Mayhemtom takes us on a journey through his life and how his album The Art Of Flying While Falling became a saving grace during a dark spell.
Mayhemtom is an Indie Rock project of an Oncologist on the brink of burnout after the heaviness he has experienced over the years in his line of work. Hailing from Melbourne, Mayhemtom is not new to the music scene, having spent a majority of his University years playing in various bands, before giving up the stage light when his medical studies workload became more of a priority.
After spending years working amongst the wards, he found himself yearning for a creative release to help him with the existentialist nature of his work. This creative outlet turned into a fully fledge album titled The Art Of Flying While Falling, which explores various dark and hard-hitting topics that he experienced over the past few years.
Here at Happy, we got to have a chat with Tom about his return to music, uncovering how The Art Of Falling While Falling came about, and his knack for candidly shedding light on tragedy.
HAPPY: What was the exact moment you fell in love with music?
TOM: I was forced to play violin when I was 7 years old. I hated practising and hated playing until much later. But I fell in love with music after an uncle gave me a mix tape of the band The Police when I was 10. I loved the music, the rhythms and the poppiness of it all. I think that’s when I really fell in love with music, but it would take me a few more years to fall in love with the violin.
HAPPY: I would love to hear about the previous band project that you had going on during your University days, it sounds like music has always been something you’ve been drawn to and connected to?
TOM: I think it’s a typical story. We started a band in high school with mates, which progressed to a combination of originals/cover band in university. That band died, others rose and died subsequently. The band that endured was a funk cover band called Electric Mayhem, which is where Mayhemtom comes from. (I had hundreds of other names that I came up with, but they were all really similar or taken when I looked them up). At the time we were playing 3 days a week and going out and seeing bands the other four days. We would often see bands after our gigs too. So yes, totally lived and breathed the Melbourne music scene at that time.
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HAPPY: Did you find yourself struggling without having a creative outlet whilst you began solely working within the medical field? Or did it provide a refreshing break that led to where you are now?
TOM: I pretty much stopped playing. I rarely picked up a guitar apart from singing the Wiggles with my kids. We always had a guitar, piano or keyboard around which I kept tinkering with, but hadn’t written anything for many years. The band messed around occasionally, but nothing regular and certainly nothing to prepare me for playing and singing regularly again. You forget how easily you lose those skills you took for granted playing several times a week. Now I don’t know how I did it!
HAPPY: You started writing and recording your album on the brink of burning out, what was the catalyst that made you go “I am going to start writing again”?
TOM: I think there were several things. Some in retrospect were inevitable. You can’t do what I do and not feel the trauma of it catching up with you. But I was oblivious to it, thinking I could rise above it. But after you lose people to cancer, many way too young to die, you hear stories of abuse/neglect and dying wishes – it is emotionally disarming. It eventually catches up with you and it did for me. It was a strange time because I wasn’t depressed and was working normally, but I had a lot more difficulty controlling my emotions. It sort of peaked when I lost a really young patient unexpectedly and remember crying and consoling his widow and really feeling the despair of the situation. I went back to my musical roots and started playing again and writing poetry. A few songs came and then more. Before I knew it there was 20 or so songs which I started putting down as a demo.
HAPPY: When you first started writing The Art Of Flying While Falling did you ever envision that it would become an album that you would put out into the world? Or was it on a whim that you decided to release it?
TOM: The first track I released was Reach Out which was produced by my primary school friend Marcel Borrack. He really emboldened me to keep going along with Peter Burgess who
plays bass on the album and manages me. I played Marcel other tracks I’d written and he said they were “ace” (which was high praise from him). After that, we decided to put it out
there. He was going to produce it, but ended up being tied up with Ruby Gill and Ella Hooper’s albums unfortunately. But he still played the album launch with my band in
November 2022, which was ACE. Peter and I arranged and organised the tracks and we then got into a studio with my brother-in-law, Paul Zubrinich on keys and Maria Moles on drums.
HAPPY: The album touches on a lot of heavy subjects, I would love to hear more about your personal experiences that affected you and subsequently led you to write about it. Was any of this easy to write about? Or did it come naturally to you to be open about such hard-hitting topics?
TOM: Yes I’ve always been drawn to darker, emotive and perhaps more depressing music. I didn’t choose topics for the album. My process is to start with a poem or hook and work around it. Some songs completely changed from what I’d started with. Wake up is a good example. When I started it, I was trying to make it about someone losing a partner or friend hoping they would wake up, but it ended up being a story about domestic violence. Mother taps into some difficult moments in my childhood, but then expands to a fictional
story of a son killing his father. I think the thing I love about getting back into music is that it taps into a part of me that is emotive, but not completely within my control. I know this is cliché, because I’ve read so many other artists say the same thing, but it feels like your subconscious thoughts materialise into a song without you really controlling it. Given the dark time I was going through, where death was ever pervasive, it was perhaps no surprise that my subconscious was full of hard-hitting topics. But none of these stories were premeditated.
HAPPY: Is there a certain track off of The Art Of Flying While Falling that impacted you the most? If so, which track is it, and why?
TOM: Yes Mother I found very personal, even though it is not about me. I think the trigger to those lyrics was recalling a time when I found my mum in tears. My dad was pretty controlling and there is a personal element to the track. I think I cried the first time I finished it and read back what I had written
HAPPY: You are doing a vinyl launch show for the album this week on Thursday 26th at The Tote, how are preparations going? How does it feel to be back performing again?
TOM: It’s the best thing playing again. I love it and realise how much I have missed it. We have played two shows so far. The album launch was amazing, a packed room and some real
emotion. The Tote is a venue I haven’t played before, but have always loved going to. So I am really looking forward to playing there and launching the vinyl version of the album.
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HAPPY: What is something someone has said about your music that you hold close to your heart?
TOM: One person told me that the music touched her so deeply she found herself crying and laughing at the same time with emotion. That was pretty magical.
HAPPY: Lastly, what is the best way we can support you and your band?
TOM: If you can get to the launch, we’d love to play the album for you. I’ve been getting back into listening to vinyl records. If you’re into it, buy the vinyl either at the gig ($20) or through BandCamp or Spotify ($27). It is available at several vinyl record stores around Melbourne too. If you’re not into vinyl, stream it on Spotify/Apple Music, download it, hit like and follow me!
Stream The Art Of Flying While Falling via Spotify below.
Interviewed by Laura Hughes