The Thomas White Interview
The Thomas White Interview:
You are master of all instruments and we believe you started learning to play the piano and violin before you were even six years of age. Which of all the instruments you play was the hardest to learn and which is your favourite to play??
The violin is without doubt the hardest instrument I've ever tried to get a sweet sound from. The fingering and tuning is so finite, if you're a millimetre off, you're into cat-strangling territory. Followed closely by trumpet. Clarinet is fairly simple, as is guitar. Piano and drums are a doddle once you get the coordination going...
Was there ever any musical sibling rivalry between you and your brother Alex (fellow Electric Soft Parade founder) when you were growing up?
I guess you could say there was a fair amount of healthy competition. Though he was much more centred around the piano when we were younger - taking it right up to Grade 8 classical. By about 8 or 9, I was completely obsessed with the electric guitar, so even by then the shape and nature of our writing was already being influenced by our instruments of choice.....perhaps the reason we're both so obsessed with arrangements is that we were hearing music on two different instruments from the word go?
Your new solo album is called ‘Yalla', which is an Egyptian word, and it was also recorded in Egypt.
Is the album heavily influenced by the sights, sounds and smells of the country and culture?
Certainly the smells. I don't know - Egypt is a fascinating, beautiful, richly diverse country, and a million miles away from much of the horror happening just across the water, and I guess purely by the nature of me being there, writing and recording the album there, it must have seeped in, though being so far from home, and dealing with the things I was dealing with at the time, I was thinking much more of Brighton and Brighton people when I was writing those songs. There's a great deal of pining and homesickness in those tunes. Having said that, the album is undoubtedly influenced by the sheer heat and desert light you get over there. Everything's a kind of soft orangey-yellow. Very dusty.
Do you play all of the instruments on the album, and what can we expect as far as the lyrics, sounds and influences are concerned??
The album is only myself on acoustic guitar and vocals, so I was working with a hugely reduced palate, compared to the last two records. Lyrically, there's a lot of stuff I didn't pick up on at the time. Generally, I don't like to pick apart lyrics too much. If they come out sounding right I don't like to fuck with them. When I was out in Egypt, what can I say - it was quite a rough time - my mother had passed away the previous year and I was just getting out of a five year relationship. In one sense I just ran away from everything for 6 weeks, to clear my head, whatever you want to call it. In another sense, I think when you remove yourself from what you know and what you're comfortable with, it forces you to face things from a much harsher perspective. I certainly didn't go out there to 'find myself' or any of that shit, but I think I might have done just that.
Your first solo album ‘I Dream Of Black' was an understated affair, but the outstanding follow-up ‘The Maximalist' was a powerful tour de force.
Was that a purposeful change of style and tempo?
I Dream Of Black pretty much happened by accident. I'd started a new batch of songs and a label fell into place just at the right time. Looking back, they are in a sense just a bunch of glorified demos. Though it has a certain charm, and I do love some of the production. All along, that record was really only supposed to be a little hidden treasure for people to pick up on in years to come. No big record. It just kind of sits there doing its' job, which is fine by me. The Maximalist was really an effort to create some sort of picture, or a snapshot, or whatever you want to call it, of a specific time. It also references Brighton and Sussex a hell of a lot. I guess that was the start of me opening up in those terms - realising that what I loved in other people's writing, and what I wanted people to dig in my own writing, was explicit references with layers and meanings that bear repeated listens. Sonically it was also a massive step forward from I Dream Of Black, though still mostly recorded on a crappy little digital 8-track.
All three of your solo albums have cool covers. Who designed them all, and in particular what is the relevance behind ‘The Maximalist' cover??
I designed the first one, which is just some graphic I did on Photoshop. The Maximalist sleeve is a picture by a very good artist friend of ours called Keith Boadwee. The picture is called 'Berries'. He lives out in San Francisco, where he lectures on modern art. We actually met him while touring out there as ESP, and he turned out to be a total fan, which is kinda hilarious when you see some of his art - enema paintings and suchlike. But yeah, we were just totally drawn to him - he's just a really sweet guy, and a totally underrated artist. The sleeve for Yalla! is a collage my father made - 'Festival'. Apparently from old copies of The Observer Magazine. If you look closely you can see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, upside-down, somewhere near the middle.