Interview: MF Tomlinson

‘This is what an internal feeling might sound like – to me anyway’: says MF Tomlinson of his songwriting approach.

It’s a method that has thrown up the unique and hard to pin down sound of MF Tomlinson.

He made his debut earlier in the year with Nature Boy, a track that unexpectedly conjures the nostalgia of seventy’s TV theme tunes.

Next up the jaunty Sum of Nothing arrived with a sunny disposition that belied its apocalyptic overtones.

More recently, he offered up the gentle chug and wonky gait of Nietzsche’s Day Off, a surrealist tale that imagines what the German philosopher’s downtime might look like.

Ahead of his headline show at the Moth Club later this month, we caught up with the rising star in an attempt to get the bottom of these wonderful idiosyncrasies…

How did you first get into making music?

I started the way many of us do – screaming painfully over a full drum kit, into a mic that was plugged into a smallest imaginable practice amp, playing Blink 182 covers, with my best friend and his older brother at high school.

No one could hear me, that’s probably how I kept my spot in the band. Later on, I figured out I could actually sing a bit which was a nice surprise. At that stage in my life being in bands meant finding my people, finally making some friends. It was the best.

In the early stages, who or what primarily shaped your sound?

The most important influences for me were The Velvet Underground and The Strokes and a little later (Bruce) Springsteen. Aside from The Strokes I could fish pretty much whatever I needed out of my Dad’s CD collection. All the classic blues and jazz players as well as Prince, Meshell Ndegeocello, Traveling Wilburys, Led Zeppelin, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dr John. He also took me to see Lou Reed and The Cure when I was a kid. He still sends me tracks too, for example he got me into Anderson .Paak – thanks Dad!

Can you tell us a little about your approach to writing songs?

Usually a song is about transforming a feeling in my daily life. There’s this book called Art as Therapy by Alain de Bottain and John Armstrong where they talk about art being the way a society/we know ourselves. One very foreboding painting has the caption ‘this is what an internal feeling might look like’. This gave me some insight into the way I write music. You kind of experience the world in connection with all these massive feelings, don’t you? When I’m walking down the street that’s when I’ll be hearing arrangements, writing lyrics, finalising them. So, this is what an internal feeling might sound like – to me anyway.

What’s the thinking behind your latest single, Nietzsche’s Day Off?
It’s all bad news right now isn’t it? We’ve got Brexit, Trump, the climate crisis – it felt like it was time to share something a little absurd/off-the-wall to lighten the mood (or at least my own mood). Reading between the lines the story of all these unlikely characters having a knees up is to say that if Nietzsche can take the day off then so can you.

How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?

It’s modern songwriting with a classic sensibility. The lyrics are important. It’s serious and it’s fun – often bittersweet with a wry sense of humour. It’s very collaborative, there’s an amazing community of musicians and artists around the project that make big contributions.

In terms of inspirations I’d list: John Cale, Issac Hayes and Kate Bush as well as modern artists like Chris Cohen and Weyes Blood. Also, The Magnetic Fields, Smog, The Flaming Lips, Arthur Russell and Jonathan.

If you had to choose, which of your songs best represents your sound?

I’ve thought very carefully about each new single, all three songs show a different side of the project – for me it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What can we expect from your show at the Moth Club?

So, it’s me and my very talented collaborators. There’s a bunch of us – right now the count is at 11! We’ve got horns, flute, synths, sax, congas you name it. Each time we do a headline show the focus is on making it a real event. I feel like this one at Moth is gonna be the best yet!

In terms of the energy, people have compared it to Springsteen fronting a soul band (their words not mine… obviously stoked with that though). If it’s uplifting, for me that’s a reflection of all the amazing people that come along to the shows and support what we’re doing.

Two of the best bands in London right now, IMHO, will be playing with us – Artificial Pleasure and Corinthians. Check their stuff out! Also, very exciting news is that artist Tomas Jefanovas is going to be doing live video synthesiser (performance) projections while we perform! Very proud to say he and I are frequent collaborators – his work is ground-breaking, an incredible talent.

Do you have any plans for a full-length release?

Sure do! There’s so much material that I can’t wait to get out there. The road to releasing an album is always long and full of unexpected twists and turns, you can’t know exactly what’s ahead but I’m excited to be on the way. I’ll be sharing loads more music in 2020.

What do you have on repeat at the moment?

Paris 1919 – John Cale
Chris Cohen – No Time to say Goodbye
AND of course…
The Pineal EP by Corinthians
Side by Side Together – Artificial Pleasure
AND also…
Le Continent – Clementine March
Katy J Pearson – Tonight

What’s next for you?

There’s been some great stuff happening in the last little while that we can start announcing really soon. All I can say for now is more music, more cool shows are on the way.

MF Tomlinson plays the Moth Club, Hackney on Wednesday 27 November. Tickets are available here.

facebook.com/mftomlinson

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