Tom Walker has had an insane year. He seems to be releasing new material left, right and centre, and he is wrapping up an incredibly successful U.S. tour supporting The Script. The unstoppable Scottish-born, Manchester raised singer/songwriter has carved a niche for himself in the genre with a unique sound and soulful voice. EARMILK sat down with him to chat origins, where he's going, and a burning question from my Mom.
EARMILK: You just released a new single – “Leave a Light On.” How’s the response been to that?
Tom Walker: Really good actually. Fans seem to really like it – we’ve got a great response from Spotify, we made a couple of New Music Friday playlists. We just put out a music video for it as well, it’s been great.
EM: Amazing! I want to talk about “Heartland.” What is the Heartland for you?
TW: Well I was born in Scotland and I was raised in Manchester, so I think both of them. I spent a lot of my time growing up in Manchester. That’s home for me.
EM: Where did the inspiration for the video come from?
TW: Well basically we were out on tour and meeting lots of different people – the song is about feeling misplaced in life – and there’s been a lot going on with U.K. politics with Brexit and everything, and there’s quite a bit of division between people over here and I wanted to make people aware that they should be nice to all people, not just English people.
EM: Definitely. Something I’ve noticed in most of your videos is that they tell as much of a story as your lyrics do. And I'm wondering how important it is to you to have visuals accompany your music.
TW: The visuals are super important. We try to make a lot of our videos not just a rock band standing around performing the songs, because I think that’s a somewhat outdated way of making a video. We try to find a little angle that maybe not everyone has thought about when they were initially listening to the song, but that they can connect to while they’re watching the video.
EM: It’s interesting because there’s so much you can do with media now. I find a lot of artists are starting to explore animation media in their videos. Any plans to do that as well?
TW: I’d definitely love to do something like that at some point. Just have to find the right animator and the right idea. I just want to make them thought provoking, y’know?
EM: For sure. Speaking of intense videos, you did a really gorgeous collab with Kojey Radical. What was it like working with him?
TW: He’s a genius. Absolute genius. As much as he’s creative, he runs his whole enterprise himself with his team. He’s not signed to a major or anything like that. I’ve got a mad amount of respect for that. He’s got a vision for what he wants to do, and he’s also a wordsmith. And an absolute pleasure to work with.
EM: Who else is on your list of dream collaborators?
TW: I'd love to work with Anderson Paak. I don't know if that would ever happen, and I think that would be sort of an odd combination but I think his music is amazing. That would be really cool. Chance the Rapper as well…and Kaytranada I really like. I don't know how well it would vibe but I think it would be interesting to see what came out of that.
EM: I mean your music is often underlain with this 90's vintage hip hop beat, so I feel like it could work well.
TW: And Kaytranada definitely has a groove going on. That would be an amazing opportunity.
EM: Kaytranada's great live too, I saw him live a little while ago and he's unbelievable.
EM: So talking of that hip hop beat…how does that come about in your music? Because you are a singer songwriter, so I'm curious as to how that developed in your sound.
TW: I'll be perfectly honest, I used to play drums at home. And then I moved to London and it quickly became apparent that you know, you're moving to a flat. You're not bringing your drum kit with you. When I moved I got myself a machine so I could keep it up, and I started making all my beats on that. And the first kind of package I got was a 90's hip hop package, so I kept using that for absolutely everything because it was all I had. That hip hop sound is something I never could have gotten out of a drum kit in my bedroom. That's how it happened.
EM: That's actually really cool. While I was researching for this interview – y'know, as you do – I watched an interview where you talked about a teacher you had who said you sounded "too much like yourself". I thought that was a bit ridiculous…you never hear people telling Paul Simon to like—go electric.
TW: You never know if teachers say these things to try and push you or if it's general ignorance or whatever. But basically, the course was a lot of trying to imitate other people to try to figure out what they were doing to make their sound unique, but as far as I was concerned, I was already doing that. I didn't need to copy anyone else to make myself sound like myself. So when I heard that I was like "what are you on about mate?"
EM: Totally. Do you think there's more of a pressure for emerging artists to play against type? If that makes sense.
TW: Yeah for sure. I think there's so much music coming out right now, and everyone can make an album in their bedroom. So there is a bit of a pressure to sound unique. Like, the Chainsmokers put out a massive pop track, and then every pop track for the next little while is going to sound like the Chainsmokers track, but just a bad copy. You've got to create something new for people to pay attention.
EM: What's been a highlight for you in the past six months, because it's been a pretty big six months.
TW: Definitely this U.S. tour with The Script. Being out here and meeting a load of fans at the shows as well. I've not done many gigs in America, so it's amazing that people come to see me. I had some people tell me they came to the shows just to see me and I was like "what does that even mean?" I'm surprised so many people knew about what I was doing in America.
EM: And what are you looking forward to in the next six months?
TW: I've got a new track coming out, but I don't think I can really talk about it. It's going to be massive though. We've got a thirty piece string orchestra to record it in Angel Studios, and that was a really eye opening experience for me. So I'm excited to release that.
EM: I know that you mentioned you played drums, and my mom wondered if your Mum made you practice when you were a kid or if you did it willingly, because she used to have a hell of a time getting my sister and I to practice when we were younger.
TW: I'll tell you what, they had a hard time getting me to do anything other than music. Like, you couldn't tear me away from it. But if they asked me to do my maths or science or history homework…and it was reflected in the marks I got. As far as I was concerned, it was the only important thing I was doing. And my dad was really encouraging as well. When he saw that basically all I was doing was music, he went out and bought me my first guitar. And I sat in my room for four years. One day he came home with a 5 track recorder, and I didn't even ask for it. He said "I hear you every night in your room playing an idea and then it gets to next week and you've forgotten it, so here's something to record so you don't forget the good stuff." They really encouraged me to pursue it even though there's very little chance of making money off it.