UTG INTERVIEW: Tumbler Talk New Album, Creating With Family

Tumbler

Epsom, England folk band Tumbler just released a brand new 12-track album last week, titled You Said. Spurred by family togetherness in intimate kitchen concerts and generations sharing new music with one another, the bond and organic camaraderie is felt throughout the album.

We had a chance to speak with Tumbler’s founding father, Richard Grace, to discuss the creation and influences of You Said, his experiences working with his various musical family members and what can be expected of this project moving forward. You can read through our conversation below and follow it up with a stream of the band’s newest effort.

When did your involvement with music start for you, Richard? Do you recall what initially sparked your interest in becoming a musician?

It goes back to early heroes like Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan – and an awakening sense that songs could tell stories, touch on deep emotions and at a simple level could also be great fun just to play together and share. The guitar, though, was the catalyst. The guitar came first, the songs followed as a natural consequence.

You mentioned some artists, but since that time, who are some musicians who are important to you and might have had an influence on the way your sound has developed at different points?

It’s hard to single people out. Paul Simon was a continuing influence over the years – he traveled such a journey from his early stuff and is so amazingly articulate. Mark Knopfler is another. He did it all with Dire Straits and I love where he’s taken his writing since then; intimate, simple songs telling all kinds of human stories. Beth Nielsen Chapman comes to mind. I fell in love with her a few years back at a time of loss. She is supreme at her craft, handles sadness beautifully but can be joyous too. I came across Jake Bugg last year. “Broken” is one example of some incredible, amazing songs.

There’s a lot of music in your family, specifically with your children. What’s it like creating with your son and what kind of effect has your family had on your music over the years?

Harry is like me in that his writing starts mostly in solitude. But there’s something special about hearing and playing new songs among people you belong with. It enriches the creative process. In fact it enriches life itself!

Over the years the kids have given me so much music. They’ll pull out a guitar and play some fantastic thing I haven’t heard before and I’ve discovered so much music that way. I remember one time Jim turned up and among more familiar stuff suddenly did this amazing song I hadn’t heard before – “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave. It has a piano accompaniment on the record which I love. But I still prefer Jim’s guitar version. I think he sings it better too!

Judging by the artwork for your newest album, I sense a lot of nostalgia and togetherness. Are those your kids on the front and back covers?

The front cover is Harry leaping off a cliff in Portugal (it looks dangerous but there was a wide landing place just below the edge). The back cover is Harry with his nieces Lauren and Natasha, taken the day we all spent together on a canal boat.

It wasn’t planned but I think you may be right about the nostalgia and togetherness. It happened by accident as the album evolved. A lot of the songs are ones we’ve played together for so long they bring back memories. “Flowers and Miracles” is an example, but so too are other tracks like “Dead Man’s Bones” and “Call Me Sentimental” that we’ve sung forever.

“Rowan Tree” is more recent but references quite a bit of nostalgia and togetherness. It arrived on the first anniversary of the death of Michele, Joe Jim and Tom’s mum. An inside back cover on the album has a photo from when I was about a year old, sitting on a hill in Cordoba, Argentina with my older brother Pete and grandmother.

Tumbler-band

A song title like “Sleepy Bananas Are Cool” definitely seems like something a kid would say. How much influence do your children have on your lyrics for this album?

What a great question! In fact “Sleepy Bananas” wasn’t something the kids said but came from Christa’s family, who for at least two generations used it to describe bananas gone soft and brown – all the time assuming that’s what the rest of the world called them, too, which was kind of funny. The phrase was a perfect fit for a little lullaby song that was emerging at the time. Making the bananas ‘cool’ was a subsequent addition; that bit did come from the kids!

But some songs do reflect things the kids say. Ben’s first girlfriend was around ten years ago when he was 7 and he was absolutely full of it. I asked him whether she was pretty. “Oh man, she sparkles your eyes!” was his reply. That ended up in a song; it’s not on this album but maybe it’ll find its way onto the next one.

Where does the name Tumbler come from and why did you find it fitting to represent your music?

Trying to come up with a name for a band is a fast path to insanity. The endless options and different opinions and potential for heated arguments are mind-blowing. We tried to focus instead on the practical; a name that was easy to remember, that didn’t misrepresent the music and that had some resonance with what we were doing.

The album cover shows Harry leaping into the unknown. It felt like a representation of what we were doing and became a starting point. A definition of the word ‘tumbler’ is ‘acrobat’ which matched the cover. We also felt the album had kind of clicked into place, like a key turning in a lock. Tumblers form part of a lock mechanism and the lock opens when all the tumblers fall into place. So in the end the name just felt right.

You’ve mentioned the ease of access in sharing your music across various platforms online. How does it feel adjusting to that when you were most likely sharing your music before the internet came along in full swing? Do you miss the more grass roots approach involved with getting people interested in your work?

I think there are different levels to music. There’ll always be something special about live music and togetherness at a local and intimate level. But in practice it’s hard to reach a wide audience that way. It’s also hard to create the depth and quality of production that’s possible these days on a record.

The internet gives incredible scope to share music. We want to put it out and see what happens. If there’s an audience that’s great, if not that’s okay, too. It won’t change things, there’s no urgency on our part.

Do you guys perform these new songs around your area?

Live performance isn’t part of the project at this stage. Step one has been to take years of kitchen concert music and develop it into the best it can be. Step two (the current one) is to find whether it has an audience. Step three, if step two takes us there, would be to put in the necessary investment to allow us to recreate Tumbler’s quality of production live.

Live gigs are part of life for Harry and Dave, although these days not so much for me, but we hope it’s destined to be part of the longer term Tumbler plan.

Are you currently working on any other projects with music or outside of music? As far as priorities go, where does Tumbler rank on your list currently?

The main thing right now is the debut album – trying to give it the best possible chance. We can’t make people like it but we have to do all we can to get it heard. From there it’s down to the music.

There’s still such a lot of material though. Since early summer, Harry and Dave and I have been working on the next album. It’s taking shape and exciting stuff is emerging already. The bigger priority though is always family. Tom and Saskiya expect their first child (my sixth granddaughter) this month. That’s a real project!

Congrats! Where do you hope or plan to take this project moving forward?

The key thing is: can Tumbler find an audience? If the answer is yes, the plan is to honour and nurture that audience and invite it to share our future musical journey. If the answer is no, we’ll honour that too!

With You Said officially released now, what are the plans for the rest of the year?

We need to keep flexible. The next few months are important because by Christmas we’ll know where Tumbler goes next. Meantime we’ll carry on making music. That goes on whatever happens.

Brian Leak

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