Tomas Ford's 36th Birthday Premature Funeral and Party
Our intrepid reporter Liam Lynch caught up with one of a kind, home-grown, one man party, entertainer, and raconteur Tomas Ford ahead of his 36th Birthday Premature Funeral and Party on Saturday 3rd November at The Aardvark.
You’ve managed to blend many different facets of music, cabaret, comedy and visual arts into your shows among other things. How would you best describe what you’re about to a newcomer, and what could they expect when they come to see you given your reputation for involving the audience?
I put on multimedia spectacles. They come in lots of different shapes, but the idea is usually a variation on me being the biggest dickhead in any given room so that people feel free to get loose. They're intense and sweaty. I'm running around, singing like a slightly pitchy version of Bryan Ferry, changing between costumes my Mum made me while projecting video that synchs up with the video. There's a DIY lightshow of floodlights from Bunnings and stupid physical gags. And in the end, I generally bring it together in some form of ecstatic climax. It's a lot of stuff.
What was the process, if any, trying to bring all these elements together on stage?
It's the kind of thing that's come together over years of just throwing myself at it. I started in 2002, playing in punk venues and the show was meant to be a terrifying experience back then. I didn't have any musical or video training, just a big pile of theatre school pretentiousness in my brain. I slowly learned how to push and pull an audience's affection, spewed out an album or two and then suddenly found myself playing in theaters when somebody told me I would work on the cabaret scene. That was a fit from the start but it needed a lot more work and context to get right. Through that I've ended up with four different shows that I tour, which are all different flavors of a similar style. It's been a lot of trying and failing and getting small gains. The end result is that I'm too weird to be huge or famous in any sense but also what I do is totally 100% mine. Which is kind of what I always wanted.
Your current tour is entitled Tomás Ford’s 36th Birthday Premature Funeral and Party. Is there an underlying theme about getting older, and if so how do you feel about it? Do you expect to slow down a bit anytime soon given your busy schedule with writing, performing, managing yourself and your record label Normal Place?
Nah, I don't have any slow-down in me. For me, living in a city like Perth sets that kind of pace - I've always had to work twice as hard as someone on the east coast just to maintain the basics of a viable career! I know quite a few performers here in a similar position; it's not an easy town to draw a crowd in the first place and then touring costs a bucket because of the distance. The workload's a lot, but most of the time, I like it that way. I'm just at the point now where I have to start building a team around me to take on some of the workload, but up until now it's been pretty manageable. I mostly like getting older! It's a luxury. And I mean, being 36, my body is still in pretty good nick. It has to be for the shows I do, especially the endurance comedy DJ thing Crap Music Rave Party - I do that most weekend nights and it's like a four hour calisthenics workout; that's probably the only thing I'm really worried about when I get a bit older, is how to adapt my shows once my joints start to mess up. Even that though - I mean, having the kind of career where it lasts so long that I have to worry about that? I know what a lucky boy I am.
One of your support acts, Ze Rebelle, is quite a big star in Malaysia. Word has it you have quite a following over there that began with a series of viral videos in the Malay language. Can you shed some light on how this came about, and tell us about your continued connection with the country?
Ze Rebelle is a bit of a style icon. She pushes the envelope pretty intensely in Malaysia; her hypercolour style and transgressive sense of humour are not super-common in pop singers up that way. We go back a fair way; she played here for One Movement in 2011 and then my then-management JumpClimb and I brought her out for a tour and single together in 2012. After that we ended up being pals, I visited her a few times on the way through to tours in the UK. Our live shows are both multimedia electronic extravaganzas; her stuff leans more EDM-y and pop than mine but the headspace is similar. She's great fun.
She put up a Malay language version of a track Rihanna did called Work, and I thought I would surprise her by attempting a cover of her version. It ended up being a huge viral hit and so we worked together on a few follow ups. The biggest one was a video we did for Raya, the big celebration season at the end of Ramadan. It has been a bit of a surreal adventure and really interesting - I didn't really know how to capitalize on it for a long time, but we're sorting out a tour for next year now. Because it's not my usual stuff - it's in my extremely terrible Malay, mostly light comedy stuff with me dorking out in Full Dad Mode. So it's been a process to get to a point where I feel like I have enough material that I can go up there and give them a good hour of that.
I’ve read that you started out in Perth’s punk scene in the early 2000’s. Could you tell us a bit about that? There seems to be somewhat of a revival of punk music in Perth happening at the moment. What are your thoughts about Perth punk now compared to back then?
Back then Perth's music scene didn't feel so fragmented - you'd kind of play with anyone at all kinds of shows. So I'd end up on bills with punks, metal bands, goths, spoken word, electronic stuff... but I felt the biggest affinity with punk bands because that's where my music sits. I'm kind of in that Suicide-ey, TISM-ey, Public Image Limited-ey, The Residents-ey performance art with electronic music kind of place. The gigs at the Hydey were mental - a mosh pit would start and it would take over the whole front bar. Really physical, but really respectful of each other too. A kind of brutal ballet of semi-self-aware toxic masculinity. I like culture when it's DIY, hand-made and smart. Good punk definitely qualifies.
There's always great Perth punk bands around; we're a good city for that because we're too far away from anything for people to come tour here. Which sucks a bit as a punter, but it means the local bands end up playing every show going, which turns them into total machines. Seems like we're going through a bit of a good period for venues at the moment after a few years of not really having anywhere for raw-er sounding stuff to play. Which, y'know, thank fuck for that. I think it's a bit harder at the moment because that stuff isn't really in musical fashion - plus when we had a place like The Hydey, you'd have a pretty guaranteed audience on a weekend night. People would just head down because they knew they'd see a bunch of rad new local stuff. I don't see that happening as much with venues nowadays, where it just becomes your local and checking out bands is just part of what you do there.
Your latest album An Audience With Tomás Ford was six years in the making. How did it feel to finally release something to the public that you’ve worked on for so long, and how would you best describe the album in a few words?
I fear that all my albums might take that long. I actually put that album out in 2012, so it's getting a bit long in the tooth. Egads, it's six years already. I've done some singles and such since then, but the big project I've been working on for myself is my next LP, called Chase! That's a spy thriller that plays out over an album of original songs, plus an album of covers, plus a web series. I built that as a show that has already toured a lot of places in theatres; I'm adapting it to hopefully tour in cinemas next year, which is a massive undertaking as they are really weird spaces. But yeah, it's a lot of content for a one-man operation to work on. I have a little team of folks who work with me on filming and such, but it's slow going. It's also just endless revisions and honing - I think it's kind of why the stage shows work so well, is that I have obsessed over every little detail of the arrangements and video, so that when I get up onstage I can go completely off. It takes a lot of time to whittle my ideas down from being OK to being as kickass as I need them to be. I'm putting out an EP on Nov 2 though, it's essentially some new songs that I made out of Alex Elbery's songs. And there's such a backlog of projects like that and shows that are ready to be recorded and released that I think once Chase! is up, it's going to unleash a bit of a torrent of music. I've obsessed over this one way too hard and, really, it would have been out four years ago if I wasn't a one-man operation. So it's going to be a full body relief, I can't wait. Bring on February.