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Interview: To-Mera (Tom MacLean)

Pure metal...interviews

If you like Progressive Metal and you live in London, chances are that you have seen the Oxfordshire-based outfit To-Mera at least once in a live environment. Well, these young looking but much experienced talented musicians are currently celebrating the release of their second full-length album "Delusions" and axeman Tom MacLean was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions regarding this new release, the band's general approach and attitude towards music and their plans for the future.


Hi there guys - thank you for doing this interview with "Pure Metal". You must feel quite relieved now that your latest album "Delusions" is finally about to be released. What is the mood surrounding its release by the media and the band's fan base so far?

Tom: I'm only really directly aware of the reactions of the UK press and fan base so far, but for the most part the feedback has been pretty positive, and most people seem to think it's an improvement upon the first album, which is a relief. Of course, we're bound to divide a few people, but given the nature of our music, we expect that.

Would you say that "Delusions" is much different from your debut release "Transcendental" and if yes, in what respect?

Tom: On the whole I'd say it is just a more mature album overall. Our skills as musicians and music makers have improved, and perhaps our musical interests have broadened a little, so we wanted the new music to reflect that. Everything is just a lot more developed than on "Transcendental", but if I was to focus on any particular aspect, I'd say it's heavier (owing to the use of a detuned 7-string baritone guitar on 5 of the 8 tracks) and rhythmically more complex.

Can the departure of Akos Pirisi (drums) and Hugo Sheppard (keyboards) from the band be described as an obstacle or a blessing in retrospect? What is the current relationship between the older and the newer members of the band nowadays?

Tom: I think every lineup change has only been made for the greater good. The main reason for Akos' departure was that we didn't feel he was committed enough, and getting him to move over from Hungary was going to be a logistical difficulty. Having Paul on board has allowed us to rehearse more regularly and, with respect to Akos, he is perhaps technically more advanced, so it's allowed us to push the rhythmic element of our music a lot harder.

With regard to Hugo's departure, that was his decision, but I think it was necessary for us to proceed, as he had never really been into metal in the first place and was starting to focus his interests elsewhere. His replacement, Hen, is ideal in that he truly enjoys the music we are making (and is the principal composer of another prog band that we are both involved in, Haken). He's a true pro!

Influences from bands like Dream Theater and Opeth are more than obvious in "Delusions", still you seem happy enough to explore a few musical 'avenues' that none of the previously-mentioned bands have done so far in their career. To what extent is your musical vision influenced by your personal musical preferences?

Tom: It's interesting that you mention the Dream Theater and Opeth influences - people say that a lot. They have certainly been major influences on my musical development, although the funny thing is I don't really listen to them so much as bands like Pain of Salvation or Textures. Then again, the last album had a Symphony X tinge to it, and yet I hadn't been listening to them for a while either. I guess the inspiration I get from the bands I listen to takes a few years to rub off haha!

In all seriousness though, there is no doubt that the music I listen to influences the music I want to create. There are so many wonderful forms of music out there that I just want to reconcile them and bring them all together to create my own. The ultimate aim is really to make a musical fusion that is seamless. I still feel I am a long way from reaching a point where I can say I've achieved this, but I think with Delusions that we've taken a step in the right direction.

Do you find it difficult as a Progressive Metal outfit to find unique ways of expression? Which, in your opinion, are those elements in your music that one should expect to find only in a To-Mera album?

Tom: Progressive Metal now has such a rich history that it's difficult not to be touched by all the amazing ideas that have come out of it. From my point of view, the bands that have defined the state-of-the-art most significantly are Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Symphony X, Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah and Opeth.

If you can name one progressive metal band that hasn't been influenced in the slightest by at least one of these, then I'd love to hear them! I wouldn't deny I've been influenced by each and every one of them, but if there is an element that sets us apart, I think we could be identified by our attempts to merge jazz harmony with metal in a more consonant way than perhaps some other bands have.

The average length of the majority of the compositions that are featured in "Delusions" is eight minutes long and that is quite a brave attitude, especially for a 'young' band like To-Mera. Is that the result of a conscious decision on your part, or do you generally find it difficult to limit your artistic expressions to conventional lengths?

Tom: There's never been a conscious decision as to how long a song should be. If you spend all day listening to 8 minute plus songs, chances are that's going to become the norm to you, and you gauge your own compositions on whether or not they feel like you've really got all you can out of them. Having said that, I regard 10 minutes as being the benchmark for a true prog song, and we haven't got there yet, so there's still work to be done.

Two of the compositions that really made a huge impression on me were "Inside The Hourglass" and "Asylum". Can you tell us in a few words how these two compositions came to life?

Tom: I'm glad you said that. Those are my favourites also. "Inside The Hourglass" is a funny one. The music for the refrain was written on a glorious sunny winter morning after our first UK tour.

Initially I thought it would make a good "pop song", like "Blood" from "Transcendental", and when I heard Julie's vocal melody ideas I was convinced that we'd have another 5 minute song we could make a video of or something. But then it just kept growing.

Nevertheless, the vocals on the chorus do have something of an anthemic quality about them I think. Julie's lyrics are great as well! They're all about trying to find a way to learn to enjoy life in the present, rather than yearn for things we may never have.

"Asylum" is another very different song. It was almost written as a joke actually, and in the space of about a day, but it's just so fun to play, and it allows us a chance to flex our improvisation muscles in the mid-section (at least when we play it live - on the recording there is a saxophone solo by a friend of mine called Hugh whom I met at University.

We were in a band that played very silly jazz-rock music. He was highly influential in developing my love for jazz and improvisational music, and he plays with such good humor as well, so he was the first person I thought of to guest on this album). I think, despite the general dark demeanour of our music, we're actually quite a silly and light-hearted bunch of people, so "Asylum" really captures that.

"Delusions" is an album that sounds both fresh and powerful. Who is the person behind this success and how happy are you with the overall production?

Tom: Brett Caldas-Lima recorded, mixed and mastered the album. I think he did a great job, although there are always little things that you think could perhaps have been done better had there been more time etc.

How much time did you have to spend in the studio in order to bring "Delusions" to life and how would you describe the overall experience?

Tom: I think it was between 3-4 weeks. It passed with considerably less strife than when we were recording "Transcendental". We encountered pretty much every technical difficulty in the book with that one.

Do you guys prefer to get involved in the recording process or prefer to leave such duties in more 'expert' hands?

Tom: Well, personally I would prefer to be involved more, but my understanding of recording is pretty poor and Brett knows what he's doing (for the most-part), so sometimes I think it's a case of "too many cooks…" and all that. Involvement in the mixing process is crucial however.

What are your plans in terms of touring for "Delusions"? The most recent entry on your website was back in November when you announced your participation in the Fates Warning gig in London.

Tom: We had been banking on securing a couple of high-profile support slots around this time of year, but both fell through, so that's put us on the back foot a bit. We'll probably start off arranging a UK headline tour to get us warmed up, whilst working towards getting on a European tour with a larger band.

Your touring history as an opening act includes names such as Fates Warning, Dream Theater & Emperor. Which of these bands have been the most enjoyable to tour with? Any funny/interesting stories to tell?

Tom: Well, we didn't tour with any of them, but rather provided one-off support slots. Dream Theater was by far the highlight, being one of my favourite bands since the age of about 13. I got to meet Mike and Jordan, who were both supreme gentlemen. The crowd was relatively enthusiastic as well, at least compared to the Emperor crowd. Bit of a mismatch I think.

How would you describe the average To-Mera fan and what kind of crowds do you hope to attract during the band's upcoming tour?

Tom: Haha! Well so far I'd say our fans have come broadly from two camps: the female-fronted metal fan and the progressive metal fan. Which, I suppose, are the two camps that we fit in best with.

We did a show with the technical metal band Linear Sphere once, and we managed to play to a whole load of tech-metal heads, which I really enjoyed (despite the PA blowing up), because they totally got into every aspect of the music. Really I'd like to play to a mix of everybody. There's enough going on in our music to satisfy everyone I think.

What are your plans for the immediate future and how far do you think this band can evolve, taking into consideration the current state of the music industry?

Tom: First and foremost we want to get the new lineup gig-ready and get out there and play some shows. As for the long-term, there are no expectations.

We all have day jobs still, and whilst we'd love for this band to take off and are putting all the spare time and love and energy we can into it, we're still doing it for the love first and foremost.

Having said that, I now think we finally have the perfect lineup, so there's definitely a lot of enthusiasm about writing new and more challenging music, and already talk about how we're going to approach a third album.

Do you have any interests outside the band? How would you generally describe yourself as a person/people?

Tom: My main interest is music anyway. I spend pretty much all my free time thinking about it, but I happen to like pretty much every kind of music, as long as it has some genuine emotional content to it, so it's easy for me to step away from the metal world when it gets too much. I do a lot of self-study and try to play with as many different people as possible. It's all about self-development and enjoyment. Beyond that, I guess we all have a lot of interest in sociopolitical/ environmental issues etc.

Can you name a few of the albums that are responsible for your musical upbringing and which have been the source of inspiration for the band in general?

Tom: There are so many albums that have influenced me, no matter how directly. The first metal album I heard was "Youthanasia" by Megadeth. The first progressive metal album I heard was "Awake" by Dream Theater. Since then my musical interests just went in all directions at once! There are too many influences to choose any main sources of inspiration.

Tom, thank you very much for doing this interview - the last words are yours!

Tom: Thank you so much for your interest in the band. To any fans reading this, we hope to play for you this year!


Interview © February 2008 John Stefanis

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