Towma is a London based atmospheric pop trio. They create music with subtle elements of lounge and jazz with only a bass, a keyboard and a drum kit, that goes down like a smooth whisky. The London Word caught up with them following an impressive and mood lifting set at Barfly in January.
You describe yourselves as ‘intelligent piano-driven pop’. Tell us a bit about your influences – both musical and non-musical.
Hugh (keyboards, lead vocals): ‘My hero is, without a shadow of a doubt, Ben Folds. I just thought I would have been a much better musician (and person) if I’d only listened to Ben Folds Five a few years before. Outside music, I am inspired to write stories and lyrics when I read stuff by people like Steinbeck and Salinger. They capture characters beautifully and have an amazing way of delicately balancing irony and sarcasm with very moving, sometimes tragic moments.’
Mark (drums, backing vocals): ‘My listening habits morph significantly over time; at the moment for example it is nothing but Debussy whereas last week it was Eminem’s new LP.’
Will (bass, backing vocals): ‘I love an embarrassingly inconsistent range of music. Big pop influences include Stevie Wonder, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout, The Beatles, Outkast. Slightly outside of that, Sondheim and Britten have really shaped the way I think about words and music.’
So, Towma – what’s with the name?
Will: ‘Weirdly, it was the name of my Grandma’s first ever D&D character. I think she got it by rolling 12ds through a copy of Woman’s Weekly.’
Mark: ‘It’s a Kabbalah thing, you wouldn’t understand.’
Hugh: ‘It may seem far-fetched, but it actually originated from a booze-fuelled evening in Puerto Vallata in Mexico, when some Spanish tourists were obsessed with taking photos (tomas) of Will’s deathstalker scorpion tattoo.‘
Does Will really have a deathstalker scorpion tattoo?
Mark: ‘If you would like to ask him to pop his clothes off maybe you can find out for yourself?!’
You’ve played Barfly, The Pheasantry, The Finsbury… which London venues have been your favourite? What has been your best crowd experience?
Hugh: ‘The first time we played Barfly in 2012 was a big step for us. We had a really packed crowd who got behind us right from the off. Once the ‘rabbit in the headlight’ moment passed, it was an incredibly exhilarating experience.’
Speaking of which, the tree artwork for the EP is gorgeous – who’s responsible for that?
Will: ‘When we were thinking about the release of Constant Noise I thought straightaway of Jillian Bain Christie. I showed Hugh and Mark her mixed media work and they immediately said “YES THAT PLEASE”. It’s so intricate and such a striking image, we were totally over the moon with it.’
Which one of you was it again who came up with the ‘tree-shirt’ thing (groan!)?
Will: ‘I’m pretty sure the dreadful/awesome “treeshirt” pun was Mark, or maybe Hugh, but if you secretly like it then it was totally me who thought it up, and you should buy a shirt to celebrate.’
How is the band dynamic? Do you guys work together, play together?
Hugh: ‘The challenge we are faced with when we’re writing is to have one eye on how the music will be received – how will that work live? Can people relate to that? Is that radio-friendly? – whilst also maintaining our integrity and doing our natural songwriting styles justice. So long as we continue to take the St. Michael out of each other, I think we work together pretty well.’
Will: ‘Watching us write together is a bit like hedgehogs mating, lots of diplomatic tiptoeing with occasional spiky intervals. We all have good instincts and high standards about how Towma should sound, so sometimes we butt heads a bit over the tiniest details, but I think it means our little hedgehog babies are all the more beautiful once they’re born. Or something like that.’
Being a London band, are there any hidden gems around the city you would recommend? Bars, music venues, taxidermy shops?
Will: ‘Not the most hidden of gems, but Sir John Soane’s Museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields is maybe my favourite museum. Full of antiquities and architectural knick-knacks. Oh, and speaking of taxidermy, you can’t go wrong with that overstuffed walrus at the Horniman. Poor bemused, be-tusked Zeppelin.’
Hugh: ‘There’s a great jam night at a Brazilian bar called Floripa in Shoreditch. I tend to find that jam nights are a bit of a lottery, but this one really is worth a look. It runs on the third Thursday of every month and has been buzzing every time I’ve been down there. Check it out!’
What’s next for you? Where will the band be next month? Next year?
Mark: ‘I think we are pretty much taking over the world, or is that 2015? We are just about to pop back into the studio to demo some new tunes for a management label who are interested in working with us which is very exciting.’