It takes a special talent to be able to layer sounds quite like Tom Misch does. While most people in their early 20s are still fumbling around trying to figure out what they want to do in life, the South Londoner has carved a name for himself as one of the city’s most promising producers, singer-songwriters and musicians thanks to his eclectic blend of styles. His music is varied to say the least, referencing everything from jazz to hip-hop to soul, complete with a J Dilla-inspired quality that often ripples beneath. Yet he’s still managed to fuse it all together and create a uniform trademark style, marked by a gripping beat and bright instrumentals. From collaborating with the new wave of young artists on the London circuit to supporting the likes of Kaytranada, his talent hasn’t gone unnoticed – and if you need any further convincing, his fans will be quick to step in and confirm, with his joint show at Camden’s Jazz Cafe tomorrow selling out within minutes. As he begins to break new ground by exploring more of his own singer-songwriter abilities, get to know the inner workings of Tom Misch’s colourful world in our interview below.
How did you begin working in music?
I was born into a musical family. My dad played the violin and there was always a lot of classical music playing in my house, so that was the start of my musical journey I guess. I got taken to a lot of classical concerts and opera which I kind of always hated, but I think I stored some of it, I imagine. Then I started playing violin – that was my first instrument – and then my sister got a guitar and I started messing around on that. I sort of fell in love with guitar and I’ve been playing that ever since. Then when I was in sixth form I started studying music technology, so I started learning how to use software and making beats and stuff and it kind of developed since then. I didn’t intend to do music, it just kind of happened from me putting up music online. I just fell into it.
What would have been the alternative career plan? Did you have anything else in mind before you fell into music?
Yeah I was actually thinking geography. I quite liked geography, history… But yeah, I ended up studying jazz guitar. I did like a year of jazz guitar at Trinity College in Greenwich, but then I dropped out after a year.
Where did the jazz side of it come from? You had the ‘classical’ upbringing but jazz obviously came in somewhere.
I’ve always had an interest for chords. I’ve always loved a nice harmony and chords and stuff, so I think my first memory of appreciating that was in my secondary school – I remember there was this pianist who would play in like assemblies and stuff. He was a gospel pianist, and the chords in gospel music are really colourful, so I just remember thinking, “this is amazing.” And then it was my sister’s ex-boyfriend who got me into jazz and hip hop. He was a big vinyl collector.
So you’ve got different sides to your music, plus all the people you work with are across different genres. Do you find it easy to balance styles?
I try not to put things into boxes. What I listen to just comes out in hopefully all the music that I make. Sometimes I have a conscious idea that I want to bring out more, like I might want to make a beat for a rapper, so I guess that has to be more hip hop driven. But I try and fuse it all into one, it’s not too much of a conscious thing like: “I want to make a certain thing today.” It just merges into what it is, I guess.
You sometimes work with certain people several times over and you come back to the people you obviously work well with. Do you feel like you’ve got a family like community going on there?
Yeah I definitely think there is. I feel like everyone that’s doing music is generally part of a movement or a kind of clique in some sense. Like, for example, Kaytranada – you could say he’s part of the kind of Montreal beat scene with Pomo and guys like that. I think I’m part of a couple of things in London. I don’t know if you know Jordan Rakei and Barney Artist and these guys – I guess we’re kind of pioneering the sound. Then there’s people like Carmody and Loyle Carner… I guess Beat Tape 2 brought people together.
You supported Kaytranada last year. How was that?
It was amazing. I’m a massive fan of Kaytranada’s. When the offer came through I was like, “this is crazy.” I got to meet him, had a little chat with him – it’s my favourite DJ set that I’ve played. It was really cool.
We were talking about a family vibe earlier. Do you think you could work with someone that you don’t have a tight relationship with?
It’s much easier if you get on as a person, music aside. I’ve done sessions when I don’t really click with the other person, but I’m in producer mode – I’m not there to be sociable I guess. I’m there to make a track. It is a job in a sense. It’s harder but it is possible.
You don’t seem to focus too much on the press. Do you think you’re guarded as a person at all?
I’m quite shy so I guess that plays a part in me doing less interviews and stuff. But I don’t think it’s that important. I want the music to speak for itself more, rather than me answer questions and stuff. Saying that, I think it’s important to do things here and there.
The irony of what we’re doing right now…
Exactly, exactly. But no, sometimes you have to do this kind of thing!
Going back to the music, a lot of the time it seems quite dreamy, almost sunny.
No, sunny! I’m not laughing at your music. I was just wondering, when you’re writing what’s going through your mind, what inspires you…
I don’t know, I’m not really sure why it’s sunny.
Maybe it’s not, that might just be me!
No, I think it is. People have said that before. If you have your own sound, I think everyone has their own colours and my style does seem to be quite uplifting and positive. I don’t know why. I guess I listen to happy music so it just comes out.
Talking about the writing process, what comes first? Is it the beat, the melody, or anything else?
I think with Beat Tape 2 and the sort of projects where I’m the producer, it’s kind of more me just having fun in the producer’s seat. They play sounds – when it’s all production based I start with the electronics and the beats and stuff. But from now on I’m trying to go in more of a live direction and write songs with me singing and playing the guitar, stuff that will go well with a live band. So that’s more kind of lyric based or I’m just messing around on the guitar, and I bring that to the band and see what happens.
It’s only recently that you’ve started singing on your own music. What changed for you?
Even though I’m quite cautious with my career – I don’t want to go too far too soon – I kind of have an urge to reach more people. I think singing on my tracks means that it’s more accessible and I’ve definitely built a much bigger fan base since I’ve started singing on my tracks. I enjoy singing so I thought why not.
It’s a natural progression I guess! You just mentioned how you want to reach more people and I think it’s interesting how a lot of your music has been made available to listen to online for free. I wanted to know your thoughts on the future of streaming and that whole debate?
It’s a weird time with SoundCloud because they’ve started monetising SoundCloud. They’re really strict on remixes and stuff now, so if you just do a little bootleg of a Busta Rhymes song it might get taken down. So I guess there’s less freedom at the moment for producers and stuff. But I started off on SoundCloud and I’ve slowly been going to other platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, but I still sometimes just want to make a beat and put it up on SoundCloud, so hopefully it won’t change too much.
I read somewhere that you used to just put all of your work out there straight away whereas now you choose to sleep on it. Do you think you’ve become more selective or patient over time?
I guess so, yeah. Your manager never wants you to just release loads of free music basically, and that’s what I was doing. So it’s kind of at the point where I’m working towards a body of work, and I want it to be really good, so I guess I’m sleeping on it and taking time over it, and also just working out how I want it to sound and stuff. But I don’t know if this is the right way to do it, because I really just thrive off releasing music.
Your new EP is out now and you’re working on your album. In terms of your musical sounds, what sort of direction are you moving in?
I’ve just started playing live shows, so from these shows I’ve got a much better idea of the sound I want to go [with]. I’m trying to write music that, when you see me live, it’s something really special, because I feel like the stuff from Beat Tape 2 doesn’t really work that well live. I guess it’s more acoustic, it allows me to have more freedom on the guitar, more singer-songwriter kind of vibes but with the electronic elements still. So banging drums, and that kind of thing.
In terms of your guitar style, do you have any particular people who influence you? Because you have got a special sound.
Yeah I do. I love John Mayer – I’ve been obsessed with John Mayer for years. I’ve been fangirling him for ten years or so.
That was my first ever gig actually.
Can you hear it when I’m playing guitar?
I’ve never thought about it but now you’ve said it, thinking back I definitely can.
I mean I pretty much copy him, then there’s a pianist called Robert Glasper, and obviously he plays piano but I draw a lot from that. So those two are my main musical influences.
What are the hardest aspects of what you do?
I think for me it’s having a balance… When you really get involved in your work – it’s probably the same for any artist in any shape of form – but when you really get involved in your work you go a bit insane sometimes. I think because you have to really be completely inside your project, and I think it’s quite hard to go just to the pub with friends after being so deep inside my musical world.
And the most rewarding part?
Probably just making a really good track, and playing live recently has been really rewarding for me – actually seeing people in the flesh who love my music. Because until now it’s just kind of been online.
Future goals or plans?
I don’t really have any goals like win a Grammy or anything, I just want to carry on making music. I want to be able to make whatever I want and not have to worry if people like it. I don’t know, I feel like I’m still at the stage where I have to kind of prove before I can just make what I really want to make. It sounds weird, but… It’s a bit like how Radiohead, for example, are at the point where they can just do what they want and people listen anyway.