When I speak to multi instrumentalist and composer Meilir Tomos, I find him right in the middle of what he describes as ‘quite a fun day’. Its pleasure he tells me, comes from his yearly purchase of music gear. He’s gone and bought himself a Moog.
“I wanted a synthesizer that would make some drum sounds but it seems I’ve bought something a little more crazy than that,” he laughs.
“I kind of knew what I was getting into but we’ll see what develops.”
It’s that suck-it-and-see, experimental approach which is very much in evidence in his newly released bi-lingual debut album ‘In Tune’.
The record is a long time coming, with a couple of EPs and occasional singles on a gradual lead up to it. He played the inaugural Future Yard festival in Birkenhead in the dying days of summer 2019. In the grounds of the Priory, a pocket of calm greenery, Meilir’s set was a refreshing sorbet of eccentricity and mischief, giving us an idea of what was to come on the record.
Released via Gwdihw – Welsh for owl – Records (‘I had a childhood fascination with owls. I used to collect owl ornaments!’) there’s a real sense of playfulness to ‘In Tune’, along with deeper thoughts.
The album starts appropriately enough with ‘It Begins‘, which brings with it with drama, piano and the click of the typewriter (more of that later) with haunting vocals (more of that in a bit too).
The title song ‘In Tune’ is simply lovely, haunting and melancholic, ‘Ydy’r Ffordd Yn Glir‘ a buzzy drone morphs into strings and spaceship whooshes, and ‘Music for Typewriter‘ is as disturbing as eccentric can get.
There is so much happening in the songs yet they don’t feel overly busy or clever dick. Tomos’ voice adds to the restrained wildness within the Thom Yorke arena and higher, higher. On the gorgeous ‘The Right Way Up’, it has a real sense of fragility and vulnerability.
Singing he reckons, is the most personal element of the whole process.
“I don’t give deep thought into how my voice sounds. That’s my voice,” he explains simply.
Taking his time with the record proved to be a productive tactic. The best things in life can’t be rushed. Produced by Charlie Francis (R.E.M., Sweet Baboo, high Llamas) in Cardiff – Meilir lives near Mold in north Wales – the end result is highly imaginative and all kinds of wonderful.
“I was going to Cardiff maybe 3 or 4 days at a time recording then maybe taking a couple of months to reflect on what’s been done,” he says of the recording experience. “It was nice to play with it, let it breathe for a bit then go back and change a few things.”
His classical background may have been discarded officially but shows itself anyway, as he builds soundscapes and worlds with traditional piano as well as synths.
Every artist worth their salt welcomes the world around them into their creativity and on ‘In Tune’, Tomos makes merry with the everyday, a ye olde world typewriter, tray of gravel amongst the oddities.
I imagine, I say to him, his house might resembling the Old Curiosity Shop.
“Yes and no! I try various things, I tend to throw them away if they don’t work. I will pick things up and see if they work. More often than not things don’t. It’s got to sound good or bring something to a composition or piece. But yeah, I probably have got boxes full of things that haven’t worked.”
The use of the unconventional assists in the creation of soundscapes and worlds, the manual typewriter was – I think – used a track on the the EPs and to my ears anyway manages to sound like leaking water.
“My brain doesn’t switch off, some part of me is maybe always thinking about music,” he confesses. “I might hear a sound if I’m walking, that’s where the gravel came from to begin with. I was walking over gravel and thought, do you know what that would work as a percussion sound. I hear a sound or I see something that I think might be interesting.“
He tells me how a few years ago he was supporting Faust in Wrexham, Jean- Herve Peron brandishing a chainsaw and carving ‘IMMORTAL’ into a vast chunk of polystyrene. “It was literally flying all over the place I’ve always wanted to make things visually interesting and sonically interesting by using things that aren’t familiar or that aren’t used all the time.”
There is a definite sense of drama and theatre to his own work, even away from the stage, albeit in a rather more low key way. His youth immersed classical music and theatre no doubt contributes to that.
He didn’t join a popular music band until his mid to late teens, and felt restrained by the formalities and shortly afterwards had his head turned by a gig at Manchester Arena featuring Radiohead, Teenage Fan Club and DJ Shadow.
“I was starting to get in trouble with my piano teacher, changing things. Learning songs and playing them rather than read and would want to alter them. That combined with seeing these and learning about new things and being in a band.”
It sounds like the formal structure around the classical world wasn’t a good fit for him, rather than the joys of the music.
“It’s formal but I ended up second in a competition for being too perfect once so how does that work! Little things started to annoy me about that sort of world. It’s a little bit like jazz, in the old band we did a week tour with Damo Suzuki from Can, and he said because he was doing a never ending world tour where he was improvises with musicians, he said his nightmare was playing with jazz musicians.
Because even though it’s meant to be improvised it was sticking to set rules then improvising around that. With classical rules and jazz, there are these rules you have to stick by. I don’t really like sticking to rules!”
‘In Tune’ is available via all major streaming services now, and released on vinyl via Gwdihw Records on March 26.