Tom Emlyn
E-mail interview, May 2022
by Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T

“Beneath the paving stones, the beach” – Situationist slogan.

Tom Emlyn is the guitarist in Swansea’s bilingual noise bandits Bandicoot, whose Fuzzy sounds are currently creating a mini maelstrom around the world. But how many people know that in his spare time, Tom is also the creator of his own heart stoppingly beautiful and original tracks? These showcase his expressive and evocative voice, soaring melodies and powerful poetic lyrics, all of which promise great things from his debut album.

And now, the time has come to unleash this long awaited debut. Years in the making, the record is a bittersweet love letter, a swirling mix of psychedelia, indie, and folk-tinged lyricism inspired by the post-industrial ghosts of the beaches and desolate suburbs of Swansea.
The songs are melancholic, with a wry, ironic humour, from the raw acoustic ballad 'Empire' to the epic 'Passerby' and melodic 'Under the Street'. Emlyn's lyrical style is surreal and observational, picking up on tiny everyday details and transforming them into poetry.

A cult figure in his native Swansea, it's time for these unique songs to find a wider audience.

"So good - straight into my top 10 songs of the year...when did Tom Verlaine join Belle And Sebastian? Cause that's what that sounds like, I utterly loved that" - Adam Walton BBC Radio Wales.

"Heart-stoppingly beautiful and original tracks...expressive and evocative voice, soaring melodies and powerful poetic lyrics, all of which promise great things from his debut album" - R.E.P.E.A.T. fanzine.

"Serenade is a song of love and longing, with Emlyn showing vulnerable emotional flesh. It's not navel gazing misery, though; "I'd like to serenade you, because you are the bomb" is sweetly humorous.' - God Is In The TV zine

Time certainly for us to find out what else lies beneath the paving stones.



Tom Emlyn - who, what and why?

Tom Emlyn is a human being and a singer and songwriter from Swansea, Wales. Not sure about the why, but that's how it is. Why not?

Describe your sound to an out of touch alien.

It's hard to say what conception of music an alien might have - you'd have to start by explaining that it's an art form based on mysterious mathematical vibrations that provoke emotional responses in human beings. Once that was out of the way (if they understood and didn't try to kill or eat me) I'd explain to them that my sound is a kind of swirling lyrical psych folk indie garage rock soup, with observationally poetic words. They'd probably be even more likely to kill me or invade earth, after such a convoluted attempt to describe myself.


How different is this to News from Nowhere?

News From Nowhere was a band that existed for a few years, did a few albums, and dissolved somewhere in the first lockdown of 2020.
It was always my band - I wrote the songs and words.
I named my new solo album "News From Nowhere" as well, as a tribute.
Bands come and go, that's life. It's hard to keep things together. Nothing will stop me from playing, though.
It's all the same song to me - acoustic, electric, solo, band.

How does playing solo and acoustic compare with having a band with you?

In a way, it's two sides of the same coin. I'm just going to be doing acoustic gigs for the foreseeable future, because it's logistically easier, but I'd say both have positives. There are more opportunities for intimacy and vulnerability as a solo acoustic performer, but it's a little lonelier and less powerful than having a full electric band with you. That's the challenge I'm trying to overcome really - I'd like to fill the stage with music as if there is a full band, even if it is just me playing. I think this can be done, if you play with commitment and energy.
I've thought about using backing tracks, loops or drum machines, but right now I don't feel like that's what I want to do.
Maybe in the future. It seems like a bit of an overly artificial solution.
Mainly, I really like the opportunities for improvisation in solo sets, it can be a bit more open and free, instead of having to stick to the same structures and frameworks all the time. This is an approach I'd like to develop more, but it's always going to be a work in progress.

If you were playing a solo acoustic festival, which 3 acts (living or dead) would you like to support you?

1.Roy Harper 2.Richard Dawson 3.Elliott Smith
Although it would almost definitely be me supporting them!


How important is sense of place, and history of that place?

I think it's very important to my tunes. It's a weird time, the misinformation age. We're all displaced from our surroundings, connected all the time but cut off from our sense of place and history. I think I've written such psycho-geographic lyrics partly as a response to that alienation, hyper-fixating on the specific and local, to try and find some sense of belonging or anchoring.

The sense of Welshness in my songwriting is a big part of this as well, which is something I really confronted after leaving home and traveling more - it's only then that you can really understand where you've come from. It comes back to the frequently mentioned Welsh word 'hiraeth', a sense of longing and homesickness for something you've never known, a time that might never have even existed.

I tend to view this in a somewhat postcolonial way, this sense that a lot of people in Wales seem cut off from their own culture, or divided by language, geography, aspiration or background. These aren't all uniquely Welsh problems, but it's an interesting place to write about.

I've read a lot of books about Wales as well. Dylan Thomas' short story collection 'portrait of the artist as a young dog' is an influence, I love the way he captures Swansea in the earlier decades of the 20th century. He was known more for his poetry, but his prose style is amazing too.
It's not that I sit down and consciously try to write songs about these things, and not all my songs are about these ideas by any stretch, but it's a natural theme that has emerged. The 'Old, Weird Wales', if you like.

Swansea is a weird, melancholic, surreal, bacchanalian, inspiring place, full of humour, strange characters and obscure history.

In that respect, do you feel yourself displaced in Cardiff? Not far away geographically, but maybe rather different?

I definitely feel like I've entered a new chapter in the last year or two. I'm ready to write new kinds of songs about new ideas, although I'm not too sure, yet, what those will be! I feel that I've completed a bunch of songs in a certain Swansea- ish mould, and it's time to get those out into the world, before moving on.


How important are the words in what you do?

They're extremely important, but so is the music. I might be wrong, but I think a lot of people these days don't listen to the words enough. Although that doesn't really matter, I'll still write and perform.

I'd say it's 50/50 words and music in terms of importance. Songwriting is an art form that involves balancing both elements. It's not poetry, although I try to write interesting, poetic words.
You can get away with things in lyrics that you could never get away with in poetry, in fact I don't really think I can write poetry.

I do think of songwriting as a literary form, though, because it is! It's got words in it. It can be poetic without actually being poetry.
There's no rules to songwriting. Anything can be a lyric - scraps of overheard conversation, stolen bits of film scripts, fragmented images.

Usually I write words and music separately, then join them together later on. Sometimes they arrive together though.

Why did you chose the situationist slogan to go with Under the Street?

I studied some situationist literature in university, and that quote always stuck with me. I like the way the situationists forced people to look at their surroundings more intently and recontextualise their sense of space. That's kind of what I try and do in my songs too. When I ended up writing about some of these psychogeographic themes, it popped into my head, especially since it seemed to fit the seaside theme of the album artwork and video for Under the Street.

What can we expect from the album? The singles make it sound fairly varied. What are your hopes for it? How can people hear it?

I'm very proud of the album. It's been really nicely mastered by Charlie Francis, who has worked with REM and Robyn Hitchcock. He's done a great job. I feel like it has some great performances, and treads a line between simplicity and complexity that I've been striving for for a while. It's pretty varied, but fits together as a psych garage folk kind of indie sound, whatever you want to call it. It's pretty much come out the way I wanted. Tom Rees of Buzzard did a great production job on it, and Rhiannon Rees kindly let me use her photo for the album artwork.
There's a great band of friends on there supporting me by playing various instruments.
Ultimately I just hope people listen, enjoy and connect with it. I think they're songs that will only deepen as you listen.
It will be available on streaming services on the 30th May. No plans for a physical release currently, unless people want that.
It's been a long time coming, so it will be really nice to have it out there.

It seems to distil many years of your life. How difficult will it be to write a follow up?

I've already written the next few follow ups! (See below). It's like my diary, there's no difference to me between my life and the songs, they flow into each other. I've written a lot and not released much so far, so I'm playing catch up with myself really. But I'm always looking for the inspiration for a new chapter.

If you were in a cover band, what would you play?

Songs from 'The Anthology of American Folk Music' in a fuzzed-up psychedelic style

What have you learnt from your time around 'the biz'? What advice would have for a year 6 band I work with?

What's that quote? "The music industry is a shallow trench filled with con men, cutthroats and sharks. There's also a negative side". Something like that. Don't expect an easy ride or an honest living, but at least you're always guaranteed wild, fun experiences! You just have to be honest and real with yourself, and the music will teach you that if you listen.

What's next for Tom Emlyn?

I'll be supporting Adam Walton June 24th in Elysium, Swansea (tickets here) and playing a few festivals in the summer including Nozstock. Also, I will be releasing more music from my archive over this summer. It's all ready to go and I've been sitting on it for a while, so it's exciting. I consider it all one body of thematically related work, so the debut album is just the start! Keep an eye out for the rest.

What's best, chips or cream buns?


With that totally correct if controversial answer, it's time to thank Tom for his time, inspiration and friendship. Having his track 'Serenade' on a R*E*P*E*A*T flexi has been one of the highlights of my time back in Swansea. His live shows are spine tingling, honest and powerful, highly recommended.

Follow Tom's musical adventures in Facebook here and on Instagram here

News from Nowhere released on 30.5.22. Produced by Tom Rees (Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard) at Rat Trap Studios, Cardiff, and mastered by Charlie Francis (REM, Robyn Hitchcock), the album features a powerful electric band made up of friends and collaborators from the Welsh scene.

For fans of Elliott Smith, REM, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Bob Dylan.

Available on all good streaming services from 30/05/22!



wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?