Hey. People called me Spender at high school because it’s my surname. My first name is Tommy. My father is Tom and his father was Tom too. Thats enough about Tom, lets talk about Spender.
Spender is my song writing and production. My debut modern pest is either me singing or friends and guests. This is the way I’ll continue to release records as I really, really like producing music. I also like performing it and play five instruments. I started on saxophone at primary school, moved into guitar and bass at high school, started singing and percussion and now I’m trying my hardest at chromatic harmonica , which is the one that Stevie Wonder plays. It’s really, really hard. Harder than all of the others combined.
I spent a bunch of my youth busking around Melbourne. There was this great spot down by the Yarra under a massive concrete bridge. Playing there was like playing into a five second reverb machine. People could hear the horn for literally miles on a cold, quiet night as the river would be glassy and carry the sound all the way through Flinders Street. Sometimes people used to follow it till they found me. Sometimes people would ask each other to marry each other around me or dance.Sometimes people would try to rob me, and sometimes people would want to pay to have a ‘ go ‘ of my saxophone.
All these things became as predictable and enjoyable as the sun rising. I earned a lot of money down there and put myself through music school, signed a record deal with an indie label, starting touring with a dance/rock band called off cutts and worked out how to install cracked music software on my laptop. We went all over the world and we got drunk a lot. Then I got older had a kid and realised that songs writing and production was a place that felt like home to me.
Now instead of playing all these lovely instruments I spend a bunch of time ( like right now ) staring at a laptop, mixing/writing music and lyrics, emailing people about listening to the aforementioned music and touching up photographs which was my original choice as a profession before I got into my saxophone. To be honest, I’m a lucky person to still be making original music, not lost my hearing and have all ten fingers.
Congratulations on the new EP, Modern Pest! You’ve described it as “six tracks of heart and soul”, how important is this sense of emotional connection to your music?
Firstly, thank you very much. I’m immensely pleased with releasing my music to such a welcoming world. Six tracks of heart and soul was something I wrote probably after not having much sleep and having a deadline. Translating it further, the point I seemed to be making on that little doomed bio writing adventure was that I threw a lot of myself into this music. I stayed up late and was tired a lot. I spent a lot of money on it, I spent a lot of my life blood on it. I convinced people to help me , and I asked a lot of my community to help me make it. All those things live in my heart and soul
You wrote the EP in a small hotel room in Kings Cross, what was it like working in such a secluded environment?
Good question..I didn’t write ALL of it , to be fair about two songs on the EP. Lets pretend though that I did. I deliberately secluded myself from the world because the world had given my a bunch of classic late 20’s challenges i.e. band breaking up, relation ship breaking up, bank account : broken, prospects : broken. It was really a matter of turning to ground, licking wounds, hibernating etc. to get me through the grind of it all I challenged myself with daily activities. they were in no particular order, Writing a song a day, going for a run. busking in kings cross, watering the roof garden, practicing guitar and reading books and poems written by Rumi. He’s good.
What was the visual concept behind the video for the lead single ‘Bed & Chair’? You took the phrase ‘put your back into it’ quite literally with that one.
The concept was to to something with nothing more than one thing. A chair. A man in a suit with a chair in a white room. My very close friend and collaborator WILK came up with the idea because we had very little money to afford anything else. The room was a local yoga studio, the suit was falling a apart, I was wearing his shoes. The chair was purchased at a garage sale. Simple ideas are always better.
Back to the EP, it notably features a big guest cameo from the nicest guy in music, Gotye, who lends his vocals on the track ‘Hotel Home’. How did that collaboration come about, and what’s Wally like to work with?
I met wally in sydney at the aforementioned roof garden as he was a guest at the hotel I was holed up in. We loosely stayed in touch over the next few years. Then , my drummer got the gig playing for him live, and I wanted him to sing a song that I knew would suit his range and timbre. Wally learnt the song better than I did. he had transcribed the lyrics when I arrived, which where more accurate than the lyrics sheet I supplied. He’d also managed to memorise them. Which is not easy when you’re a man of many talents and commitments
How does being a producer for other artists influence your own work?
In a wonderful and wild way. Mostly it just makes me want to go back into that amazing place where a song emerges from nothing but a pad and a pencil. I love that place. It also makes me focus on the bigger picture of just how important true listening is and how most of the time we don’t do much of it. I like hearing music for the first time too, which is something you cant do with your own music.
Prior to Modern Pest’s release, you gained some serious traction with plenty of Triple j airplay as well as a lot of praise from the critics. Was it nice to get such positive reactions prior to the release, or do you try to shut these things out?
There was some positive things said etc. It was encouraging. Its not my first rodeo so I realised that It meant I better get back to working harder and new material etc
You’re heading out on a national tour in support of the lovely Clare Bowditch in August which must be pretty exciting. Tell us, for those who haven’t seen you live, what are your live shows like?
Well, the Clare Bowditch tour is just the two of us. Which means I’ll be focussing on my story telling songs. Songs I write based on things that are real to me. Street kids falling out of windows and me trying to help type things. I’ll do my best at making up for not having my ballistically excellent rhythm section by shaving, wearing a good suit and being charming in between songs. Important stuff. I was going to bring my Ableton looping set up which is exceedingly complicated and awesome but annoying to fly with.
What’s your earliest memory of performing and who inspired you to start?
My uncle, the painter Anselm Van Rood , gave me a John Coltrane tape when I was 12 . That started it all for me. My earliest memory of performance was when I must have been about seven and working on some dance routine with two girls to Paul Simon’s Graceland. We were going to audition for young talent time and tested it out on our mums and dads first. I did spirit fingers
You’ve been pretty busy for a while now – when you’re not recording you’re out playing shows and vice versa. What do you do when you get some rare downtime?
This is the kind of answer I feel would be great to ‘ finesse ‘ as my immediate reaction upon reading was a cynical grunt. During the summer we had a hammock in our back courtyard. lying in that with a beer and my guitar was pretty much as close to heaven as i’ve been in a long time. Now theres no hammock I guess I’m stuck with just my cynical grunt…
Modern Pest is out now through Donut Beach Records. Check out our review here.
Spender 2013 Shows
Thursday 1st August, 2013
NORTH SYDNEY, Lizzottes – NSW
Friday 2nd August, 2013
NEWCASTLE, The Small Ballroom – NSW
Saturday 3rd August, 2013
SYDNEY, Factory Theatre – NSW
Friday, 9th August, 2013
ADELAIDE, Gov Hindmarsh – SA
Saturday, 10th August, 2013
MELBOURNE, Corner Hotel – VIC
Friday, 16th August 2013
BRISBANE, The HiFi – QLD
Saturday 17th August 2013
BYRON BAY, Community Centre – NSW
Sunday, 18th August 2013
YEPPOON, Village Festival
Friday, 30th August 2013
FREMANTLE, Fly By Night – WA