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Showmanship, making beats and being remembered. An honest discussion with Tom Lark

Tom Lark interview

From his humble beginnings practicing in a Christchurch garage Shannon Fowler has always sought to create music that would be memorable. After gaining plenty of praise as Tom Lark he continues to make strides towards his ultimate goal, leaving behind a worthy legacy.

Tom Lark something to tell you

HAPPY: Hey mate thanks for taking the time to chat with us. This isn’t your first time in Sydney is it?

TOM: No, I’ve been to Sydney a fair few times.

HAPPY: So how does it compare playing here and playing back home in New Zealand?

SHANNON: I think Australian audiences appreciate the live element of music. I think Australian audiences like the risk factor in playing live. I think in New Zealand people are more accepting of more electronic things, or if it’s not particularly ‘live’ in a sense. Australian audiences, they prefer it tight. If a band is really tight, it’s like they really care about being good live which really seems to be a focus. A lot of Australian bands care about being good. If you are good, and you sound good live, fair dinkum!

HAPPY:  I think that would stem from the difficulty facing live music, hence the drive to be great live and win people over. Is that something you’ve faced back home in Christchurch?

SHANNON: I’m from Christchurch but at the moment I’m in Auckland. There’s bands who play live and then there’s bands who try make some kind of ‘live show’. I’d say there’s some sort of a beginning of a trend of people trying to make a show for the fun of it and making the show the focus of it.

HAPPY:  Where do you sit in that? Do you want to make more of a show of your performances?

SHANNON: Yeah, I think so. I think showmanship or having something polished is really cool. I think it’s a thing all bands want. When you see it done well you think “Man, that was really great! I don’t know why it was so great, maybe because the band put effort into their show. To provoke the audience in a certain way”.

HAPPY:  Is there anyone who comes to mind in that regard?

SHANNON: The great showmanship and entertainer? I always like early Beck concerts. It’s full of antics and silly things. You’d be thinking “What’s he going to do next?!” So that kind of thing I really like.

HAPPY:  Is that the kind of reaction you hope your audiences will have?

SHANNON: Yeah! That’d be awesome! I think it’s great if you can inspire people like that. If people come home from your show and say “Man, that was the most fun show ever!” then man, mission accomplished! (laughs).

HAPPY:  Has anyone said that to you after a show?

SHANNON: Yeah, sometimes every now and then people will come up to me and say that the show was really fun. I feel that is sort of the highest praise possible.

HAPPY:  You mentioned before how electronic music has become the norm and that you’ve seen at home how the idea of a tight live show is quite prevalent. Your music is guitar dominated, how do you hold onto that as a songwriting method in a scene dominated by electronic music?

SHANNON: It’s funny, the way I work on music – it’s obviously band music – but the way I work in my room it is very similar to, I don’t know, Timbaland or something (laughs). I’m just there making the beats! So there’s that philosophy, and there’s also that classic pop music sort of thing I use as well. So it sort of just works like that. When I’m translating something to live I’m conscious that I don’t come across like Milly Vanilly. It’s gotta have that risk factor, that you can screw up. That’s important to me.

Shannon Fowler

HAPPY:  Your music definitely has that human element to it.

SHANNON: Yeah, thanks.

HAPPY: Were you a Milly Vanilly fan before you learned the truth? Or are you still, just in secret?

SHANNON: (laughs) No, I’m not a fan! Maybe they had some good dance moves.

A gentleman walks over to deliver Shannon a coffee.

HAPPY:  Look at that, you are like Timbaland, getting coffee delivered like a rockstar.

SHANNON: Yep, pretty much!

HAPPY:  Well I’ll like to take things back to before you had people running coffee for you and thinking about showmanship. What were the early days of Tom Lark like for you?

SHANNON: Well I had a lot of older friends who were in bands. I was one of those kids who always wanted to play guitar, but I didn’t start learning until I was 10 when I found a guitar small enough for me to make chords. So I always wanted to learn. With my older friends in bands, I never thought I’d do it as a career or something. I did it because I just wanted to always make music. It was fun, and it seemed cool to be able to play in a band, it was so awesome. So music and bands is always what I wanted to do and what I did. Or forcing my friends to jam with me (laughs).

HAPPY: Did you really force friends to jam?

SHANNON: Yeah (laughs). I used to play with my friend Chris. He used to play drums, and I’m sure he would have preferred to do other things than jam with me but I was like “No come on man! We gotta get good!” We didn’t really end up doing much, we didn’t even play a gig. We just jammed solidly on the same five songs for two years.

HAPPY: Is he still playing music with you now?

SHANNON: I’m sure he can still play a couple of beats. I think he sold his drum kit and is doing well in some engineering gig.

HAPPY: Did you write your first song with him?

SHANNON: Yeah, it was something punky. I started trying to write songs as a comedy sort of thing. When I was 14 or 15 writing a song that is silly is much less intense than trying to play a song that is super serious. I couldn’t deal with that. So I would just write songs about the supermarket or just make songs sound silly. But the problem then is that all you’ve got is silly songs. Eventually I reached a point where I wanted to write songs that were a little more serious.

I think when I discovered The Beatles I knew they had a lot of music. Sort of delving into how they were so prolific, they were turning out songs all the time, I think I found that really inspiring. So I just want to write a lot of songs. I think that became my main motivator. Especially as I got older as well I just wanted a huge catalogue of my music. Maybe I sort of envisioned being one of these people who just got discovered one day and at the end of it I’d have this huge vault of records. That was my ambition, but I guess that changed. I want to get better at writing a song rather than write a lot of lo-fi crap.

HAPPY: Is longevity something you think about much in that sense?

SHANNON: Yes, definitely. I think legacy for me is the most important thing in life. I would like people to say “Oh yeah. He wrote a lot of good songs and he was a nice guy” (laughs). I don’t know why it’s important to me, but it steers my ambition. Maybe to be remembered.

HAPPY:  Of course, we all want to be remembered in some respect. For you that’s music, but if you hadn’t started jamming all those years ago was there ever anything else you would have done?

SHANNON: Not really. I studied video effects. I wanted to do special effects for the movies for a bit. If there were heads blowing up I will be there! I will be on the squibs, I’ll be doing the blood in post-production, making lightning bolts. Whatever needed to happen I’d be there doing the ridiculous to sell the illusion. But then I sort of got bored. Well not bored, but guitar effects shifted into perspective.

HAPPY:  Well you could always use that stuff in your live show. Alice Cooper dies five or six times on stage, you could blow up your band or have lightning rain down at the end of the show.

SHANNON: (laughs) Yeah! I’m liking this!

Happy Mag

HAPPY: You spent some time recording over in Berlin with Simon Berkelman. How was that experience? He said you basically just ate burgers and stuff.

SHANNON: He’s not wrong. We did eat a lot of burgers, but mostly I ate pizza. There was this Canadian pizza place. It was so good man! You just get this pizza and then you get salad that you have on top of the pizza, it’s just lettuce pretty much. Then you put maple and walnut, or maple and chilli syrup on it. It was seriously strange. That’s pretty much what I did a lot of, and then some recording.

HAPPY: Well when you weren’t eating maple chili pizza how was the recording process? Why Berlin first of all?

SHANNON: I always fantasised about the idea of visiting Europe and I just thought “Well fuck it, I’ll just do some recording there”. Also Simon had this studio, I think I was one of the first bands to record in that studio, so he had just finished building some stuff. We did quite a lot of recording there. Over time there were a couple of songs that I decided I wanted to rework and tweak things on. Never Be a Man I wanted to rework and change a couple of things. Put a little bit more of chaos into it.

HAPPY: Do you find that place has much influence on your songwriting at all?

SHANNON: Yeah very much. Sometimes if you’re in a room with no windows for example you might not write. But it could be mood as well. You might not write any music because you might be so void of inspiration and you might not have anything going on. Other times it could be the source of information for the darkest song ever. For me I think it is my exposure to whatever I’ve been listening to at the time. That’s probably a very un-profound statement but that’s probably the case for a lot of writers.

HAPPY: A lot of people often cite a song or a certain lyric as being particularly inspirational, do you hope one day someone will say that about you?

SHANNON: Well, no! (laughs). I’ve never thought about that before! That would be nice actually to be able to inspire like that. But I wouldn’t want to know. I think it would just be cooler to inspire someone, I’d feel weird knowing. People say they enjoy stuff and that’s fulfilling for me. Just to have people get what you did. To successfully share an idea or communicate something.

HAPPY: Is that rewarding? That moment knowing what you’re trying to say is understood by complete strangers.

SHANNON: Sometimes I think, well I probably do it as well, you might read a different meaning into a song. The song might not be about what you’re thinking about but it still feels kind of funny to relate to this song.

HAPPY: At Happy we always write about stuff that fills us with joy and fuzziness, so I want to know what makes you happy?

SHANNON: What makes me Happy? I’m trying to think of something better than pizza. I love eating pizza. Being able to do what you want to do is always fun. For me making music is what makes me the happiest. Finding the perfect lead line to go with some chords is a really great feeling of productivity or feeling that you’ve accomplished something. Yeah, being able to do what you do best is the ultimate happiness.

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January 18, 2016