Thomas & The Empty Orchestra is the music of Thomas Matthew Bower who explores the topics of love, loss, obsession and redemption. He takes his influence from American folk and indie music with a twist of English humour. We caught up with Thomas as he releases EP ‘Let Go’.
‘Let Go’ is the first time I’ve had carte blanche to write and develop an EP in the studio.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what led you writing and releasing music as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra?
My name is Thomas Matthew Bower, I’ve been playing music live in bands for around 17 years, I started out playing in punk bands but mellowed as I got older. Thomas & TEO was a way to get some thoughts off my chest, it’s a very public therapy session.
Who did your take inspiration from?
I’ve been heavily influenced by a variety of sources, but artists like Nick Drake, Paul Simon and other folk artists of the 60s and 70s are of particular note, as well as more recent American folk artists like Bright Eyes, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. I also take a lot of influence from emo artists like American Football, Death Cab For Cutie and mewithoutyou.
Why the name Thomas & The Empty Orchestra? What’s the significance of ‘The Empty Orchestra’?
Thomas & The Empty Orchestra came from whe I first started playing solo, and I used to use a looper to put the songs together, a friend remarked that what I was doing was basically karaoke (because I was putting together the backing music on stage then singing over the top of it). ‘Empty Orchestra’ is the literal Japanese translation of karaoke. So it came from me getting the piss taken out of me in a pub basically.
How would you describe your musical style? How has it developed since the project started in 2013?
I’d describe my musical style as ‘alt-folk’ though it really depends on what mood you find me in. I try to bring together as many styles and influences as possible, so there is everything from folk to jazz and post-rock in there. Most recently I’ve tried to develop the songs to be more expansive, less ‘sad boy with acoustic guitar’.
How do you bring your music to life in your live shows?
I play both on my own and now with a band as well. The live shows can be very quiet intimate affairs, or bombastic and loud. It depends on the environment, but I like to try to keep the intimacy regardless. It’s important to me that the crowd feel involved in the show, I want it to be as engaging as possible.
Tell us about your new EP ‘Let Go’. What’s it about?
With ‘Let Go’ I wanted to write songs about certain feelings, sensations that were (in my opinion) difficult to write about, but in a more recognisable narrative format. I was hoping the songs would be evocative of different variations on loss and expectation.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
I wrote the record through the early part of 2017, it was quite a long process as I was hoping to really dig into the songs. I recorded it with a producer by the name of Will Severs at Fox Den studio in Sheffield. It’s a beautiful little studio in an old mesters workshop. We got to play around with the sound a lot, using some lovely old kit for the project.
How does ‘Let Go’ build on your style?
‘Let Go’ is the first time I’ve had carte blanche to write and develop an EP in the studio. I wanted to look to the production to help develop the themes, the double tracking of some vocals to create a sense of claustrophobia, rather than just as a melodic device, was interesting to play around with.
Which song or songs are you most proud of?
I think the song on the EP I am most proud of on face value is ‘Blood Moon (No Friend)’. I wanted to write an ‘anti’ love song, something about the feeling of being trapped by convenience or obligation. On a more personal level ‘In The Eaves’ is probably my favourite from a writing perspective. I wanted to introduce my own musings on existentialism (limited and ham-fisted as they are), but, in a more recognisable narrative, my songs have always tended to be more abstract, so attempting to join the abstract and philosophical with a more immediate narrative structure was exciting to me.
Which was the hardest to finish?
In The Eaves was the most difficult to complete at every stage, because I really had to resist the urge to keep going back to it, sometimes it’s hard to let go (if you’ll pardon the pun). Getting the tone of the ending right was difficult; it’s a song about understanding the dichotomy between how little our actions matter in a universal sense but understanding our accountability in the more immediate, so I wanted that to come over in the production of the track.
What are your hopes for ‘Let Go’?
I hope people listen to it, and find some comfort in the words, or that it helps them to think about those seemingly insurmountable day to day issues from a different angle.
Where can we see you live in 2018?
I’ll be playing a number of festivals through the summer, and will be back out on tour later in the year supporting a follow-up release (so keep your ears pricked).
Listen to Thomas & The Empty Orchestra on SoundCloud below. For news and tour dates go the Thomas & The Empty Orchestra Facebook page.