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Tom Cunliffe - Template For Love Interview

16 Apr 2018 // An interview by butch181
Part way through the album release tour for his sophomore album Template for Love, Tom Cunliffe took the time to answer a few questions:

You were born in London before coming to New Zealand around the age of 7. At what age did you start picking up musical influences? Has your time in England as a child given you a wider appreciation of music?

I’m sure I’ve been picking up musical influences since before I can remember – who knows what has been seeping into my brain and now making its way out in song form. But the first album that really grabbed me and took me to a different place, a world away from my world, was Is This It by The Strokes. My high school art teacher brought a copy back from New York, declaring that they were the next big thing. He wasn’t wrong. I’m not sure if my time in England had any influence on my music, all I remember from back then was feeding Maltesers to squirrels.

You’ve dabbled in piano and violin, but you have a preference for the guitar when you write and perform. Is there any reason that you favour the guitar? Is it simpler when you also have vocal duties?

Piano and violin were my childhood instruments and to be honest they were another form of homework really. I do remember enjoying the slower, more mournful piano songs, but the structure of grades and examinations didn’t endear it to me. I picked up guitar at university and taught myself, very slowly and very casually. This suited me more. Now I love playing piano, but I don’t have a keyboard, so it hasn’t become part of my set. Soon though.

You’ve mentioned in prior interviews that your first musical obsession was hip-hop (the likes of Tupac and Eminem). What brought you around to the folk genre?

My dad saw the similarity between the storytelling of Nas and Tupac and Bob Dylan. He played Blood on the Tracks for me on a car journey up to Golden Bay and I loved it. Then I spent a whole summer trying to learn the picking pattern in Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.

Your songwriting style has always started with lyrics first, followed by a melody. Has this changed at all with your sophomore album Template for Love?

Now it tends to be a little more fragmented. I start with thoughts and write them down, they can be snippets of lyrics or a little phrase, but I only keep them if I think that’s an idea worth sharing or exploring. Then I start writing and stop every now and then to play guitar or piano and see if anything musical can influence the metre.

You brought along a number of artists to write and record with (such as Reb Fountain, Ben Woolley, and Dave Khan). How did you pick who you would collaborate with?

I asked Dave to produce this one with Ben Edwards and his idea was to get the best band we could and give everyone the throw ideas round down in Lyttelton. So, he chatted with Ben Woolley and Gus Agars and they were keen. Gus’ friend Dan Luscombe from Melbourne was also keen on a musical adventure in a freezing hillside village, so he joined us, and Reb was down for her ‘Hopeful and Hopeless’ tour. It was actually really fortuitous; the guys only had the spare time because they couldn’t get visas to play a run of festivals with Marlon Williams in Russia!

The opening track on the album, This Table is a River, was born lyrically from an awkward dinner at a restaurant. Do the rest of the tracks have similar origins? Is I've Been Bitten by an Old White Man something that happened to you?  

I’m happy to say that I have not been bitten by an old white man! No, that song has its origins in many moments, seeing the way religion treats women and the LGBTQ community, the ridiculous condescension directed towards millennials and a photo of a room full of old white men legislating on women’s health care in the US. 

Does each contributor to the album have their own favourite track on the album? What is yours, and why?

Dan said his favourites were Hollie’s Songs and Loser’s Saloon, but I’m not sure about the others. My favourite changes all the time. At the moment it’s I've Been Bitten by an Old White Man just because people always laugh when I tell them the name.

I must ask, what has happened to your beard? Are you still trying to perfect the “Wolverine” style?

My beard left me for another man.

You are embarking on a six-date tour in venues from Auckland to Dunedin. Any shows you are particularly looking forward to?

I can’t wait to play in Wellington, I went to uni there and that’s where I started out, playing open mics. It’s always great to play at Lyttelton Records. For the Dunedin show we’re staying out in Broad Bay along the peninsula where I used to work at the Portobello Store, so that’ll be a trip down memory lane! But maybe Hastings, I’ve wanted to play the Common Room for a while so that will be a cool show.


About Tom Cunliffe

In short: Music for midnight drunks and the brokenhearted.

Longer: In 2011 Tom Cunliffe released a collection of early songs called Red Leather Blues, written in the dark, recorded in a corner of his bedroom and sent out into the world with all the confidence of a bemused baby ferret venturing out of his hole for the first time.

It wasn’t long after that he started to take things a little more seriously and since moving from Wellington up to Auckland, managed to share the stage with the likes of Wagons, Hopetoun Brown, Will Wood, Bernie Griffen, Skyscraper Stan and Holly Arrowsmith.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Tom Cunliffe


Secret Exhibition
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Template For Love
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Howl And Whisper
Year: 2016
Type: Album
Red Leather Blues
Year: 2011
Type: Album

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