Solomon Grey talk to Siobhan Scarlett in this exclusive GIGsoup interview. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Lead photo by Ty Faruki
Solomon Grey are skilled composers and programmers, Tom Kingston and Joe Wilson. Originally from Oxford, Tom and Joe were drawn to the rhythms of London as an inspiration for their dramatic electronics.
The duo are contemporary classical composers at heart, who use modern century soundtracks. They arrived through Black Butter Records in 2013 with the track ‘Gen V’, which Zane Lowe instantly labeled as the “future of BBC Radio 1.” They’ve since released two more stunning singles – ‘Firechild’ and ‘Electric Baby’ – cementing their place at the forefront of UK synth-pop.
Tom and Joe are also now renowned for their film and TV soundtracks, which combine a unique mix of classical composition and contemporary production.
During early 2014 the duo wrote the soundtrack to The Wild Atlantic Way, a project for Tourism Ireland, and scored the BFI feature film Gozo. Most recently they provided both original songs and original score for the 2015 televised adaption of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy for the BBC and HBO.
I was lucky enough to get to chat at length to the guys about their musical journey so far before their live performance at London Fields Brewery. Here’s what they had to say:
When did you first start making music together? How has your style evolved?
Tom: The short answer is, a long time ago and a lot! We met 15 years ago, and made our cash doing covers and then we started writing. For a few years we just tried to copy and emulate sounds we liked to find our own sounds. We then wrote ‘Last Century Man’, and that was the beginning of what is now Solomon Grey. When we hit upon that sound, we knew we’d found something worth pursuing.
Joe: We both have different relationships with music and different tastes.
Tom: We both have difference influences style-wise, but we have grown together in styles that we explore. We both played instruments as children.
Joe: We are both classically trained, but Tom more so.
Tom: I studied it to a degree, but didn’t feel I wanted to go to college at study it as a discipline, but I definitely had a big classical background. It’s come back in the past couple of years, as we have started doing more composition work.
Do you feel that studying music in a technical sense takes some of the feeling out of it?
Tom: Yes. Yes, but I also think it is really worthwhile.
Joe: It’s a balance, you learn your technique, and then you throw away your technique. It gives you the tools. There are so many different ways of making music. I’m very passionate about that because I wasn’t suited to that style of learning at school. We both now have children and I feel very passionate about the fact that there should be an alternative to that methodology to learning a technique. There are a million different ways to create music, and young musicians should know that.
Tom: It took as a long time to properly ‘get’ rock music, coming from a classical background. That was a big epiphany for us. Trying to understand music that comes from a totally different place.
Which band or artists influenced you most at this turning point?
Tom: For me Radiohead, definitely. I was an indie kid, so I listened to all that stuff, but Radiohead was the first band who actually moved me.
Joe: I remember my older sister getting ‘Dummy’ by Portishead and I became obsessed by that album, her voice and the structure of the pieces. Also, Nirvana because it had a childlike quality to the formula of the songs. I felt I could see how the made the pieces, and that made it so much more accessible to me. A lot of the stuff that was being thrown at me at the time was not like this.
Tom: I want to change my answer now and say Massive Attack were particularly big for me.
Tom: Soundtracks are something I’ve never been into because the majority of movie soundtracks don’t do anything for me. Soundtracks start to come into their own, when you begin to listen to the more Jonny Greenwood leftfield type things.
Joe: I made him sit through the whole soundtrack to Akira whilst driving through Australia and it is a HEAVY listen. We couldn’t listen to any music after that!
Joe: I’m really into soundtracks, I love soundtracks. The soundtrack to ‘Animal Kingdom’ was a big one for us whilst writing our last album.
Tom: It was trailblazing and did something different.
Joe: I remember that section in 2001 and being blown away by that. The original soundtrack which wasn’t used is fascinating!
What’s your opinion on bands rescoring things? Or writing new scores for silent pieces, such The Cinematic Orchestra and Man With A Movie Camera?
Joe: It’s dodgy rescoring thing. It stinks of ego!
Tom: I might do it as a hobby at home. As for writing a new score, yes. It’s move leftfield, experimental and interesting.
Have you found that you both naturally slot into set roles in the process of making music?
Joe: Just when you think you find a slot, it completely changes. Tom will push it and find new spaces, and I’ll find mine, then we might go back. It’s like any relationship.
Another thing that is going on, is that as soon as you think you know what you’re good at in the process, we grow with each other.
Tom: The more you work as an artists, it’s very exposing, especially when you are working with someone else all the time, so you have to lose as many inhibitions as you can and catch yourself when you’re falling into type.
What do you do in your off time away from creating music?
Joe: When we have breaks from creating music, it’s always good to come back and share what we have both been experiencing musically separately while we’ve been away. I find talking, even without purpose, to my wife very cathartic. It takes a long time for my mind to switch off, but that really takes a lot of the weight off.
Tom: For me, having children has been a really great leveler. Living in the here and now with your kids is refreshing. Our music is about big overarching thoughts, and that can be quite exhausting. It’s good to get away from those big questions and change a nappy.
Joe: The amount of crap we fill our heads with in the studio, being with children gives you a really clear perspective on life.
Tom: Our music has changed since having children. The way we work has anyway. You haven’t got time to fuss over parts of the music. We are more disciplined, but also having been doing it longer, we are getting faster at doing it. You know your ‘trade’ a bit more.
What’s a track that you love that you think other people may not have heard of? Do you feel like it almost belongs to you and you want to keep it to yourself?
Joe: I’m not sure I want people to know this song! Please print ‘music supervisors look away now’ I’ve been bothering Tom with it. It’s just a man with his guitar, he’s got one of those weird vibrato voices and there’s something about it that just takes me to a place that’s really deep. Yes, I’ve got a band that I keep to myself.
Tom: Steely Dan – ‘You Go Where I Go.’ It’s an obscure acoustic song. I was really into Steely Dan, their music production is the best you could imagine. Then I found this album called ‘Android Warehouse’. It is demos they did together before they even formed the band. It made me really how important song writing is. It’s really raw and really badly recorded, but it’s amazing. I want to share these things as soon as I find them! I don’t know how others could live without their brain popping like mine did. I’m disappointed if it doesn’t makes theirs pop too.
I keep my own music to myself though. I’ve made it a rule not to play anything I’ve written to friends now, because sometimes there’s just like a tumbleweed that goes across.
We used to have a sort of record book club, where friends would get together and bring one record each that they wanted everyone to hear. Soundcloud has changed that now.
We talked late into the evening after these questions about splicing of genres in music, how the internet has changed the experience of music, anonymity in music/branding and Tom’s distaste for Kanye West. It is very clear that Tom and Joe are incredibly passionate about music, are extremely intelligent and well versed in many styles. This is why Solomon Grey’s music is so interesting and experimental. Definitely one to watch.