THERE are some fantastically soulful voices…
in the world of music right now, exciting the senses and compelling critics. In America, there is Leon Bridges; here, and with a hot tune ready for us, is Tommy Down. I have been speaking with the young maestro about being compared with Nile Rodgers; what factors/threads influenced Superficial - and, whether we can see an E.P. very soon.
Tommy Down tells me about his musical tastes and how he got into the industry; what it was like working with producer Rhys Lewis on Superficial; some new artists we need to spend some time with – how the former band leader has adapted to life as a solo artist.
Hi, Tommy Down. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey. I’m good, thanks. I’ve just been working with my band, Harker Moon, a lot this week as we’re trying to finish this new song we’ve been working on.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hi. I’m Tommy and I’ve recently released a lyrically-heavy, Funk-inspired track called Superficial - but wouldn’t say I’m tied to one genre at all; so, always keen to try new things with later releases.
Superficial is your new song. What can you reveal about its creation and story?
Well. I was introduced to Rhys Lewis by his brother and we ended up having a writing session together. I showed him some chords I had recently written and he came up with the bass line, which ended up being the chore of the track.
It was great fun to work with him and we pretty much finished the song that day. We wrote the song very quickly - but it felt like a very natural collaboration, so it didn’t feel rushed.
I picked up on an aspect of social media obsession. Do you feel we are all becoming too obsessed with our laptops and phones? How do we break out of this?!
I’m probably not the right person to ask concerning how to break out of it, as I’m likely just as bad as anyone else but, yeah, the song was inspired through an observation of our generation. I remember talking to Rhys about how people at my uni (in Bristol), for some, reason loved wearing vintage Nike/Adidas sportswear and how everyone seemed to jump on this bandwagon. Suddenly, all my brother’s old clothes were cool (laughs).
I think, once a group of people have started to do something, it's considered fine. I (just) can’t ever imagine my grandmother taking a selfie and mailing that photo to all her friends sixty years ago yet, online, it’s considered the norm. I don’t think we’re obsessed – but it’s nice to take a break now and then.
Superficial seems to mix Nile Rodgers and Sade. It is a bit of a stomper! Were you channelling any particular artists for this song?
Thanks, man, appreciate it. I do love a bit of Nile. I’d been listening to a lot of Seramic and at the time and not sure whether I was listening to him then – but, I think Steve Lacy is great. Love the bass-y nature of some of his tracks – like, in Some.
I also like the lyrical nature of the Arctic Monkeys - and thought it would be cool to get a bit of a story into the track.
What did producer Rhys Lewis bring to the track, do you think? Was it a good experience working with him?
It was great to work with Rhys.
He’s a great producer and musician. I felt he helped me look at the creation of a song in a different way. I usually have an idea of what the song will sound like before I record it, but trying out different sounds while writing the song was great. I also rarely repeat a lyric in a verse, but Rhys actually wrote the lyric “God, I hate the taste; I hate this place”, which is repeated in the second verse.
It felt it was a good idea as it applied in both contexts.
Is there going to be more material coming later in the year? Will we see an E.P.?
There likely will be some more material coming in the year. I’m trying a few different genres at the moment, so just have to make sure I like what I make before I share it, really.
I will be releasing a music video for Superficial this year, however, which I made with my friend Tobias Harris. My band, Harker Moon, will be releasing a track this year, too.
How did you get started in music? Did you begin with open mics? Was there a particular event that influenced that decision?
My parents always played music at home and I remember listening to Magic 105.4 in the car with my mum on the way to school every day. I started writing music when I got my first cheap recording kit around the age of fourteen - and enjoy listening back to the terrible songs I wrote...
Yeah; I think I started with open mics - which were always fun - but singing in my university’s Jazz band probably made me start to think of music as my ideal career. We went on tour to Switzerland. It was great being around all those musicians and was one of the best experiences of my life.
Who are the artists who opened your eyes growing up?
Stevie Wonder, James Brown; Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson; Otis Redding, Al Green and the Arctic Monkeys - and Queen’s greatest hits was actually the first album I bought. I have always loved Soul music, though.
You are a band leader as well as a solo artist. Do you have to change the way you perform and write in each environment? What are the main differences?
Yep. It’s quite a different writing process with the band. I usually write a blueprint for a song and then the band add their particular spin on it; the changes can go on for months. I wouldn’t say I perform differently, though - you’ll have to come to a gig some time to find out.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
I hope to release some material through my band and my solo project - that I am proud of – and, hopefully, play a few festivals along the way.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
I usually don’t drink a drop before getting on stage, but I remember thinking I had finished my set for my uni’s jazz band in this small village in Switzerland by the sea. Thinking I had no more songs to sing, I got pretty drunk. The conductor Paddy, without warning, announced that I was going to finish the set with Feeling Good by Nina Simone. I remember repeating the lyric tree a lot.
Luckily, everyone was foreign – so, I don’t think they knew what I was saying anyway.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
I would tell them to take time writing every individual part of the first song they release…especially if you’re in a band as, when it comes to the day you record it, you will want to know exactly what you’re playing. So, make a demo. Make sure that you are entirely happy with the first song you release as you only really get one chance…unless you take it down and put another one up, of course.
Talk to as many people in the industry you can, keep asking for advice; spend a lot of time writing and try release as much material as you can.
IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Luckily, my bandmates are actually my friends too, so it's always nice hanging out with them. You’d probably bump into me at some pub in Camden with my mates if you’re round there during the weekend.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Sweet - and thanks for the Interview. All the best, Tommy. I will leave you with the King of Soul:
People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul (Remix) – James Brown, Fred Wesley and The J.B.'s
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