Interviews

30/08/2014

Bright Light Bright Light: a Skype chat with Rod Thomas



This is an interview I did for GT, which appeared in their July 2014 issue. It’s always funny chatting to Rod, because I sort of know him through mutual friends in a see-him-about-say-hi kind of way. Infact he suffered one of my karaoke Ke$ha performances the other night in the Joiners Arms and left pretty much straight after I’d performed. I’m sure he was just tired… anyway the day of our Skype chat, I’d been banging on about the last track on his new album, Happiness from Life Is Easy. And that’s where we kick off.




It’s kind of weird I’ve been tweeting you all morning about the album..

I know, all of these fucking platforms collide, it’s absurd!

Needless to say I’ve listened to the album the past week, and for some reason that last track - it’s so immediate, partly because I’m such a sucker for that crying at the disco pop song.

I’m really pleased, I really really love that track, that one particularly I think, I had to edit a lot of the record to make it fit on the vinyl version of the record and that one I was like ‘I’m not editing it at all, I really like that song’.

Did you save it especially for the end, for that reason?

Yeah.

The other observation I have is the album is like a cross between a self help book and the chastising of ex lovers...

It’s actually about falling in love with life again. I suppose self help is right, because it was from a time where I was having a really shit time in London and I was really unhappy with things, and it was about making a move to make myself happy again. So I guess it’s like assessing what the problems are and picking yourself back up. You’re the only one who can sort yourself out, you know that kind of thing? It’s about that really.

You know when you have those sort of albums where people say ‘it was inspired by xyz this person’. It sounds like it could be about a person.

It’s not. Well the person would be New York and London I suppose. I really fell out of love with London and I really didn’t want to be there and I did want to to be in New York and I fell in love with it, so it’s moving from something that makes you very unhappy to something that makes you happy.

Is it a permanent move?

No, it’s err, not a permanent move.

It’s just an affair.

Haha! It’s like a mistress. Basically I’m splitting my time pretty much evenly between them, any European stuff I’m spending time in London and any American stuff I’m spending time in New York. So they’re like two homes that I have that allow me to have a base while I’m touring and working in each continent which is quite nice.

Now obviously you’re gonna be traveling a lot with Elton John…

[laughs] Oh yeah! It’s fucking crazy. It’s completely amazing and I’ve known since Novemember and I haven’t been able to say anything. It’s been a really tense couple of months.

Why did they drag it out so much?

It was being careful, because things get said and then things can change, tour dates get pulled, contracts can fall through, there’s so many options for disaster so it was just not announcing it until the right time, when things are confirmed their end and mine. And when the album’s confirmed and everything. A mixture of reasons, but thats why. Everyone knows everything, it’s like when you get a new job and you’re not allowed to say anything in case that falls through or you employee dies or whatever. We have to be careful about how quickly we put out information, mostly it’s about timing.

You’ve given me a horrible vision of Elton John dying now…

No! But say like you got an office job, the company could fall through so you can’t really tell anyone until you start, things like that.

You’ve done a song together. When people say they’ve worked together, I always imagine it’s like the video for Live Aid, stood around a microphone singing into it with headphones on… I’m guessing that’s nowhere near the reality.

[laughs] It’s not far off really. I was in the studio with him when he recorded the vocals, I went down to Atlanta to record the vocals with him and it was amazing, it was so fun watching him just sing. Everytime I’ve seen him sing it’s been television or when he’s been on a stage with a band around him and you’re expecting him to be super polished because he’s one of the most professional people living, that’s why he’s still going. But it was really cool watching him in the studio just in a little booth with my lyrics, just nailing it first time. I was amazing, so much fun. Really cool.

Did he treat you like a protege?

He’s amazing, he treats me like a friend which blows my mind really. We’re very good friends and we talk a lot and he’s really thoughtful and really good about giving advice about things that he’s done and things that can help, industry advice but also life advice. He’s a really good friend and we laugh a lot, that makes me really happy. Most of my best friends are based on laughter, understanding and he has both of those things. He’s very good at supporting what I do, particularly when it’s appropriate rather than just mouthing about some artist all the time, he knows exactly when to let people know about something happening and that’s really appreciated.

When you say he makes you laugh, does he tell jokes?

Yeah, he’s really funny! He’s so funny, we’ve got quite a similar sense of humour I think. It’s really nice seeing the laughter and the humour and the cheekiness underneath this professional persona. It’s nice, when I went to see that show at the Pavillion Theatre in London, it was on ITV an evening with Elton John, he was previewing stuff from his new album. I went to watch that being filmed and it was the first time that I’ve ever really seen him talk that much to an audience between songs, because it was part interview with Dermot O’Leary and part performance. And it was nice that I could see the audience hearing the kind of humour that I hear quite a lot behind the scenes and people were laughing a lot. He’s really funny and really smart. It’s cool when you get to breakdown that wall between audience and performer and you get to see a bit of the person and realise that he’s this hilarious warm human being, rather than this amazing performer that you get to see nothing else of. Other than what the media reports which is obviously whatever they need to talk about at the time.

You really reminded me actually, when I was growing up my mum had Elton John’s Best Of on video cassette and she would watch it doing the ironing, so I’d sit there and watch his videos over and over again. Deny The Passenger, amazing videos. It’s easy to forget that colourful side.

So many lives, so many personas, moods and tones on different albums. There’s so much energy and different characters that have come in all of those videos, like I’m Still Standing, Sacrifice, The Circle of Life and the PNAU stuff, it’s all so different but it’s really cool seeing all those different elements of someone’s personality over a career I think, it’s really interesting.

Will you be dueting on tour?

I don’t know.

It would feel like a bit of a waste, you’re going to be sharing a stage night after night.

I would obviously love to, it would be great.

Apart from the vocals, it sounds like everything is electronic on Life Is Easy. Are there any acoustic elements to it when you recorded it?

So you didn’t hear the piano or the guitar or the strings.

Oh yeah. [slightly clutching at straws] ...that could be synthesised?

Well some of them are. The guitars are recorded live, there’s lot of human voices in it, and there is a lot of synth in there but there is more human touch I think, like I’ve got strings on a couple of the tracks. The guitars I really wanted to have, because the last album did feel very studio based to me, because that’s what I could record at the time. So yeah, there’s synthesised pianos and stuff but I think the album sounds a little bit more human than the last one. Or I hope it does.

Well I’m talking about my gut instincts here, I’ve had the album a week and not lived with it like a proper pop fan should. By the time the piece comes out I’ll probably have a different opinion…

You’ll hate it, say it’s rubbish… [laughs] waiting for Will.I.Am.

I could be wrong. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it being a very electronic album and I’m thinking of songs like...

Good Luck and I Believe are purely synthesised, I get that.

Those songs sound a bit clubbier in a way.

Yeah.

Was that an intentional move?

Yes it was very intentional. Because I have this division in my life between the day to day existence that I have, which is being in the studio and listening to music and traveling and I come from the middle of nowhere so I’ve lived in very rural pastures and then moved to a city or whatever. And then the night life that I have which is Djing and dancing and going out a lot. I wanted to album to represent both sides of my life, or more aspects of my life. Good Luck and I Believe are really tapping into the nightlife that I have and I found in London and New York and the energy of these cities that really makes you feel alive. It takes you out of something more natural, into this world that someone has put together - people putting nights on, the buildings you go into, the streets, the cabs, everything. I wanted a few of the tracks to highlight that element of my life. Because while the album is about journeys over that year, how I moved from a bad place to a good one, a lot of the things that made me feel better was going out and seeing friends, meeting all these people. The club culture is quite a big part of that, so I wanted that to be represented on the record.

The other thing about the song Good Luck quite specifically, is it struck me as having quite a harsh lyric.

Yeah it’s a total cunt song.

A what song?

Cunt. It’s like, you can be as forgiving and seeing other people’s perspective as you want, but sometimes you’re just ‘oh fuck you honey’ [laughs].

Totally. It touches on the gay experience for me, I think there’s a lot of unattachment in the way gay men relate to one another online and on the scene and it can be really shallow and unfulfilling. There are bits on the album, that even if you weren’t talking about the issue, it captures some of that I think...

Yeah. I think you’re right, I have a problem - not with the culture of apps or that kind of thing, I think they’re great and they’re really useful. But I have a real problem when people won’t switch an application off when they’re out with friends or they’re in a bar. You can see people on their phones all the time, facebook, grindr, twitter, scruff - all of these kind of things and you’re like ‘can you just not appreciate the moment for one fucking evening?’ you’re completely missing the fact that you’re with people that you’ve chosen to spend time with and there are people you can talk to in real life all around you. There is the culture of always looking for the next best thing, you’re looking for someone better, someone hotter or somebody more like you or someone newer and so the song is ‘OK well if I’m not enough, then fuck off. Have fun chasing whoever across the city, have fun finding someone hotter and cooler and makes you have this amazing night and then at the end of it when they leave you they’re doing exactly the same thing that you’re doing, then have fun spending the night alone’. There’s no end to what people will do to keep chasing the next best thing. Do you know what I mean?

That is exactly what I was getting at.

I didn’t really think of it being a particularly gay thing, but really I suppose it is. Or not specifically a gay thing, but being very prominent in the gay world. It’s a problem that a lot of people have. You can meet someone but you have no idea if they’re going to stick around…

But then you inevitably see them everywhere anyway…

Oh of course you do! Even in Tesco’s, christ.

Still talking about this song, I love the fact it’s hidden in a way. As in, it’s not an angry song. But when you take it apart...

No it’s not an angry song. I think what I wanted to do with the record is, I didn’t want it to be morose, or angry, or bitter or anything, I wanted it to be strong. That year for me was about taking control of my life and sorting out what it was that that was making me happy, what was making my unhappy. and just to deal with all of that, accept it, and learn to make the most of what I have. And so that song it’s not like ‘god you’re a cunt, fuck you!’ it’s more like that’s the situation, I’ve dealt with it, you go and have fun. Deal with it, then you can move on and have your own fun. It’s not a song about hating someone, it’s a song about having had enough of the situation and letting them go away and have their merry little time.

That is a very grown up response.

[laughs] Yes. Take that as you will. It was writing that track as I did it with these two house producers in London, it was meant to be on their album initially but they decided not to have many vocals on the record in the end, so I kept the track. But it was fun having this really clubby backing track and trying to think of theme and lyrics to fit with the energy that the song had. Because it was quite dark, I wanted it to have a bit of bite. I wanted it to be really uplifting as well.

Do you do many collaborations like that?

Yeah I do them on and off, not as many as I’d like to really, but I do bits of toplinging with people. So An Open Heart wasn’t written for me, I wrote it with Ian Masterson for someone else* and it ended up not getting used and I really like it so I took it back.

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*That ‘someone else’ was Dannii Minogue! Which he revealed at his Cargo show to launch the album - which you should totally have a copy of by now.