When former Wild Beasts songwriter Tom Fleming re-emerged earlier this year with his new project One True Pairing, it marked a significant shift from everything he’d previously released. The music was noticably bolder; the sounds were abrasive, and the lyrics pulled no punches about their political stance.
Shortly before he released his debut self-titled album, we caught up with Fleming to chat about how the ending of Wild Beasts informed his new sound, internet fan fiction, and music’s role in navigating the circus of British politics.
“You’ve really got to grab people by the ears, otherwise they don’t give a fuck. That’s what I’m trying to do”: Tom Fleming (One True Pairing) chats his debut solo album.
HAPPY: Congrats on getting the new album done!
TOM: Thank you man, thank you very much.
HAPPY: How does it feel?
TOM: It feels good, yeah. It’s one of those things where you look back and go ‘what the fuck was all that about’? You know what I mean? It’s strange having the complete thing now. It’s like ‘wow, this is a thing I did’. It didn’t exist once.
HAPPY: The way I’ve heard people talk about albums in the past is that when they’re writing and recording it, it belongs to them. But the moment they release it, it no longer does. Have you found this to be true in the past?
TOM: Yeah, yeah I have. I think that’s pretty accurate actually. It starts to travel, you know what I mean? Watching that kind of spread happen is really interesting, and really quite humbling if I’m honest.
HAPPY: After you’ve watched an album grow and evolve, as I imagine you have with this one, is it difficult letting an album go? Or are you really ready for it?
TOM: There is nervousness, definitely. While I do my best to give the impression that I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, I still want people to like it. At the end of the day, I want people to understand what I’m talking about. But I’m also really ready to have it out. I’m pretty over sitting on it. I want people to hear it, and hear what I’m trying to communicate. And this is something completely new I’m putting out… it’s a new project, so that gives it a bit of a different feeling.
HAPPY: I do want to talk about the beginning of this new project, because relatively, you didn’t waste too much time in kick-starting this new project after the end of Wild Beasts. What did that period of your life look like? That space between Wild Beasts and One True Pairing…
TOM: It’s funny you say that, because to me it felt like ages. It was a time where I head to re-address what I was doing. I had to really ask ‘what do I want to make?’ I wanted it to have a point to it, and I was really unsure of what I wanted to do for a long time. There was a lot of circling around. It takes a lot of time. But with the ending of the band, it was a really difficult time. As amicable as it was, it was still difficult.
HAPPY: What was the main mission statement behind starting One True Pairing? Was there one?
TOM: It wasn’t so much a mission statement, but I definitely had an idea of what I wanted to create. I definitely didn’t want to make a singer-songwriter record, and in that sense, I didn’t want to be a straight-forward record. I wanted it to have doubts. I wanted there to be questions. I wanted to make something of a rock record, but not a normal rock record. I didn’t want to make a gentle or polite electronica record, because there seems to be a lot of those around. I had no interest in making that. With Wild Beasts… we were kind of seen as a sophisticated band, and I hated that.
HAPPY: So do you think the ending of Wild Beasts informed what you wanted to do with this new project?
TOM: Yeah a little bit. Actually, of course it did. That last Wild Beasts album had a lot of distorted guitars and a bit of a hair metal element, which I really enjoyed. This isn’t a complete departure, but it is different. It’s also a lot harsher sounding than Wild Beasts. I kind of wanted to get away from the smoothness and the layerdness – I wanted it to sound a bit more abrupt. I wanted it to be really direct.
HAPPY: Well, you’ve given this really great quote about the record where you say “I wanted to write about the real world, I didn’t want it to be an artistic, poised, tasteful record.” Do you see that as a new direction from what you’ve done in the past?
TOM: Hmm that’s interesting. I think with Wild Beasts, there was a lot of ambiguity. But I think you have to be direct. There’s so much music around, so you’ve really got to grab people by the ears, otherwise they don’t give a fuck. That’s what I’m trying to do.
HAPPY: I’ve also loved reading into the name One True Pairing, and the fan-fiction concepts that inspired it. Did you have a perfect fictional relationship in mind when you chose this as your name?
TOM: To be honest, a lot of that stuff is pretty beyond me. It’s a very deep culture that requires a very deep understanding. I think there’s something in that longing for change and that longing for escape that I really resonated with. That desire to escape to a fictional world… I found that really beautiful and really enticing.
HAPPY: Have you stumbled across any particularly memorable pieces of fan fiction?
TOM: Oh goodness me. There’s a lot of very obscene stuff… stuff between Dumbeldore and Dobby, which is a little above my pay-grade. Some of it I kind of had to step away from my computer.
HAPPY: It’s interesting that you mention escaping to another world, because so much of your music is steeped in political ideas. It’s also interesting viewing British music from the other side of the world right now, because it feels like there’s a lot of British music discussing class issues right now. Why do you think this is?
TOM: I think it’s reasserted itself in a huge way. So much in this country has always been unfair, and now it’s becoming internationally known for it. The absolute circus that British politics has become is all predicated by an argument between two people who went to the most expensive school in the country. It’s that level of ambition… ambition at the expense of the lower class. I think people are starting to notice, and people are starting to talk about it. I think things have gotten really bad in the UK, and I think they’re getting worse. I think people are getting shat on, and I think people are getting angry. And I’ve got to say, on the ground here, it doesn’t really feel like that many people are talking about class.
HAPPY: Well, in 2019 Britain, where things are so dire, what do you see as the role of music? And more specifically, what do you see as the role of your music?
TOM: I think that making music is my way of not being passive. I’m trying to take some of my own experiences, and I’m trying to extrapolate them. Also, I’m a little older… I’ve had some limited success before, but I haven’t used that to retreat into abstraction. I’ve used that to ask what’s important. I’m kind of strapping two worlds; I’m universally educated, I live in the capital, but I’m from a small town, I’m working class. I wasn’t meant to do this. So I think it’s important that I recognise that, and that I talk about it. I’m not retreating. I’m here, I’m in this, and I cant stop being in this.
One True Pairing’s debut album is available now. Listen here.