song you know..... not necessarily to that extent.

ANDY: Coincidently, Brakes are one of my all time favourite bands.

TOM: Yeah, I love Brakes....... I mean Ant loves the first album, the red one.

ANDY: Give Blood.

TOM: Yeah and I think Touchdown is a masterpiece as well in a perfect pop record.

ANDY: Well they do have Tom White, one of the greatest living guitarists.

TOM: Yeah, yeah, yeah...... also one of the most playful and inventive lyricists..... everything is said with a twitch in the eye and a demented grin you know so it’s like amazing.

ANDY: There’s also a similarity in vocal style with you and Eamonn Hamilton of Brakes. Again at last nights gig, you were spitting lines out on occasions, not just singing them.

TOM: I also think I underestimate how exhausting it is, I think at the end of last night I felt the weight of singing “Get Older” eight nights in a row.  I mean it every night... you have to or people can smell it but it is pretty exhausting.....Because it’s the climax of the set and that’s why we haven’t been playing encores because after “Get Older” there’s nothing you can do.... We used to come out and do our “True Love Will Find Us In The End” cover but after “Get Older” I’d far rather people leave the gig wanting more with their ears ringing rather than having heard another song just for the sake of it.

ANDY: You could do “Get Older” as the encore.  

TOM: Yeah well exactly that’s the thing to do....... or the cool thing to do is a two or three song encore....... but the problem is if you play a gig and don’t play “Get Older” people get pissed off and don’t ask for an encore, you know what I mean...... and we’re all like waiting “please can we do one more” [laughs]

ANDY: And just to finish the interview, although you’ve touched on things slightly, what are your plans for the rest of the year. Festivals?

TOM: Festivals yeah.... we’re doing lot’s of indie ones.... Camden Crawl, Great Escape, Bearded Theory, Beacons Festival, those kind of things....... We’re  hoping for a couple of biggies....... like Rock Ness, V or Glastonbury.

ANDY:  I thought I’d seen you were doing Glastonbury, is that not the case?

TOM: No, no, no........ at the moment we’re not....... it would be very jammy to play two years in a row. We did Latitude as well last year so we’ve had our big festivals so maybe we just do the indies this year.  We’re doing one in Spain as well which is a blast as we get all our flights paid and everything which is just amazing........ But yeah that and then we really need to knuckle down...... I want to get everything in place for the second album by the end of the year...... I think we’re reaching the end of the first phase of the band...... just because as an unsigned band we’ve managed to get two play listed singles from an unsigned album on national radio which is beyond amazing....... we’ve done sessions for nearly every BBC D.J....... we’ve done a lot better than a lot of people on very reputable indie labels...... so I think with a bit of help we could maybe take a step up. The main aim of this year is to get the second album out.

ANDY: I don’t suppose there’s a Mudkiss exclusive on the title of the second album?

TOM: No..... no idea....... but there are a lot of songs so maybe this will be our Sandinista. This could be our massively four slabs of rubbish vinyl [Laughs]   

As Tom and the gang left The Koffee Pot with Mel for photographs in the legendary Piccadilly Records, I reflect on the interview. Tom Williams is an extremely intelligent and amiable person to sit down and have a chat with.  He also possesses the skills of a politician, neatly sidestepping certain questions, providing only as much information as he’s prepared to offer, making him all the more intriguing.  Perhaps next time after the release of album number two?

www.myspace.com/WilliamsTommusic
www.tomwilliamsandtheboat.co.uk
www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Tom-Williams-and-the-Boat/28990868744
http://tomwilliamsandtheboat.spinshop.com
- buy the music here

Interview by Andy Barnes/Photos by Mel 20/04/11