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Tom McRae


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"For me, a song’s got to succeed in a way that no other art form can. It has to hit that transcendent moment. That’s what music is all about, getting that moment where you don’t know why you’re laughing or crying or dancing, but it’s nailed you and no-one knows how or what or why."

Tom McRae’s self-titled debut album, released in 2000, announced the arrival of a rare and singular new talent. It’s subsequent Mercury Prize and Brit nominations merely confirmed the insight and vision of Scott Walker, who had invited McRae to take part in his Meltdown Festival – before he’d even released a record. The album, of course, went on to figure in the end-of-year Top 10 lists of The Observer, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, Independent, Time Out and Q.

The follow-up, ‘Just Like Blood’ (release date: 3rd February 2003), has been neither rushed nor delayed – for which credit should go to McRae for not being impatient, and db Records for appreciating the wisdom in nurturing not hyping such a talent.

"Sure, I think two and a half years is a long time between records," acknowledges McRae. "But the first album had a slow start before gradually snowballing, and then I spent the best part of two years playing all over Europe and America." Feeding off these experiences, just as London (‘the greatest city on earth’) inspired much of the first record, so the ‘small industrial towns of America and mad places in LA where it’s just insane’ were to prove a significant starting point for many of the new songs. "The idea of bands on the road who think it’s boring is ridiculous," says McRae. "It’s just not. It’s brilliant. But you’ve got to make it brilliant. That’s the challenge."

The new album ‘Just Like Blood’ is worth the wait. It marks a huge step forward. In terms of sound, scope and style, it is a bigger, braver and possibly even darker work than its widely acclaimed predecessor. It feels contemporary, yet stands alone.

"The themes of the album are again dislocation and dissatisfaction and desire for escape," he explains, "but this time the desire is for escape post the point you’ve actually escaped. You’re somewhere different, but still thinking, ‘Well, this still isn’t right. What now?!’ It’s about the idea of chasing stuff that is always out of reach, with the ground constantly shifting beneath your feet. It’s about being uncertain, whilst at the same time being certain that you’ve got to keep going."

He laughs. "Y’know, the same old singer-songwriter bollocks. All gloom and doom and depression! It’s funny, the Mercury nomination raised my profile to the extent where my name appeared in The Mirror. They said I was sort of like ‘the record you would hear at the worst student party from hell.’ Which is one of my favourite quotes!" Sometimes, of course, the darkest songs can be the most uplifting. "Absolutely," he agrees. "It’s homeopathy. I think a little bit of what’s killing you is really important."

The new album is produced by Ben Hillier (Blur and Elbow). "I think I’ve achieved what I set out to do," says McRae. "Which was essentially not to do what I’d done before. I really wanted someone who would prod me out of my comfort zone and Ben was that person. He’s got a great approach to making music, which is, you start off with the basic idea and then just throw chaos at it and see what happens."

http://www.tommcrae.com

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When I received a copy of the debut album a few years ago... it stayed permanently in the player for weeks. It's been a favourite ever since.

He's doing a few dates in LA at the Hotel Cafe in the next few days. If anybody goes along... a review would be nice :)

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