"Who would I like to duet with? Simon Le Bon: I’d like to bring him into prog and get him on a big chorus." Tesseract's Dan Tompkins faces down the most passionate interviewers in rock: progressive metal fans

Dan from Tesseract
(Image credit: Andy Ford)

Since he first joined Tesseract in 2009, Dan Tompkins has been one of the leading voices of British prog metal. The Milton Keynes band’s debut album, One, inspired a wave of copycats, but none could mimic the experimental yet anthemic songcraft, nor Dan’s evocative singing. The vocalist left in 2011 and worked on a litany of projects, from Skyharbor to White Moth Black Butterfly, but returned three years later for a trilogy of excellent albums. With Tesseract’s 2023 masterpiece, War Of Being, still fresh and a European tour looming, we asked Dan all your burning questions.

Metal Hammer line break

What’s the weirdest thing you saw while on duty as a police officer?
Ali Masser, email

“It was a domestic situation where a guy just would not stop masturbating. Ha ha ha! His wife said, ‘You need to get him out of the house, he’s constantly doing it in front of the TV. I can’t stop him.’ I turned up like, ‘Just stop.’ [He replied,] ‘It’s my house,’ and I’m like, ‘To be fair, I don’t see what I can do!’”

If you had to change careers again, what would you pick and why?
Angela Round, email

“Game design. Obviously, because we’re doing a game at the minute [Tesseract released a tie-in game to War Of Being on Steam in 2023], I’ve developed a decent skill set in that area. I discovered that I have an eye for detail when it comes to creative design, especially building landscapes and environments and level design. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it.”

What’s your favourite videogame?
Dave Weylan, email

“One of my favourite PS2 games was Silent Hill 2, but then I moved into the PC gaming master race. More recent games I really love are Doom 2016 and Resident Evil 4 Remake – all the Resident Evil remakes are fantastic.”

What comes first, lyrics or the music?
Kieran Stanislaw Mace, Facebook

“Predominantly, the music, but we have dabbled in trying to change that process. I have provided Acle [Kahney, Tesseract guitarist and founder] with just a simple vocal line for him to try and make music around it. But, predominantly, it is always the music.”

What’s your favourite vocal line in any Tesseract song?
Jesua_ikher, Instagram

“The intro to Hexes [from 2015’s Polaris]. The vocal line is extremely important to me – it’s about a recurring dream I used to have. I grew up with two female role models – one was my grandmother. She died when I was 10; I was heartbroken. I’ve a lot of fond memories but, as I got older, I used to have a dream where I’d walk into the house but she’d never respond to me. It was almost like she was telling me, ‘You’ve forgotten me,’ but I was thinking, ‘That’s not right.’ There was this very dark, weird tone where it was almost like she was calling me back to her grave. So, whenever I had that dream, I’d visit her grave and have a moment of reflection with her.”

How do you avoid repeating yourself across your different projects/songs?
Diana Ho, Facebook

“It is hard and there is a lot of bleed between projects. Lyrically, I’ve written 17-plus albums’ worth of songs in the past 13 or 14 years. The main thing is that I don’t write within four walls a lot – I go out. I get my lyrics from visual stimuli, and I’ve tried to make sure that the ideas for the songs are varied. When I’m creating lyrics, I often try to find interesting words that I wouldn’t normally use to initiate new ideas.”

Tell us something people don’t know about you.
Raquel, email

“I used to work as a warehouse manager and I got my forklift truck licence.”

How was it learning Ashe [O’Hara, who fronted Tesseract during Dan’s absence]’s songs after you rejoined Tesseract?
C_M_Mayfield, Instagram

“Initially, it was really hard. I was at a point in time where – and this is going to sound crazy – I still wasn’t putting all of my energy into singing. That was due to survival, trying to make money, and I had a lot of side-hustles going on. I found it hard because he has a different timbre, a different tone and a slightly higher register. A lot of those vocal lines are just not designed for me, so what I had to do was, over the years, just learn them in a different way. It got easier over time. Altered State [the album with Ashe] used to be the hardest stuff to sing, now it’s War Of Being.”

Have you ever hung out with Ashe and talked about your times in Tesseract? Bethany Rutter, Facebook

“I did initially, when he first took over from me. I kind of passed the torch and told him what to expect. But, since he left and I rejoined, I’ve never had a single conversation with him. That’s not because of anything weird – we’ve just never had the chance to speak.”

Who would you most like to duet with?
Shiiva Wilding, Facebook

“Simon Le Bon. I’d like to bring him into prog and get him on a big chorus.”

Tesseract have had five vocalists. Who is your favourite of the other four?
Joe Doodey, email

“People say five, but one of them only did one song. There’s only really been Abi [Obasanya, 2006–2009], Ashe, Elliot [Coleman, 2011–2012] and myself. I’m gonna say Elliot. He’s one of the nicest dudes and one of the most talented vocalists I’ve met in a long time.”

What is the context and story behind the lyrics for April [from One]?
Arch_Typex, Instagram

“It’s about when I used to work with domestic abuse survivors. It’s to do with a lady who was in a very violent relationship. She’d be locked in her room, have cigarettes stamped out on her body, be hit with a baseball bat and completely demoralised. I tried to help her get out of the relationship, but she was so emotionally ground down and invested in this very violent individual. Her children were so neglected that one of them, at only a few years old, ended up burning the house down.”

Hammer: Was the family alright in the end?

“When I left my career, they were still alive, but I don’t know the history over the last 10, 15 years. She was trapped in this horrendous relationship. That’s one of the things that hurt me the most: I spent a good year and a half with her, and we had all these safety plans, but she was so reliant on [her partner].”

What advice would you give young prog musicians?
Blueshade900, Instagram

“Try your hardest not to mimic or be overly influenced by your peers. Do new and exciting things, and find a new angle, but also create music for you and not necessarily for people. It’s a hard balance to find, because sometimes you want to be part of a scene. But, to be the next big, exciting band, it often comes from an offshoot, where there’s an interesting angle going on.”

Hammer: How did you react to all the up-and-coming prog metal bands mimicking Tesseract back in the day? 

“Initially it bothered me, but now I see it as a compliment. People have been ripping off Acle’s ‘Milton cleans’ for years: you hear a djenty riff and a sparkly, clean guitar line on top and I’m like, ‘Oh, please!’”

Are you working on any more White Moth Black Butterfly material?
BCPavo7, Instagram

“Yes. We’ve started to talk about the direction for the next album. We want to bring back elements from [2017 album] Atone. I’m working on that and also working on my next solo record, then new Tesseract and Zeta as well.”

If you cut up a hot dog into little pieces and then put it between two pieces of bread, do you call that a hot dog or a hot dog sandwich?
Laura Davis, Facebook

“It’s a disgrace either way.”

Tesseract's UK tour starts on February 20. Refuge's 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247 

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.