Tom A. Smith On Working With Miles Kane, Touring and Sunderland AFC | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, June 21st, 2024  

Tom A. Smith On Working With Miles Kane, Touring and Sunderland AFC

Meet the newest kid on the block from the North East of England

Aug 24, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Sunderland based singer/songwriter Tom A. Smith Sunderland based singer/songwriter Tom A. Smith might still only be in his teens, yet he’s already achieved more than many of his older and more experienced peers. Having started playing the guitar at the age of four, Smith was performing from the age of eight and appeared at Glastonbury Festival for the first time three years later.

Since then, he’s emerged as one of the most prodigious talents unearthed by the UK in many a year, having written over 500 songs during lockdown. Earlier this summer, Smith returned to Worthy Farm once more, playing to a packed-out Leftfield tent as part of Billy Bragg’s Radical Round-Up on the Sunday afternoon.

He also released his third EP (EP3) at the end of June, which has already been playlisted on numerous national radio stations with Smith also appearing on the likes of Soccer AM, MTV Gonzo and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Written and co-produced with Miles Kane alongside Hundred Reasons’ Larry Hibbitt. Lead track and former single “Like You Do” highlights Smith’s remarkable panache for constructing simple but effective melodies against a crushing arrangement to create three of the hardest hitting minutes of music this year.

So, Under the Radar sat down with Sunderland’s finest to discuss his music, future plans, and of course his other love, football.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): It’s been a bit of a whirlwind couple of years for you?

Tom A. Smith: Oh yeah. The last year and a half has just been mad. Every week, something new is happening which was just more mental than the last so, it’s ticking along nicely.

When did you start writing and performing live?

I started getting guitar lessons when I just turned four off a band that were friends with my dad called Detroit Social Club. They were a fantastic Newcastle band that did a bit of touring with Oasis and bands like that. They used to come around our house and give us a ten-minute guitar lesson, then play an hour of football, an hour of FIFA, and drink all my dad’s drink. That would just happen every week; they’d come round and it would be such a laugh. It would be great fun. We’d be enjoying it every week because you know, you can give a five-year-old a guitar, but if he’s not enjoying it, then it’s gonna be a struggle to get him to keep on playing it. It wasn’t even about the music, it was just about enjoying it and having a good time. Eventually when I turned eight, I did my first show supporting them. It was a reunion show that they did at an iconic venue in Newcastle called the Cluny. I must have only done a fifteen-minutes set. I was so nervous and hated every second of it when I was on! But then the second it was finished, I just knew it was what I wanted to keep on doing and that I loved it really. It took a few years before I started really writing. I was writing the odd daft song here and there, but never really tried to have a back catalogue or anything like that. But then lockdown started, and for me I just realised I wanted to do this as a career. I wanted to do this as a job, but I didn’t really have the songs or anything like that to be able to do this. And I couldn’t keep playing covers forever. That wasn’t going to work. So, throughout lockdown, I treated it as a nine-to-five job every single day and just wrote and wrote. It didn’t matter how creative I felt or how motivated I felt to do it. I just did it with the hope that something might come out of it each day, and by the end of lockdown, I probably had around 250 songs just demoed and recorded ready to go, which is now up to about 500.

What inspires and informs your writing? What do you feel most comfortable writing about? What kind of subjects?

It varies really. It could be something that I’ve just seen on the news that might annoyed me or whatever. Most of the time, love songs are the easiest songs to write, so, if I’ve got nothing that’s particularly inspiring me at the time I tend to write a love song. It really depends. What I used to do was ask my family to name an artist or give me a topic and I’d write a song about it or around it. It helped me work out ideas and try out new things. But it does vary. Something might have happened in my life at the time that felt good to write about. I feel like whenever anything happens it’s easier for me to write a song about it over anything else. When it comes to sounds, styles and stuff like that, you’d think if you’re writing and writing and writing over and over again day in day out, everything would start to sound the same. But because you’re doing it every day, you remember what you did recently, so you don’t really do it again. I’ve got loads of songs that are just completely different to one another, maybe not even the same genres or anything. It was always about making sure I kept it new and fresh.

So, who would you say your main influences and inspirations are from a musical point of view?

I suppose it has to be Detroit Social Club, especially early on as everyone sort came around my house and gave me guitar lessons. I was also fortunate enough that Johnny Bond also used to come around and give us guitar lessons, then he went on and joined Catfish & The Bottlemen. He was a massive inspiration for me as well. I got to work very closely with James Bay, who’s also one of my guitar teachers. I went to the Guitar Tech with him six or seven years ago. He was massive for me and he gave me so many brilliant opportunities to play some amazing shows with him when I was younger. But in terms of what I listen to and how I sound now, a lot of that comes from my dad. He would always be playing records in the house, like non-stop. So, I knew every word to lots of Cure songs and Smiths songs and Oasis songs by the time I was six or seven. Mainly because it was always on in the house. So, I think I’ve always just loved music. I’ve never really had a favourite style or sound or anything like that. I just think a good song’s a good song and in terms of influences, it always varies.

I guess one of the most obvious comparisons for you is probably Sam Fender, as much for both of you coming from the North East as any musical style or sound. Do you think that’s a fair – if somewhat daunting – comparison?

I would be more than happy with the success Sam Fender’s had. He’s absolutely smashing it, so there’s definitely worse people to be compared with. But you know what, it doesn’t really bother me because when I listen to my sound and Sam’s sound there’s quite a noticeable difference. I don’t think we sound similar at all. It’s just that we’re both young North East lads that play the guitar really. As I say, there’s worse people I could be compared to so I don’t mind it really. He has had such a phenomenal career and everyone up in the North East and guitar music in general has a lot to thank him for over the last few years. What he’s done for the scene. Im not phased by it. I’ve heard a few comments like “He’s the Sam Fender from Wish” and stuff like that, but I don’t mind it really. I’m hoping I’ll create my own path over the next few years. As for Sam, he’s a smashing, top guy and he’s obviously an absolute genius too.

Another thing for me is that you are a shining example that people from the North, from the North East, from the Midlands where I’m based can make it without necessarily having to move to London. Is that something that’s always been at the back of your mind as well? Particularly as there’s always been this preconception that you’ve got to move to London before anyone pays attention to an artist.

I’ve done a lot of shows in London, especially in the early days and the only people who were remotely important came to those shows. But the thing is with social media and everything now, you don’t really have to. It’s not such a necessity to go everywhere really. You can be seen and people can be engaged and get involved with your music without even seeing you play live now, which is amazing. It probably is easier to get noticed down there. I sometimes feel like it’s such a disadvantage to be up in the North East with music because there’s so little coming out of it at the minute. But even though it’s quite difficult to get to that first stage of being in the public eye, I feel like once you’ve managed that it’s actually much easier than anywhere else because there’s not much competition once you’re there. So, it becomes easier once you’re there and I’ve been really enjoying the last year and a half. Obviously you go to London and places like that, but even then it’s not really London, it’s just Shoreditch. They all only go on one street. There’s so many times where I’ve maybe thought about moving. I record down there and my songs are produced in London, so it’s such a great creative city and space. So, maybe further down the line I might, but I’m quite happy with where I am right now and I’ve got plenty of people around me at home that are important and really supportive who’ve helped my career. So, I’m in no rush.

Two of the people you’ve recently collaborated with are Miles Kane and Larry Hibbitt from Hundred Reasons who worked on your latest EP. How did those collaborations come about? Are they people you’d like to work with again in the future?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Larry’s done a fantastic job with all three EPs really. What I love about him is because I’m making all these demos at home all the time, and sometimes you can go to a studio and you’ll have a producer who probably knows a lot more than you do when it comes to recording and production. So, they’ll take the reins a bit. Whereas with Larry, he has a respect and understanding that these are my tunes I’ve already written and recorded. Every single guitar part, every drum part, everything. And we’ll go down and record a track in four or five hours and if he has a suggestion that might improve a song, we’ll definitely try it. But then if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. He has been fantastic to work with and I hope to work with him for EPs and records further down the line. When it comes to Miles Kane, he was just fantastic to work with. He said I was the only other person that he’d written a song with and released a record with other than Alex Turner, which is phenomenal. Crazy even. Miles is a genius, a brilliant performer and songwriter. I’m loving his new stuff as well. I was on the tour with him last May. It was the second day of the tour that we joined him and he watched our set then he met with us after the show and instantly said we need to get in the studio and write a record. Which was such an amazing thing to hear. The actual day in the studio was amazing and again, similar to Larry, he knew it was my song even though it’s our song really. He was always making sure I had the final say on everything which was amazing, and I’ve actually worked with Miles again since. There is another song, and also one with Hugo White from The Maccabees as well. The three of us worked together for a few days, just writing and there’s a couple of songs that I love from those sessions, so they might see the day light of day soon. So, I’d definitely work with them again and have them produce more of my music because it was such a great time and a great experience all round.

You’ve released three EPs so far. What’s the next release going to be? Will it be another EP or is it going to be an album?

I don’t think I’m gonna do an album yet because I think with an album, you’ve only got one debut album. I’m not shy of having any songs. I’ve got hundreds that I’m really happy with that are ready to go. So, I’m just waiting for a time where if I released an album, enough people would actually listen to it to make it worthwhile. Which I think if I did now there wouldn’t be as much excitement and hype around it whereas maybe there would be in a year or year and a half’s time. I’m just seeing how it goes and seeing how this gradually builds. We’ll know when it’s the right time to release an album because there will be enough excitement and energy around it. But obviously I can’t keep releasing EPs forever. I can’t be on EP 76 and just keep cranking them out every few months. I’m not sure what the crack is with releasing any more eps. I’m definitely going to be recording very soon and I sort of know what the next singles are going to be. So, I’m going to get them recorded soon and hopefully they’ll be out within a few months. But, I’m really happy with the way things are going at the minute and every single seems to be doing better than the last one which is what you want to see. There’s been no drop off and even though it’s gradual, I’m just loving how it’s going at the minute. We’re noticing now at pretty much every gig where people know the words to most of the songs which is a great thing.

It’s been very organic, hasn’t it? You’ve played around 150 shows in the last eighteen months or so and you’ve got another massive UK tour coming up throughout November and December. Do you think it’s really important for artists to go out, play live and build up their audience via word of mouth?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I remember Catfish and the Bottlemen used to do that very early on before they released their first record. They just gigged non-stop all the time, put on their own little tour in all these different cities and small towns. They literally played everywhere, so it is important because there’s so much stuff getting pumped out every single day. So much new music. There’s something like 20,000 new songs put on Spotify every single day. It’s mad, and so the chances are nobody’s gonna listen to it. So, you’ve got to play as many shows as you can locally and elsewhere. I know it’s quite expensive nowadays to travel around, but it’s so important for people to get used to seeing your name on a line-up and used to seeing your name on bills. Because eventually that’s when it starts to get higher and higher up the bill and it’s all perception if people are seeing you everywhere all the time. It just looks great and it looks like you know what you’re doing. The best way to showcase your music is through a live performance. That’s why we’ve been trying to do it as much as we can. Recently we’ve been playing three or four gigs a week, so, it’s well worth it and we love playing live. It’s the best part of our work really.

You first played Glastonbury Festival when you are eleven then played a couple of sets there in June. Did you notice a big difference in how people responded to you from when you played the first time?

I played the Leftfield this year on the Sunday and then also did an acoustic set at Strummerville on the Thursday, which was absolutely incredible. There were probably about 4-5,000 people trying to get into this little area at Strummerville. So, the stage manager came on stage after my first song and made me ask people to stand up so we could get more people in. The queue ran right around the corner. Loads of people knew the words and loads of people had come down to watch me on the Thursday which was incredible. When I first played Glastonbury when I was ten or eleven, I just did covers really. Mainly Beach Boys covers and stuff like that. It went down really well and was still amazing. There were probably about 200 people when I started, but then around 4-500 people by the end singing along to “Kokomo”. Even compared to last year, when I also did the Leftfield as well. It was this thing called a Radical Round-Up, where you had three songwriters on stage and you all took turns. That was brilliant. Nobody knew the songs or anything so I guess this year showed me how much it’s grown and developed since, when there were people at both sets that knew every single word. Which is always nice, especially when you’re on at the same time as Blondie. It was brilliant this year and I’m loving seeing how, especially over the last few months since I’ve released songs like “Weirdo”. How much it’s resonated with people and how it’s getting received live as well.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far? If you had to choose one moment that stands out, what would it be?

There’s been quite a few. A big one for me was playing on Soccer AM with Miles Kane. I’ve been watching Soccer AM my entire childhood.

You’re a Sunderland fan then I take it?

Yes. I’m a massive Sunderland fan! I’ve had a season ticket for about ten or eleven years. We’re hopefully on the way back up now. We had a few years down in League One but last season we just missed out on promotion to the Premier League. I think it was just a mix of injuries and bad luck that cost us in the end so we just didn’t quite make it. But I’m positive again for this season and I think we’ll do all right. But Soccer AM was something else. I had a brilliant day and it just shows how amazing Miles is. I messaged him a couple of days before as Soccer AM got in touch with me asking whether we’d part of it and if we’d do “Like You Do”. Miles wasn’t meant to be doing it at the time and I just dropped him a text saying we’re on Soccer AM this weekend so if you want to play our tune together that’d be amazing. I’d love it if you came down. He said, oh yeah, absolutely. That’d be brilliant. So that was amazing. Meeting Elton John and playing with him at Hyde Park in London was another highlight. That was incredible. I was the only unsigned artist on the line-up as well. The fact that he curated the lineup himself really meant something as well. Glastonbury was quite funny actually, because Elton announced he’d be bringing a few special guests onstage during his set, so people assumed I was one of them because I was already playing and I just saw Twitter going absolutely crazy. There were loads of people talking about me saying, “He’s bringing Tom A. Smith, he’s bringing Tom A. Smith, because this guy’s a 19 year old songwriter that Elton discovered last year.” I was just stood in the crowd refreshing Twitter over and over seeing who was being tagged and stuff. I was quite tickled a little bit to be mentioned among some incredible names, even if it was never going to happen. But that was an incredible day. Obviously doing Glastonbury with the band for the first time was brilliant as well. But there’s been so many. Opening Leeds Festival last year and 6-7,000 people in the tent moshing to every tune. It was amazing. There’s so many to pick from. Selling out your first shows, it’s been a phenomenal last year and a half. We got to go to Europe for the first time which was great. I feel so privileged and almost a bit of imposter syndrome early on, but it’s gone now and we’re just loving it and excited for the rest of this year.

What advice would you give to a new artist just starting out? What would you tell them to do? What would you tell them to avoid?

The main thing is avoid caring what people think. Because as soon as you start being bothered about that, that’s when you lose any sort of confidence or belief in what you do. Just enjoy it as well, and work harder than anyone else because it’s such a competitive world. Everyone you ever meet either wants to be a footballer or a rockstar. So, everyone wants to do it but only a select few really get the opportunity to do it as a career. So, you’ve just got to work at it every single day. I work twelve hours a day writing, recording and doing stuff that’s related to music. So just work harder than anyone else. Enjoy it, get the best part out of it and don’t let anybody tell you what you’re doing is wrong.

What does the future hold for Tom A. Smith? Where do you see yourself in eighteen months time?

I’m just taking every day as it comes at the minute and trying to get as much enjoyment out of it as I can. But you know, I’ve obviously got a goal and I’ve obviously got a dream for this to be really massive and be as big as it can be. People ask me a lot, “what’s left to do now that you’ve done so much over the last year and a half?” But realistically I’ve not done anything yet. I’m doing a tour at the end of the year of 100-150 capacity venues, which I’m really excited for and really grateful to be able to do. But there’s bigger rooms than that so we’re just gonna keep working and keep chipping away at it. Locally, it’s doing so well now. We’re about to sell two nights out at the biggest venue in Sunderland (The Fire Station), which is amazing considering it took us four weeks to sell 60 tickets five months ago. We sold 800 in four or five days, which is amazing. We’re so appreciative at the minute, but there’s so much more to be able to do and there’s so many more people that can know who we are and so many more people who I know will enjoy the music, so I’m just gonna keep working at it and see how it goes.

Tom A Smith embarks on his biggest UK headline tour to date later this year, calling in at the following…

NOVEMBER

5 TH – GLASGOW – SWG3 POETRY CLUB

6 TH – EDINBURGH – SNEAKY PETE’S

8 TH – YORK – THE FULFORD ARMS

9 TH – HULL – ADELPHI

11 TH - SHEFFIELD – SIDNEY & MATILDA – SOLD OUT

12 TH – LEEDS – HYDE PARK BOOK CLUB

14 TH – LIVERPOOL – KAZIMIER STOCKROOM

15 TH – NOTTINGHAM – THE CHAMELEON

16 TH – LEICESTER – DUFFY’S

17 TH – BEDFORD – ESQUIRES

18 TH – PLYMOUTH – THE JUNCTION

19 TH – EXETER – THE CAVERN

21 ST – BRIGHTON – KOMEDIA STUDIO

22 ND – SOUTHAMPTON – HEARTBREAKERS

23 RD – OXFORD – THE BULLINGDON

24 TH – CARDIFF – CLWB IFOR BACH

26 TH – BRISTOL – THE LOUISIANA

27 TH – BIRMINGHAM – SUNFLOWER LOUNGE

28 TH – ST. ALBANS – THE HORN

29 TH – LONDON – CAMDEN ASSEMBLY

DECEMBER

1 ST – MARGATE – OLBY’S SOUL CAFÉ & MUSIC ROOMS

2 ND – GUILDFORD – BOILEROOM

3 RD – TUNBRIDGE WELLS - TUNBRIDGE WELLS FORUM

4 TH – CAMBRIDGE – THE BLUE MOON

5 TH – NORWICH – NORWICH ARTS CENTRE

6 TH – MANCHESTER – THE LODGE @ THE DEAF INSTITUTE

7 TH - MIDDLESBROUGH – EMPIRE

8 TH – SUNDERLAND – THE FIRE STATION – SOLD OUT

9 TH – SUNDERLAND – THE FIRE STATION

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