Tom Vek

Photography by Olivia Beasley

Six years ago, Tom Vek released his first album, We Have Sound. Vek wrote, produced and played all the instruments on the record, a forceful blast of grunge with an electronic edge, recorded partially on an eight-track recorder in his parents’ garage. Vek played a few live dates and did a quick tour of the US, then apparently vanished, leaving behind a community of fans and music writers who filled various websites with speculations about his music and persona. As it happens, Vek didn’t abandon the music business or get abducted by aliens. He was just taking time off to rethink his artistic approach. All the while, he was working on his new album, Leisure Seizure.

“I got off on the assumptions people made that I was in some kind of personal limbo,” Vek says from his London home. “I was actually doing prep work on the new album and investigating what I wanted my music to sound like. Everyone has a bit of confusion about what it means to be a performer and develop an artistic personality. I went through a long process [on We Have Sound] and I wanted to continue to experiment. It took a while to catch up with the confidence I had back then as a bratty art school kid. I’d achieved something real with the first record and if I wasn’t able to do it again with some artistic integrity, I was prepared to walk away from it all. I was happy to build on my first songs, but I didn’t want to stand exactly where I stood for the next album. Deep down I have a punk ethic and I didn’t want to repeat myself. I want to keep it real and reflect where I am now.”

After graduating from college, Vek rented studio space in East London, put together his own recording facility and taught himself the skills he needed to continue his musical evolution.

“The first album was created in Pro Tools, which I hadn’t used before, so it had that sound of homemade recordings. I’d started by looping and cutting up sounds on my computer, because I wasn’t sure I could make things come out the way I wanted. I was 15 when I started recording. My dad was in the music biz for a bit and produced a Peter Green solo album, so there were guitars, bass guitars and a four-track laying around the garage. That was the initial impetus to start recording and experimenting.”

Photography by Olivia Beasley

Vek put a lot of time into We Have Sound, but not the eight years some writers said it took to produce. Leisure Seizure only took three years, but it was a time of intense trial and error, with Vek consciously stretching his limitations. “At first, I was going to use some of the techniques from my first record, but I decided I couldn’t do that with any integrity. Pro Tools is [a musical] instrument for a lot of kids, but I don’t want to stop developing my sound. I recorded everything live—drums, bass, organ, vibes, guitars—then did a lot of editing by cutting it up into samples, but the samples are all me playing live.”

Leisure Seizure has a crisp bright sound that’s danceable but firmly rooted in the structures of classic rock music. Asymmetrical guitars that veer between metal and ‘80s new wave dance licks are laid over jittery percussion tracks accented by vibes, organs and pounding bass to provide a dynamic sonic palette. Vek adds his Bryan Ferry meets David Byrne vocals to deliver puzzling lyrics that hide as much as they reveal.

“I like cryptic music,” he says. “I start by mucking around with rhythmic musical noises, things that sound like interesting lumps of audio on their own. Then I add drums and melodic instruments to get a sound I like. I’m not a chord person on the guitar, so there’s a lot of single note stuff. I play guitar lines that have the quality of a vocal melody. When I’m writing, my fundamental musical backbone is instrumental rock music, so it makes more sense to classify it as rock music, not rocked up dance music. Lyrically, I poke at things in a suggestible way. I like to be deliberately abstract, so you can take a song for what the words mean or what they could mean if a character is saying them. Music is a versatile medium and I like being abstract. I don’t have any specific message or agenda to get across.”

Vek also has a unique approach to style and design that’s a big part of his visual appeal. He created the stark Bauhaus influenced graphics for the cover of Leisure Seizure and carefully grooms himself for public appearances. “I studied design in college, but I’m not learned. I like simple type and the possibilities available in the forms of the letters themselves. All my favorite albums have messy organic covers, but if you don’t like the music, the cover is meaningless. I do enjoy designing my album covers. It’s a great outlet for other parts of my creative process.”

He chose his basic look, classic ‘50s TV host threads, as a reaction to the prevailing fashions of rock. “When I left art school, I was a Bohemian kind of dude, but a few years ago, it became more outrageous to be smart than Bohemian. I’ve always worn glasses and they look better with a smart look than a messy look. Men’s clothing has been getting better in quality in the past few years and there’s been a general shift towards looking smart. I don’t have a designer that dresses me. I have a simple basic style; everything goes with jeans and a classic white T-shirt. If I worked with a designer, I might find the embellishments a bit odd.”

– J. Poet



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