We were first introduced to the expansive and brooding sound of No Mono, the project of Tom Snowdon and Tom Iansek, on Islands (part 1), their debut album released last year. With Snowdon’s impressive vocal range and Iansek’s beautiful production and instrumentation, the Tom duo proved to be a dream team.
Now they have released Islands (part 2), an album that carries the baton from its predecessor with a newfound kinetic energy, intensity and interpretation. We chatted with the Toms and Willow (the dog) about the album, unfinished songs and their favourite part of going on tour.
“When Tom and I get together and we’re inspired to make music, we just go to that feeling place and it’s just instinctive. I guess it’s just this desire to explore the darker side of ourselves.”
HAPPY: The last time we caught up with you guys was last year at BIGSOUND, how’s life been going since then?
TOM SNOWDON: Really good, we’ve been able to finish our second instalment of our Islands concept, which has been a bookend to it in a way, a really important thing for the project. Part 1 was an exploration of the concept, but for us, we always felt that it needed a part 2 . But having finished part 2 and putting that out in the last few weeks has been awesome. Just one second, the dogs’ gone crazy, sorry. And Tom has some big news from the past few months, I’ll let him tell you cause it’s too exciting for me to ruin.
TOM IANSEK: I’ve just had a baby!
HAPPY: Oh wow congratulations! Boy or girl?
TOM IANSEK: He’s a boy, seven weeks old now.
HAPPY: Amazing. So part 2 has been out for a little while now, how did it feel letting go of another album?
TOM SNOWDON: I feel like because a lot of the content of this record was written around the same time as part 1, it wasn’t properly finished until a bit more recently. And so, there was a sense of real release with the first record because there was a lot of work we put into writing and realising the concept. And the first release I think carried a lot of that energy and the release was a really big thing. part 2 was much more about finalising that whole thing, so in that sense, it’s been more a rewarding feeling of it being completed and it’s always exciting.
HAPPY: Absolutely. So part 1 and part 2 were written around the same time, how did you distinguish the songs between the albums, how did you decide which ones were going in each?
TOM IANSEK: It was a tough process, because as we were coming up with the first album we had a lot of songs and we didn’t really know what to make of it. A lot of the songs piled on from that first album and it became this expansive rambling sort of piece, and we thought we should cut it to make it a bit more concise and succinct. So we just were just looking at groups of songs that tended to be from one family, and some of them Tom had written by himself, and I just sort of realised and finalised them. part 2 was much more both of us, and they also tended to be more energetic and upbeat and that was the two sides of the project we saw emerging – this strong influence of course of Tom Snowdon and his writing, and then the influence of both of us interacting together. We kind of wanted to shine a light on both of them in a way… sorry Willow the dog is just chiming in here.
TOM SNOWDON: The other difference between part 1 and 2 was that 1 tended to be much more introspective and downtempo. For us, it was a real potent thought that part 1 could come out and just exist and kind of linger and seep into people who are listening a bit, cause it’s more of a slow burner. We decided part 2 would rise out next to it, because if they were on the same record as Tom alluded to, it wouldn’t quite allow one another to breathe much. So yeah as a whole, we’re really proud and happy with how they complement each other and it’s turned into this body of work and it’s a really great feeling.
HAPPY: Yeah, when I was listening, it felt like part 2 kind of built on the foundations of part 1 and it was more experimental with kinetic energy. And what also really captured me was the low vocals of Snowdon, did you ever pitch down the vocals?
TOM SNOWDON: There’s only actually one song where the vocals are pitched, Keep On, with a subtle kind of layer, all the rest is naturally sung! It’s funny because it’s so easy to manipulate vocals now I would probably think the same thing. People often ask what pitching we use.
HAPPY: You have such a low voice, it’s beautiful!
TOM SNOWDON: I find sometimes when we play live, people are like “oh it’s not fake”, but yeah you could easily make it fake with a recording!
HAPPY: And the album kind of has a brooding/contemplative sound, were things happening at that time to inspire that kind of aura
TOM IANSEK: I’d say you’re right, that sense of brooding and introspective feelings is totally how we feel, when Tom and I get together and we’re inspired to make music, we kind of just go to that feeling place and it’s just instinctive. It’s just this desire to explore the darker side of ourselves. And being in that space is exciting to us, and it’s just where we go when we’re together. Like if you put us in a room with another musician, it’s going to be different because of the influences people bring and where you sort of meet in the middle. We tend to like that and are interested in exploring that.
TOM SNOWDON: Yeah same, that totally resonates with me. We’re just so excited about this collaboration and nothing we’ve ever made has been really thought out, it’s kind of just pure enjoyment and an expression of working on music and following our interests. And as Tom said, it tends to be constructed in a way that sounds and comes across as that. And also, lyrically there’s a lot of references to water and this sense of drowning and powerlessness, and that is kind of the concept of the record. Islands is an exploration of journeys , of experiences, of traumas, into like a sanctuary on an island, and the sense of being amongst water in a foreign place. That theme was kind of inspired by the music we made.
HAPPY: Yeah, so you get into the zone.
TOM SNOWDON: Real weird stuff.
HAPPY: If I didn’t know anything about you guys, I probably would’ve thought there were more than two of you just because the soundscape is so full and rich. When do you know when one of your songs is finished, any indicators?
TOM SNOWDON: It’s that sense of trusting that when it’s finished, we’ll kind of know. But often, these songs are never really properly finished, like when we play them live, we slightly reinterpret them and they keep evolving in a way. When I sing a song it changes every time I perform it and I guess having a broad sense of the visual atmosphere we want to make leads us to using particular instruments. We’re both kind of drawn to this synthesised sound, paired with organic textures and having the vocalist sitting on top most of the time, but sometimes just being overwhelmed by the musical elements. Those points kind of lead us towards making a ‘full’ sound because we both like making that kind of stuff. Tom Iansek has this sort of bird’s eye view of how things can come together.
TOM IANSEK: Part of the thing that I love about this project is that we’re really just on the same wavelength when creating things. Say, when I’m producing for someone else, I’ll be feeling something and the other artist might be feeling and thinking something completely different. But with this project, when I’m feeling something, Tom’s probably feeling the same thing and we can just tell when something’s missing. An interesting example is Black Light which is on part 2. That song was actually the oldest song out of all of our Islands collection, back from 2014 and so we just kept coming back to that. We even went as far as having it mixed back in 2015/16. But it didn’t feel like it was ready to be released and we couldn’t put our finger on why. And suddenly, as we were making this record, we looked back into it and we were like “oh it’s missing this” , so we added bongos and things like that and then it was finished!
TOM SNOWDON: Also, that’s a good example of having a broad view of how the songs fit together, because as a song itself, it could’ve been released a while ago, but when we were piecing together part 2, suddenly there was a hole where that song just needed to be. So yeah, just being patient with things until they feel like they’re right. Tidal Fight, didn’t feel finished until we realised it needed a female voice, so we got our friend Ainslie Wills to sing that epic outro at the end, but only because the song felt like there was too much of the same texture and colour. It soon morphed into something else, so the whole thing could be a bit more digestable and representative of what we wanted to make. Having an eye for how they work together as a piece of work kind of instructs how we manipulate them.
HAPPY: It’s so lucky you guys found each other, it seems like a pretty special collaboration you’ve got going on! And so you guys have got an Australian tour coming up in August/September, it must be so exciting to bring these songs to a live audience. What’s the vibe like on stage?
TOM IANSEK: Hahaha, we encourage people to come along and find out, but we just try and create this atmosphere of a doorway to another place and really immerse the audience in this otherworldly kind of thing. We tend to reinterpret our songs a little bit and mix things up.
TOM SNOWDON: And you kind of alluded to it before, that the sound is so full, so it can be hard to realise how we want people to feel and experience a No Mono show, and a big part of that is how much of the track we do play live. We really want to, as much as possible, perform the music on instruments ourselves rather than a karaoke setup. It’s always a really different and fun way to manipulate the songs, and the live songs for us are definitely where our music comes alive. Performing feels like there’s another dimension to the music , the songs are not meant to just exist on a record.
HAPPY: And these shows coming up will be the last we hear from you two for a little while, what other projects have you guys got coming up?
IANSEK: I’ve got various things, and with the baby I’m just taking some time to be a dad.
SNOWDON: I’m always working on music and stuff, and this No Mono album has been really absorbing and exciting. I’m really looking forward to playing it live and there’s lots of stuff coming up.
HAPPY: And last question, what’s your favourite part about being on tour?
SNOWDON: I really love performing and getting a different feeling and atmosphere at different towns and countries, you get a sense of the different energies of places, and you can interact really directly with that energy. People have completely different thoughts in their heads.
TOM IASNEK: I like performing too, we also have a ritual of going to the movies at different places…
HAPPY: What movies are you keen to see!? Toy Story 4 has just come out..
TOM IANSEK: Oh yeah good one!
HAPPY: Saw it yesterday – it’s pretty good. Thanks so much for the chat guys!
NO MONO: Thanks so much for having us!
Islands part 2 is out now. Catch No Mono on tour through Australia:
August 15 – Lighthouse Theatre, Darwin
August 17 – Gap View Hotel, Alice Springs
August 29 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
August 31 – Howler, Melbourne – SOLD OUT
September 1 – Howler, Melbourne
September 13 – Jive, Adelaide
September 14 – Mojos, Fremantle
September 18 – Brisbane Festival – The Tivoli, Brisbane