The Perverts Guide To Tom Houseman
With their technical and creative take on the hardcore genre, Follow Your Dreams have been blowing audiences away up and down the country for the passed few years now. At the start of this year they followed things up with their debut album for TNSrecords ‘The Half Life of Teaspoons‘. The architect of much of the sonic mayhem in Follow Your Dreams sound is guitarist Tom Houseman. We caught up with him to discuss his less than conventional approach to punk rock guitar playing.
TNS: Alright Tom, nice guitar sound, fancy telling us a bit about it?
Tom: Thanks! On the album, the sound is mainly thanks to Ant Booth at Kesbri putting up with my vague requests: “meaty! Crunchy but not in a metal way. No, more compact like corned beef. Yes, like that but with a touch of ennui”. I have a very cheap Epiphone Les Paul copy which I have amateurishly tinkered with and repaired over the years. It has a lovely deep sound that never quite manage to be clean and a crazy sustain that lasts for hours. This is pumped through many pedals and an orange dual terror that gives me tingles every time I turn it on. Metaphorically – it’s not a wiring issue.
TNS: Where do you feel you playing style fits in within the contemporary scene?
Tom: I’m very fond of jagged edges and awkwardness, so my style revolves around dissonant chords and weird, janky riffs, played as fast as Boff can make us. A few years ago that put us very much on the outside of the scene, as most bands were playing more melodic chords and technically impressive lead solos organised round conventional scales. I do like those bands but I often feel like there’s not enough of a gap between skate punk and theme tunes from kids shows like Blaze and the Monster Machines or paw patrol. Now, however, things are different. The scene has got more adventurous, partly through a heavier black/stoner metal influence (Dog, Haest, Fatalist, the late Riggots) and partly because more Womxn are breaking through the sausage barrier, bringing a rage that lends itself to a more jagged and raw form of punk and hardcore.
TNS: It’s not all that often you see guitarists playing the way you do in the current scene. Do you feel that’s a fair assessment?
Tom: Pretty fair. I’ve certainly seen a lot of better guitarists. I can’t do sweeping, tapping, pinching, and don’t really know any scales, so my way of playing is like a jigsaw of broken pieces. Unrefined but fast.
TNS: Which bands or artists have been the biggest influence on your playing?
Tom: My formative years were all about bands like NOFX, Rancid, Lagwagon, Bad Religion, Propagandhi, Rage Against The Machine, which has left an indelible 90s punk imprint on how I think about writing songs, and provides a sort of normality that I’m constantly trying to wriggle free of. Hearing for the first time Nirvana’s Aneurysm – the whining, grating, climbing menace of the bridge – pretty much defined my musical tastes forever. So bands that flirt with that existential musical weirdness – the pixies, sonic youth, Soundgarden, The Melvins, at the drive in – have also loomed large in my influences, a thread that’s led me to no wave, Glenn Branca and Theoretical Girls. Discovering Folly was a massive deal, too. Ska, dissonance, hardcore all in one?! Emulating Folly was basically the sole task of Rising Strike for quite a while. More recently, Zach Garren of the Strawberry Girls has taught me the value and joy of catchy riffs, so I’m currently at the point where I’m trying to write dissonant, awkward, menacing but joyful ear-worms. That’s the tension that drives the guitar parts in follow your dreams.
TNS: Would you consider yourself a pedal junkie?
Tom: YES. My prides and joy are my Meris Ottobit Jr and Meris Polymoon. I’ve still only scratched the surface of what they can do. My pedal board also includes a loop pedal, mxr Dyna comp which allows for more gentle playing to come through at full volume – very useful – and more recently a boss SY1 synth pedal, which appeals to my innate silliness. Brendan (bass) also has a severe pedal addiction and has acquired some capable of truly bizarre noises. Mmmm pedals
TNS: Let’s talk amplifiers. Important?
Tom: Amplifiers: tone and power are important, but so are size constraints (fitting all the band and gear into a Citroen saxo) and expensiveness. My orange dual terror is a good compromise. Un-mic’ed at larger pubs it can struggle for volume without pushing the gain up, but I very rarely want a clean clean sound anyway.
TNS: Which guitarists currently at it in the underground scene inspire you?
Tom: We’re really spoilt for choice, and a lot of the more technically gifted bands (affect heuristic, fair dos etc) remind me that I should learn to play properly. The guitarists that most inspire me, though, are the ones who make weird soundscapes out of time signatures, effects and clever writing. Martin Battle is capable of greatness when he puts his mind to it. Rising Strike played with Riggots in Liverpool (granted both bands are now kaput) and they were so mind-blowing I instantly fell in love with him. Kurt and Luke from Sounds of Swami are amazing too, and probably the best song-writers alive. The guitarist from DOG – whatever his name is – is fantastic to listen to – dark and soulful. I have learned a lot from Ed Hall too; the Egos at the Door album is a masterpiece of intelligent playing.
TNS: Any advice you’d give to somebody picking up a guitar for the first time?
Tom: Learn to play by ear and feel: experiment with chord shapes and try picking out melodies (I learnt by playing along to adverts). Proper ways of learning are great but they teach you a discipline that can be creatively limiting. Get rid of the idea there is a right way of playing that you either succeed or fail at, and learn to enjoy whatever happens. Also find a drummer, quick, and bind yourself to them by any means possible.
TNS: Does your interest in academia play a role in the development of your music?
Tom: Yes, very much so. My intellectual interests revolve around various branches of critical theory – Adorno, Marx, Derrida, Debord, Butler, Quijano, Baudrillard, Zizek, Foucault and so on – plus anarchism, queer theory, communisation. All of them share a sort of hostility towards or suspicion of normality – the norms and structures we take for granted. But they all recognise that we are part of those structures – they produce us and we reproduce them – so the project of emancipation from a deeply wrong world isn’t just a question of designing a better one, as we will end up reproducing the wrongness we have internalised. Instead it is a necessarily self-critical and negative project of estranging and defamiliarising things we take for granted as natural and obvious, and revealing their complicity in the perpetuation of a world of horrors and drudgery. Musically, this translates to an aversion to formulae and comforting familiarity – often the hallmarks of music as a commodity. I’m not saying all music should be like this – music should also be enjoyable and celebratory and a relief from how awful everything is. But there is space, too, to think about music as a powerful way of seeing things differently, of piercing a culture industry that is so much soap, candyfloss, and sedatives.
TNS: How do you go about writing a riff?
Tom: Riffs come from strange places. They’ll pop into my head while I’m walking or in the shower or asleep, and then I’ll play them and change the bits that I’m not feeling. Sometimes the rhythm comes first and the melody later. Then they change again when played at “gig speed” which often transforms them. Most often, though, I write together with the band – trying things out and seeing what sticks, then we find ways to push it in fun directions or cut bits that smell too much of the familiar.