Behind the Beat: Tom Crouch

6 May 2016

British singer-songwriter Tom Crouch reflects on working with Gabrielle Aplin & Gungor, LA hangouts with John Mayer and the release of his debut record A Civil War of Head & Heart.

There’s very few young musicians who boast a credits list as impressive as 22 year old British singer-songwriter Tom Crouch. The last few years have included time on the road with Gabrielle Aplin, Lauren Aquilina, Zane Carney, HAIM, John Mayer and Gungor, with whom he has just returned from a 13 date US tour.

Now Tom has launched his next chapter; a stunning debut record A Civil War of Head & Heart, released independently online last month. The record is any guitar geeks’ brain food – silky layers of instrumentation that tracks an emotionally charged journey across four killer tracks, and plastered with some of the finest falsetto singing the British music market has seen for a while. Crouch’s debut sailed to #15 in the Alternative Charts on iTunes, finishing up just outside the Top 40 main charts – a stellar first effort.

You can listen to the record on Apple Music now...

This week a poncho-draped Tom looked back on the last few years, and shared what’s in store for the TC camp…

What was your first professional break in music?

Probably playing with Gabrielle Aplin. I met her in 2012 through the YouTube community – we first connected at a Bush Hall gig she played, and we just clicked. She was still unsigned at the time, and invited me to do a small four date tour with her. Things grew from there so quickly, particularly after the Christmas No.1 from the John Lewis ad. We toured the US, Asia and got to support John Mayer too, so it was amazing first experience!

You’ve just been on the road with Gungor – what was your favourite gig of the tour?

I opened for the guys, and got a chance to play with them during their set too, so the two were very different experiences – if I had to pick a particular gig though it would probably be Social Hall in San Francisco. There was something about the atmosphere in the room that night that was so special, transcendent even. It’s such a big, echoey space so I really took advantage of that and played around with the reverb!

How did you come to work with the Gungor guys?

I actually played a random show with Matt Maher around this time last year – it was a cool festival and I had a few friends heading down, so I decided to take it on. Gungor played the day before which was gutting, because I’d hoped to see them live – I’ve followed their music for years so I was familiar with what they did.

Luckily, when I arrived they were still around, and I got a chance to meet Michael and talk about his involvement with The Liturgists – I shared with him how the project had been a transformative discovery for me personally, and helped me through a lot of difficult times and challenges in my life. We talked for some time about music and spirituality, was such great conversation!

After we met, Michael found a video of me playing on YouTube - we connected again and stayed in touch until they came back over to play some events in November. I ended up playing an impromptu set with them and a few months later they got in touch and asked if I'd support them on their US tour and play with them in the band.

Be Obama for a day or have dinner with Gandhi?

Dinner with Gandhi.

Tell us about the narrative behind the new record.

I actually tried to make this record a year after coming off tour with Gabrielle, but the songs and track listing both weren’t right. Last year I felt that I really needed to let go of the material and just offer it out to the world in order to give myself some musical closure. So I put out the video for Safe in My Arms.

After a few months, and a bit more writing, I realised there was a concurrent theme running through the songs, so the track listing became very important to the record. Weary Love is almost a warning to your loved one that you’re an emotionally fragile person, and the tragic result of this is revealed in The Blessed Curse. The cool thing about this track was that it was written after a very tumultuous season personally – hence why the verses are quite dark. But the chorus is really uplifting, which makes it feel like a song of wonder to me. Love Me Patiently really takes that idea forward, talking about the need for being cautious and wary for fear of getting hurt again, and asks not to be rushed, whereas Safe in My Arms is the partner returning the call with re-assurance, a message that everything is good, and that they’re here to support you. It really feels like a body of work to me, hence why I refer to it as a record rather than an EP.

What would you rather have – a sold out US tour or a UK No.1 album?

Definitely a UK No.1 Album – I know that’s surprising as most of my career so far has been on the road, but the notion of performing every night requires a certain giving of yourself and a pressure to hit the spot each time, and that can be emotionally draining. I would 100% prefer to be hiding away in a room making weird sounds than in a room with a load of strangers expecting perfection!

Considering your affiliation with some of the UK’s biggest breakthrough artists, why did you decide to go independent for your first release?

It got to the point where everything was recorded, mixed and mastered and I was finally happy with the quality of the music - when I put some feelers out and sent it around to a few people, I didn’t feel like anyone jumped on board quickly enough. I’m a firm believer that if the songs are good enough, they will always carry however you decide to release your music, a sentiment that John Mayer drilled into me when I met with him in LA last month. He reminded me that it’s just about great songs, and if they’re structurally sound, they’ll fly.

I gained most of my social following through the musicians that I’ve worked with, so it was nice to see who’s actually paying attention to me. The feedback online was extremely positive, nothing but good things, which is really encouraging. The record charted just outside the Top 40 nationally, so that’s not a bad start!

I don’t care if my music’s only for 500 fans – that’s enough to keep me creative and inventing new music. There’s a formula to writing songs that are radio friendly, but with that also comes a shelf life. I’m much more interested in serving a song and where it wants to go, as opposed to crafting the song so it serves an audience, criteria or agenda.

© Tom Crouch 2016.

"I don’t care if my music’s only for 500 fans – that’s enough to keep me creative and inventing new music. There’s a formula to writing songs that are radio friendly, but with that also comes a shelf life. I’m much more interested in serving a song and where it wants to go, as opposed to crafting the song so it serves an audience, criteria or agenda."

What’s it been like to work with Zane Carney?

Zane’s like a brother to me – we’ve been good friends since 2013 when we toured together and our friendship has grown from there. We send each other songs and share feedback on new bits of music gear all the time. It’s completely baffling to be surrounded by such amazingly generous, kind and supportive people, I’m extremely grateful.

What one piece of advice would you give to musicians pursuing a professional career?

All your focus should be on having a great energy and likeable personality – when you’re a musician you have to place emphasis on being easy to work with over musicianship and technique. Music is an entirely soulful and spiritual endeavour, so individual character is everything to your playing. You might be able to play a mixolydian scale, but if artists find you difficult to work with then you’re affixing a glass ceiling to how much you can achieve in your career.

Which song do you most wish you had written?

There’s a few, but I have to go with Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah.

What can we expect from the Tom Crouch camp for the rest of 2016?

I’ll be campaigning this record for a little while – talking to management leads and representation for the US, which is really where I want to shop my music. It feels more at home out there.

I’ll also be putting out a B-Side to this EP later in the year as a sort of palette cleanser to this one – and I’m itching to get back working with Michael and the Gungor guys on some new material. Exciting times!

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Tom Crouch's debut record A Civil War of Head & Heart is out now on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/a-civil-war-of-head-heart-ep/id1097309460

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