Tom Baxter, singer-songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love of curries, the free download of his new single, writing a song for the wedding of his friend David Schwimmer and his forthcoming tour.
Tom Baxter is an English singer-songwriter. After moving to London at aged 19 to attend Music College, he spent many years on the gig circuit before successful residencies at the Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush and The Bedford in Balham brought him to the attention of record labels.
He released a self-titled EP in 2004 which was followed by the release of his debut album, Feather And Stone. His second album, Skybound was recorded independently, and from it his first single, Better, was subsequently used on the soundtrack for the film, Run Fatboy Run and was later covered by Boyzone. Another track, Miracle, was used in its entirety by the BBC to cover the final montage of their 2008 Olympics and Paralympics.
Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Tom how are you?
I’m very well thanks Kevin, how are you?
I’m good thank you. How is life treating you?
Not too bad thanks. I am busy at the moment because as you know I am about to go out on tour here in the UK. I am generally enjoying myself, I am spending a lot of time writing and getting ready to record another album this summer.
You are playing for us here in Nottingham at The Glee Club on Monday 18th May.
That’s right Kevin. It’s a great venue to play at and I always enjoy playing there. My original keyboard player, who has become a very good friend of mine, and who now lives in Dublin, is originally from Nottingham and I used to go up and stay with his parents. I truly find Nottingham to be a really vibrant and beautiful city. It is a lovely place to come to and there are a number of very good restaurants.
At least you didn’t mention the curry houses (laughter).
I must admit that I do love a good curry Kevin in fact I had one only last night (laughter). It is one of my favourite foods actually. I was lucky enough to live in India for six months. Funnily enough, it is quite hard to get the same sort of food over here that you can get in India. Over here we tend to get Northern Indian food which is rich and very creamy whereas true Indian food is nothing like that. Last night I had a vegetarian Indian meal which was much more realistic of what true Indian food is like, it was delicious (laughter).
It embarrasses me that whenever you are abroad and you are looking at what the rest of the world has given to cuisine and you see that the good old UK has given them fish and chips (laughter).
I have to agree with you Kevin, that is a touch embarrassing isn’t it (laughter). That’s a fair point.
Now that we have put world cuisine to rights, I suppose that we really should talk about music (laughter).
I think that’s a good idea Kevin (laughter).
You are going to allow your fans to download your new single, The Arc, free of charge. Is that a path which you want to go down or is this an example of the demise of the music business?
For me Kevin I actually ended up recording this record last year and I have been selling it on my tour as a complete album. I haven’t actually released it as an official release in so far as doing a big push on it. Also the mix that will be downloadable is very different to the record. It has got added different bits on it. The actual record is very stark and is a solo record so there is very little on it. So it doesn’t really affect me in any way whether it is released for free or not. For me, I am an album artist so if you get into my music you tend to get into the whole thing. I would say that is a fair appraisal of the way that I perceive my fan base to work. So I think in a way it is always valuable to have a song that people like as it draws them in. That is what you are always doing in this business; you are trying to draw people in.
With regards to it being the demise of the music industry, I have got as much knowledge as to where the music industry is going as probably you do Kevin. I honestly don’t think that anyone really knows where it is going in these very quick changing times.
The sad thing is that it appears to me that the whole music business has become disposable.
You are absolutely right Kevin, absolutely. It is a real tragedy. Having said that I do honestly think that the industry is turning around. This year we saw the biggest sales in vinyl for a long, long time. For me it is a little bit like the era when people would buy old Victorian buildings, rip out all of the fireplaces, put carpets everywhere, plaster the walls with aertex and get rid of all of the beautiful tiles, but I believe that it will turn itself around. I see a time when people will be hunting for reclaimed timber to put back into their houses. I think that vinyl is a little like that. Eventually you will see these incredible vinyl collections in every home. It is the same as organic food. It starts off as a rich person’s thing and then eventually it ends up in Sainsbury’s and Tesco although it does take a long time to filter through. I think that the disposableness of music is simply a part of the process of humanity really.
It’s just me being a boring old fart who loves nothing more than to not only listen to the music but who also likes to read the sleeve notes.
I am exactly the same as you Kevin. But what you have to remember is that you are of a very different generation to kids who are listening to music today. I am of a completely different generation to those who interact with social media. I am 41 and I am totally lost when it comes to this stuff (laughter). If you speak to a twenty year old kid they do everything on the computer, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; it’s incredible. There is very little interaction with other actual people now. Sometimes I feel like I remind myself of my grandparents. The things that they valued when they were older were the things that we asked ourselves, why do they value that (laughter). But of course as we get older we begin valuing things which I think has a lot to do with community. People simply do not get together very much anymore.
That is the one saving grace of music. It supplies humanity with the one thing that religion did do, which was the gathering of people to reach some sort of spiritual entity which they can’t do on their own. That is what live music represents and the other thing is football. As far as I can tell Kevin, football is replacing religion.
I have a fear that the English language will totally disappear. All of the youngsters nowadays speak in what can only be described as txt speak.
I do know what you mean Kevin and I agree, the English language is being dumped down all of the time. If you want my real opinion then I think that we are all going to end up being computers so humanity will eventually be wiped out by technology. That is what I think is going to happen and humanity will disappear because what they will do is assimilate humanity with computers. It is already happening with Artificial Intelligence, everything is already starting to happen. This old concept of craftsmanship and intimacy with an art or a skill will eventually become obsolete. I think that the English language will still exist but it will be purely functional rather than poetic.
You briefly mentioned the new album, how is it coming along?
At this moment in time Kevin I am still writing. I have got loads of songs, some of which I will be trying out on this tour and then it is just about making another record. I tend to make a new record pretty much in my own time and when it feels right it happens. That is how I do it. I have been through the process over the years of being with major labels pressuring me and telling me to do this and do that, but I don’t have to answer to anyone anymore. I am now in a position where I do exactly what I want to do basically.
Does being able to work at your own pace help you personally?
I don’t know what it does really, I suppose I feel that there is no choice in the matter to me really. I can’t dictate the way in which what I do is done. I just have to allow it to happen or not happen. I like all different sorts of music and doing music is just a part of living for me. There was a period when I was younger, when music was everything but now I find that music isn’t everything to me. It is a part of my life which I greatly value but it is a part of my life as is my relationship with my family. I really do try to give my life more balance if I can but it isn’t always easy.
At least you are fortunate in the fact that you have that freedom. Whenever I look around at the next best thing, it is two albums, a greatest hits album, and then they are gone.
Yes that is the general scheme of things Kevin. There is a reason as to why that happens, and that is because it is a hard business for people to stay in. It is not an easy business to keep doing. Unless you are making a lot of money, and even that can be a trap especially if you are making a lot of money from making crap music, then you are imprisoned into making crap music for the rest of your life. It is always a question of integrity. Every business has its conundrums as to how you are going to survive doing it. I could be much richer but I don’t feel that I am able to dictate it in that way. To continue being an artist is a real luxury Kevin and there are a lot of sacrifices that you will have to make in order to do that in order to pursue a vocation in the unknown.
You might ask me what my next record is going to be like; well I don’t know, I have no idea. I would never be in a position to directly give you an answer like that. Music is a very ambiguous career at the best of times.
Your songs have been covered by the likes of Boyzone, Shirley Bassey and Engelbert Humperdinck. How does that make you feel?
It’s absolutely great Kevin. One can only be honoured by that. It is a great tip of the hat. I did think that it was quite funny when I was told that Engelbert had covered one of my songs but as a songwriter it is great to be covered by fellow artists no matter who they are. It means that you are connecting.
You were reading The Arc Of Your Mallet by Rumi when you received a telephone call from David Schwimmer asking you if you could write a song for his wedding based upon the poem. How surreal was that?
It was very much a moment of serendipity Kevin. It was really lovely. David has become a very good friend and it just felt very much like it was meant to be. It was very easy to write in a way because I was very passionate about Rumi’s poetry. It really was a lovely moment of serendipity. David and I have a shared outlook on life and that includes the poetry of Rumi. It definitely has a profound conversation with the reader and so it is very valuable to read if one is thinking more about themselves or the meaning of life.
Not only did you write the song but you actually performed it at the wedding ceremony.
Yes I did and it was really lovely. We never tried to make a big deal of that. Obviously people like reading about these things but I have played at quite a few friend’s weddings and it is always nice to write a song about a friend or play a song that they like because it is a very special day. Having been married myself I know just how that feels. I really do like honouring that day for people.
How did music start for you?
That was because of my parents as they were both musicians Kevin. When I was growing up there was always music being played in the house and it just became something that I would associate with home.
Who were you listening to whilst growing up?
I grew up in a family owned hotel and there was a nightclub together with a ballroom at the back of it and so there were all sorts of artists coming through that place; French clowns, can-can dancers, Joe Brand, Rik Mayall, country and western, rock and roll; you name it, we had it Kevin. Everything came through this nightclub so I would be listening to everything really.
What was the first record that you ever bought?
That would be G.I. Blues by Elvis Presley (laughter). I used to watch all of the Elvis films and so I became a little obsessed with Elvis.
Who did you first see live in concert?
That would be The Stray Cats Kevin and they were fantastic. They were totally amazing.
How would you describe your music?
Reflective, emotional and powerful (laughter).
Who has been your biggest musical inspiration?
It would be very difficult for me to say any one person to be honest. It is very difficult to say. The first inspiration upon my song writing was Elvis Costello. He was the one who made me want to write songs. I heard his album, This Year’s Model and immediately thought I want to do that. I think that he is just an incredible songwriter Kevin.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I would have to say that the highlight of my career is ultimately the concerts that I perform. They are always the ultimate highlight. If I am totally honest with you Kevin, yes I have met famous people and I have hung out with this person and that person, but that doesn’t really mean that much to me. It means a lot more to a lot of other people I find. For me it is all about if the music really has an impact and moves people then that gives me a sense of value I suppose. It gives me a sense of value that I am able to help somebody else in some way or other or to communicate a feeling which humanity shares. That, for me, is always the highlight.
Tom, thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great.
It’s been an absolute pleasure Kevin. I hope to see you in Nottingham. Take care.