From his career as a guitarist for iconic Welsh singer Duffy (2006-07), to honing his Mark Knopfler-esque technique in the traditional Irish music settings of Galway (West Ireland), and Dublin, Bristol musician Tom Mitchell is set to be a man to watch. A new album is will drop in March-April 2015, and fans of 60's folk and haunting melodies, will almost certainly be captivated by this singer-songwriter-guitarist.
With comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel and the late Elliott Smith, Mitchell has really amplified his folk ability. A cover of Smith's classic 'Between the Bars' has already garnered over 340,000 plays on Soundcloud to date. Not bad for a man who jokes his voice only broke in early 2013 at age 31. "I'd certainly take the voice-breaking part of the bio with a pinch of salt! I did indeed focus on playing guitar for most of my musical life until a couple of years ago."
Mitchell advises he'd "done backing vocals with a few musical collaborators for a while, but never felt comfortable enough to sing solo, until I finally had enough of playing for other artists and the politics that brought that." This created a turning point for the indisputably talented guitarist; "I decided to start writing songs for me and me only." The road to a solo career has since seen him pick up "many tips and techniques from the singers I've worked with, and I've learned from them all in different ways."
But in impressive fashion, he shares that "other than a couple of YouTube guides to vocal warm ups, I've tried to develop my own style through my own efforts." And now, Mitchell explains, the way he sings "seems to come pretty naturally."
His current EP 'Things I Need to Do' was released in earlier this year, and features a memorable song entitled 'Michael's Garden'. It's reminiscent of the About a Boy soundtrack composed by UK artist Badly Drawn Boy, namely the embracing strains of 'Something to Talk About.' There's an evocative potency to Mitchell's' song compositions and lyrics. His debut album 'New World' came out mid 2013 and showcases the depth of his capacity to pull at the heartstrings. This is truly affective folk music at it's finest. Mitchell recently opened up to share the expression behind his songs, and his musical influences.
Question: Your music is really all encompassing. The video clip for 'Lockdown in 5' and your cover of Mark Knopfler's 'Going Home' (one of my favourite instrumentals ever), sent chills through me. You've got an incredible ability to evoke strong emotions, as your fans on YouTube are attesting to. Where does your love of this style of music stem from and why do you think the songs are resonating with audiences so concordantly?
I grew up in a house that always had music of some kind playing, and I enjoyed being exposed to everything from the prog-rock styling's of Pink Floyd and Genesis through to the more rhythmic and intricate likes of Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen, and of course the Beatles. I have always loved strong and memorable melodies, harmonised across layers of instrumentation.
I feel that I honed my recognition and appreciation of how this kind of thing works in music during my time in Ireland, where I discovered a real love for all things folk and traditional. Simple but effective melodies mixed with well-crafted stories just really do it for me, and I think songs based on this premise resonate with audiences due to their purity and relaxed simplicity. That's what I try to achieve with my writing.
Question: You mentioned the EP is coming out early next year. I'd love to hear more about this. How is the recording going, what is inspiring the songwriting and which instrumentalists are you featuring?
The new album will hopefully be out in March-April; I will have a confirmed release date in the next month or so. Recording is going nicely, a demo of the first new song to feature on it, 'Aim', is now out. As well as my own playing and singing, it will feature backing vocals from Sarah Proudfoot and also some violin and uilleann pipes (traditional Irish bagpipes).
Question: Australian audiences do love their folk music and would no doubt be moved by the poignancy of your songs. Has this always been in your blood, and how did you shape your musical ability?
As I alluded before, it was my time in Ireland that really ignited my interest in folk music. I've always liked it to an extent, and my main musical influence – Mark Knopfler's movements – into a more folky style throughout the 2000s, certainly inspired me. But the traditional sessions I enjoyed in Dublin and Galway really resonated with me and has since had a profound effect on my songwriting.
Question: Your Soundcloud tracks are like mini-epilogues, where the perspectives are told from within the story. What informs your lyric writing? Life, observations, experiences? There's such an upbeat, addictive rhythm to most of the tracks. Speaking of which, the video clip for 'Lockdown in 5' is great, the ending is a clincher!
Most of my songs are based on life experiences yeah, mainly my own but also from others. Nothing is out of bounds! [laughs] Several are about love -'The Phoenix' is about early dates with my now-wife Kerry in London, and 'Susie the Seamstress' is also about her and how she really improved me as a person.
On the other hand, 'Locked In' is based on my thoughts on the plight of Tony Nicklinson, a man who in his 40s suffered a catastrophic stroke, which left him totally paralysed, but with a totally functional brain. He was left with a hellish and miserable existence and wanted to be allowed to die with the help of his family but he faced opposition from pro-life and religious campaigners.