INSPIRATION. One thing that Tom Auty does not lack of is inspiration. Spanning four mini-releases this year, it is only due that I offer my last interview of 2011 to the guy who has made his music relevant to the true fans of independent music in and out of his native Ann Arbor— highlighted when Apeiron was picked up by the Japanese label Nature Bliss for a CD release in February next year and when he was featured as one of the city’s pride on Soundcloud’s Local.
Sad Souls, Auty’s moniker, is not exclusive to the forlorn. In fact, most of his songs are like musical haiku weaving every tune and mood to honor the nocturnals and the dreamers. Sifting through the stillness of the night, his acoustic, ambient efforts tiptoe on the delicate, translucent paths that rays of light diffract before hitting our eyes.
It is not that Sad Souls sounds like nobody before him or is incomparable to other members of indie rock class of 2011 especially in this genre-bending stage in music. But it is that Sad Souls’ music captures the essence of how technology and talent come together, reaching out to people with the absence of hype and gimmickry but with a chanced discovery and revelry of that fated encounter. An encounter to a known feeling represented in beautiful harmonies and calm, in deep wallow of melancholia or independence. Much like how it was for me. And this fact ranks his music important to many, to us, who brave to hear what it feels like to be awashed in a reverie of being in a forest with leaves in our hair.
I understand that Sad Souls is a solo project of yours, I wonder about the inspiration in its conception. Did you have bands before this one or you always opted to work on your own?
TOM AUTY: I haven’t been in a band since high school, though I do occasionally play Blink 182 covers with some friends at parties, haha. I’ve been making music on my own for a while, but Sad Souls was the first project where I was really inspired. Sad Souls actually came about during a pretty bad time in my life and the first song I made under the moniker, Skybox, I think reflects this most accurately. I really wanted to make music in which people could get lost. I love ambient and drone music but I didn’t have much experience with synthesizers and production methods so I kept it guitar based so it could be as expressive as I intended.
I heard some songs from Wizards, your other project. Did it come before Sad Souls and say, completely shelved? By the way, I know a lot of bands that started with Blink 182 though it’s too far listening to your music now, hahaha.
I started Wizards in the summer of 2010 and started working on Sad Souls tracks after I put it out in September or so. One big goal in making Wizards songs was just to explore using software exclusively when making music, but I realized that I didn’t really have a knack for it; it wasn’t really inspired and I didn’t fall for it the songs after writing them. The project is done, but if I decide to produce songs in the same vein I might put it out under that name. The tracks I’m working on now are a little more poppy than before, but still not electronic dance music. They’re coming out on a Japanese label in early 2012.
Most of your work especially in your latest Apeiron are layered tracks with gleaming qualities in them. Do you get to play them live? How does a typical Sad Souls performance look like? I am imagining logistical nightmare-ish scenario here.
I have played a few live shows. I actually played one earlier in the month at an unofficial CMJ showcase in New York, and have played maybe 4 or 5 in Ann Arbor. And you’re absolutely right about the logistical nightmare, haha. When I get some money I’d like to buy a proper looping pedal so that I can play them the way I’d like to (without much support from the laptop) but unfortunately now a lot of my newer songs are pretty unexciting to see played live. I usually restrict the setlist to my Cerulean Tapes songs, older more upbeat Sad Souls/Wizards songs and the more popular new ones like “Dreamcatcher“.
It’s interesting you said that, I tried to imagine what the crowd be like when you are singing, say, “Windows and Churches” or “Like Dreamers Do.” These songs require much crowd attention or say listening. Have you ever thought of adding a layer to your perfomance, like say some visuals when performing live since I have noticed you like visual arts as evident in your covers. Some “quiet” acts have adapted that platform and it actually adds more texture to the music itself.
I actually had a really wonderful house show here in Ann Arbor where I had a lot of friends attending and people paid a lot of attention which was great. I actually had problems with the drum sample files for “Windows and Churches” earlier in the day so I just played it on guitar and sang, and eventually people started singing along! It was very surreal, but really rewarding and made me want to refine my live set.
I would love to have visuals, but I’m not really sure where I’d start with gathering them. I’d love to take clips from old nature documentaries and play with them in the background, but I don’t know where to find them.If anyone has some they want to send my way, feel free.
Precious Paragons comes off as a collection of forlorn songs, apparent sadness or longing radiates in it. Is it a commemorative, sort of an ode to something?
After I released Forest Loops in January I hid from the world for a few months and recorded a lot of covers and original songs that were sentimental to me. “Needle of Death” is a Bert Jansch song, and both “Singing Sailors” and “Bull Men” were originally written by Jackson C. Frank. I wrote on the bandcamp page “songs of differing ages, all from differing phases” because some of the songs were recorded early in the year and some of them a few months later. So there isn’t one specific source of inspiration, but a common thread is a lot of anxious feelings. I released some of the songs once I was feeling better as sort of a signal to myself that that era of my life was mostly over.
Honestly I was elated when I heard a cover of “These Days” in Precious Paragons, I was kind of hoping to hear you singing in it which never came. That was on the first time I listened to the record.
I’ve heard other people echo the sentiment about “These Days“, I actually just found that project file in the same folder as the other Precious Paragons tracks, and decided to put it on because I liked the sound of the guitar. I love that song, so maybe I’ll record a complete cover sometime.
I have asked some artists about this but what do you think about the fading interest on album art in music. I figure out that as an independent artist who shares his music online, you have some strong conviction on this.
Actually a lot of the album art that I like the most is from recent releases. I think that newer artists are more often choosing album art that complements their sound, as opposed to logos and self-portraits. A lot of times when I write songs I have a visual image in mind and I try to express the punctum of the image through music, so my choices of cover art aren’t arbitrary. The first song I wrote for Apeiron was “Fleeting“, and after I wrote it I gathered a number of images that I thought were appropriate visual partners. By the time I had finished the album I thought the current art was the most appropriate of the pictures I had. So props to Kristen Williams for letting me use the photo.
That image on Aperion is fitting for the songs in it. I actually have the record as one of my personal favorites of the year, but of course including Precious Paragons in the ranks might be too much, hahaha. Seriously, what does Aperion mean to you? Is it an allegory to the Greek cosmology or something else?
Thanks so much, I’m really happy people like it. The story of Apeiron is actually kind of funny, and my roommate is the only person who knows it. I set the release date to be September 14th, but had a whole album done about 2 months prior to that. It was stylistically a lot different than Apeiron, more in line with the “Windows and Churches” sound, actually one of them will be on that special Japanese release, and it was supposed to be called Spirits of Dénouement. I was satisfied with about half of it, but even then I didn’t feel a real connection with a majority of the songs. It felt sort of uninspired, in a similar way that Wizards didn’t really mean anything to me in a sentimental sense. I thought about what kind of music I would want to make for myself, and how I would want to experience it, and decided to write all new songs. I was working until the last possible minute on it and ended up being extremely pleased with how it turned out.
The term apeiron has a number of translations, the one I prefer is “boundless”. It’s not really an adjective but the boundless space of generation theorized by ancient Greek philosophers. I chose the name because I think it reflects the goals of the recordings. Rather than each song having rigid structure and a really distinct place on the record, I wanted the songs to fade in and out of existence from a common space. I do love and am inspired by a lot of music that doesn’t do things that way, I want to write songs that have a sort of ‘sublime appeal’. Apeiron is unlike the other two Sad Souls records in some respects, too. I know Sad Souls is a pretty bleak name, but I think melancholy is a really nice thing sometimes. While the other records were born out of a sense of anxiety or sadness, this one is a lot more reflective and contemplative. A lot of it is inspired just by the how quickly time seems to pass to me, and I want Apeironto be a record people can turn to when they feel anxious or worried, and when they forget how boundless the world actually is.