Tommy Ashby has released his new three track EP titled ‘Everywhere Is Home’, which perfectly encapsulates the creative ingenuity of this rising pop prodigy.
On the back of such a defining release, The Lowdown decided that now was a good time to find out more about the Scottish singer/songwriter.
Your new EP ‘Everywhere Is Home’ dropped last week! Talk us through the feelings that go on inside of you when after all that hard work, a new project is finally out there for all to hear.
"Haha there is a lot going on emotionally when you release something. I think the main feeling is excitement, the music you have been working on for months/years is finally ready to show itself to the world. There’s always imposter syndrome sneaking around in the background, the fear that everyone is going to think you’ve forgotten how to write a song. But mainly I think it’s exciting."
Do you meticulously compose each track one- by- one, or do you write say fifty tracks and then condense them down into what is the final release?
"I am definitely more of a one by one person. I have a jumble of ideas floating around all the time but I think they only become songs when they feel like it. I think this is a good vetting process too. I heard someone say that you should always finish a song, which I think is good in terms of work ethic, but I also think if you really like a song then you will finish it. So when a song is done it is a pretty sure sign that it is worth something and should be heard.
Some songs come out fully formed and others take years. The song One Word from the EP, for example, came out pretty quick. Tom Havelock and I walked into his storage container writing studio at the docks on the Thames and I picked up his bashed up 4-string charity shop acoustic. I put it in a tuning that sounded nice (I have no idea to this day what that tuning was) and just played, not really certain what would come out. We finished the whole song in a day, which doesn’t often happen and when you do feel inspired like that it is a fun ride."
Musically and creatively, what track on the EP are you most proud of, and why?
"Creatively I would say Blood Wolf Moon is the song I am most proud of because it is the first song I have written, recorded and co-produced. Due to lock down I wasn’t able to go to Cornwall to work with Sam (my producer) directly as I normally would. I often make the trip to Cornwall towards the end of an EP being finished; it is a bit of a safety blanket, letting me know that it is all done. For this EP that just wasn’t possible so I had to be a lot more self-sufficient and that has been empowering."
You worked with Grammy Award winning producer, Sam Okell. How did that come about?
"Sam and I did the same course at university, called the Tonmeister course, and I had run into him a few times at Abbey Road Studios, where he worked, while playing as a session guitarist for other people. I met him properly through my brilliant publisher Becca, who is his wife. Becca and I started working together a few of years ago now, she believed in my music right from the start and has been a real driving force behind it."
Was he able to capture something within your sound and within you, that you didn’t even realise was there?
"Sam is just really great at letting stuff happen, he doesn’t make me feel silly for making weird vocal noises or stomping on a guitar case. He is up for experimentation which, coming from a geeky scientific background, I really appreciate. Being in the studio is always a fun day of bouncing around trying different things out and seeing what sticks.
He is so humble, he’ll quietly say that he has added a few things to a song and will proceed to play an epic drum part that he laid down while you weren’t there. That is his secret, he is brilliant but also so humble; it’s a great combo."
The EP features the track ‘Blood Wolf Moon’ which is the first song of yours which you have produced yourself. Why did you choose this track to make your debut as a producer?
"It was partly born of necessity, lockdown and coronavirus meant I was in my own home studio by myself for quite a while and I wanted to make the most of it. I have been recording and producing bits and bobs for a while, and have always loved recording and the process of making music.
Blood Wolf Moon is so personal and intimate, so it seemed like the right track to try my hand at self-production. There is a patience that comes with being in a studio by yourself; being alone you can take as long as you like. No matter how well you know someone, there is always the feeling that they are bored or they think it sounds terrible and they aren’t telling you; some kind of internal monologue that can suffocate your confidence. I think I’m basically describing being an introvert, which is also what the song is about so it was a fitting first choice."
Is this the best track on the EP then? Go on, you can be honest...
"I think on a personal level it has to be Blood Wolf Moon. It’s not often you write the first line of a song and know exactly where it is going to go. The first verse was instantly interesting to me as I felt myself coming through on all the lines. It makes a huge difference when you feel personally connected to the characters you are writing about. Also it is one of the only songs that I have ever written in the third person. That is really fun as it gives you a carte blanche to let the characters do whatever they like and know that it isn’t all reflected back at you."
We read that you have a PhD in Psychoacoustics. First, congratulations. Second, how has this helped you to really understand different sounds and how certain instruments complement each other, when it comes to writing your own music?
"My PhD was based mainly on spatial audio, which I think has drastically influenced my music. It’s made me concentrate on creating a landscape of sound for people to wander in. I like to put different sounds and instruments in different locations in the soundfield, give space for people to look around. I think people often don’t realise that when they like a song it is often the production and arrangement they are attracted to; the world in which the song inhabits.
My PhD has also given me a technical understanding of parts of what is often considered an artistic, subjective discipline. I think it definitely makes it easier for Sam and I to communicate, being able to use more technical language and possibly be more precise in our analysis. For instance, humans hear sounds over a range of frequencies and lumping your song into a small range it can make it sound messy and overwrought. I think you often need contrasting colours in different ranges in order to make beautiful music.
I also think there is something deeply human and spiritual about music that isn’t easily tied down by trying to define and describe it. I love the contrast between the scientific technical use of microphones, computers and electronics to try and capture acoustic vibrations that convey something that is kind of effervescent and transitory; music has so many facets and that is what makes it so interesting."
In the wake of current events, live shows have moved online with live streaming events hosted by artists from within their homes. You yourself have been performing live across all of your social media channels. Do you think that this is something you will continue to do, even if live shows make a return?
"Yes I definitely think I will, just maybe not at the current rate. It has been absolutely brilliant to play live music to people in places I don’t normally tour. Plus it gives fans in different parts of the world a chance to meet and intact, even if it is just in cyberspace! A lot of my live gigs I spend just watching the hilarious chat between participants while I play my songs. I also think that livestream events might be a good chance to try out new songs as you get direct feedback from the people who love your music, even if it is mainly in the form of emojis?!"
Thank you for your time! Lastly, describe your sound to our readers using just one adjective...
"Heartening (I hope that doesn’t sound bigheaded; this last one was incredibly hard to do!)"
Listen to the EP HERE
INTERVIEW BY ALISTER ROSS