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Tom Fun Orchestra - Interview

  by Jeff Thiessen

published: 6 / 9 / 2010

Tom Fun Orchestra - Interview


Jeff Thiessen talks to sprawling and energetic eight-piece Canadian group the Tom Fun Club about their new single 'Miles Davis' and 'You Will Land With A Thud', which was co-produced by Gordon Gano from Violent Femmes

Before a set in my hometown of Saskatoon, which I reviewed separately here on Pennyblack, I had a chance to sit down to the members of the Tom Fun Orchestra, the eight-person band hailing from Nova Scotia. Since they all seemed to have thoughts on every question I threw their way, I won’t specify who answered every single thing, since they all chipped in constantly at random intervals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, after all, this is a band that isn’t large, it’s big. They want to be seen as a collective, so,goddamnit, we’ll treat them as one. PB: It kind of goes without saying the Tom Fun has a very Eastern Canada sound and feel to your music, something clearly embraced and not rejected by the band in any way. Is there a concern that such an inherent connection to the sounds of a homeland might be limiting in regards to reaching new audiences? TFO: I think it’s just we play music. A lot of people are known for certain styles. There’s an underlying theme that we play music with instruments, and we love doing so. The local scene was great, but it’s more of a traditional east coast music thing. There’s a pretty close knit community of musicians, and we’re more influenced by that than any one sound. We just don’t concern ourselves with titles. Some of us used to play bass in a prog-punk band, so you know, we’re not too concerned with a specific description of our music. Nothing is a conscious move in any direction. We just play our instruments and try and put everything we can into what comes out of music, instruments, and people. PB: Prog-punk band eh? I’m not too sure I could name a lot of those. Flipper maybe. So I’ve listened to your debut album, 'You Will Land With a Thud', a few times, and in terms of the outlaw storytelling approach, I’m reminded of something like Springsteen’s 'Nebraska' album. But there are certain tracks like 'Bottom of the River', which is this cryptic, gloomy song. That range in between the two, was that a conscious decision? TFO: 'Nebraska' eh, that’s a pretty wicked comparison! No, it definitely wasn’t intentional at all. I think maybe if I were a better writer it would be more of a conscious thing. Yeah, I don’t even know if there was a progression in there. There isn’t anything I’m really going for lyrically, I’m not sure if there’s one thing that appeals to us more than any other thing. I just get a kick out of combining words in a way I find appealing. PB: Billy Corgan recently claimed albums are not conducive to the artistic process and it makes more sense to release music on a single-to-single basis. Do you guys agree with that on any level? TFO: Personally, I like a record. I like an album that has a start, finish, and a flow. And I hope that never, ever goes away. The single thing he mentioned is great. It’s a good way to get music out there, but I have a hard time totally getting behind singles that aren’t necessarily part of a particular album. To us, the studio is really inspiring in a lot of ways, more so than jammed on a tiny stage with eight other people, bumping elbows into each other. PB: What’s a constant we can expect at every Tom Fun show, good or bad? TFO: Beer. High energy. One of the most fun shows we’ve ever played was in Dublin, and it was playing to one person. It’s both humbling and exciting at the same time. PB: The debut had thirteen different vocalists, as well as an enormous amount of instrumentation. Was the goal a form of concentrated excess or was that just a natural progression of having eight talented musicians on board? TFO: Recording was sort of a hangover of that. We might have had thirty people in the band, but by the time it came time to lay down the tracks, it just seemed like all the people in our history ended up in the studio at some point because they were there, and they could be a great part of the song. PB: In my opinion, the newest track you put out 'Miles Davis' is leaps and bounds above anything else you’ve recorded. Was there a shift in how you approached it? It seems much more theatrical and rocking than anything you’ve done before. TFO: Yeah, we really feel similarly. And that’s the first one we’ve done entirely on our own. We played that song live for a long time, but when we went to the studio we just decided to do something different than before. As far as the title goes, it’s sort of a reference to his 'Live Evil' album, something we’ve been listening to recently. PB: What are the main difficulties associated with such a high amount of people in one band? TFO: Sleeping. But right from the start, we all find a way to fit. When one person needs some space, someone else moves over, you know. Basically we’re all just taking up space. We’re all space wasters! PB: I hear one of you is banned from Sweden? How the hell does one get bored from an entire country? TFO: (Laughter. Ian MacDougall, the singer and lyricist, answers).I had been living in Sweden, and me and some of my friends went to Denmark, which is a much more liberal place than Sweden, and when we came back they didn’t want us back in. I’ll tell you the real story when that thing is turned off. PB: Other than 'Miles Davis', which I consider the highlight of your catalogue, what would you consider the best Tom Fun track recorded? TFO: We like the way that Miles Davis turned out the best too. It’s a song that really came together on stage. It’s one that we had and liked. It doesn’t really fit with what we were doing for the new album, but it was still something we wanted to put out there. PB: Definitely the right direction I think. How sick are you of the “number of people in your band” questions? To me it’s almost a non-issue. It’s 2010.....the four boys growing up together to form a band is a truly antiquated notion I think. TFO: Not so much that, but often you can tell it’s obvious the person asking knows nothing about us whatsoever. That’s part of the draw. People are interested in us because there’s a lot of people involved, so talking about it on that level is fine. It’s more annoying to have people mindlessly compare us to other groups with lots of members. It’s just the kind of thing that happens in the community we live in. Something that’s always bothered me is the bands that we get compared to usually make a lot of money. It’s no small feat to go on the road with this many people. I think that in itself marks a distinction between us and other indie bands, that extra work we put in. PB: Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes co-produced 'You Will Land With a Thud'. What did he bring to its recording? How did that even come about? TFO: It was just inspiring to us. We were Violent Femmes fans. Gordon was friends with a mutual acquaintance and one day I came home to a message on my answering machine from Gordon saying (in Gano’s distinctive high voice), “Hey, it’s Gordon Gano. I really like what I hear from you guys, I really think we could work together!” He also brought a really nice baseball hat and cigars to the table. PB: Should we expect any significant departures in sound for Tom Fun on the follow-up second album or will it be more of a subtle refinement? TFO: I guess we’re feeling like it will sound much different than the first album. We’ve been in the studio a couple days, and we don’t really talk about it. We’re all on a different page now. It’s less about a barrage and more about crafting. I think songs just sort of emerge, and we do our best to play them. We all just know each other better. For some reason we all moved in together. And I think that might have a profound influence on what comes next. This will be so much more album-like than the first effort. PB: Thank you. Ed. Note: I never did get the ‘banned from Sweden’ story out of Ian after the recorder shut off.

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Tom Fun Orchestra - Interview

Tom Fun Orchestra - Interview

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live reviews

SK Amigo's Cafe, Saskatoon, 6/8/2010
Tom Fun Orchestra - SK Amigo's Cafe, Saskatoon, 6/8/2010
At the SK Amigo's Cafe in Saskatoon in Canada, Jeff Thiessen sees beery eight-piece band the Tom Fun Orchestra play a visceral and refreshingly excessive set

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