Tom Williams, & The Boat
Bill Cummings 23/02/2011
Tunbridge Wells six piece Tom Williams & The Boat released their new album 'Too Slow' recently. An album that sets out their master plan in glorious Technicolor, years spent on the road, playing festivals like Glastonbury (five times no less) have hardened this still fledgling acts sound, sometimes muscular rollicking rock hoedowns that tinged with elements on folk and country classicism, shifting down to intimate guitar lines and gentle intimacy. Then toward brass dappled Springsteen-esque wide screen epics, each one laced with Tom Williams' vividly and intimately drawn character studies. And it's Tom's lyrics and vocals that really set this act above from their contemporaries, words tumbling from southerner Tom's mouth like mini narratives falling from the page hinting at the voices of Johnny Flynn, Bob Dylan and Mike Skinner but not really sounding like any of them, intelligent, literate, emotional yet laced with startling imagery of the modern day.
From the dark revenge thriller 'Get Older' all Nick Cave-esque violent melodrama and cascading instrumentals all laced with stabbing violins and thudding percussion to the haunting one man against the world story of small town frustration given life in title track 'Too Slow' (“Until I have a place that I can show my parents round, I can't start picking up the phone again or stop hiding from you in town.”) This is an album of expertly drawn character studies.
Thus 'Too Slow' is a starling album that sets Tom Williams & The Boat head and shoulders above most of the current buzz bands. 'Too Slow' has got tunes too from former single the incendiary 'See My Evil' to '90mph' which may initially sounds like a jaunty sax driven road movie soundtrack but it hides a more sinister tale of bereavement (“Have you ever seen a dead man, unzipped out of his bag, lying in an inch of chemical reserve, mouth froze open wide?”). Within 'Concentrate's undeniable melodic power that bursts through the doors, resides the inner monologue of a suicide bomber. While '24' both sums up the frustration of modern day love and trust through the medium of a personal advert (“It's just I can't imagine a woman being true, they all say they find it so insulting, something's wrong with you”): juxtaposed against the battle of the individual against an increasingly violent society. Meanwhile 'Denmark' is stripped back and gorgesoly tender balladry while closer 'Voicemail' corals the streams of consciousness with undulating guitar licks from resigned to distorted, as Tom sketches out the thoughts that inhabit the mind of a confused young man, its like the meeting point between the mini drama Eminem's 'Stan' and Orphan's and Vandals ramblingly brilliance of 'Mysterious Skin'.
With 'Too Slow', Tom Williams & The Boat have produced more than just another album, but a document of modern musical story telling giving voice to alienation, small town frustration, that will live with you beyond it's first spin. Such are the believability of these pieces that when I came to quiz Mr Williams upon the history of his band and his forthcoming album, I assumed they were partly autobiographical, but it turns out they are entirely fictitious but listen harder and scratch beneath the impressive surface and you're faced with bitter truths, of a series of characters who give voice to modern day anxieties. Here's Tom's take when I sent him some questions at the start of the year.
How was 2010 for the band?
How did the current line up of Tom Williams & The Boat emerge?
Most of us played for other bands and outfits round the Kent scene, and most of us physically met in a small acoustic club called the Grey Lady is Tunbridge Wells.
Were you ever solo?
Yes I was, hence our narcissistic name! From about 2005 to mid 2007 I think...
The first single from the forthcoming album 'See My Evil' has garnered alot of interest, what's the deal with that song, what or where is your evil?
It's a silly song really, but no-one seems to notice they just think it's as dark as...I think it's about the details...in suburbia...and being unhinged but I'm not totally sure!
Lyrically your songs are like mini wide screen narratives and poetically draw vivid images in the mind, do you keep a notepad and how do the words emerge? Or do they come along with the music?
I keep notebooks yeah, a sketchbook, drawings, things I pick up, lists of things to do, and words...I used to write differently but now the words have to come first.
Following on from that how does each composition emerge musically is it a case of bringing in a basic structure and building onto it or do they emerge on the road or in sessions?
I bring an acoustic demo to the band and we flesh it out, try and make it better...often the demo is totally different to what it ends up to be, which is certainly how it should be I think...you should hear the demo of see my evil it's hilarious...proper rock and roll no darkness AT ALL!
The debut album is mighty fine, there seems to be a general theme running through many of the songs 24, Get Older, Concentrate et al of a 20 something's 'struggle to come to terms with living in a modern world in 2011' how conscious was this? And were they written over a specific time period?
No, not really, they're from all over our 2-3 year history, picked from 4 ep's we released from 2007-2009 and then the See My Evil EP we released last year. We found it very difficult track listing the record...you can't actually put on it what you think are the best songs as there's a certain amount of respect you need to give your audience and also your older back catalogue...your debut album needs to be you up till now which requires a bit of looking backwards which is very weird...I'm glad it's done now, now we can make another one!!
Where did you record the tracks that make up the long player?
In a north London studio called Livingston studios.
The sprawling narrative of '24' and 'Too Slow' in particular appears on the face of it to be starkly autobiographical, how much of it is truth and how much fiction? And have you ever actually used personal ads/dating sites?!
No! Haha! Most of the album is fictional, and a lot of it is pretty fantastical, but I think I hit on many more truths my approaching a song from a ridiculous starting point than I would have if I had tackled the subject head on. Especially in tracks like Wouldn't Women Be Sweet or Kick The Cat off the See My Evil EP.
Even if they're fictional do you think sometimes that elements of humour and dark imagery that come out in these fictional couplets, sometimes reflect images that you've taken in your life?
Yes totally, the comedy and ridiculousness certainly relaxes my approach to the song meaning I'm way more open to saying things, under the guise of a character, than I would If I was writing in the first person.
There's also a strong theme of travel from 90mph, Denmark etc do you find travelling and touring a big inspiration for your songs?
We've toured very little up to now but played a LOT of shows...moving and travelling is a theme littered through literature and the folk tradition I think that's where that comes from.
I note you've played Glasto five times, what was the best experience there or on any stage?!
Yes the whole weekend was a dream, the best times of our lives. Our best show on the Avalon main stage to a couple of thousand people!
I've been watching documentaries on the BBC recently about Bruce Springsteen and the E street band and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I note that there are elements of that American heartland country, sax tinged rock to some of the songs, filtered through your own perspective of course. But I do wonder if those artists and their albums are an influence upon your sound?
Yes massively, I was listening to Bruce in the womb, my mum was a massive fan and I've also been glued to this recent darkness on the edge of town reissue...I'm getting into Tom Petty now actually from that documentary too!
If your house was on fire what five records would you save??!
My original pressing of the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan LP, Blonde on Blonde double lp, Harvest LP, pavement's slanted and enchanted LP and a beautiful all things must pass original box set my beautiful girlfriend gave me for Christmas!
Sometimes do you think there's a rush and lack of care taken with some modern releases?
Hmm no I don't think so, I think you need to be quite careless with your songs, not put them on a pedestal too much...I'd prefer it if people put loads of records out a year like they used too...I know I will when one day I have the chance!
You've given some of your songs away in the past how do you feel about the digital revolution in music and is it a double edged sword for artists?
It's worked for us, in some much as we've given singles away for free in the past, and still are, and it means our gigged are rammed and then that lot buy tee's and cd's and 7"s or whatever so it's worked for us...
What other bands would you direct our readers toward?
Um...they probably already know them but Teenage Fanclub, Theophilus London, Ian Dury & the blockheads, Jackson C Frank and Pavement would be a good start...oh and the rolling stones.
Apart from the album release, what are your other plans for the next year?
Hopefully record our second album and play all the fairest festivals in the land!
Many thanks and good luck with the record its very good!
Thank you so much x