It’s probably a good idea to quickly familiarise yourself with Mr Tommy Spender (performing as Spender). His debut EP Modern Pest was hailed by Tone Deaf as ‘Damon Albarn raised on a diet of Prince and Spoon’, and hints at the start of big things to come. It was created as only an instrumentalist can – alone in a room surrounded by acoustic instruments, electronic enhancements and the desire to just keep on keeping on. While lead single ‘Bed & Chair’ has made a swift impression on punters, this overnight success has, as always, been years in the making.
“Things never happen quickly,” Spender laughs. “Things take a lot of time to make them look like they happened overnight. Things are moving and that’s what’s exciting for me. To give you an image, I’ve been like a caveman slumped over a laptop bashing his head into a guitar or a microphone. There has been a lot of down time for me to get together my thing and now I’ve got it and I’m able to finally start communicating what my thing is. I guess my friends and family have been very patient and I think they’ve been like ‘What the hell is Tommy doing?’ so it’s a massive relief to show them what I’ve been doing.”
So what exactly has kept him going? Lots of musos are, this very minute, holed up in a room perfecting a song that may never be heard because they will run out of steam. “I reckon my wife, my friends, the songwriters I work with,” he says. “They give you a little nudge by going ‘What’s going on’ or ‘I really liked that thing’ and all of those crumbs eventually become a big cake.”
Some of those friends appear on his EP, with Clairy Browne and Wally de Backer lending their voices to his tunes. “Clairy I would consider one of my best friends; we lived together years ago and did a duet for a while called Clairy and Tommy before her band exploded,” he says. “She went to high school with my wife – they’re absolute best friends – so she’s family. Wally I’ve known, not as an awesome mate that I’ve like known for years, but we’ve hung out and talked about music and shown each other mutual respect.”
For Spender, staying focused has been the key to his career beginning some semblance of a journey. While others may have fallen victim to envy as their friends’ bands reach greater and greater heights, Spender has never been clouded by ego. “I think part of the discipline of being an artist is to focus on the work – there was a hole to be dug and I put my back into it,” he says. “Yep, others may have dug a bigger hole faster than me but I’m happy for them and I just need to come back to the music. The big challenge I’ve faced is separating ego out from discipline and work ethic. It’s been humbling to have no feedback and to not have my ego fed at all. I was just doing this thing where I was making all these sacrifices, I was spending all this money to do this thing and it was just the little crumbs I was getting as signs to keep going.”
After a tour with Mama Kin, Spender is bracing himself for the brilliant chaos that is a Clare Bowditch tour. “She’s got such an insane voice,” he says with genuine admiration. “We’ve had one run through and neither of us had had enough sleep and she was forgetting the words to her songs and she was still amazing. She sounds like a beautiful bell ringing; something really happens when she opens her mouth, there’s a real expression. I do have a band but not for this tour. I’m a bit of a nerd so I’ll be getting on stage with a couple of different instruments and microphones and I’ll be creating backing bits as I go on the laptop. Things will be different to the recordings but I like doing that.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Spender play Clare Bowditch’s The Winter Secrets Tour. Lizottes, Dee Why on Thursday August 1, The Small Ballroom Friday August 2, The Factory Theatre on Saturday August 3. Modern Pest out now through Donut Beach Records/MGM.