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Q&A: Tom Vek On Forced Spontaneity, Learning About Trending Topics, And His Favorite Places In New York City

Q&A: Tom Vek On Forced Spontaneity, Learning About Trending Topics, And His Favorite Places In New York City
Katie Coleslaw

Tom Vek released his debut album We Have Sound in 2005, and the British musician's distillation of his influences was catchy enough to make him stand out from the crowd—he even appeared on the soapy Fox drama The O.C.. But in the years that followed, Vek kept quiet—that is, until mid-April, when he returned with news of a new album, Leisure Seizure (V2 / Cooperative Music USA / Downtown). (It's available digitally now; the physical release is currently slated for September 13.) In response, the Internet proved that yes, it does have something resembling a collective memory by engaging in a freakout (one that included the author of this post) and welcoming him back with open arms. We chatted with Vek about social networking, what it's like to work on songs for half a decade, and why more people should be influenced by Cake. (The band, that is.)

First off—where have you been? And how many interviews have started with that exact question?

Yeah, quite a few, and some clever ways of self referencing it like you've done there which I enjoy. "Are you sick of answering the question..." has been the most inventive way of being asked the same thing. I'm really pleased that it references my first record; that means it must have registered to a degree. I spent a long time working out what to do that would be a way of moving forward and including what the first album started, so I'm very happy that it joins them together.

Was it a conscious decision to take so much time between albums?

No not at all. I had the opportunity of doing some more touring, I think there was interest after The O.C. appearance, but I clearly remember saying to my manager, "Don't worry, I'll get another record done and we'll still be able to go out and connect with the new fans." Guess The O.C. isn't even going any more, so I didn't quite get that right.

The thing is, I experienced the classic realization that you can't force something to be quick and spontaneous. All you can do is wait, get the environment and culture around your artistic bursts right and see what happens. I would have waited longer if it hadn't come. I mean, even though I had a recording contract, I'd only utilize it if I felt like the music was valid enough, and I'm proud of that.

Were you concerned that you'd waited too long to put out anything new?

Yeah, but it's not as concerning as putting something out that I'm not happy with, as cathartic as it is to keep bashing it out [and take the] someone's-gonna-like-it-somewhere-and-it-keeps-me-going approach, which I'm pretty envious of. I think it's easier in a band because there's this sense that the music is the glue for you all, and being an individual there's no danger, you cant break up with yourself, of even have the security of being able to blame other people if it doesn't work, I think few people experience true buck-stops-with-me responsibility creatively. It's quite petrifying, actually, until you realize that it's actually a privilege.

How did you feel when you found out how eager everyone was for a new album?

I don't stare the response straight in the face so it was a slow realization, almost. I'd wanted to try and make it an announcement out of the blue to be very mischievous about it, but we ended up with a sort of pre-announcement that let the cat out of the bag, which put me in a bad mood for one evening because I like things to be right. I get a bit black or white about it. I think it shows that people thought the first album was pointing toward something, and that is good and also adds to my standard. But I believe that this album fulfills the promise of the first album without losing its personality.

Follow up to that—did you scan the ecstatic tweets about the album announcement even though you don't use Twitter? Is there a reason you didn't use social media?

Well it's the first time I'd heard of "trending." That sounds really arrogant, but it's true. I didn't use social media because I felt like I needed to bring new work first, and now I'm quite enjoying getting on Twitter and Facebook. Not super personal, because I never liked that, but reporting on creative stuff. [It's] more of an insight to my personality than publicly asking someone how to fix a wi-fi router, which I don't think is that cool. I'm not on it personally, because requesting interest from strangers, which any artist essentially does, means that you need to safeguard your privacy.

 

Tom Vek, "A Chore"

How'd you decide on the title for Leisure Seizure? Does it have to do with the time you took off?

I like it because I can apply it to that, or am aware that it is a link that could be made, and also because it it exists as a concept. I think it even includes a kind of topical responsibility to comment on how heavily marketed comfort is, which is obvious; I think it's just that idea that an extreme of anything is bad, and that living away from those edges is actually where you'll be safest, even though you push for the extremes, particularly as a person declaring themselves an artist.

What's your songwriting process like?

Kind of like, four hours of horrible noise or pretentious emo melancholy or sleazy drumming followed occasionally by a two-second extraction, some arrangement and some guitar and bass, and then recording a mumble that turns into deep abstract words. It's not really writing; it's more like throwing rocks off a cliff and only picking up the perfectly square chunks.

Did you wind up scrapping anything because it had been around for too long?

I did an enormous amount of recording, but I don't work up anything I don't like, so I never scrap anything. I just don't finish it. In a certain mood I think I could go back to a lot of it, but when I'm in the right place it's mostly the things that are right in front of me that get the attention. The older stuff does get forgotten, but I like that it keeps it fresh.

This album sounds like it has a lot of '90s influences, especially some of the more garage-y songs. What were you listening to when you were working on it?

I almost exclusively listen to '90s alternative music. I kind of feel it's the last era of original "instrument" music, before the revivals started happening. One song sounds like it has a lot of Cake in it I reckon, which sounds great to me. Who else is referencing Cake? More people should.

Leisure Seizure manages to touch on the best parts of We Have Sound and seem incredibly fresh. Did you have your debut in mind while you were writing tracks?

Not so much, to be honest. It doesn't feature during the experimentation, but I think during the process of working the sounds into songs, I just have this certain approach and I think that's what connects them. I've been recording my own songs for a long time, and I just look for that feeling of liking something not that it sounds like something. I listened to it as I was finishing the new one up and it was a mixture of feeling like there had been a huge development and being helped to actually reconnect with the first album that got translated into the memories of promoting the album, which was a great pleasure actually.

Are you nervous about going on tour again?

I was. We've done a UK and Europe tour now and I'm incredibly happy about it. I've put together a great bunch of guys who have all worked really hard, and I've put a shitload of work into considering how to play stuff faithfully to an audience who I'd expect to hear the particulars.

Finally, any plans for your time off in NYC?

I'd recently been for my birthday, actually. I love New York—Diner, Hotel Delmano, the High Line Park, DUMBO, drinking fruit punch-flavored drinks, slouching in the Rose Bar. If you have any suggestions, @Tom_Vek.

Tom Vek plays the early show at Mercury Lounge tonight, with Secret Music opening; on Wednesday he plays Union Pool with Cookies.


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