UTG INTERVIEW: [debut] Discusses ‘Postcards From Berlin’

debut postcards

Gareth Thomas, aka [debut], recently released his newest album, Postcards From Berlin, which has quickly been picking up steam through word of mouth and positive press from all corners of the world. On May 2, [debut] will be performing songs from the album at Complex LA, where there will also be an art exhibit showcasing some album photography and a screening of a documentary about the making of Postcards From Berlin.

We had the chance to speak with Gareth Thomas about all things [debut], from his musical background and inspirations to this new album, the people who helped make it happen, and what he has in store for the project moving forward. Read through below to see our full conversation, and if you’re in the LA area, head out to the show on May 2 at Complex in Glendale.

First off, I’m really interested in the name of this project and the way it’s stylized. Can you tell me where that came from and why you chose to display it with the brackets? – if there’s a particular reason.

[debut] because it’s often a “first” for whoever is working with me and also because it’s just so simple. The brackets were designed to help create a logo from a simple word but also as a sly way to get to the top of people’s listings alphabetically. [That] backfired terribly though as most companies like iTunes and Amazon call me either The Debut or drop the brackets completely.

When do you recall music first playing a role in your life? And do you remember when you first considered the thought that you wanted to explore the path of a musician?

My parents listened to a lot of music and my dad had a pretty cool record collection. I grew up with music being on in the house a lot of the time. Then early on I discovered electronic music, some really experimental stuff like OMD’s Architecture and Morality. I remember driving through the Welsh hills in the fog listening to it and it conjured up lots of atmosphere and images for me and that’s how I’ve perceived music ever since – music with film and moods. I never consciously decided to choose music, it’s just kind of who I am and what I’ve always done. I had a bedroom of synths and drum machines when I was 14 and it’s been the same ever since.

You mentioned OMD – who else have been some of your most beloved influences that you feel have helped guide you along musically or maybe even contributed to the way your sound has developed?

There are some obvious ones like Depeche Mode and OMD obviously. Tears For Fears for the melodies and Peter Gabriel for the theatre. Then there’s stuff like Linkin Park who’s 1000 Suns is one of my top 3 albums of all time. Radiohead occasionally, IAMX and Nine Inch Nails when he’s being melodic. I was classically and jazz trained so melody is key. It’s why there’s a lot of piano and strings on my new album as well as the machine beats. Damon Albarn of Blur is another influence, too. His clear vision and desire to get things really right.

You mentioned that [debut] is more of an art collective with a cast that’s constantly changing. Can you tell me a little about how that works for you and the effects it has on your creative process, constantly adapting to the way various other people work with you.

Well I write and produce everything usually before anyone else is involved so when they come in I have a very specific vision of what I want them to do. Tracks are usually almost finished before they start playing. For drummers the parts are typically strictly written and I need them to “perform” them with more life than I can program. Same for the singers in that the lyrics and melodies are there and so I choose singers like I’d choose synth sounds, meaning I’m looking for the right fit to match the song and mood. I always give someone a chance to better what I’ve written for them as I want their input but I’m pretty much a control freak. I think that’s a good thing though as it keeps the initial vision I have intact. I think Postcards From Berlin is a testament to this. It sounds like a cohesive and united body of work despite the number of people playing on it.

And now that you have these other musicians helping you realize your creations, what do you think these songs offer that they might not have had you kept [debut] solely as a solo endeavor?

I think it’s helped make the sound more three dimensional. Before I went to Berlin to “finish” the album I thought it was already 90% done and almost ready to release. After the Berlin sessions I released I had a ton more work to do as the sound just grew and grew. The real strings from Hansa and the drums from UFO studio have a really unique sound and life that you just can’t program and I think listeners really feel that. Same on the technical side; in Berlin I worked with a wonderful engineer in Fabian Knof who really worked hard to capture the sound I had envisioned. Then back in LA, Alvin Wee helped take the mixes to a new level, too.

And is it true that these songs are the first to truly feature you delivering the lead vocals? What has that transition been like for you? Was there any fight with confidence in taking on that role for this album?

I never really wanted to sing. I was very happy guiding what I thought were “better singers” to front [debut]. Then I talked with my friend Chris Corner of IAMX and he said I should step up and lead the project. Others had started saying they liked my demo vocals and there were a few tracks even I could tell worked with my voice on them. So I started training my voice and taking lessons and focusing on the performance of vocals as much as my production and writing. On Postcards I am particularly happy with “Low” and “Passion” for example but I still love the guest vocals that Cyd and Angela provided on “Want” and “Come Around,” respectively, and I simply could not sing those tracks that well if I tried. I like the mixture of voices especially as it doesn’t distract from the sound as a whole and often there are both male and female voices in the same song.

To someone who’s not yet heard your music, how would you describe this newest album to maybe convince them it’s worth listening to?

It’s very dark and intimate. Deep emotions conveyed through sweeping strings, pounding bunker drums and pulsating electronic undertones. It’s melodic, filmic and every track is very different from the others. There’s not much to dance to but it will make your heart soar. It has influences of the past but is resolutely facing the future.

You’ve been getting a ton of positive coverage for this album. Do you remember a specific moment when you realized that this was actually taking off and gaining attention? What did that feel like for you?

I knew in Berlin that we were creating something special. Then once it was finished, mixed and mastered I knew it was great. My confidence is high in all aspects of the project. People can choose to not like it but they can’t say it’s rubbish because it simply isn’t. It’s also something that hasn’t been done before. It has influences from the past but it’s different and fresh I think. So on that level I’m comfortable and extremely fulfilled. Getting the chance to actually share your music and have it reach other people’s ears is the hardest part of the process and the most frustrating for most musicians I think. There’s a ton of amazing music that’s never heard. So getting it heard, getting feedback and then such positive reviews has been really rewarding on many levels.

You recently released a video for “More Than This.” Do you have plans for more videos from this album?

I actually just finished filming 9 black and white art films, one for each song off the album, to be used as concert projections. That was a huge undertaking. I wrote and directed them and they star myself and one actress friend, Trisha Kay. Together they play out different phases of a relationship. I wanted concert projections that meant something rather than just random blobs of color on a screen. I feel they’ve expanded the album and its concept nicely. I will for sure release some of them in the coming months, especially “Come Around.” I might even make them available as an “album film” called Passion as that’s really what they are about as a whole.

I was also curious about the album’s title. Can you tell me where Postcards From Berlin came from or what that means to you in relation to the material on the record?

Well first off, the songs are all pretty dark in lyrical content and emotion and so I wanted to go to a city with a dark past to record and exorcise them, hence Berlin. I also knew that Berlin was going to give me the specific sound I wanted which is why I recorded at the Hansa Meistersaal for the live strings and UFO for the big drums and “Moonlight Sonata” style pianos. The name Postcards From Berlin came up to reflect this process but also as a way of conveying that I was sending out these messages and stories to the world from that city. As I’m a big fan of combining music, art and film concepts I also thought it would be good to actually send fans literal postcards from Berlin while I was there to help them connect to the project. Lastly, all the album art is either very dark or the back of me symbolizing the intimate and somewhat hidden nature of the songs. These are personal manuscripts that I am carefully exposing.

On your Facebook page, you have one show listed for next month. Do you have any touring plans in the works for this year or any other shows coming up?

The May show is hopefully the start of what will turn in to a tour and many more shows. As an independent artist, every step of the way is proving yourself to others so that more doors open up. May 2nd’s show is another of these moments. The plan is to take what we do there and gain interest to get a support tour slot or residencies at other venues.

And overall, what’s the rest of your year looking like? Any big plans or goals you’re looking forward to accomplishing within this project or elsewhere?

I’m working on music for the new Point Break film right now. Not as the main composer but for certain scenes. I’m also actively looking for placements for the music from Postcards in TV shows and films. Add to that playing live, releasing some of the videos and growing the stature of the project so that the next one (which is well into development) can hit its true potential, and it’s BIG!

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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