Interview: Thomston talks debut album, pop music and comparisons.

Thomas Stoneman, who goes by Thomston, has had a massive two years since releasing his debut ‘Argonaut’ EP in 2014. Having garnered collectively over 20 million Spotify streams with his sophomore EP ‘Backbone’, Thomston quickly received praise from music blogs around the world which drew comparisons to the likes of SOHN and Frank Ocean.

Now Thomston has released his highly anticipated debut album ‘Topograph’, which as the title suggest is closely linked to the physical places that he has traveled. Thomas kindly took the time out to share with Spotlight Report the story behind the conception of the record as well as the therapeutic nature of songwriting, the oxymoron that is alternative pop and being compared to other artists.

So let’s talk about the idea behind your album, it came about on a flight from New York to London. What was it about New York that you disliked so much that it inspired an album?

It was just that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for such a big place. I come from a country that has four million people in the entire country, so going to a place that has I don’t even know how many that live in New York but it seems like it is more than the people that live in my entire country live in one city. That was not something that you can really prepare for, so I think I was just overwhelmed. I don’t think it’s to discredit New York though. I think New York is an incredible place but I just wasn’t ready for New York (laughs).

I think it’s about 8 million people that live in the city alone.

That’s like two of New Zealand in one city. I think if I went to New York again then I will be ready for it but I also think that my schedule while I was there was quite hectic and that probably contributed to me feeling very overwhelmed. I was happy to leave, like when I got on the plane I was feeling quite happy to leave.

I’m sure next time you’ll like it better. So your EPs gained a lot of hype and praise – did that put more pressure on you when it came to releasing the album because the EPs did exceptionally well?

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Well, thank you. I think in a sense yes but I think the pressure always comes from myself the most. I put a lot of pressure on my own work to be the best perfection of myself at the time and to be of the highest quality in accordance to my ability. So none of the pressure that came externally was greater than the pressure that I put on myself. While it did play into it, it certainty wasn’t anything that was too much.

On the note as well, a lot of your songs come from your personal experiences, almost like reading your diary – Does that make it harder for you to release?

Yes, that is definitely something I think about and writing to me is something that is a necessity, to deal with a lot of the things that go on in my life. So when I release it, it is in a sense stating things that I haven’t even said to some of my closest friends and it is difficult but at the same time I really need it so it’s kind-off a trade off. 

Absolutely, it can be very therapeutic. Once it is out there do you feel like the songs still belong to you or does something of the emotion you felt towards certain songs get stripped away?

Actually, I haven’t ever done therapy but I feel like people I know who have done therapy say that it is a way to process everything and when you are done with the therapy you have worked through so much. I feel like it’s quite the same with writing an album, in that when you release it, it is kind of the final step in the process and you write the song to deal with something and you put all of yourself into it and then you listen back and your scrutinize it and rework it until it is the most beautiful version of your heartache or your excitement or whatever it is. Then you release it and then you see people’s response, and people make it theirs and they apply it to their own lives and I think that is a special way to end something that you have gone through.

When do you know when you are finished with a song? Is there a defining moment in a lifecycle of a song when you know it is ready – otherwise you could be tweaking it forever? 

Yeah, I could and I am very guilty of that in that it never feels done but I just give myself deadlines and tell myself that it needs to be done by a certain day. That is the only way I can manage, otherwise I will just go back and rework and tweak it until it sounds completely different. (laughs)

I love that on your Facebook page you describe your music as alternative pop, and that you have highlighted how that is quite the oxymoron. It is hilarious because it is so true.

Do you think music genres are still necessary? So you think that sometimes this might restrict creativity for artists and yourself because you are forced to define yourself in this strange oxymoron type of way?

Yes, that description of my own genre is very tongue in cheek. I think the whole concept of alternative pop is so silly and it comes from a place where people want to box it in pop in very specific parameters. I think pop is much broader as a genre than a lot of people think. When you listen to the radio and you listen to things like Starboy by the Weeknd that is a pop song. You listen to Shawn Mendes that is a pop song. There is completely different worlds, they almost seem like on different ends of the spectrum but they are still both pop so I consider my music pop and I don’t feel like I need a prefix at the beginning of it to make myself feel cooler and that is really just kind of a little joke (laughs)

So that’s what the alternative is for, to make everyone seem cooler.

Yeah well it’s what people use to make themselves feel cooler about listening to my music. They are like it’s ‘pop but it’s not pop pop’. Like what does that even mean? (laughs)

But sometimes pop can be seen as a dirty word.

Yeah it doesn’t make sense. What other genre do you have a couple songs that sum up an entire range of artists? I just don’t understand how someone can be like ‘Oh, I don’t like pop music’ when there is so much pop music. I mean you can say you don’t like all pop music and that is fine but people should be honest. ‘It is 2016, we can say we like pop. It’s fine.

You’ve been compared to a bunch of different artists online. What was the strangest comparison you have read of your music online?

 I remember at the very beginning there was this one blog that said I was a combination of three artists, and I just remember one of them being Sam Smith. I’m just like ok, alright then. So that was weird (laughs)

But I think comparisons are interesting because at the beginning I used to get really hung up on comparisons and I used to really let them get to me.

If I didn’t like an artist that I was compared to I would get really upset and offended and I have realised that I have really grown into myself and comparisons don’t really irk me anymore and I actually see them as compliments now. Its just people wanting to put you in context to people who might not yet be exposed to you and they are just doing that to their best of their ability.

So ‘Window Seat’ is collaboration with Wafia, which is an amazing track, but were you nervous about including it as it might not necessarily depict who you are as a songwriter, especially on for your debut?

In a sense but it was a song where I completely self produced from scratch. Every other track I had I worked with a guy name Josh Fountain. So in a sense there was always collaboration but it is just more of a face value on Window Seat. If anything, I feel like I have so much ownership of that track because it was the first track where I had self-produced and that is a special thing. It was really awesome of Wafia to let me put it on my record because when you co-write with something, it is always like who gets this track and who gets to keep it but I think it also made sense sonically on my record also so it just made sense for me.

So just to wrap up on a fun note -where is the strangest place you heard your song being played?

KFC! I went into KFC and my song was playing on the TV in the KFC and I felt incredible but also disgusting because I was stuffing my face with wicked wings while looking at myself on the television. That was equal parts self-loving and self-loathing, which is me in a nutshell (laughs).

Thomston’s debut album ‘Topograph’ is out now via Sony Music Australia

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