Tom Vek recorded his debut album in his Dad’s garage in Kingston. Released in 2005, We Have Sound established Vek as one of the best solo artists working in the UK; a true rock n roll auteur, capable of juxtaposing all sorts of genres into one jagged, throbbing, electro-punk sound. And that’s before his lyrics which, it seems, tunnel into the opposite sex; hook-ups, questions, break-ups, romance flaring or dying away. C-C (You Set the Fire In Me), the first track on his first record, was inspired by a girlfriend. On Aroused, the single from his second album Leisure Seizure, Vek compares a girlfriend to her own description of reading a novel, "If you want forgiveness, you better start apologising.” he memorably sang on If You Want, “I guess you're proud to be different." i-D meet Vek by Rough Trade Records in Brick Lane on the day his third album Luck is released. He’s now on tour throughout the UK, reminding us why, despite a long-time coming, he’s one of the most exciting artists working.
Luck is your third album. Talk us through the production?
I decided to get this record out relatively quickly and have fun with it. It’s helpful to realise that you can keep doing what you like doing and not necessarily worry whether it’s enormously culturally relevant. Whatever I do in the studio is whatever the album is. I like to think that’s coming across. I like to think it sounds like I’m doing what I’m doing because then, even if people don’t like it, you hope they can appreciate that I’m doing my thing how I want to.
How do you characterise Luck in comparison to your other records?
When friends asked me what album I was making, I’d say a rock record, because I spent a lot of time thinking about riffs. But now I don’t know really. I predominantly listen to stuff I did myself. I think the new St Vincent record might be a point of reference.
"There are still people who can use the best tools to make crap. With Garageband, you have at your disposal loads of brilliantly produced drum loops. I have to mic up my own drum kit and make it sound remotely as good, even before I play it. But I enjoy that."
You’re known for recording each instrument live, and playing each one yourself. How do you feel about the MacBook, Garageband, bedroom-production generation?
There are still people who can use the best tools to make crap. With Garageband, you have at your disposal loads of brilliantly produced drum loops. I have to mic up my own drum kit and make it sound remotely as good, even before I play it. But I enjoy that. I’ve seen musicians play the drums when rehearsing and then, when it comes to recording, replace it with loops. And I think: “That’s pointless.” You have to be principled about it. If you have no principles, you can get pushed around a lot. You want to have this description, which is: “I did it without sampling.” You have to not care to do your own thing.
The Girl You Wouldn’t Leave for Any Other Girl is a tune unlike anything you’ve created before. Talk us through that.
I’m a huge Jeff Buckley fan so every now and then I pick up a guitar and say, “I’m going to try and make a Jeff Buckley song,” that’s more stripped down than probably anything else I’ve ever recorded. Sadly I sound like a drunk, angry Jeff Buckley - Jeff Buckley’s tone-death brother. But I remember listening back to it for the first time and thinking that there might be something vaguely presentable about it, and that it would be fun saying to find out what that was. But you can spend so long second-guessing yourself, I could spend forever trying to make something completely perfect, but with every corner you shave off it loses a certain charm. I’m not enough of a professional songwriter, or producer, to even take it in the right direction, after you’ve chopped off all the wrong bits, you have something with the right shape but the wrong feel.
How many tunes do you have hidden away that you’re not showing us?
Quite a lot. I was trying to get this record done quicker so, when I hit the 100-idea milestone, I took that as a sign. Sometimes it’s nice to have all these ideas, but I decided I had to wrap it up; that I was sure an album was in there.
How much modern music do you hear and think "that’s going to survive our generation?"
I remember listening to Lana Del Rey’s Video Games. Despite the fact that she’s now an enormous artist, I remember listening to that for the first time and that she had made an objectively amazing piece of music.
When do you know when a tune’s finished?
I’m a very selfish creator. People can only hear things when it’s very finished, and then I end up forgetting to play the music to certain people. There’s a point when I’ll take something away from my studio, and I’ll listen to it as a song. There’s a sudden tipping point, where I know it’s finished, and I generally won’t touch it from that point on. On this album some of the songs have been done in an afternoon and I like that idea.
"I remember listening to Lana Del Rey’s Video Games. Despite the fact that she’s now an enormous artist, I remember listening to that for the first time and that she had made an objectively amazing piece of music."
Reviewers often refer to you as the ‘mysterious and enigmatic’ Tom Vek. Are you OK with that?
That’s something you’ve actively tried to create?
What are the most rewarding moments you have as a professional musician?
It sounds cheesy but the most rewarding moment is just creating a song. I listen to my own tunes and I feel ownership, a sense that it wouldn't have existed without me, that I did it on my own. And I think I give myself an easier time as a result; I’m more critical of other people’s music.
How did the records you were listening to as a teenager influence We Have Sound?
I learnt how to play a lot of instruments with the music I was buying at the time. I would get an album, put it on and then drum along to it even before I listened to it. So when I started to spend time in a studio, I guess there must have been a regurgitation of sorts. There have been one or two occasions when I’ve definitely tried to rip something off, and I get sensitive about it when people remind me about it.
What were the touchstone records for you, growing up?
The second Rage Against the Machine album. I did a lot of drumming along to that. The Smashing Pumpkins; I was a die-hard Siamese Dream fan, but I think elements of Melancholy are better. I can’t listen to Adore because I was going through an extremely emotional time. I associate it with a particular relationship. I’ll listen to it again at some point, and it’ll come flooding back.