CMJ Music Marathon
October 21st, 2014
Tom Vek is running late. Well, it could be the fault of Mercury Lounge’s previous performers, but the evening is at least a half hour behind schedule in any case. This is to be expected; players in the music industry are not known as a punctual bunch. But in all fairness, I was late to Tom Vek. Not the gig, but the man.
I only heard him two weeks ago while listening to KEXP’s Music That Matters podcast. He was waxing monotone to his infectiously catchy “Sherman (Animals in the Jungle)” off of Luck, the 2014 full length dropped via Moshi Moshi records in June. The track calls to mind the more danceable side of post punk-think a less incensed Gang of Four.
But Tom has a history predating “Sherman” by a decade. Dropping his first LP We Have Sound in 2005, Vek has been an enigma of the London indie scene ever since, disappearing for years between records to pursue a career in graphic design and who knows what else. He was studying at Central Saint Martins while he recorded We Have Sound, which was met with rampant enthusiasm from the underground music scene. The album landed Tom some surprising gigs including an appearance on The O.C. as well a contribution to the Grand Theft Auto IV soundtrack with his 2005 B-Side “One Horse Race.”
Vek is an autodidact when it comes to music, and spent almost a decade writing and recording his first album in an analogue studio installed in his parent’s garage. It doesn’t get much more DIY than that. This process informs us of his drive, though given his long gaps between recordings, it’s difficult to see where perfectionism ends and procrastination begins. His sophomore release Leisure Seizure didn’t surface until 2011, leaving fans hanging for almost seven years. Vek enthusiasts were so infatuated with the artist that his years of absence and radio silence inspired Facebook pages such as “The Tom Vek Detective Agency” and “Find Tom Vek.” Maybe he does have a penchant for tardiness after all.
Or perhaps, as interviews with Vek would suggest, he’s just a regular person who gets busy with real life in between albums, and has no interest in forcing things. In one conversation with The Quietus’s John Freeman, Vek admitted:
“I have never been that excited hearing someone who has suffered terribly for their work. I liked the idea of a tortured genius implicitly when I was younger, but you wouldn’t want to live like that. I was this bratty, ex-art school kid whose first album was relatively painless in the way it was put together. I reached the point when I realised [the new album] wasn’t going to make itself, and it would become an exciting indulgence.”
It’s this kind of down-to-earth approach to the irrational realm of the music industry that makes Vek so appealing. This realism comes through in his songs, which are blunt, both lyrically and sonically. Vek doesn’t sing so much as he speaks, spare grunge guitar riffs matching his vocal simplicity.
As coincidence would have it, the multi-instrumentalist and natty dresser popped up on CMJ’s lineup, so I took it as an omen to attend the Tuesday night gig.
Vek’s voice is so droning and conversational, so void of emotion, that I wasn’t sure what kind of performance I could expect from him. Would he be immovably stoic? Painfully overconfident? Despite being a self-described “bratty smartass,” what I saw in Tom was a complex character who looks like an Eagle Scout, plays like an ace, and moves like a computer programmer who’s surprisingly flexible in bed. He didn’t say much, but what he did was tinged with feigned arrogance and good old-fashioned British self-deprecation. When met with a roaring crowd, Vek cocked his head in mock pride: “Yeah, we wrote that fucking song.” More than anything it was apparent that Vek was genuinely happy to be playing his music; the evidence was in a creeping schoolboy smirk that hijacked the corner of his mouth from time to time. He’s known to champion the passion he harbors for his work during interviews: “I would rather go back to my day job than be promoting music I don’t believe in.”
A drummer and a guitarist/keyboardist accompanied Tom last Tuesday, seamlessly swapping instruments between songs. The three had a warm rapport, glancing at each other as if they knew a joke the audience wasn’t privy to.
Vek made sure to dole out a fair set, one balanced with old and new songs. Crowd-pleasers were We Have Sound’s “C-C (You Set the Fire in Me)” and “I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes” as well as “Aroused” and “We Do Nothing” off of Leisure Seizure.
Tom’s latest record has been subject to mixed reviews, but from the tracks he performed live I saw no reason to pan it. “Pushing Your Luck” was diverse in composition, implementing a Turkish-twang guitar riff, and of course, an impromptu mash-up with Salt-N-Peppa’s 1986 hit “Push It.” Vek’s signature “dancing” punctuated the performance: a staccato jerking of the arms that is as sincere as it endearing. This is a man who is enviably in touch with his inner dork.
Vek ended the set exactly how I’d expected (and hoped) he would, prolonging the pulsing synth intro to “Sherman” as long as the crowd could stand it before breaking into the first verse. Maybe there is no overarching theme of lateness at play here. Then again, maybe Tom Vek has mastered the principle of desire: keep them waiting, and they’ll always want more.
Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the next record.
Article by Madison Bloom for The Untitled Magazine