Incendiary interview Tom McRae – part two

The difference is, if I had a hit and was making loads of money, the only thing in my life that would be different than it is now is that I’d probably be wearing better jeans.

The difference is, if I had a hit and was making loads of money, the only thing in my life that would be different than it is now is that I’d probably be wearing better jeans.

IN: So if we come onto the new album. On stage the other night you said that people have come down on this for being your ‘pop’ record. Is there still this frustrated artist in you that wants the big time, the big numbers, because you’ve said online before things like, "Oh why the fuck can’t I have a hit?" I wonder where the line between doing it for yourself or for the art of it and doing it for the fame is drawn?


TM: I want that. I still want that. I do want that because I want a huge audience. Anyone who does this is lying if they say that it’s ok being at this level or that. You know, I don’t want it for any other reason than music, for me, is a form of communication and I want to communicate to the largest amount of people.


It’s frustrating at times to realise the difference between what makes something successful and other things not successful is that it usually comes down to one thing. It just comes down to money. It comes down to people wanting to spend money on you. For me that continues to be a source of minor frustration. But it really is pretty minor. The older I get the more I just think it’s fucking luck and money. The difference is, if I had a hit and was making loads of money, the only thing in my life that would be different than it is now is that I’d probably be wearing better jeans.


IN: Yeah, I was just wondering how much that side of things actually meant to you because, although I understand the point about you wanting to reach a large audience, I’ve never listened to your work and thought you were trying to do something for any other reason than to write a good song, you know? I’ve read some of the criticism about the new album and I just want to know how people can accuse you of selling out when, you’ve said yourself, you haven’t sold anything in the first place. You’ve never had that big hit?



TM: Exactly.


IN: But with King Of Cards I find it extraordinary to criticise it because it is still, as far as I’m concerned, a really strong piece of work. It doesn’t feel like your trying to cash in, to me.


TM: Thank you. Yeah, you have to do this for the right reasons because there’s too many obstacles and things that you have to believe in yourself to surmount. I need a certain amount of money to live and I don’t want to do other jobs because it would take my time and energy away from music. You know before I got a deal I was struggling to survive.


But the world has changed and I can’t do certain things that I want to do with my place in the music world. Simply because there isn’t the money. I can’t do the tours and shows I want to do. I can’t even have the band half of the time that I want to have. Little things like that frustrate me but, I would fully expect that in the next few years, as more and more money drains away and the music business becomes harder and harder to make a living from you’ll get people doing it for the right reasons. You won’t get the Madonna’s of this world. You’ll get people who’ll go, "I’ll burn to do this. I’ll kill to do this." And they’ll do it and then a lot of people will do it for a few years and think, "Well actually I can’t quite carry on. It’s a little too tough." And that’s got to be a good thing. That’s got to be good for music.


It’ll be like the sixties again. Everyone touring. Learning how to play live, being entertainers and performers. I love performing and I’m looking forward to that.


IN: You’ve got to have that passion don’t you.


TM: Well the touring life is too dull. It’s too dull. There’s too many days where you’re waking up in car parks. Where you’re thinking where are you going to shower? Am I going to sleep tonight on the bus? There’s too many stupid things, tiny tings, that, if you add them up over the course of the year you’d kill yourself if you didn’t have, at the end of the night, that I just played to 25 people, 500 people, 10,000 people. It doesn’t fucking matter.


IN: You seem to be the type of person that challenges yourself a lot, between each record. I mean, you’ve moved around a lot in the past few years. I can remember talking to you a couple of years ago, and you were living in LA at the time and you told me that, if I was going to go there, that I had to go to this certain place and hang out and you were raving about it. Within a few weeks I think you’d moved to New York. So where are you now, are you still in New York?


TM: Well I am. I’m kind of dividing my time because of touring commitments, between London and New York. Ask me next year and I’ll probably say I’m in Tokyo or something.


IN: You don’t make life easy for yourself do you?


TM: I like moving around. I’m lucky in that I can get to spend a year here or a year there. It’s not that anything changes about the place. I just get restless and use up the bit of me that fit that town. I loved, loved being in LA. Not so much now. And New York now feels like home. More home than I’ve ever had, because we always moved around. When I was a kid we never lived in one place for more than a few years. Now I’ve been in New York for eighteen months it feels like that’s the one city I’ve spent the most time in.


IN: There’s a line in one of the songs on King of Cards where you say, "Put the world in a box," and I totally understand that feeling. When you’re living somewhere you decorate the walls and things with all sorts of stuff and then, when you move, it all just fits into a few boxes and you look at them and think, "Is that me? Is that all I am?" Those seven boxes or what have you.


So contrast that with the feeling of, when you arrive in an airport, in a new country for the first time and you realise that you have no idea where you are or what you’re going to do. That rush you get from that, where you realise that if you don’t do something sharpish, then you could end up in deep shit. That rush is an incredible feeling.


TM: Yes, it is.


IN: So do you feel the need to move every few years, just to invigorate yourself?


TM: Every day. You know, practically, there’s a decision to be made like that every single day. When you’re travelling, that sort of thing happens once or twice a year. I think it’s the perfect attitude to have. It’s incredibly liberating to throw away all the shit you don’t need. To have the clothes that you travel round in, to have the instruments you like to play. Thank God for things like the iPod. Now I’ve got all my music on an iPod and a couple of hard drives and that’s it.


And you do, the minute you look at the universe and just say….because the universe is a big question and everyone’s trying to solve the question, ok? It’s a pointless, fruitless exercise. There are no answers. It’s not going to be solved so if you just say, |"Well whatever the question is, then my answer’s Yes!" And the moment you start to say yes to those things, then life just throws stuff at you and becomes this breathless adventure. I love that. I thrive on that. Like, sometimes it’s scary but…. hey?


Interview : Damian Leslie


Click here to go back to part one