DT in his Tin Star days
I Am Lifted: An Interview with David Tomlinson
by Pete Crigler
David Tomlinson is a man of two bands: XC-NN and Tin Star. The former was more rock oriented and the latter more electronica based. Tin Star had a massive rock radio hit in 1998 with "Head" and XC-NN didnít really have a chance to do much in the states. But go back and listen to songs like "Biroland" and "Lifted" and youíll be able to check out a great band that got shuffled under the rug in the rush of grunge and Oasis in the mid '90s. Being fascinated with the stories of both bands, David was very gracious and allowed me to interview him about his career and the opportunities heís relished in the music scene.
PSF: When did you become interested in music and singing?
DT: I was about three, and there was a band called Slade, and they had a song called "Gudbuy T' Jane," and I used to belt it out at the top of my lungs all over my house in Scotland. And then I think when I went to nursery or junior school, I remember they'd make me sing it in the back of the car. We had this little... one of those cars with wooden panels on, really old, in Scotland. It wasn't a cart, it was actually a car. And they'd make me belt that out 'cause I like to sing quite a bit loudly.
After that, skip ahead. In 1977, I was only ten, but I saw the Sex Pistols on the television, and it scared the life out of me and a lot of other people 'cause they were sitting, swearing on this famous interview, and it was only a couple of years after that when I started big school, if you like. And older brothers and all sorts of people were listening to punk- Stranglers, stuff like that.
And I loved this. I thought Sex Pistols were great, and it was genuinely scary, but also it meant that you could just stand up and you could shout, but you could also say things that you wouldn't necessarily normally say in songs. I think that led into other things that I like. People like Jello Biafra; I love Discharge. I'd see them, both Dead Kennedys and Discharge when I was about 15. They came over to London, and I liked that kind of expression. For a teenager, it was perfect. You could just belt that out. Yeah. I did a bit of singing.
I just found that I could sing in tune. I used to shout with the punk bands I was in, like Silent Rage and Feeble Plunker, and the Special Clinics. It was one of our first, and I'd lose my voice 'caused I was just shouting. Then I kind of just learned by listening to records. My dad's record collection was a lot of old 45's, Everly Brothers, Elvis, The Searchers. Particularly, the Everly Brothers, and we got into things like doo-wop from there, and I used to listen to a lot of that as a kind of 17 year old.
After the punk thing, I was into a lot of that kind of stuff. And that really taught me to sing 'cause I used to sing along with it really loud. I still love doo-wop to this day.
PSF: How did you hook up with Tim Bricheno and form XC-NN?
DT: I was living in Leeds; I wasn't a student but I lived with friends who were students. And I was playing with a band called Headcorn. There was a fantastic place in Leeds called The Duchess of York. It was on the circuit. It was where every band that was kind of up and coming would come through. Nirvana played there; I saw Urge Overkill there; Bongwater; Cop Shoot Cop. I didn't see Nirvana, but lots of cool bands were coming through. And it was the place. You wanted to get on to get a gig in Leeds to get yourself out and about, and we played there with a couple of bands.
But this one night, Tim was in there to see a band called Leatherface from Newcastle, I believe, and we were supporting with my band, Headcorn, and he left his number with John Keenan, the infamous Leeds promoter who ran The Duchess. And I, reluctantly I have to say, took a little bit of time to ring Tim up because he was with a band called The Sisters of Mercy who I kind of thought were resolutely uncool. And they had big hair and big jackets, and I thought, "Oh, I'm not sure about this."
And then I got a demo from him which was kind of him shouting over distorted guitars and a really sort of crappy drumbeat. And I thought, "I really like that. I can work with that. That's different." It was going back to some of my old roots. We hooked up, and he had a couple... what was good is he had a couple of ideas floating around. He definitely had this idea about calling it CNN as deliberately as a kind of antagonistic thing to do, you know. Bands like The KLF had done things where they sampled and they'd taken things liberally and sort of spun it round.
It was in the air, that kind of idea. And Tim was definitely out for mixing up a little bit, getting away from some of the traditional things, being a little bit risky with stuff. CNN obviously being a pretty risky thing to do because it was owned by Ted Turner who did actually threaten to sue us unless with changed the name. Well, we got away with a couple of singles under the title of CNN. Pretended it stood for something else, but it was basically, it was always CNN.
First gigs, Tim had a T-shirt that we printed up, and it just had the CNN logo on it. But it's one of those things you do, I suppose, to stick your head above the parapet when there's other people around. You need an angle, and Tim had this angle. But it was something that he definitely believed in. We were chopping up and sampling stuff, and experimenting really. I would meet him; I'd go over at his mum's, his mum and dad's house. He'd come to my little flat in Leeds, and we done like four track, and we'd bounce ideas back and forwards.
And then I did like Broadway on the first album. I said, "What about trying the baseline like this, and for the verses, like just a real kind of rumbling, sort of dirty, growly bass?" And I did a kind of mad, soft stream of consciousness kind of rap over it which I had written out, but it was kind of horror movie images and stuff. And it was a treat with the other thing, and it was definitely a bit different. And we released it as a 12-inch with management guys who were kind of interested; thought we'll stick it out.
And we got a deal which, I mean, Tim had a bit of cache being from The Sisters and All About Eve and things like that at that time. And that completely got us on the ladder, as it were.
PSF: How would you categorize the band's musical style, and where did it come from?
DT: Definitely, there was the Pistols guitar and he was playing through a Marshall amp pretty heavily. But again samples... we would listen to Apocalypse 91, the Public Enemy album. We listened to that a lot doing the first thing. Just the way they were... listening to how they cut things up. I mean, it was a fantastic record, and it is to this day, but I keep saying "um, can't I?"
We would experiment with sampling, and stealing things, and chopping them up and moving around. Some of them were really famous. I mean we got away with a very big sample on the first album, that's all I'm gonna say. On "Wrong Thing," it went "doing the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, do run run." We had things like that in there. We did "New York," and we had "stop spreading the news." And that sort of stuff in there.
We nicked Leonard Cohen. We used the Cult, "baby, baby, baby, I fell from the skyyyy," which is a great little rock tune, but it is kind of ridiculous at the same time. And with "Young, Stupid & White," we were definitely having a poke at ridiculous rock histrionics and behavior, undoubtedly some of which I did incorporate into our live shows which could be quite flamboyant.
I mean, we'd get lumped in with industrial stuff at the time, like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and we loved The Young Gods. I mean, elements of our music was (like that), but I didn't feel... we weren't sort of setting out to be that. Uou know, we had a lot more.
PSF: What was the English scene like at this time?
DT: In 1992, when I hooked up with Tim. Basically, acid house and the house scene and everything of the late '80's and early '90's had sucked a lot of the live scene out of it. You used to go to universities and colleges, and it was where you'd get gigs. I mean, it's back with a vengeance now. There's everyone's playing live, but it was discos. Or it was raves or whatever you want to call it. No one's called it a 'disco.í It was just loads of kids taking E's and jumping up, you know, jumping and down, and not really giving a shit about rock and roll.
People tend to forget that. By the time we were doing this, it was the early stages of Brit pop, and we were doing radio interviews and going around. It was just the same time Pulp were breaking, Oasis supported us around this time. We later supported them in New York 'cause they were still trying to break New York. I mean, they're obviously a much more successful band than we ever became, but it was all around that time. And we used to rehearse in this area in the playground in Camden, and there was Menswear, Dodgy, uh, who else was in there? The Shamen, Ash, the Buzzcocks would be in there. Blur were just around the corner, and there was a sort of scene in Camden, which is where we were rehearsing.
So that was in the air, but we just weren't associated with it. We thought we were doing something different, a bit edgier. And it did kick up a bit storm, and basically the journalists of the NME and Melody Maker kind of ruled the scene at this time. They literally made up the new wave of the new wave, you know, the Suede who we also played a gig with in France. Blew them off the stage.
It wasn't a time designed for a band like us. If you were to put our record out now, it would still sound quite fresh, I think. I think similar with the first Tin Star album. But we did our own thing. I suppose the best thing about it was people that did come and see us. And we did all right, but the ones that did, they didn't just sort of liked it, they really liked it. So if you got it, you really got it.
We did put a lot of people's backs up by a poster campaign as well with the song "Young, Stupid & White," which just an obvious take on just saying, "young, gifted and black," and it was just kind of flippantly the opposite idea, which you can apply to all kinds of things. This particular thing just... it had lots of samples. I even had Ice-T on there going, "pull my pants down," and all this... I just layered up all these ridiculous singing people and I kind of said, "What do you do there in your ivory tower, bathing in your golden shower?" It was just a really attitude-y, ballsy tune.
And it sounded great on the radio. It sounded like a massive lump of pop sludge. And it was great; it had some attitude and some energy which we kind of felt was lacking. There was a few people trying to pretend to be punks around this time, little punky bands with sort of, you know, sticky up hair and purple hair and stuff, and it was just a pose.
We did get a lot of stick, and we got threatened by Jamiroquai's management team. I mean, our manager physically was threatened by them. People didn't quite understand 'cause it's ("Young, Stupid & White") got the word "white" in it- it just made people really, really sensitive, over-sensitive. And we didn't really have to explain it 'cause it just was this rock and roll tune. If you listen to it, you could make what you wanted of it. But it did give us some notoriety, but also some people thought we weren't sort of being serious enough, and it was kind of all of it sort of cynical and ironic.
It wasn't ironic. If you saw us live, and there's a YouTube video of us at the Marquee, we were good. And we were really good, really viable force around this time. It didn't last very long, but it was great while it did.
PSF: How did the band hook up with Rhythm King and Epic, and how do you feel about it now?
DT: Well, there was a little bit of a bidding thing going around... People would come see you. We had Hut Records who had The Verve who hadn't quite made the famous album (A Northern Soul). Very cool band. And we had One Little Indian, who was Bjork, but also he was in a punk band called Flux of Pink Indians, which... the guy that ran it, Derek (Birkett), and I always thought they were cool. So that kind of helped.
But we went with Rhythm King because... I mean, I can't remember exactly the main swinging thing, but I know that they basically seemed less corporate. Martin (Heath), who ran it, was... he was quite a maverick, and you could tell that he was kind of making it up a little bit as he went along, and he was really excited about having this kind of rock band on board. So, it was a vibe. It was a little company. What happened at that time was Sony bought up shares in hundreds of small record labels, one of which was obviously Creation, and one of which was Rhythm King, and there was lots of them, so as a result, you'd end up doing stuff with like things which were associated with some of these other bands. Which I think is how the Oasis thing came around because they were kind of part-owned by the same people that we were part-owned by.
They have a group of us, and you know, I can't imagine it now. The idea of just going, hanging out in the office, and spouting out. I would say to Martin, "oh, I really liked this Cop Shoot Cop video called "$10 Bill." Within 10 minutes, I was speaking to the guy directed it. He would just do stuff like that and I'd say, "I've got an idea for a video." We saw, who was the other one that we saw? Oh God, he did some really dark, weird stuff. Trying to think what it was. I mean, he might have done something by Shudder to Think or something like that. And we really liked it again, so Martin rang up, you know, I had this whole kind of mad (idea), it nearly happened. This local pub though, was in Islington, with all these weird objects hanging from the ceiling, called the Offered Arms, and he wanted to film a video now including drilling things through the ceiling and having me suspended from the ceiling and kind of traveling in and out of these objects. And it felt like these things might actually happen, with Martin at Rhythm King. It didn't, because it would have ruined the pub, but it was definitely fun having the potential.
PSF: What was it like recording the self-titled record?
DT: We did that by ourselves. We didn't have a record deal at the time. We did it in Huddersfield in the north of England. We were unemployed, on the dole, welfare, wherever you want to call it. And we got cheap rates as a result. It was a good studio. It was the studio in Huddersfield, which is where Tim's from, in Yorkshire, in West Yorkshire. And it was great because it was cheap, we had a manager put some money up, we had time to work things out. There was some later additions we did, we'll get to that in a minute. But most of that album was recorded there, in that place in Huddersfield. So we did it ourselves. So it kind of, it was actually ours. It was great, it was free, it was fun. But yeah, it was exciting. And it felt, it was quite liberating and we were experimenting and trying stuff out and yeah, it was great.
We mixed the album, down at Manfred Mann's studio in South London, with a chap called Richard (Burgess), who basically was a pop producer, he had done some Spandau Ballet and things like that. But he wanted to do something different. And he even changed his name for it, I think it was 'Caleb Kadesh.í But he was a really, really experienced producer. And we did come at loggerheads a couple of times because I kept referencing this Mercury Rev track, with massive, loud guitars, "Chasing a Bee" from their first album. And one time I went in, I said, "no, no, like this!" It was in the middle of "Wrong Thing" and I just whacked the faders up, and I got thrown out of the studio for doing it. But they did stay, and it sounds great on the record to this day.
But yeah, that was the second part of that process. And we did "Biroland" there, which again was working with a programmer and playing around a bit more with beats and we'd had the idea for a while, but we hadn't quite nailed down some of the beats and stuff.
PSF: What was the band's experience like trying to break in America?
DT: They were convinced that we were going to do well in America. And they, we did some showcasey things. That might have been the Oasis thing. I can't remember if that was before or after, but we, yeah, we did this tour. This one particular tour where it was about six weeks and we were in the middle, and it was a band called Mother May I, and Sponge from Detroit and us in the middle playing, you know, most nights of the week, all over the country. We had a tour bus, which was brilliant. We never had that before. But pretty much nobody turned up at most of the gigs. Some of the major places like on the West Coast, people would go to these little bars and places anyway, so there'd be people there. Detroit was busy because that's where they were from and that was a scary place then. It's not like anywhere in the UK. But it was a real vibe, that was one of the better ones.
And we'd play these kind of like malls, strip malls in the middle of nowhere. But it will be the kind of, the place for a Saturday night for everyone to turn up, sort of pickup trucks would be outside and people saying, "play Lynyrd Skynyrd, boy!" and all this sort of stuff. But they were bringing gigs because actually they just wanted some entertainment. It definitely taught me that no matter what, how clever, or how kind of interesting, or how arty, or whatever you think you are, you still, I think, got to deliver as a rock and roll band. You still got to turn up at that dance and you still got to get people into it, whether they're jumping up and down or throwing things at you.
So it was kind of, it could be seen as being quite depressing. I didn't find it depressing. I mean, I loved the idea. I'd been to America. I've been across it before in a hire car. Well, you know, when you do a drive across with a mate of mine. Again, like, no budget, no money. And this was in a tour bus, which was brilliant, and we loved it. Stopping at the truck stops, we go in. We played in Lubbock, we went to Buddy Holly's grave. We did all kinds of stuff. We made the most of it. And you know, I love American music. I was just, I just thought it was, even though nobody came to see us, I thought it was a fantastic experience.
PSF: What prompted the band to work in LA with Mike Clink for Lifted?
DT: I can't remember. It was one of these things that was being bandied around. We had been put over to the care of Epic/550 in the States. And, you know, I've got the record here. Let me just see, it does say that, doesn't it? Rhythm King, Sony, Epic, yeah, it was Epic/550. That's what it was. And they were still keen to try and break us, which was great. So they thought, "right, let's get this band in with a name producer," and it turned out to be Mike Clink from Guns N' Roses. I mean, again, ironically for us, Guns N' Roses would have been the sort of band that we were kind of lampooning on "Young, Stupid, and White," with Axl Rose's kind of ridiculous singing. But we ended up going there and working with their crew and working with their producer, their engineer, using their backline.
We went to the same rehearsal studios and stuff like that. And we were just kind of, you know, their English kind of Indie kids, really. It wasn't, we weren't rockers like that at all. It was quite intriguing. It was a lot of stories and we sort of came across a few of them and various bits and pieces in our trip and I'll stay there. I mean, the experience, I still think about it today and I think, "why do things like that take so long?" I do records with my friends and my bands now and you know, we get organized and we can do it in a day. You do it in a day, you can do it in two days. You can make a recording, you know, recorded, mixed, overdubs, ready for putting out on the net or a CD or whatever, in less than a week, you know. And you really can if you're on the court.
It's nice to have the luxury of time to work things out. But usually when you go into a studio and it's costing all that money, you know, you kind of should be on the case. And we were on the case and we played most of that stuff live. You just played it down or played it to a click, you know, the rhythm guitar, lead guitar. I did a lot of the vocals there and then I did them after again. But I mean, I still don't think, "why were we there for?" We were there for like three months, staying in one of these apartments, in just the edge of Hollywood. It was kind of a great experience.
But I mean, LA is a funny place. I don't really get it. I've been there before that and I've been there since. But I do find it slightly melancholy and quite sort of a, quite an old place, especially coming from here where you, I know it's a cliche, but we do tend to walk a lot more, get public transport and everywhere's a drive. Everything. And I don't know, I'm used to sort of more neighborhoody things, I suppose.
The track "Cocaine," Tim did all of that. I'm not even on it. I was gonna re-sing it and then, and we tried a little bit, and then we thought, "nah, just leave it." It was an idea that he'd had as a cover, which I think worked really well, but it happened after Lifted. We waited for a while for Lifted to get sorted out and to come out and for everything else. And as usual, what they do is they spend all this money on making it, or they'll spend money making it, but they know the money it's going to take to market and send you out on tour is pretty substantial. And they have to make decision and they decided not to.
They did put "Lifted" out as a single, and they did pay for remixes. We had a remix 12 inch done by the Dust Brothers who were the guys that did Odelay by Beck. And certainly with Tin Star, a lot of money was spent on remixes. A lot of unnecessary money, I think. It was kind of a thing at the time. But there's one remix of that which is very good. It's a very different take on the whole thing and it works. Just a little insert there.
I think the latest I heard of it, they did it a small game. We spent like money on a video, which is online, but I mean, they realize how much it's gonna cost and they have to pull the plug and they have to put the money somewhere else, and that's basically what I thought. I don't think they had enough faith in it. Probably wasn't much more, singles are all over, I'm all over the place on that. That was our, kind of our attempt at writing a single if you like, even though "Lifted" was definitely a single type single.
PSF: Was there a musical shift at this time towards more traditional rock?
DT: I mean, it's kind of evident on the record, yeah. And we were in LA and we had to get in Ingo to come out and help with the programming. What programming there is on there. But I suppose we played more. We had a bass player as well, so we sort of became a bit more like a band. But it was never really Tim's vision. And it wasn't really his thing. And I think the record itself, I mean looking at it... "5th Force" is great because it just sounds like the band playing in the room and I really like that about it. But "Lifted," "All Over," "Marlboro Lights," "Tin Star," "Bad Skin" I really like, and then "Dark Streets," which was something I wrote by myself in Leeds.
I really like them, but the other ones, they're not, I don't know. They're not really good enough. And I'm not really sure what they are. However, "Marlboro Lights" and "Tin Star" definitely do point the way a little bit towards where we might have been trying to head. We never wanted to do the traditional rock thing. Tim never really did. I probably did more than him because I just like bands and being in a room making noise and computers, sitting at computers too much can do my head in. Yeah, I don't think it was intentional. I think it just kind of drifted that way.
PSF: What happened to the rhythm section, were they replaced during this time?
DT: Yes and no. Some bass was redone, but that wasn't uncommon, we would do that a lot. With stuff on the first album, I played bass, Tim played bass, Toby played bass, you know, Spike played bass. With the drums on this, we did use Matt Sorum on two songs, which in its own way was an experience trying to tell him what to do to play the drums and you know, that was definitely fun. But it wasn't the best thing to do for the band, because obviously Neil was our drummer. I mean somehow we muddled through it, and by the time we kind of got back to England and things had moved on a little bit, the band was nearly over anyway, so I'm not sure how much of an impact it would have had.
I don't think it was a nice or brilliant thing for Neil to have gone through. What I do think is, in retrospect, you know, going to America, big company, more money, big producer, big studio, big everything, you can quite easily get cajoled into those situations. And I certainly didn't have enough experience to sort of stand up and say no, because I didn't really know whether it was a good idea or not. And we could have always said no once we had listened to it and thought it was crap, but it kind of worked. I personally wouldn't say it worked much, any better than what we already had, but it seemed to be something they wanted to do. And somehow these record companies and corporations have a way of rolling over you.
PSF: What was the inspiration for tracks like "Lifted," "Biroland" and others?
DT: I mean, "Lifted"... My old mate, Ian, he was always in my songs, because I was always annoyed with him. I mean, he was a great mate of mine. Passed away about five years ago, but he did the back cover, actually, the gun. Ian Potts. The 9mm with safety, which was meant to be the front cover. But, again, the record company said, "Oh, we want a picture of the band." You can see kind of where we're going by the time we got to the American side of things. It's a slightly different animal to dealing with the U.K. things. I think they were right to do it, because I think the gun thing was a much better image.
Yeah. I mean, "Lifted..." I don't even know what I always mean when I write stuff. I know I've got a vague idea, and I like images. I like stringing them together to make enough sense for you to have something to find, and for me to then sometimes discover later. Some of it's more obvious. Marlboro Lights is kind of gambling, and machines, and things which are meant to attract you, and obviously, using a famous brand. "Somebody turn off the Marlboro Lights. They're cigarettes, blah, blah, blah."
"Tin Star," that's more traditional. Feeling a little bit out of sorts, a little bit outside of things. It's a little bit more lack of self-confidence kind of song. "You're not a real star. You're not a gold star. You're a tin star." "Bad Skin." Again, I wanted to be like John Spencer and that, but whether that sounds like that or not, I don't know. "Dark Streets" was about Leeds.
"Biroland" was a real kind of... That was good fun. That was the kind of thing I really like doing. "Biroland," "Broadway" and... What's the other? There's one about Tin Star... Oh, God. It was on the first album, what I'm talking about. "Going Slow." And it's lots of images. I always do one on a record where there's a lot of information. There's a lot of images. There's a lot of things to get your teeth into and for you to run away with and decide what you're going to do with it. I don't like it when songwriters tell you what they're singing about. Some people are really, really good at that. Others are just not, and it's incredibly boring, and we've heard it all before. I'd much rather have something interesting floating around my brain, thinking, "Oh, wonder what that is. Oh, could that mean that?" Obviously, Bowie is the king of all of that.
It's Black Francis again. He's another good one. I mean, it's that kind of... it's just more interesting, I think. It's much more interesting to write, and to do, and to play with. I find it, personally, a lot harder trying to write specific songs about something. I'd rather have it a general feel about something, if I can give that across. If I was a painter, I would be an impressionist. I wouldn't be a figurative painter, if that helps.
PSF: What caused the band to stop and how did Tin Star begin?
DT: It just kind of... We didn't get any promotion. By this time, me and Tim, we decided to break away. We stopped working with Neil and Nick. We did get in another mate of mine called Chill and this chap called Tim Gordine, who we knew a little bit through our manager. He ended up being, obviously, the third part of Tin Star. But he was a great bass player. That was when we were doing this like "Cocaine" live.
We did like two weeks of this tour around the U.K. Not many people... I can't remember the band. We were doing that, and we were playing our old stuff, and we were trying a few new things. We spent a couple of weeks in this weird residential farm house, like with hardly
anything there. We were cooking for ourselves, but we were doing stuff which was quieter. That was a big revelation. We even played some of them live. Ones which didn't make... Don't think we ever did them. We should have done them. They were really quiet.
I remember at one gig, somebody came up and he was so overwhelmed by it. It was quite weird. I mean, he might have been on something, but it was like, "Oh, wow. You don't have to shout all the time. You can actually draw people in." That was a real turning point of a lesson. We decided to just stop right there and knuckle down with the few bits and pieces of material we had and start writing a new project and a new band.
Tin Star came together from the ashes of that. "Tin Star," obviously, is a XC-NN song. The difference between the two bands is quite a lot. We did like to play with samples still. But with Tim Gordine, I think, he helped us with songwriting a bit more. In that respect, we might have two sections for a song, but he'd help us get the third section which would glue it all together. He was great at producing.
We literally made that album in a room about eight feet by eight feet, which was his little second little study room in his little flat that he lived in in West London. He had an eight track digital recorder, which he could convert up to 16, where he could bounce stuff. I would be doing vocal in the kitchen. Tim would have guitar amp in the bathroom. The only actual bit of real drums on that first album is in "Disconnected Child" and that was Tony much later on. Everything else, it was played, programmed, sculpted in that flat. It was then mixed by Al Stone, and we bounced a tape and mixed by Al Stone, but it was very, very much... We'd sleep on his floor drinking wine out of those little cardboard boxes of wine, because that's what we could afford. And we'd just do it day in and day out. That's what sculpted it up.
We had people who liked XC-NN who'd moved on to other companies, one of whom was V2, called Dave Wibberley. He got assigned to the fledging label about the same time as Stereophonics. We got signed when we hadn't done a gig. We got signed on the basis of the songs. They were good. They put money into us. We, obviously, got together as a band, played. We got Tony Kiley in on drums. He was in The Blow Monkeys, and I still play with him now. We did gigs with the Stereophonics to start with, and a few others. Yeah.
V2 were great. They had money. They had Richard Branson's money. Lots of money. We didn't have lots of money, but we had a wage. We got enough, basically, to just make music. If you're doing that and you're not working, it means you're available for gigs. You're available for all the things you need to be available for. It's what you do. We were still at that time of life when it was feasible for us to be doing that. It was great.
PSF: What do you think of V2 now?
DT: Not really interested. I don't know. What are they? Did they sell things to other people? What they did was they got lots of money. They threw it at the wall to see what stuck. Stereophonics stuck. We just about stuck and slid down a little bit. I don't remember hardly anything from that time that did. They've subsequently then got big, and they bought Underworld, or they bought Paul Weller. They tried to develop, but I wouldn't see them as a particularly developmental kind of company, really. We worked with some really nice people, and we got a break. We made a few records, and they sent us to the States, which is where we kind of kicked off, really. Again, the U.K. was a bit indifferent, as it can be.
PSF: What was success like with "Head"?
DT: I mean, that was amazing. I mean, it's not like we sort of took over the world with it, but it was a top 10 alternative single in America, which means it's on the radio everywhere you go. We went on tour, and we would be on the tour bus, and it would be on the radio. It's just the most exciting thing, and it's still a buzz now if you hear anything, even on Internet radio, or anything out there. It's the best thing hearing it come back through the airwaves. That was just fantastic. We got it right. We had a good video. We did a U.K. one which was good, but the one they wanted for the American... Again, they wanted us to do a different one. It was a really good, simple video, and it's still got a lot of views on YouTube, and stuff.
We were doing all these festivals and shows by ourselves, sometimes, and a few hundred people would turn up. In Washington, D.C. or somewhere, "Is anyone going to be there? Is anyone going to be there?" Word had spread, and people did come. I mean, it's great. It's what you want to do. You're in a band, especially in America, which I always kind of respected. It was my place for music, really. Yeah. Absolutely fantastic.
PSF: Was there a difference in making the second Tin Star record (Dirty Bird, 2001)?
DT: I actually think that record's really got a great sound to it, the second Tin Star album. It's actually got some really good songs on it. It is more difficult, sometimes, making the second one, especially when there's a bit of pressure on. But we were on a good buzz. We got a bigger space that we rented out in East London. We did it all ourselves again. Again, it took quite a while, but we were kind of writing and sculpting up again.
In between the first record, more importantly, and the second record, me and Tim Bricheno would sit in the same little area in his flat that we sat in writing XC-NN, and we'd sample all these old easy-listening records. We'd put them on the keyboard and just hit the notes and see what sort of things would sound like backwards, or see what they'd sound like really slow, or see what they'd sound like with five keys hit together. We started sculpting up a different kind of vibe taking from things like "Picture of a Girl" from the first album, and stuff, instruction, and things. And taking some of that vibe. The original "Head" I did was all cut up sample things that... I was listening to Beck at the time, and stuff. It was still the idea of taking things from different places and putting them together to make something new. It was still that kind of idea. It wasn't just sit down with a guitar, writing sort of thing.
But the second album, I think it's got a fabulous sound. It's fat as anything, and we did a great video for "Sunshine." That could have been a hit, definitely. But it's the thing, again, with the record company. They put money in for that. They put the money in for the record. Then they realized it's going to take more money to send you on tour and to promote it. We had a tour with Duran Duran doing casinos, but back-to-back with Moby. Moby had just broken, or was just breaking, with the massive Play album. We could have been on that tour. By the time that we'd done the record. We'd waited around. We'd seen it there. They tried it... They trickled the single out. They said, "We're not going to put the tour support up for this. We're not going to put the money up for this."
Then it was the Twin Towers (were attacked, September 11th) literally about the week that our record came out. It was just easy and evident to say, "Right. Okay. Let's just leave it." I think there's definitely a point when you got some dignity and you don't keep chasing all that stuff. It wasn't difficult for me in the slightest to stop it all. It was brilliant.
PSF: Was there a downturn when it came to touring the second record?
DT: Ironically, we were on fire live. We were in such good shape, and we played loads of stuff from the second album. We were trying it out in America on a couple of visits that we had. We were trying it out here. We got a two week tour, ironically, with the Sisters of Mercy. Right back to where we start. Really good venues like The Astoria in London. Two nights sold out. Big stages, full houses. They didn't all get us, but we went down pretty well. We were really, really tight. We'd done so much touring in America, and we were just in really good shape, even with the newer stuff. Ironically, we actually sounded... really confident. We sounded really good. We sort of managed to straddle the old stuff and the new stuff and make it sound really good. We were in really good form. Yeah. It came to its natural end, really. It wasn't some big old bust up. There was no more money. There was no more investment. It's just kind of, "you know what?"
PSF: What have you been up to since Tin Star?
DT: Let's talk about the most interesting stuff. I have a 16-year-old son, which kind of coincides pretty much with the end of all of that. That was quite easy to change my life and what I was going to focus on.
Musically, I've never really stopped. I formed a band with Tim Bricheno straight away called Jok, J-O-K, which was a name that I used when I was first doing cassette demos back in the very late '80ís. My own sort of weird little take on stuff. But this was a four piece rock-and-roll band in a room making noise. Tony was on drums. Me, my mate Kieran, who I'll talk about in a minute, and Tim.
We did three albums that we released ourselves on CD and on the internet. Toured all around... Well, played all around London. I say toured, but I mean just doing gigs around London. Bull & Gate, which is gone now. Various places. Camden. East London. The usual haunts. But that was a rock-and-roll band. It was great fun. That kind of morphed...as Tim went more interested in his electronic music and didn't really get being in a room and doing all that, which I never really got bored of... into The Haands, with two As, which is me, Tony, and Kieran, which was getting heavy.
Then I kind of discovered doom, which I'd never really heard and I thought was great. We've kind of done some more sort of D tune... It's still songs, but it's just a bit on the heavier side of things. We've done two albums we've put out on the net. Then there's Sub Couple, which is two of my oldest friends, Paul and Chris, who I first ever played in a band with when I was like 14, 15. And Kieran, again, on bass. We've done three albums. Some of them I've put out on some CDís. They're all available on the internet on iTunes, and whatnot. That's a great little band. That's kind of a "put us in a corner of a room with a cardboard drum kit and a zither, and we'll make some music for you." That's a little bit more garagey, a bit psychedelic, bit more rocky. That's great.
I do stuff by myself. There's The Blue Dogs, a kind of left-field blues band. It's making music with my mates, making music with friends. Doing gigs, putting records out. I'm working on one of my own. I mean, it's endless. I'm glad I never really managed to switch it off. Some people, they're in bands, and they just stop, and that's it. They throw the guitar away. They never do it again. I've just always found it to be a worthwhile pursuit. All the little idea and the juices that flow around in your head, I still like turning them into something which I think somebody else somewhere out there will listen to and go, "Oh, yeah. I like that. I get something from that." I don't do things flippantly. I do them in such a way that I'm happy to put it out and for people to make their own mind about it. I'm kind of just about over being too precious about things like that.
Apart from talking about myself, Tim Bricheno, he does production music. He's doing quite well with that. He's like family. He's still a good mate. See him regularly. Tim Gordine, he went into more pop production. He seems to be doing all right. The XC-NN lads, no, I don't see them. There's no animosity. We just went off in different paths in life.
PSF: Any chance of a reunion?
DT: The only one I would do would be XC-NN, because it was... It's the initial idea of it still something that I believe in that kind of... There's an ethic to it. There's a fuck off about it, which I like a lot. I think I'm more interested in making new music, really. Yeah. Just leave the nostalgia to Stone Roses fans, really.
PSF: What do you hope your musical legacy might be?
DT: I suppose the best I can hope for is that anyone who's into anything that I've done is genuinely quite into what I've done and not slightly into what I've done. I get that feeling, certainly, with the first XC-NN album, the first Tin Star album, and bits and pieces that I've done since. People who get it, really get it. That's good enough for me.
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