Tom Myers – ‘The Great Unknown’ Interview
Local musician Tom Myers has taken his first steps into ‘The Great Unknown’ of his solo career. Phoebe Metcalfe joins Tom over Zoom for a yarn about his new music.
This week Tom Myer’s released a live studio version of his first single ‘The Great Unknown’ after it’s initial release in June this year.
You may have seen him play live with Dean Lewis, Kim Churchill, Thelma Plum, or Jack River over the last two years. Maybe you know him from his Papa vs Pretty days, or have even caught a glimpse of his face on his girlfriend’s Instagram; Jen Boyce of Ball Park Music.
But, if you haven’t heard of him you’re about to be introduced to some fresh indie rock, from someone who’s been deep in the Aussie music scene for 12 years.
I sat down with Tom over Zoom (before the release of the live recording) to chat about how it felt to step out from behind the drums, his writing process as a coping mechanism for the loss of his former bandmate – Luke Liang, the meaning behind the lyrics/music video, working with the PvP boys again, his journey as a passionate Hunter Valley muso kid, and what comes next.
You recently released your first single, which is ‘The Great Unknown’. Congratulations!
I’ve been listening to it non-stop for the last, like, fortnight. And I should’ve heard it earlier, but I was, like, waiting for the music video to drop, instead of just listening to the track.
Yeah, I know what you mean. That was cool, yeah. I mean, I’ve been singing-, I started writing all those tunes quite a-, quite a while ago…maybe 18 months-, two years ago and, um, had recorded them. I remember it, like, I don’t know if it was just poor planning or just generally me, but, um, I would have booked-, I like booked studio time a day or two, like, after we landed from like a 6-8 week tour from Europe or America. So I’d just be completely cooked, and really frazzled, and go straight into a studio for three days straight and get these songs down. But, I actually feel like that, in hindsight, wasn’t a bad thing, ‘cause it didn’t give me a chance to slow down. ‘Cause if I start to slow down, or at least if I give myself a break in a way that like ‘Oh, you deserve a little rest,’ or whatever, you know, and, um, nothing gets done.
Yeah, right. Do you tend to, like, overthink if you’ve got too much time? If you’ve got too much time in, like, the studio you rework everything?
Yeah, well that too-, that too. But, we also, like, I had demo-ed a bunch of those songs early with my friend Gus [Gardiner of PvP], who ended up playing on the record and producing it. But, we had all that, sort of, sorted so that we could go into the studio and just tick boxes, and make sure-, so, in that way, there was some planning. But also, um, yeah, I just-, I can’t be really idle ‘cause otherwise I’ll-, I make dumb decisions.
How was it working with Gus again?
[laughs] And I know that Thomas [Rawle of PvP] did the visuals for your music video, again, what was it like reuniting with Papa vs Pretty?
Really important to me, actually. Um, just [pause] it was just really-, it felt like it was just a natural thing to do, and it felt like slipping into an old pair of comfy boots, you know? Even though things are remarkably different to the way that we were before, but like-, [laughs] for example: I’m writing the songs. That’s weird.
[laughs] You’re not just, you know, in the background doing all the drumming.
Yeah yeah! Well, yeah, but I-, I’d sort of, um-, I’ve always stayed in contact with Tom, and Gus and I have toured on lots of other projects together, like, um, you know, Jack River. We’ve done a whole bunch of stuff with, um, Dean Lewis and stuff like that as well. Um, so I’ve-, I really haven’t stopped touring with Gus, so that-, and our friendship is so strong, I guess. And we’ve always-, it’s just one of those things; I’ve got his back and he’s got mine, and that’s, like, the actual epitome of that relationship, or at least, yeah… So, it was really good working with Gus because I am quite bombastic in a studio setting or, like, just in a creative sort of mind, I’m just like kinda like ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that, let’s do this, let’s do that!’ And Gus is far more considered and really, um, you know, he gives a lot more thought to what his next move might be, whereas I might be like ‘If we tried this and something happens, it’s fucking awesome. We gotta keep it.’
You had such a small time in the studio, did you get a chance to experiment on this track or any of the others that you’ve been writing?
Yeah! Yeah, there was some-, not-, not so much on this track…I demo-ed this in a Four Points Sheraton in Perth and we were using my friend Alex [Bennison]’s guitar, like some of his nice guitars…and there was a really nice vibe from a bunch of the guitar parts so we decided to keep a few of those on the actual recording. And I think that can’t really-, there’s a certain vibe that you get when you’re demoing something for the first time and I don’t think you can really complete with that a huge amount. Even if you’re trying to make it all nice and clean with all the really nice studio gear and stuff like that. There’s a real, I hate to say the word vibe, but there’s a vibe.
There’s a vibe! No, but it’s true, you’ve gotta, like, feel the music and see where the direction is going…
Fully! But, I also on-, ’Cause I’ve got an EP ready to go like I’ve recorded five songs.
That’s so exciting!
Yeah, it’s gonna be cool. I’ve got five songs ready and we definitely experimented on a few of those ones. Having a rough idea of what we wanted to do, but also allowing for creativity a little bit more.
So, you mentioned before that you were touring with Dean Lewis and Jack River, as well. I know that you toured with Kim Churchill and Thelma Plum, too, over the last two years. Have those artists influenced your, like, sound as a solo performer?
I don’t know if they’ve fully influenced my sound, but they’ve definitely influenced the way that I go about writing a song and, um, and being confident enough to, ah sort of back myself to do that. Like, I’m fairly inspired by all the people who I’ve worked with because…like, they’ve worked on their craft for years-, countless years, you know? And I-, I’ve got a newfound respect for all of that. I have a really close relationship, particularly, with Kim. I just had some really really great times with him while we were touring. We did a couple of tours in Europe and Canada, and just had a really wonderful time and formed a really lasting friendship. And he’s been a really great soundboard for me, where I can call him and be like ‘Oh, I’m gonna do this and this, and I might release this,’ and he’s like ‘Fucking alright, cool! What’re we gonna do about this?’, you know? And also, as well, Kim gave me my first, sort of, opportunity to star as like a singer/songwriter to support him early in this year, January. I learned so much because, you know, I’d sort of been out the back and playing drums, or I’d been doing lots of BBs (SFX drum kit) around, but it’s just so different if you’ve got a guitar on, and you’re out the front.
Yeah, that would’ve been a wild experience, totally changing it up.
Yeah, and I need that. I really needed to do that. And he also saw that it was a good opportunity for me to get in front of those people. And they were quite nice intimate shows as well. So, he was doing this whole tour concept called the “One Mic One Light”. So, you know, just like the title, one mic and one light…
Kind of “Unplugged”?
Yeah, yeah, more or less. So it was this less invasive introduction to, you know, being out the front and doing all of that kind of, doing that stuff. That was really lovely for me to sort of learn a little bit more…
Yeah, and you would’ve had so many years to perfect that for you sitting at the back, behind the drums, because you’ve been performing since you were a teenager, right? And that was in Newcastle and Sydney. So, how did you first, like, start performing? What was your first introduction into the music industry?
Oh, um, well, even before-, I went to school in Sydney for Year 11 and 12, I wanted to pursue music. Um, and sort of being a kid in the Hunter Valley sometimes your music, um, opportunities are a little bit-, um, well they’re few and far between, really. So I’d made the decision and I talked to my parents who were super rad and super supportive, um, that I wanted to focus on music. So, I went down and had an audition for a school called The McDonald College in North Strathfield, and got in. And within the first week of Year 11 I had met this guy called Thomas Rawle, and um, we-, he was just the most freakishly talented musician I’ve ever-, I’ve ever seen. No shit. And um, then about a week and a half later he said, ‘Oh, my band-, I’ve got this band [Papa vs Pretty] and we’re doing these things for this-, it’s like a Homebake, um, like, competition.’ So, the winner of the band gets to play at Homebake, back in the day. See Homebake doesn’t even exist anymore, that’s how old, and long I’ve been going.
But, um, so basically…he was like ‘Come and play these songs,’ and, like, I met Gus Gardiner in Tom Rawle’s shed after school when we were about to do, um, the first rehearsal…And Tom’s songs, even when he was 16, were just really special. And then, it really went from there, like a whole series of things went our way, I guess, like, I was asked to “formally” join the band which was pretty cool. And then, um [laughs]-, and then we started playing gigs, like, two nights a week in Sydney around pubs and clubs, and we were 16-17 so Tom’s Dad, Neil, used to take us to the gig and have to unload all the gear and I’d have to stay outside-, we’d all have to stay outside until five minutes before we played.
Yeah! But Sydney was happening. There were gigs-, there were gigs sort of mid-week, there were gigs all the time. That was my introduction, and then we got signed by, uh, a lovely guy called Mark Cohen from EMI and just went from there. Just, yeah…
And then it was around 2013 that Luke joined the band?
Yep. Yeah, Luke Liang. He was another one of the freakishly talented musicians I’ve ever seen, met, ever talked to. Anything that-, anything that you put in front of him-, him-, he would master within an hour. I’m not even kidding. It was amaz-, you could put bagpipes in front of him [laughs].
But, um, yeah so we-, the first time we got Luke involved was we were doing an iTunes, like an Apple iTunes session. And we did a recording of a cover, an Elvis Costello song called ‘Veronica’…
Oh yeah! [sings]
Yeah, yeah, yeah! [sings]
Um, and we needed an extra guitar part in that and Luke was a friend of Gus’, uh, they went to school together, and he was a friend of Gus’ and we’d sort of known Luke and seen him around a few times. He actually tech-ed for us, he made all the guitars-, we did a tour with Incubus in, uh, 2012 and he did a whole bunch of tech-ing for us, we thought ‘This guy’s the best!’ And then we started inviting him to rehearsals, and by-, at that stage we were pretty deep into the writing phase of the second album…
And that’s ‘White Deer…
Park’, yeah…And so then we just started adding Luke’s guitar parts, and then he’s also-, he also had an incredible voice and so he could sing, and that was another-, another instrument in the band, I guess. Having four people singing is a real benefit, and a real-, a real cool thing to have. You know, I love bands who sing. Um, and yeah, it just sort of went from there and then, uh, like he start-, I think his first show was-, with us, was at The Metro Theatre. And we just smashed it, and it just-, it was just like ‘[vocalizes positively] Well jus-, do you wanna join?’ You know? [laughs]
Formal… another formal introduction to the band.
Yeah [laughs] super formal [laughs].
Super formal [laughs].
Yeah, um, and that was really cool. And then from that point on it was-, he was the absolute voice of musical reason in the band. Like, just a really-, everything that he did was just so tasty and so well thought out, again. It was just, yeah, just a really, really cool experience to have, to be playing with someone like that. Like on the regular. It kinda makes you lift you-, your own game. If you’re playing with all of these incredible musicians you just gotta think ‘Well, shit I need to be-, I need to be better,’ You know? It’s just-, yeah. And he was definitely that person for me. Like, “lift your game” kinda thing.
So, did you sort of feel any kind of extra pressure for, um, ‘The Great Unknown’? Because I know the-, the subject behind it is obviously, um, Luke’s passing in 2018. Um, obviously it would’ve been a cathartic process for you – writing on tour and everything. Did you feel any sort of extra pressure to, um, to have this song as, like, an homage?
Yeah [pause] uh, I feel-, d’you know what, I feel like the pressure came-, like I didn’t feel that pressure when I was writing it, it was-, at this point it was an absolute necessity. Like, when I was writing it, it was an absolute necessity-, a necessity for me to write because I was really struggling, um, with the passing of Luke, and I really couldn’t…It’s tha-, uh, I wrote the song about myself two years in advance, really, which is right about now. And-, because I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I couldn’t see-, and I couldn’t-, and I kind of was understanding-, it was, it’s a strange thing to say but I was understanding, and I was understanding of Luke’s position, and trying to will myself forward through that, which I was just finding really, really difficult**. And I needed to put my thoughts, and consider my thoughts and emotions and put them down. And I also wrote it about-, a bit about Gus as well. Um, just because we had been through a lot and that doesn’t stop now, it only kind of increases. And-, but as far as an homage is concerned, I think the pressure came afterwards, as in, like, when I finished it all, and then-, and then you start asking yourself questions just, like, ‘Is this appropriate?’, ‘Is this…
‘Is this the first one to release?’
Yeah! Well there’s also that, but-, but at the same time Luke always told me, or, he always said ‘Why the fuck aren’t you doing your own thing?’…
…‘Out of all of them, you’re the one-, you should be doing your thing.’ And if I-, and I tried also-, I think it was subconsciously, but sometimes when I think about it-, and I’m not comparing myself to Luke Liang in any way, but I think some of the guitars parts-, or at least the nice little chimey simple guitar parts are hopefully a bit of a nod to what he would do. He-, his-, his whole schtick was being the perfect cog in a wheel-, in a turning-, in a-, in a-, in a…
In a machine, yeah.
Exactly! And-, and if one of those cogs doesn’t work, the machine sucks, right? So-, and that’s-, I just think that is just the most beautiful, sort of, way to think about your role within a band or within-, or whatever you apply yourself to. Like, don’t let yourself down, but don’t let anyone else down, you know? I think I just put a lot more pressure on myself, after it was all done to-, whether or not you’d call it an homage, or anything like that. It’s just-, it’s just me-, it’s just me trying to put my thoughts on paper. It’s a bit ‘the cat sat on the mat’, but, like, that’s okay. You know? I hadn’t really thought about writing a huge amount of songs until-, until all of this happened, and I just needed to just focus my energy in on something. I don’t know what else I would’ve done in that situation, and I’m glad that I did do something about it and wrote a bunch of these songs and it really helped me and sharing them is kind of part of-, kind of part of the process as well. So I can’t really be too hard on myself with all the pressure and that kind of shit. I would like to-, like part of the process is sharing them and talking about the experiences instead of worrying if it’s good enough, you know?
So, I have to ask though, I’ve got a few, like, burning questions. One of them is; what’s the significance of the fox in the music video? ‘Cause it seemed so left of field, for me, coming from someone who’s so ingrained in the Australian music scene, that the fox was the imagery. And I can’t piece it together! [laughs]
Yeah! D’you know what? Um, the narrative to the-, for the video changed [pause] a lot. As in, like, we had four or five different ideas, like, four or five different times of the week. Um, and, we were sort of-, Tom [Rawle] was sort of working on this 3D animation software where, like, um, you know there was a maze of all these landscapes and he was being able to-, and he was able to, like, sort of, 3D animate, um, animals.
And the idea-, I wanted a hero in the-, in the-, in the video… and it’s kind of like this curious little fox, essentially. It, like, sees the light at the end of that tunnel, and instead of running away from the light, it’s running towards it because that’s-, that’s kinda the way I wanted it to be, it’s like a -, just a visual representation of running towards something that’s going to help you, you know? Um, whether or not-, you-, you don’t know if it’s going to be a good thing or whatever, and-, but you have to look at it, you have to see, you have to acknowledge that it’s there and you have to go and check it out, kind of thing. And I kind of wanted to show the journey between that, as well. Sort of, like, you know, me writing this song and then, sort of, releasing it a year and a half, two years, later. There’s a huge amount of shit that goes in between that, you know? And, um, but yeah. I don’t know if that really answers a burning question about a fox but… [laughs]
No, definitely! The other one was; uh, now, your Mum’s a music teacher – which is how I know you, ‘cause she taught me. Did she pull apart the song technically, or, what was her reaction to it when she heard it for the first time?
Aw, man. My mum is so cool in the way that she will listen to the art for what it is, instead of, ‘This is my son’s song’. Um, you know, she never really-, she just, like, listened to it and would go, ‘It’s really good, darlin’.’ She just, you know, maybe she didn’t like it, maybe that’s what every mum says; ‘It’s really good, darlin’.’
[laughs] But, she’s not one to hold her opinions close to her chest.
She’s not, no. That’s so true. Hmm, so, yeah, I mean, other songs she’d be like, ‘I think that guitar needs to come up’, or like, just stuff like that. And she’s an unbelievable musician herself, so, I have-, I really value my mother’s opinion because I just think she’s-, she’s cool as shit and she knows what she’s talking about as far as, like, music and what she wants to hear, or whatever. Um, but otherwise, no, she’s sort of-, she just asks, ‘What’s next? What’s the next step?’ Which is good, ‘cause it keeps me thinking about keeping me on track as well. My mother is one of “The Greats”. But yeah, she likes it.
Well, she better! [ laughs]
Speaking of the next step, do we know when the EP is going to come out? Or are you going to release another single?
Uh, yes. There’s going to be a new single. But, um, I sort of wanted to hold onto it a little bit longer because of everything that’s happening within the industry right now. And I know-, which is why I released ‘The Great Unknown’, I actually released it being like, ‘Well, there’s a huge cloud and what have I got to lose?’ You know, ‘I’ll just do it’. And it was really good to start the process, I think. But right now I think I’d like to, um, just let people, you know-, or at least let the industry and the people who are continuing music just get their head around what’s happening.
And then, also, I’d love the opportunity to be able to go out and play shows to support these single releases. Which I just can’t really do right now…You know, I’d love to be able to get in front of two or three hundred people each week to-, to tell them why I wrote these songs and to sing them for people… So, until I can do that I’ll probably hold off.
What I do have coming out next week (out now!) is a live version that I recorded of ‘The Great Unknown’. So, with Jen, my lovely partner Jen, and Gus and Alex Bennison, who also played guitar. So, we did that in a studio and we filmed it all live, and I just think that’s a nice, sort of-, instead of being able to play live, you know, it’s kind of the first time that a lot of people will see me do anything live. I think that’s kind of an important part of the story as well, so, I’m happy to just share that, and see how that goes, and, you know, at least introduce people-, introduce myself to people in that way. It’s just a better way for me to get my point across, instead of-, you know, [you] can actually see me playing. But yeah, I think the EP next year, like it’s ready to go…
It’s just 2020’s not, it’s not the year for anyone is it?
*violently shakes head* No, it’s really hard [laughs]…How’re you going?
I’m doing fine…[laughs]
[laughs] I know, it’s brutal. But hey, it’s the new normal right now, we need to sort of get-, we need to be adaptable.
If anyone wants to listen to ‘The Great Unknown’ where can we find it, and where can we find the live version?
Yeah, so, you can-, I’m on all the streaming places, just Tom Myers – ‘The Great Unknown’. So Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, all that. You can listen to it on Unearthed on Triple J, as well. We’ll put up the live version, it’ll go up on my social medias first, and then there’ll also be an upload onto a YouTube channel as well.
I’m looking forward to it, I’ll be checking all the socials!
It’s going to be really cool, I can’t wait for people to hear it because it is like the first introduction. I felt totally comfortable doing that because I had the three of my closest and most accomplished, musicians I know, like, with me, and you’re only as good as the people around you, sometimes. And, like, I felt so comfortable, and… you know what it was? I was like a really lovely musical catch up, you know? It was really chill and everyone was throwing really good ideas around, and I’m going ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!’ Jen and I sing a lot at home, and it’s really nice to share that.
Watch the interview with extras here:
**If you or anyone you know needs help or information regarding mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Feature Image: Single Artwork by Skulk Art & Design