The Road Leads West

By Alex James — Mon, 11/05/2015 - 20:32

Tom West has often been called a ‘musical troubadour’. With his distinct sound of atmospheric acoustic and thoughtful lyrics, one could make the argument that each part, or his material as a whole, is akin to musical poetry.  Still, something about that analogy seems wrong, if not a bit pretentious and off the mark. After first listening to the music of West, even weeks later, there is something elusive, mysterious, but yet uncomplicated and honest that makes you almost feel guilty for analysing, rather than simply listening and enjoying. His songs beg the questions of ‘What makes this former lawyer turned artist tick? Where does his music come from, and lead to? Am I getting too philosophical and contemplative already? Whatever the answers, I knew Tom West could help set me straight. Luckily he was able to spare a few minutes during his latest North American stint and I was able to reach him in Brooklyn, NY a few days before his arrival in Canada. We discussed his recently released EP “Oncoming Clouds”, his musical process, and his upcoming performance in Ottawa on May 13, 2015 at Rainbow Bistro in the heart of the ByWard Market.

On the road again, this tour sees West taking his new release of songs across Canada hitting the major stops of Toronto, Montreal, British Columbia and right here in Ottawa. When asked about the collection of songs on new EP in comparison to his last full length release ‘A Spark in the Dark’, West shared that he feels he has developed as a songwriter since his last record.  He believes his abilities in song writing have matured and continue to evolve. To the point that he recognizes his process has grown even since he wrote the songs present on the new EP, and he already sees ways in which he would revise his latest work. Though always the arbitrator, West points out with a chuckle that “everyone thinks their newer stuff is better than their older stuff”.  Despite the progression in crafting his ballads, there remains an indecipherable element that goes beyond the folk genre, bending (in some cases defying) melodic convention in that uniquely Tom West way.

From the first note on newly released EP “Oncoming Clouds” one is invited to feel at ease by West's music. The staccato banjo accentuating a finger picked guitar is at once rugged and harmonious, invoking the feeling of embarking on a road trip through a classic rural landscape.  The trip begins with the catchy ‘Easy Love’ that layers a playfully progressive melody with introspective lyrics, for a tune that makes you realize, this is not your typical folk record. West shares: “Easy Love is about the deeper sense of fulfilment you get from things that are no longer easy.” It didn’t take much exploration to figure out that this theme could be extended beyond simply that of romantic love, and likely to Wests’ path as a musician, and the natural evolutionary challenges one faces when chasing an authentic life. A theme that seems to ring true with West's decision to relinquish his former life as a lawyer and follow his passion for music. The idea of growth and change is pervasive throughout the new record and West likes to think it translates to everything in life “music, songwriting and probably a million other things”.

 In addition to his song writing abilities, the production of the album itself has improved. West notes his first album, recorded in a shed at his folks' place, compared to ‘Oncoming Clouds’, which has a lot more high quality studio recording, adding a noticeable increase in sound quality. Still retaining some of the D.I.Y approach, Outback producer, musician and accomplice Todd Sibbin has recorded a few parts of the new EP, and will be performing with West on his current tour.

West has also released a music video for ‘Easy Love,’ a well produced creative illustration of his latest single. As someone who admits to finding it weird seeing themselves in videos,  I asked West how he felt about the new music video  and what it was like seeing himself portrayed as an animated caricature. “It was great to see it, the first time my girlfriend and I watched it, we literally laughed out loud! In some ways, it’s easier to see myself in that kind of a video because it’s clearly not serious, it’s a bit of a lark, meant to be funny. It’s easier to watch than if I were trying to be really deep and meaningful, we are very happy with it”. 

With the inherent vulnerability that comes with publically performing one's art, it’s easy to see how a buffer can help. West’s songs are clearly personal explorations reminiscent of prolific singer songwriters such as Gordon Lightfoot or Neil Young, the latter of which is one of West’s early influences. He remembers long trips in the car with his old man where Neil Young is all they’d listen to. Other influences include Ryan Adams, Ireland's Fionn Regan, and Danish band Mew. West says he is drawn to songwriters that “don’t write run of the mill songs... that are different without being too weird [to me]”. West admits there is little direct comparison between his music and the music of these bands, but more so “how they go about songwriting, their instrumentation and the ways they build and arrange their songs”, which he likes to try and incorporate into his own style. None the less, a few Neil Young covers have been known to sneak their way onto the set list, the possibility of which I told him, if it happens in Ottawa, would likely be well received.

In true singer songwriter style, although glad to have a sizeable stay in Canada this month, West would like the opportunity to return and play some of the smaller, little towns, indicative of the venues he began in. This is all the more reason to get off the couch and check out West on his current tour.

Tom West plays at the Rainbow Bistro this Wednesday. A venue that consistently offers pound for pound, the best music for your ‘buck’ on any given night in Ottawa, with this Wednesday to be no exception!

Tom West feat. The Party on High Street and Chelsea de Johnson
Wednesday, May 13, 2015 @ 8pm
Rainbow Bistro

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