New Zealand-born artist Thomston is gearing up to release his highly anticipated debut album, which has been a long time coming. It’s shaping up to be a really interesting, emotive release, blending elements of pop with electronic and R&B in a unique and immersive way. The young artist has been incredibly busy dedicating himself to the task across the past two years, having travelled the world to collaborate, write with, and learn from a myriad producers and performers in the USA and UK, as well as local artists like Ta-ku and Wafia. He recently performed with Ta-ku at his Vivid Sydney concert at the Sydney Opera House, as well as touring with Wafia, with whom he also released collaborative track Window Seat.
One of our very favourite things to do here at Howl & Echoes, is to support and promote exciting upcoming artists; the kind of artists who gives off that feeling that they’re creating something special, something important, something real. Thomston is one such artist, and it gives us great pleasure to support him as he prepares his album. We recently sat down with Thomston ahead of his debut Australian shows, to learn more about his writing process, the album’s development, his journey so far and more.
So you’ve been spending time writing with other artists lately, right?
Yeah, Wafia and I wrote a track together the day we met! We just had breakfast and then we went and wrote Window Seat. it was really cool, it came together so easily. I did a bunch more with her this year, she came to New Zealand and we spent a few days writing. Then I went to Perth and wrote with Ta-Ku, I had a hand in writing his song [with Wafia] Meet in the Middle that’s out at the moment. He’s so great to work with; he’s so humble, and that sounds like a cliche, but honestly, he really is. So humble, unassuming, so so gracious. Something Wafia and I were talking about is how you wanna give him your best work. I had headlines that I’d been saving, knowing that when I put it in a song it’ll be a fire line, but I just gave them to him! He makes you feel like he deserves them, he makes you want to give him your best, and those kind of people are rare, especially when you just meet them.
And considering where you’re at right now, I imagine you’re meet a lot of new people.
Yeah, and if you’ve got all this material and you give it all away, you might cheapen an idea that you had by not having it in the right context, or not knowing a person well enough for them to really flesh out an idea you have in the right way. But with him it just felt natural to give him the things that I’d been holding on to.
So it’s really important for you to work with people you can connect to.
Absolutely. Last march, I was just starting the record, I went to the States and the UK and wrote with a different person every day. It was such a weird experience for me, it was my first time meeting these people, we didn’t have any correspondence prior. So I’d be like, “Hi I’m Thomas,” and they’d be like, “Hi, I’m so and so,” and I’d try to write a song with them, but it’s so unnatural and it’s so wrong. I felt like I couldn’t be open with my lyrics, that it was letting them into a real personal aspect of my life, especially in the formative phases where I can’t explain my thought process without depersonalising it, so I’d have to talk about specific experiences. I’d come up with a line and they’d be like, wow, what’s that about? And it was like, this is very personal, I don’t feel like I wanna talk about this, especially as we’re writing. You’d have to explain the whole scenario to them so they can contribute lyrics, which is so weird. But meeting people like Ta-ku and Wafia that I instantly connected with is very one in a million to me.
My collaborators are chosen sparingly, it really has to be the right person. I don’t just wanna work with anyone, I mean, there’s so many people I wanna work with, but I might get in a room with them and it’ll be all wrong.
Is it just a feeling?
Yeah, it’s just a vibe. You can’t put it into words.
Who are your dream collaborators?
I’d love to work with The-Dream *laughs*, his melodies are nuts. I’d love to work with Malay, who did a bunch of stuff with Zayn and Frank Ocean, he’s a producer more than anything. there’s a guy called GRADES in the UK who’s done all the NAO stuff, and I love the production – it’s so big, and so intense, it hits so hard. And that’s a very special skill to possess, because it hits hard but it doesn’t feel like a top-40 hitting hard. He’s managed to find that niche, and I wonder how much NAO influences that.
So, tell me a bit about the album now that it’s finished?
So it’s all done, it feels really good to listen to start to finish. It feels very much like a coherent project, which I really desperately wanted it to be. When I started writing this, I was writing a lot of pop. I was worried that I was just gonna write a bunch of pop songs, and they’d be sandwiched between more alternative sounding songs, and it would feel disjointed. But to me it’s the perfect bridge from the older work to what will be coming after the album.
Oh so you’re already planning what’s next?
Yeah, I’ve already started writing.
A five year plan!
*laughs* more like a 50 year plan. I’m in love with writing, I can’t really stop, I’m doing more tomorrow while I’m here. But yeah, the first track on the album is an instrumental track that combines a bunch of themes from the record, melodies and motifs on a bunch of the tracks. I’ve got a piano line from one song that’s over the chords of another song, and I’m doing a vocal melody from one of them, but just humming it, with lots of reverb.
So it’s like an overture?
That’s exactly what I wanted it to be! It’s super influenced by the orchestral overture, where you introduce the motifs at the beginning, and then you explore them in the context of the song with lyrics, later down the line. It feels so much more coherent as a body of work.
Did you plan that early on?
I wanted an intro track, but the overture just kind of happened. I was playing this one melody line over and over from one of the songs, and I just tried different chords underneath it. it sounded beautiful, and also very very different. I slowed it right now, and yeah, it just ended up as track one. Just me playing the piano with lots of layers.
You were saying how it was really hard to explain and formulate your ideas in the earliest stages of the writing. Where are you at with that now? Would you be in a better position to share or explain your ideas?
I think so. I think I’ve learnt how, when you’re talking to someone you’ve just met, there’s things you can do to really distance yourself from this really personal thing that’s happened to you. It allows you to keep writing from a personal place, but you can talk about a very broad scenario. I’ve got a lot better at having a succinct story without having to put in the personal details that I couldn’t separate last March. If they asked me what it was about, I’d be like, “oh it was this person, and they did this, and it made me feel like this,” which is such a weird thing to say to someone you’ve just met. So it’s easier to be like, “this is about a person who does this thing to a person,” you can depersonalise it.
So it’s like you can say, “this is about this kind of relationship,” rather than, “this is about my friend who’s name is this and they did this…”
Yep, exactly *laughs*. I’ve learnt how to deal with that a lot better.
Keep an eye out for more music from Thomston soon.