After catching the end of a very soothing soundcheck at The Hope in Brighton, I met up with Tom Hickox in a pub around the corner to talk his music, merchandise and alternative career paths.
Did your parents’ background in classical music have any effect on your album? Are there any particular records that you remember being played as a child?
Not specifically, no. I think that when you grow up everything will have an influence on you, but any classical influences on my album were not consciously made. I was not looking to make anything classical, but with my background I guess you could say it’s an innate training, the music is in my blood. I’m really grateful to have had that kind of upbringing.
In terms of songwriting and orchestration, do you see these as separate things or do they happen simultaneously?
I definitely keep the songwriting separate. I like to focus on the key elements: the lyrics, melody and harmony first, to get the core of the song down. Then I’ll think about the right ensemble to play it. I do the majority of the orchestration and arranging myself but I think that it is important not to get ahead of yourself: if you don’t give the song strong foundations then it can never stand tall.
A lot of comparisons are made between your voice and that of Leonard Cohen. How do you feel about that? I personally think you more resemble Guy Garvey (Elbow) and Matt Berninger (The National). Are you a fan of either of those?
I’m a big fan of Leonard Cohen. He has definitely been an influence to me. You can tell within a millisecond if a song is his and that is such a great thing. I think for artists it is so hard to find your voice, both in the abstract and sonic senses but I am thrilled to be compared to such great company. I really like Elbow and The National. They write beautifully crafted music and have a lot to say. Recently one of my songs was played on Guy Garvey’s radio show and he was very complimentary about it. It is so humbling and surreal to have someone who you really admire become aware of your work and become an advocate for it.
In terms of the album artwork, it appears that you are having a conversation with yourself. Was that your intention?
The main thing that I wanted the cover to convey was that I was not just speaking from my point of view on the album; I was inhabiting other people’s voices and telling their stories. I think that it is important to get the right look for a record, taking care and effort to package it in the best way possible. If the cover is symbiotic with the meaning of the record then it really speaks to the people and transmits well.
You have quite an interesting array of merchandise, including signed lyric handkerchiefs and pocket mirrors? Are you aiming yourself at the middle-class or is it more a style thing?
Not at all. I think I’m not the sort of musician whose supporters would want a t-shirt of. I just don’t think that it suits my style of music. The lyric handkerchief is something I really like because I think it hasn’t ever been done before. And the idea behind the pocket mirror is owner is looking back on themselves through it. Also, from a boring practical point of view, both are light items which are easy to travel around with when on tour. They seem to be selling really well though. We only have about 10 handkerchiefs left (prior to the gig).
How has the tour been going so far? Do you enjoy playing all across the country?
It’s been fantastic. I am always surprised by how different the crowds are in different cities. The venues vary each night too. Some of the shows were sell outs which is great. Others were pretty close to capacity and a couple were a little more chilled but we’ve had a great reception so far. We’re finishing the tour with a full band show in London in a few days. It’s always nice to end with a home show. I could walk home afterwards if I didn’t have my keyboard!
Besides music, do you have any other big interests/hobbies?
I’m interested in art and culture; films, books, pictures, anything that I can get ideas from for songs really. I also spend far too much time watching football on TV, but that’s not been much use for writing a song just yet!
And finally, if you couldn’t make music, what would your dream job be?
I’d be up front with Suarez, banging in the goals! That has always been a dream of mine since I was little, to be a striker for Liverpool. I enjoyed football from a young age but was never particularly sporty. But I am so happy to be able to do what I love by making music. If I can keep making more records with more amazing musicians, writing and recording music that I really believe in and playing it to crowds who really appreciate it, then I will be very happy indeed.
His stunning debut album War Peace and Diplomacy is out now.