We are fucked. In five years’ time there'll be Pop Idol at the top, hobbyists at the bottom, and not much else in between. Depressing. Also true.
Tom White’s an engaging soul and always worth listening to. And we hadn’t spoken to him for some time. We should have, we should have made more of his last record, The Maximalist, around the time of its release because it is a belter and the rule goes that you interview people when there’s a record out. Still we’ve never been any good at that sort of thing. Thoughts like this (plus beer) led to one of those “let’s contact someone” moments. A few texts later, and we’ve got Tom to agree to some questions. And here they are.
IN: We loved your last LP, The Maximalist: tell us about what drove you to make it. What are the ideas on it that you tried to convey?
TW: The truth of the matter is that until about three quarters of the way into recording Touchdown - the third Brakes record - there was no Maximalist... The album very much came about as a result of free studio time - or rather the live room of the studio we were in being free (the rest of the band being holed-up in the control room mixing the album). So, I found myself with perhaps four or five hours every day for a week, dicking about in this massive studio with free reign over all their beautiful equipment, and all our gear already set up - drums, amps, piano, Hammond...the lot. I think I had the title before a lot of the songs were even written....well, I'd certainly decided to do a cover of Look At Them by Guided By Voices, and a Warren Zevon tune - Accidentally Like A Martyr.
Anyway, I got cracking, and within that small frame of time a bunch of the songs took shape and before I knew it, it was all hanging together scarily well. In terms of ideas, there really weren't any - it is quite simply an exercise in allowing embryonic fragments of song expand in their own natural way - hence the title......the microscopic made vast by means of random elaboration and pure chance.
IN: It's a very independent, cussed LP, in some ways you thrive on going against trends, yet you make the most accessible records- can you see this split between "the every man" and cussed individual?
TW: Well, I've never in my life been called a 'cussed individual', and I certainly don't see myself as an 'every man', but I'd like to think if I'm somewhere in-between, and my music is a fair representation of where I am at any given point in my life, then it would hopefully connect with a lot of people..
IN: Why do you cram so many ideas into a track?
TW: Because I get bored very easy. And I guess I don't really see my songs as separate entities - more as part of the on-going development of my musical and lyrical vocabulary. By extension, any given idea (motif/lyric/chord progression) could feasibly crop up in any of my songs, and often do.
IN: What I am trying to say is you seem to have a very different approach to music: I remember you and your brother Alex arguing about what key a Nina Simone track was in or something and I thought, fuck me, now that's not something you hear in dressing rooms every day...
TW: It's not, and neither are we!
IN: And how you find the time to do all this... you always seem to be mixed up in some project or another, and living in a town that is seemingly full of musicians could be a distraction, n'est-ce pas?
TW: I have recently whittled down my involvement in bands to just a few. All of that was possibly just my way of finding my feet. Having gone interstellar with ESP at such a young age, me and Alex kind of bypassed the whole garage band phase of playing in bands. Part of me always just wanted to hang out in a grotty rehearsal room and go deaf, so we went back and did all that for a couple of years. It's fucking fun, you know.
IN: Talking of prolific people, you love Guided By Voices don't you? Why is that?
TW: Robert Pollard is a singular, unique, massively gifted writer - not afraid to allow all manner of influences into his work. It sounds obvious, but it's a hugely underrated trait to be open about your influences, as he consistently is. Not to say he is derivative, but he wears his influences on his sleeve and knows his place in the world: bands these days could learn a thing or two from that. He also happens to have written many of my favourite songs of all time - The Brides Have Hit Glass, Glad Girls and Don't Stop Now among them.
IN: How do you see being a musician in 3 to 5 years’ time? I know it’s a boring topic, but there seems to be so many opinions, so much confusion as to what is going on...
TW: We are fucked. In five years’ time there'll be Pop Idol at the top, hobbyists at the bottom, and not much else in between. Depressing. Also true.
IN: On a different tack, when do we get to hear new Brakes/ESP stuff?
TW: Electric Soft Parade are totally back on the money. We've just been doing a residency in our home town and the reaction has just blown our socks off. We simply cannot wait to get out there and play to all the beautiful people who came saw us last time round. Especially out in Europe. It's always a dream come true. We've got new material on the way, and though I can't go into it now, you will without doubt be the first to know! Brakes-wise, Eamon is about to become a father once again, (hearty congrats Eamon – all at Incendiary!) so that new record will sadly have to wait. Soon though, I promise!