TOM LEE-RICHARDS: The Simplicity Of Just Being
An interview by Sarah Kidd.
New Zealand born and Whangarei native Tom Lee-Richards has long been calling the city of Melbourne home, but we won’t hold that against him; certainly not when he continues to produce splendid musical pieces such as his latest track ‘Beside You’. Once again, collaborating with producer Countbounce (aka Pip Norman) has created rhythmical magic; the video providing a visual aspect to the theme of connection.
I recently subjected Tom (in the kindest way of course) to a barrage of questions in regards to his latest work and upcoming ‘Mini-LP’.
Your single ‘Beside You’ is another collaboration with producer Countbounce – is this a relationship that we will see continue in the future and what do they bring to the table that works so well for you?
Yes it is. My upcoming Mini-LP was mostly recorded with Pip aka Countbounce. Pip has a great feel for the essential and when a take has vibe. He comes from a hip hop-sampling background co-fronting the group TZU. That worked well with my vocal looping experimentation so there’s more Pip & Tom to come.
The track is described as “for those who want to move and celebrate being open in the moment” – what exactly does this statement mean for you personally?
Well ‘Beside You’ was inspired by times when I have felt a simple intimacy with someone but also times when I’m not showing them my best side because I’m not really in the room. I was reflecting on how easy it is to carry the busyness of life and past experiences on our shoulders, which complicates the present. So the song aims to celebrate simplifying things. It’s about refreshing our appreciation for people and the moments that are right in front of us.
Many of your tracks are quite intriguing, with your sound often being described as unique. You have stated previously that you let the lyrics shape the structure of your music, has this method always been quite natural for you or is it something that you have developed over time?
Thank you, yes my writing approach is definitely evolving over time. There is usually an overarching mood that runs through the music and the lyrics. They inform each other so sometimes lyrics may not be the seed of a song but once I’ve written them they can stretch the composition in one way or another. I like to trust that this is just an extension of the original mood or reason for writing the song. Capturing that mood is more important than sticking to a structure.
What can you tell us about the themes behind your upcoming debut mini-album due for release soon?
One main word or idea that runs through all the themes explored in the Mini-LP is separation – the tension of belonging or not belonging. The sub themes include childhood, change and discovery. I wrote about the apparent simplicity and stillness in childhood memories contrasting with the complexity and sometimes oddness when negotiating and understanding adult life. There are some other related sub themes as well.
Your videos for both ‘Madness’ and now ‘Beside You’ are really beautiful and are elevated far above a standard release. Is the connection between music and visual image one of great importance to you? And will we see more of these ‘film’ style videos from you in the future?
I do love film and being immersed in a world for all your senses. I think there is just an opportunity when releasing a song to further explore the themes beyond just a vehicle for the track. When seeking or creating music videos I’d say I will continue to find ways to create something new and beautiful on its own – as long as the whole is greater than the parts.
When discussing the video for ‘Beside You’, you speak of “connection in odd situations” – so what kind of relationships do you believe will exist in the future? Will it all change as society becomes more isolated from each other due to the digital age?
These are great questions! Whilst I see some great progressive trends around gender roles and discussions challenging old fashion traditions, I also agree with a lot of futurists. I don’t think isolation from humans is the biggest concern – it seems likely relationships will be a bleak kind of co-operation to survive amidst the obsolescence of being human given that singularity became unavoidable in the 2000’s with our dependence on bot outsourcing. I hope there are moments of beauty amongst those hiding in the hills though. I wonder what cyborg/AI relationships will be like?
Are there any current artists that have caught your attention lately?
I saw Moses Sumney in Melbourne recently. Beautiful ideas and his new video is really moving. Also enjoying Fortunes ‘Undress’ E.P and the Dirty Projectors new album is interesting.
If you could change one thing about what you have done musically throughout your career what would it be?
That’s a tough but good one. I wouldn’t be doing exactly what I’m doing without a few mistakes. The most obvious thing I would change is the habit of hesitation i.e. not recording that live take and reflecting on it, not busking on that day or not practicing that thing I need to work on. I feel a lot more free to try new things these days and trust in the benefits.
You have lived in Melbourne for quite a while now – do you feel that this has benefited you better creatively than remaining in New Zealand?
I’m still such a fan of NZ music and recognise the uniqueness of our influences. I think I would have gone down a different path if I stayed in NZ with many opportunities to learn a lot. I just ended up in Melbourne where I could see those NZ characteristics from a Melbourne perspective whilst enjoying the diversity of the music being made in Aus as well.
Tom Lee-Richards’ video for his track Beside You (that you can view above) has just been bestowed the honor of being chosen as MTV’s ‘Upload of the Week’ – a very cool event indeed! For more information on Tom Lee-Richards you can check out his website, or follow him on Soundcloud, Facebook and Twitter.