Five years on from the release of his debut album 'We Have Sound', Tom Vek is back.
After rumours of alien abduction and retirement, the self-taught London musician and producer has actually spent much of the time working on his second effort, 'Leisure Seizure'.
Released this week, Gigwise caught up with Vek to speak about the album, what he thinks of the music industry and his plans to tour again.
The video for ‘A Chore’, your first single in five years, is based on the concept of Desert Island Discs. That imagery of being marooned sees quite poignant.
“I think in truthfulness the idea all came together at the end. You don’t think of yourself in metaphors during the process, but I think it was fitting. I like that it had a re-introductory element it and it dealt with it to a degree because obviously I’m getting asked about it a lot. I also like how literal it is. It was Island Records - they put out my first record and I’m doing another one on Island.”
I think most artists who enjoy huge success with their first album are under pressure from their label to deliver a follow-up quickly. Were Island accommodating for you?
“They were pretty hands off really. To answer it in quite a realistic manner, the first record didn’t do well enough to register this kind of delirious pushing for a continued think. It did modestly and was received well-ish with some people, but I don’t think it fitted into that thing.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do next or how it would develop - it almost felt a bit like a manifesto, but as it transpired it worked out being a bit more complicated trying to work out what to do next.”
Now that ‘Leisure Seizure’ is finally coming out, is there an over-riding emotion that you’re feeling? Is there a sense of relief?
“I do yeah. I felt a sense of relief when it was finished and accepted. Now I feel a sense of…it’s difficult to describe really. When you’re making the music and involved in it you imagine you’ll be in the centre of the storm of it going to other people, but you kind of realize that you are actually handing stuff over and people are enjoying it in their own time. I’m sat at home watching TV and there’s someone at home listening to my CD.”
When you released ‘A Chore’ last month there was a huge level of interest on Twitter - you trended for two days. Were you surprised given the length of the wait?
“Yeah. I didn’t really know what that was, I had to have someone explain that to me. The thing is, I’ve been observing internet culture and internet music culture, and when we realized that we were working on the album last year that it was a reality that the album was going to get finished, then it was quite exciting that we’ve got to keep it much of a secret as possible.
“I have very black and white opinions - even though I studied an element of branding in my design degree - I really like being as bold as possible. I’d have meetings with my manager and I’d be like, ‘We’ve just got to release the album - bang.’ You can’t keep people waiting. It’s got to be an announcement and people can buy the album immediately. And he said it might be going that way, but it’s not there yet. So we had a compromise. I love the idea of getting iTunes ready so people can buy the song immediately. Not that we were progressively pushing music, but I think it is good to legitimize music for people that are happy to go the easiest route. I mean, if you like a track the easily thing for people to do is go to iTunes - I’m a big believer in that. You kind of tempt people into the criminality by teasing people because they know it’s so easy, but if you put an iTunes link in there a lot of people might do that.
“But getting all that stuff ready, it was such a difficult balance getting that in place before we made the announcement. We did really well to hold it off for so long I think.”
Did you ever think during the recording process of joining something like Twitter and let people know what you’re doing?
“Yeah, I did think that and then I thought that would be rubbish because you immediately…we could go into a whole consumer psychology about this, and it’s a known thing. People are interested in things that they can’t know about and it’s so fundamental, and you can easily shatter that by letting them know the most inane piece of news. And it’s music as well, you’re allowed a bit of theatricality about it.
“When it came to announcing ‘A Chore’ I was excited by it. It was going to replace that interest with something as interesting, if not more interesting.”
Can you just go back to when you first thought about recording the follow-up to ‘We Have Sound’?
“Well I thought that straight away and tried to do it, but I think I was at a more advanced state in my mind about what I could do and it was just a case of hard graft - learning some new production techniques and software - and sorting out the environment that I recorded in. And just letting the dust settle in a way because it’s a big psychological lifestyle change. Quite quickly I realized what was important to me. I made a point making sure I was happy with my friends - more important stuff in my life generally. I just felt a bit more comfortable then.”
“Most of the record is newer stuff - stuff that has happened in the last two or three years - and the other stuff just didn’t take off.”
Tom Vek - 'A-Chore'
Could you ever imagine doing something with that?
“Maybe but I’ve got a box of cassettes from before the first record, but I didn’t think to go back to those, even though at the time I’d be like, ‘Well I can always go back to that, I’ll never have writer’s block.’ It’s something that I’m proud of but I know that it is my curse to a degree because for myself I need to know that the integrity is there. It’s easy to fill up and album full of noise but I just couldn’t do it to myself. And because I’d been so lucky to be in this situation when I definitely wanted to be in. When I was making music when I was a kid this would be my dream come true, I would take it so seriously and also I would think that I would be so prolific. And that’s what frustrated me, that these two ideas were working against each other - ideas of my own integrity. I did feel slightly ashamed of the whole process but that was registering just slightly under how much I knew I needed to believe in it.”
Is that meticulousness a trait that’s indicative to you?
“I think so but then it’s funny to talk about it in that way because I don’t think the music sounds meticulous. It’s like building a frame. I always come back to this analogy of what I love so much about the artwork - you put the most chaotic, messy thing in a pristine gallery and then it looks like everything is deliberate. I think it calms the person’s interaction with it, like in an art gallery. I love art galleries, they tend to be such nice places.”
You worked with the producers Tom Rixton and Liam Howe. Are they quite important in helping you to step back from the process?
“Kind of. They just helped…I mean, there were two attempts with Tom. The first one I went to Argentina where he was staying at the time and did some work there, and really wasn’t in the right mood at all. And then we did two sessions in my own studio where I was much more confident in my space. I needed to work with people who had this right amount of hands off-ness. We’re in this delicate grey area with producers at the moment with co-writers and all that kind of stuff, which isn’t really…we have strict rules about that. They are very important and I’m grateful for that, but it also helps me - it provokes me to be incredibly pro-active because I want to impress them with my work.”
You mentioned earlier that you’d been observing interest culture while you were away. As the album was finally coming together, did you get much time off from recording?
“Yeah, over the last few years I would just do like a 9-5. It helps living with my girlfriend, she gets up goes to work, I get up and go to the studio. Music makes a lot of sense to me in the evening but I can’t work on it late or involve anything else. It’s useless bringing alcohol into the studio - it’s just like game over. I just end up listening to everything I’ve ever done.
“After having a little experience of being a bit rock and roll of being on the road and stuff, I just find a bit more sophistication in things being nice and clean and easy. My studio is a representation of that I think because it’s very tidy and bright and clean and minimal and nothing going on. I like that, it feels like a workplace. I’d love to go and work in a really fancy office especially after being in the back of a van.”
The interest in the album, from both critic and fans, seemed to grow as the wait went on.
“There was two years where nothing was anything different, because that’s how long you’d normally take. But there did feel like there was this period around the three or four year mark because it was like, where’s this album? But we still had no idea...back to your earlier question, the response was really quite humbling.”
At what point did the album feel finished. Can you remember what it felt like?
“There wasn’t a complete eureka moment, but it did start to happen quite quickly, which was exciting. Even when I listened to it myself, because you have to assign 30 minutes of your time to it, I still thought this is interesting me.”
The tour kicks off in June. Putting the story aside, are you happy to let the music do the talking again?
“It’s really exciting and I’m working really hard to make the tour…putting a lot of work into the tour, and hopefully I think we’re going to be able to do a lot of touring this year. I’ve been putting a lot of work to make sure the music is coming across very faithfully. I’ve got a great band together and I’m excited about it, but there’s obviously a sense of anticipation as well.”
'Leisure Seizure' is out now.