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Tom Lark Shares Debut Album 'Brave Star' + Interview

Tom Lark Shares Debut Album 'Brave Star' + Interview

Chris Cudby / Interview by Sarah Illingworth / Photo credit: Lukas Thielmann / Friday 9th June, 2023 9:16AM

We're living in the era of the big-hearted musical cowboy, as attested by the rise of Tāmaki Makaurau's D.C. Maxwell and now Tom Lark, who has returned from roaming the range with his first new bundle of tunes since 2015's self-titled EP. The songwriting alter-ego of Shannon Matthew Vanya, Tom Lark's debut album Brave Star was laid down all on his lonesome during the endless months of the lockdown era, sporting nine reflective, subtly psychedelic folk / country numbers — reminding this listener of Moebius aka Jean Giraud's ultra-vivid illustrations for Lieutenant Blueberry, elevating his self-described spaghetti western themes with elegant mastery of craft. Setting hearts aflutter with recent singles 'Live Wires' and 'Radio Blaster', Tom Lark spilled the beans about his mellow-minded opus to Sarah Illingworth. Nab your copy of Brave Star on vinyl LP, compact disc and / or limited edition cassette HERE, hit that play button, check out the accompanying lyric video for the title track, and read their conversation below...

Sarah Illingworth: What is this Tom Lark album about for you? Any key themes, or shifts in terms of your songwriting and production processes?

Tom Lark: I think it’s a pretty earnest album, I actively tried to write about things I’m scared about but imagined myself as a character from a Spaghetti Western movie – two of my favourite things lol – and this gave me a sense of courage to break into the barn and confront some baddies. I also thought about the irony in how a character that I imagine as being really tough and brave might actually have trouble confronting and communicating how he feels about things.

How would you describe the sound and vibe of the album?

I think I’d call it a Psychedelic Folk album. After making lots of pop music I felt really excited to go back to making more simple guitar-based music, but there are moments where I found myself getting quite experimental with production, which might disqualify it from feeling too folky but might qualify it as some sort of Space Folk album.

Why so long between Tom Lark releases? What’s been happening for you in the time since your self-titled EP?

The last Tom Lark release was in 2015 and it was sort of a mash-up of songs I was writing at the time. I stopped doing Tom Lark because I’d just been working for so long promoting an unreleased album I recorded in 2012, then making another album that also got shelved. By the end of it I just felt tired and like I was repeating myself. So I got stuck into production and making music for other people as a way to release music vicariously, which eventually led to my pop music project Shannon Matthew Vanya. I wanted to make something completely different and in doing so learnt a lot about pop songwriting and production.

Who else worked on the album?

I wrote, produced, mixed and played all instruments on the album. Usually I share demos or early mixes with some of my friends, but I actually kept this album pretty under wraps. But the record was entrusted to Chris Chetland for the mastering process.

Were you influenced by any particular sounds, artists or experiences while making these songs?

I was on a big John Lennon buzz when I was writing this album. I felt really inspired by how direct he is in his writing about things he might be sad, scared or frustrated about. I think there are often a lot of quiet songs floating in the unconscious mind, and that’s sort of where I started on Brave Star, looking for things I felt strongly about.

Why do you need Tom Lark as well as Shannon Matthew Vanya? What do the two personas represent, or allow you to do?

I don’t have any plans to make any more SMV songs at the moment, but I know having different personas has been a healthy way of detaching and finding a happy work life balance. Tom Lark means different things to me now than it once did, and coming back to it after some time away feels super fresh and exciting.

How long have you lived in Tāmaki Makaurau, and why did you move up here?

I moved here from Ōtautahi in 2012. I got on my first international flight to Germany to work on my album, then when I returned to New Zealand, I just stayed on in Auckland, floating around couches till I found a tiny windowless room to rent.

What’s the tea on the title track ‘Brave Star’?

‘Brave Star’ is a song about showbiz. My first job was working on a TV show pitched as Letterman for kids and I was the Paul Shaffer of kids’ TV in New Zealand. My job was to play guitar. I met lots of NZ’s absolute hawttest celebs from the early-'00s, but over years you see how things move on for them. Much like some small town rodeo, people hang on until they lose their balance or get bucked off. ‘Brave Star’ is like a get well soon card: "Maybe you’re a star but not the one you thought you were".

‘Brave Star' is out today on major streaming services via Winegum Records — vinyl LP, CD and limited edition cassette orders available HERE.


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