Musician and composer Tom Slatter is a quintessentially British eccentric with a quirky imagination who has produced some of the most innovative progressive music in recent years.
He was once described in this magazine as a “batty steampunk wizard”, an accolade that the man himself is both proud of and baffled by. “Batty is fine, steampunk is accurate or at least a lot of my songs are of that ilk,” he says. “But wizard? I don’t have an appropriate hat.”
Slatter may feel he lacks the appropriate attire for progressive wizardry, but the enchanting splendour in his music can be traced back to his fascination for musical theatre as a child. “When I was six or seven I was taken to see Starlight Express, one of those cheesy Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, which I really enjoyed,” he recalls. “Then I heard Sweeney Todd, which I thought was fantastic, and I wanted to write musicals for an older audience.”
Twenty years ago my silly, un-commercial music would never have been recorded.
The quirky characteristics of Slatter’s new album Fit The Fourth come mostly from the steampunk connotations, which have been one of the distinguishing features of his works. “I really like sci-fi and obviously steampunk kind of fits in with that,” Slatter explains. “I also happen to have a song about replacing your body parts with mechanical alternatives,” he adds casually.
He also gives a small insight into the weird and wonderful world of steampunk for the uninitiated: “There’s a steampunk community who like to put on various events… things like tea duelling and umbrella fencing.”
With the image of umbrella fencing forever embedded in Prog’s mind, the talk turns to the change in direction of Slatter’s vocals, which have evolved over the years. “I spent so many years singing with an American accent,” Slatter says. “Recently, partly through listening to Knifeworld and partly because I was playing in a punky mod band, I had to sing in my own accent, which is rather hard to do.”
Slatter’s latest album brings together each part of his idiosyncratic personality and his penchant for bizarre storytelling. “After my first album, Spinning The Compass, I created a character called Seven Bells John, who’s a murderer. And that grew into Fit The Fourth,” he explains. “I also have a song on the album which is about being stranded at sea so long you turn into a fish,” he adds, in utter seriousness.
Despite the music world’s constant battles with streaming, Slatter believes that the Internet is a goldmine for musicians to share their music.
“Twenty years ago my stupid, silly, un-commercial music would never have been recorded,” he says. For Slatter, the gratification doesn’t come from money but from the satisfaction of getting his music out.
“If I have the privilege of recording an album, putting it out and having a few people say, ‘Yeah, that’s alright’, then that’s really good,” he concludes. “There’s no time before now where that could have happened.”
|If Genesis composed a musical version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy|
|Fit The Fourth is out now via Bad Elephant|