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New Music Friday: Tom Rose & The Heathen Orchestra

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Tom Rose and The Heathen Orchestra are Northamptonshire’s fine twisted blues purveyors. Tom is on guitar/vocals, Neil on drums, Toby on percussion, Dan on synths/backing vocals, and Matt on bass/backing vocals. After impressing with their debut album, new EP ‘Tail and Fins’ offers up another blast of great songs played with fire and skill. New Boots spoke to Tom to get the lowdown.

How did you guys get together?
The Heathen Orchestra didn’t so much get together as evolve over what seems like an epoch. We are I would say an inevitable accident of time; five musical organisms that emerged from the soup to create something greater than the sum of our parts. Though Matt [bassist] did remind me that I approached him in a graveyard on a wet Thursday morning and asked him to join [true story].

How would you describe your sound?
We sound like a group of people who have been around long enough to realise our own insignificance! For this reason we play because we love to play. I think this comes across in the raw, unfiltered nature of our music.
For purposes of classification, pigeonholing and hyperbole filled biographies we declare that we stand tall and testify from the gospel of visceral, blues-inflected alternative rock. We tell twisted tales of terrible injustices, crimes of passion, despair and strange goings-on. Our music is often filled with dread and torment, but we do not suffer melancholia – with our music we fight melancholy. Our songs are born of a love of life, and bristle with blistering, elemental energy and a drive to advance to better days.

Who has influenced the songs?
As a band, we each have wildly differing influences and spend hours ridiculing each other for our respective crimes against taste! Personally I am influenced as much by other musician’s attitudes to creativity as I am by their actual music. I love Bowie’s restlessness and need to keep moving forward. I see Dylan’s bloody-mindedness as thing to aspire to [the band would probably say I have achieved it]. Most of all though, I admire Leonard Cohen’s humility and dedication to his craft; if I ever think I’m doing alright I listen to his ‘Avalanche’ and remind myself how much I have left to learn, and get straight back to work!

What was the reaction like to your eponymous debut album of 2018?
Well, we are people who love to get together and play music. However we are not people who love to do hours of promotion! So the few who heard our debut album were overwhelmingly positive about it. We are trying hard to mend our ways!

Tell us all about the new EP.
It’s called ‘Tail and Fins’, it’s approximately sixteen minutes long and it’s a taut, muscular account of the last eighteen months as seen through my eyes: torn apart, fed into a wood-chipper, set on fire then reassembled through the medium of song by the immensely talented Heathen Orchestra. It’s highly personal, deeply political and a whole lot of fun to play.
These are incredibly fractious and dangerous times, I think any writer with a pulse would be hard pressed not to find inspiration! The challenge I set myself when working on these songs was to not shy away from the darkness or severity of the problems we all face, but to find a way of documenting them and turning them on their heads. Kind of like saying, “fuck you, we know you’re out there and that you want us to roll over, but you will not break our spirit, we will not give you that victory – and here’s some goodtime music to listen to while we’re working out how to kick your buttocks”.
I don’t like to go into too much detail of what individual songs are about. I think anything I reveal can only steal a bit of the song away from the listener. If I ever find out what Don Van Vliet was trying to tell us with ‘Bat Chain Puller’ I’m sure it would lose a little magic! That is part of the joy of music and why it should not be discussed in minutiae.
I will say that we are incredibly proud of this EP; it is a clear step forward from our previous recordings. I think we have managed to retain the energy and passion of our debut album, but with the extra focus and dynamism that an additional eighteen months of playing live has brought to the band.
We decided to record at Parlour Studios again for the simple reason that Neil [our drummer] owns the studio and he is a brilliant engineer so we would be foolish to go anywhere else [though Neil may appreciate the holiday]!

Describe the live show in five words or less.
Universal redemption.

Are you part of a wider scene in Northamptonshire, playing with like-minded bands?
I really wouldn’t want to sully the reputation of any other bands by saying they were of similar mind to us!
To be honest, we are quite reclusive, we love playing in Northampton and the music community is the most welcoming and vibrant around. Every time we venture out, people are kind, friendly and supportive but we could not claim to be part of any scene. We are akin to the strange vaguely familiar uncle who crawls out of the woods once a year and everyone watches nervously, unsure what they might do and then they disappear again, only to return when you least expect it with a new tale to tell.

Favourite bands/venues?
We are very fortunate that we have just signed to Old Hotel Records, which is home to some of our favourite bands including Humblebee and Kenneth J Nash. I am a big fan of Jono and the Uke Dealers; Jono is the very essence of everything that is good about Northampton, I enjoy the strange grooves and melodies of The Drones Club, and obviously The Jazz Butcher himself – Pat Fish. Without a doubt though, if I could bring one Northampton hero back for one night it would be the wonderful Liam Dullaghan; his shows were among the best I have seen anywhere.
As for venues, Northampton is awash with great places for music but I would absolutely love to perform at the Playhouse Theatre. I think it would be the perfect setting in which to bring our songs to life.

What has been your favourite band moment of last year?
This is an easy one! Twinfest at the Pomfret was incredible. We are huge fans of everything Twinfest does and stands for, so to play for a barn packed full of people clapping and cheering along to our music was absolutely life-affirming.

What was the last album you bought or streamed?
I recently bought A Bunch of Meninos by Portuguese band Dead Combo. I highly recommend searching them out; they play sinister sounding Latin instrumental music and have collaborated with people like Marc Ribot (my guitar hero) and Mark Lanegan.

What is your burning desire for the band? What plans do you have?
We have no great Machiavellian plan! Playing music and writing songs is something I have always done and will always do. I think it’s innately human to want to share our stories and I am in no way a great talker; hence music is where I tell my truth [admittedly often couched in metaphor, allegory and a maelstrom of noise].
We do hope to play as many shows as possible this coming year. Live is without doubt where our songs come into their own. Standing up and singing in front of a crowd is such a terrifying and unnatural thing to do, but once we take to the stage we revert to our lizard brains and play as if our lives depend on it. It’s utterly cathartic and makes for an exciting show! Ultimately though, having a band of friends in the Heathen Orchestra who want to help bring my songs to life is a real privilege and so long as that continues I’ll be happy.

The Tail and Fins EP is available on Spotify, iTunes/Apple music, Amazon and Tidal. All proceeds from first year of the EP’s release are going to Amnesty International.

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