And now, it’s time for a long overdue re-introduction to Tom Aspaul!
The talented UK singer-songwriter-producer has been on my radar since 2014 when he unleashed his MNEK-produced single “Indiana,” which later went on to be re-recorded as “Feel So Good” for Kylie Minogue‘s 2014 album Kiss Me Once. Since then, Tom‘s been responsible for co-penning a bunch of gems for some of our faves: Alex Newell (“Shame”), Charlotte OC (“In Paris”), Celeste (“Chocolate”), AlunaGeorge (“Mediator”), and Little Boots (“Working Girl”) just to name a few.
Aside from penning songs for others, Tom‘s also spent some good time cooking up some proper, well-crafted pop for himself. From all the contents of his 2016 Left EP to “Going Down” to “Back 2 Earth” and all his collaborations in-between. The man knows music, and he knows how to make it well too.
Now, full disclosure: I’ve gotten to know Tom IRL over the years. We met through mutual friends (it’s a small gay world) and have remained big booty sistas ever since. He’s charming, hilarious, sweet, and humble. I am happy to call him a friend, but let’s not get it twisted. I am a fan first and foremost.
A week ago from today (September 14), Tom dropped his long-awaited debut, Black Country Disco, named after the West Midlands area in England where he’s from.
The 10-track set is the product of a year-long collaboration with Israeli producer and writer Gil Lewis. It’s a concept record that tells the story of Tom‘s final months living in London, disillusionment within the music industry and the terminal breakdown of a long-term relationship – and although it captures a particularly challenging time in his life, it also stands as a seamless continuous mix of disco and synth-pop. It’s heartbreaking and honest, gorgeous and lump-in-throat-inducing, quirky and most notably, JOYOUS!
I sent Tom some questions to dive a little deeper into the record and the meaning behind some of the songs. Check out our Q&A below if you fancy a good read and give the album a spin!
This record obviously revolves around a emotionally challenging part of your life. What was the conscious decision to pair fun and vibrant disco production with this theme of loss and change?
The summer of ‘the break up’ I just found myself absorbing a lot of disco and 70’s/80s music naturally. I didn’t seek it out, it sort of came to me! I spent a few wild days and nights with all the drag queens back-stage at NYC Downlow/Glastonbury Festival. Every night/morning iconic disco was played wall to wall – anthem after anthem – it was such a beautiful experience, I got home, totally devoid of serotonin, but wanting to relive everything by listening to all those classics.
I also just really love ABBA, if you hadn’t already noticed – and whenever I’m struggling emotionally I tend to turn to their discography and it really soothes me! So I guess a combination meant that was the general soundscape at the time shit went down!
One of my absolute favorite tracks on the record is “Carnelian,” it touches on jealousy and your man being with someone else while you’re still together. This seems to be one of the deciding factors as to why your relationship came to an end. Is that the proper takeaway? If so.. elaborate on that a bit more.
It was definitely one of the deciding factors, yeah. I think it’s left fairly open to interpretation though. It was certainly a straw that repeatedly broke the camel’s back, again and again. There were a whole load of other reasons why it couldn’t continue though – and I am very much as culpable as him for it ending, but this is my album and these are my songs, so I’m just expressing how I felt from my perspective. I wouldn’t want anyone to think it was ever so one-sided though!
Gay relationships that are open aren’t necessarily subjects taken on in music, but here you tackle how it can kind of come back and bite for the not so good. Were there any reservations on your end on being so open in your storytelling here?
Well, I’m still a firm believer that open relationships can and do work. Like I said about ‘Carnelian’ – it was one of the reasons we broke up, but I would actually place it somewhere in the middle on the list of reasons why things fell apart. Some of these things we couldn’t help, it was circumstance, our jobs, our lifestyle, our backgrounds, these things we couldn’t change. I guess all the fun of the open element kind of stops when the companionship side of things isn’t working out? I don’t know. I feel like as time has passed I’ve actually realised things about us that I didn’t know at the time – and couldn’t have known. It’s all very complicated still.
As for my storytelling, yes, I did have reservations as the album’s release date got closer and closer. It’s just pop music though. He works in music, he loves songwriting and lyrics – so he knows how these things go. I wasn’t going to hold back because of him, otherwise what’s the point! I’m on my own now – all I can do is hope that if he listens, he’ll know exactly why I chose to express myself a certain way.
“Dead Already (Save Yourself),” another one of my favorites, reads a bit morbid in the title alone. Is that kind of the point? Would you say this song is the accepting closure moment for you?
It does sound a bit morbid – but literally, press play on that song and it’s so light and airy – it’s nothing of the sort! I really don’t think it was my intention, but it is what it is!
It began as two songs, ‘Dead Already’ and ‘Save Yourself.’ ‘Dead Already’ was sonically inspired by George McRae “Rock Your Baby”, with a bit of a tropical/Brazilian/Bossa Nova flavour (because the last vacation we ever took as a couple together was to Brazil!) The lyrics are all about the aftermath of our break-up and how we tried being friends, but it wasn’t a great idea. I loved the song, it just didn’t fit with the rest of the record.
I had another demo called ‘Save Yourself’ which had zero lyrics except for the one hook – and it just so happened it was in the same key. ‘Save Yourself’ was actually inspired by ‘Dancing Queen’ which co-incidentally was inspired by “Rock Your Baby” so everything just clicked really beautifully.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s about closure, because I actually don’t believe many people ever get that satisfactory ‘end of story’ feeling – it’s more about the realisation that rather than sitting around and wallowing, you literally have to ‘save yourself’. I still get such a rush listening to it – we subtly amped up the tempo at the end, which kind of makes you feel like you’re shaking off all these nostalgic, melancholic feelings and just strutting confidently.
Close to the end of the record we get “01902,” which feels like a moment of liberation – a post-breakup rebound escapade of sorts. Would you say the same?
That’s exactly what it is! It’s just a sexy bit of a relief from all the misery lol! No, but to be honest, it’s a very literal description of that. I moved back to the Midlands, with no intention of meeting anyone else, at least not for a long time, but I was still a bit intrigued as to what the men were like up here. There is a gay scene in Birmingham, but I’m a good 40 minute drive from there. I remember being at a friend’s house during Christmas, closer to the city, so there was a bit more choice on the apps (!) and I just thought – fuck it, it’s been a while. So I got in my car, we met at a hotel and that was that. The drive home I was so happy, the biggest smile. It was such an overwhelming feeling of relief, really proud of myself for going through with it.
The album comes to a close with the title track, one where you seemed to have found your footing again. The discovery of light in darkness. That good can come from darkness.. is that sort of the message?
Yeah exactly. I wrote that song right after a trip to Australia, which I’d been wanting to do for years, but never got round to – and by now I was just rediscovering who I was as a single person, remembering things I liked, things I didn’t like – it’s a whole process when you’ve been in a relationship for such a long time, because I think you sort of relinquish a large chunk of who you are to the other person and vice versa.
It was winter and very dark in the UK, so I experienced one month of pure Australian summer light and came home just feeling really free and happy. This was pre-pandemic, but up to that point it was a bit of a transformation. It just so happens that the motto of my home town Wolverhampton is ‘Out of Darkness, Cometh Light’, which ties in really nicely with everything.
You got the record out. The feelings are all out there. How are you doing in this present moment in time?
I am doing okay Jon! It’s been an intense few days, I’ll say that. The album has been so well received, I don’t have the words to express how happy that makes me, but it’s almost been overwhelming, you know, working on something for over a year, micromanaging it to the point of obsession and then having to let it go. It’s very mad. I guess part of me is also hyper-aware that this feels like my first big step forward into being a fully fledged ‘artist’ – there’s no going back to only writing songs for other people etc. It feels like I’ve set something unstoppable in motion, which is quite daunting, but exciting too!
What do you hope people take away from the record?
Gosh, first and foremost I want to be recognised for my songwriting, because I think I got better as the era progressed, more confident for sure. I also want to be recognised as a musician and producer, because you know, I’m not bad! I guess I also want people to appreciate all the love, time, care, energy and life force it’s taken out of me to make this happen, I have lived and breathed this record since the spring of 2019 – the concept, the artwork, the roll-out, the PR, the merch, it’s been a real labour. It’s totally worth it for all the love I’ve been getting though.
What can we expect moving forward with Black Country Disco?
Well. we’ve got the “BCD: The Movie” (!) on the way, which I won’t say much about, but I’m very excited to present that to the world! It’s a love letter to the Black Country.
After that, I’m doing a remix album, which I’m organising right now. If you look at BCD, which had zero features and only two producers (inducing me) then this is going to be the opposite – a big gay melange of music! I want mostly queer and/or local Midlands remixers and artists to guest on tracks, I wanna resing vocals, mix it up, reimagine songs! It’s gonna be really fun. There are one or two totally new tracks too – hopefully by the end of 2020!
After that, now I’ve learned to produce, I think the process for album 2 is gonna be a lot quicker. I’m gonna give myself a tiny break and then crack on. I have a rough idea what it’s going to be like, I won’t give anything away just yet!