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The Big Sync Interview: Tom Walker



Scottish singer-songwriter on his top-10 hit, advertising’s role in the charts and Love Island’s extensive use of his music

The Big Sync Interview: Tom Walker

It’s been a steady rise to success for Tom Walker, the Scottish born and Manchester raised singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. His current hit single, Leave A Light On, launched back in October 2017 and reached number 7 in the UK’s Official Chart in June after being Number 1 in iTunes in nine countries. This old-school, slow-burn rise to the top 10 has been helped by massive BBC Radio 1 airplay after Tom was longlisted on the Sound of 2018 list and was picked for the Radio 1 Brits List. 

The campaign received a huge boost when a beautiful strings version of the track was chosen to soundtrack the current global Sony Bravia TV campaign. And of course there has been the steady stream of TV syncs from Grey’s Anatomy, Suits, The Voice, American Idol, Champions League, Premiership, the BAFTAS, Ellen Degeneres and most recently on ITV’s prime time smash Love Island where he’s the show’s most synced artist to date.  

Big Sync chief executive Dominic Caisley caught up with Tom before his headline set on the King Tut’s stage at TRNSMT Festival for a chat about it all.

Q> Congratulations on the UK chart position for Leave A Light On. To coin a Love Island phrase, ‘where’s your head at’ with it all?

TW> It’s just really cool. Eleven weeks ago we got to 41 in the charts, just missing getting into the top 40 and that was pretty gutting. But then it went and did its thing around Europe and then got a couple of really amazing syncs. It all seemed to come together in the moment and all of a sudden we’re in the top 10. I can’t believe it to be honest, it’s amazing.

Q> How does it feel to have soundtracked the Sony Bravia ad and for your song to be reaching such a huge and much broader audience?

TW> I really like the version that we did of it. I got the opportunity to go down to Angel Studios in London and watch them record the orchestra that they used for it and that was an amazing moment. It’s a really tastefully done advert that I’m proud to be on.

Q> Since the Sony Bravia version features an orchestra - what was it like hearing the original track change in this way and what was your input?

TW> They built on the original strings track and they said that they wanted to put a whole orchestra on it to make it sound even bigger so I said ‘that sounds like a great idea - why not?’ It was such a memorable experience going down and seeing it all happening and meeting the people who scored it.

Q> The track stands up to quite a few variations, from the relatively sparse single, to a strings version to being quite rocky when performed live.

TW> That’s true. Leave A Light On has also had some quality re-mixes. High Contrast, one of my favourite drum-and-bass DJs, did a mix of it and that for me was a big thing and a real moment because all of a sudden all of my friends, who are too cool for school and love drum and bass, came out of the woodwork saying ‘yes you’ve made it, High Contrast has done a remix of your song!’  

Q> Did you record new vocals for the Bravia ad or was it just the music that changed?

TW> It wasn’t the original vocal from the single that was used but the vocal that we did live for the acoustic version, which is a live take that we filmed and so when you watch the video it’s done in one take. We had to record it five times for the cameras and we ended up picking our favourite.

Q> You’ve been in the top 10 global and UK Shazam charts and number one Shazam in seven European countries - do you follow these things?

TW> Sometimes yes. I think there was a point where I was getting obsessed but then I realised I should be writing songs not looking at statistics! When people read these things back to you it’s nice though. We were number one on the airplay charts in France for eight weeks and someone told me it had been broadcast to the equivalent of 850 million people. Sometimes it knocks you off balance and you don’t know what to make of it.

Q> These stats are reacting to sync - have you felt the effect of that broader audience getting to access your music?

TW> Yes definitely, sync is super important. Sony Bravia did the Bouncing Balls ad in 2005 and that’s how I discovered the artist José González whose track was used on the ad. If Shazam had been as widely used then, I’m sure that track would have gone straight to number one as it was such a brilliant track. It wasn’t really a traditional kind of pop sounding song, it was just a beautiful song with an amazing voice. I’m grateful that I’m now getting that kind of platform and it’s helping the whole campaign.

Q> This year’s Love Island (ITV2) is loving Tom Walker. How does it feel to be the soundtrack to all the amorous action?

TW> They’ve played my whole discography, it’s amazing! I’m very thankful to Love Island for having me on the show because it’s a huge platform. Everyone’s watching it - even my mum. I do find it a wee bit confusing myself though. I watched an episode and it was good but there were a lot of people getting very worried about people cheating on them, that hadn’t cheated on them yet. These people are very self-conscious for such beautiful people. But God bless them and long may it continue!

Q> In your opinion, how important is a song or a soundtrack to an advert?  And Is there now competition amongst artists to land a cool ad spot?

TW> The soundtrack to an ad is definitely important. You subconsciously absorb the brand through their great choice of music. I can always remember what advert a song is on if I like the music. The Alex Clare song ‘Too Close’ on that Microsoft Internet Explorer advert - I remember hearing it for the first time and I think that commercial is what launched his career and I can still remember the fact that it was Microsoft, which says it all really. As far as competition amongst artists for syncs goes, I don’t think there is any. It’s not happened to me anyway. I don’t think artists are made aware of who is going to get picked for an advert until the moment they are chosen. There’s no fisticuffs among artists anyway, although I imagine with the labels and managers there might be some competition. The artists are just into making the music and the cool adverts is another great part of the job.

Q> What’s your favourite ever TV ad and what was the track used?

TW> Definitely the Sony Bravia Bouncing Balls ad featuring José González and his version of a song called Heartbeats. The way they made the ad was also very cool, they chucked real coloured balls down a street in San Francisco and filmed it.

Q> Would you work with a brand in a more involved way than a straightforward sync?

TW> If they wanted me to score something specific for a really cool advert that was almost more like a movie than an advert I’d be well up for giving it a go. But unless it was that specific it would have to be from something I’d already created and if they wanted to build on top of that then fine. But I don’t think I’d start writing for ads, not that there is anything wrong with that - because I’m doing my own thing and I didn’t really set out to do that.

Q> What’s been your most memorable gig so far in your career?

TW> King Tut’s in Glasgow is always an amazing gig. It’s just such a great space and the whole experience is great because they will bring in a band that they might not know about or that nobody even knows but they’ll still give them a meal and they’ll still treat them really nicely. Just the whole experience of it restores your faith in the music industry. Some places are the complete opposite and make you want to quit your job and move to Alaska and never do it again.  

My most memorable gig ever was probably Hyde Park, the year that Stevie Wonder was headlining. It was right at the start of my career and I was carrying all my music stuff around in a red suitcase that had two broken wheels on it and a tiny car that was just a piece of crap. But I was playing alongside people like that and I remember thinking ‘I’m lugging all this gear around in a broken suitcase and I’m doing it all on my own but look at what I’m doing today’. So that was a real moment for me.

Q> In the last six months your audience has grown massively and it’s obvious at your live shows. You really take people on an emotional rollercoaster. How are you feeling that the music is getting through to people?

TW> We did Southside Festival in Germany last month and Pale Waves were on before us and they had a massive crowd. But after their set everyone just disappeared and I really thought we’d be playing to no-one. But when we came out it was absolutely rammed as far as the eye could see and everyone knew loads of the songs and seemed to be really enjoying the gig. And because of that I really enjoyed the gig. If the crowd looks like they are having fun then I am too - it’s a loop of feedback that keeps on getting better and better. I think the whole band and the whole project has found a really nice level and we’re getting more and more professional as we go along, which is cool.

Q> You co-wrote Leave A Light On with Steve Mac. What was he like to work with and how did you find it working with someone else on a song which is about your own personal experience with a friend?

TW> He is amazing. We wrote the track super-quick, in three or four hours. When Steve’s in the studio he does not mess about at all. I had my guitar and he was on piano. I was using my phone to write because I can’t use paper as I make too many mistakes. So we just bounced ideas back and forth. I told him the whole story about the song but it didn’t feel as though I was telling him a sob story, it just kind of all happened naturally. I didn’t realise that people would pick up so much on the emotion of the song as much as they did - I thought it was actually quite hidden but apparently not!

Q> What can you tell us about your album?

TW> The album is called What A Time To Be Alive and it's available for pre-order now for end of the year or beginning of next year. I’m really excited about it - there are loads of amazing tracks. I’m working with three producers for the bulk of the album. There are a couple of tracks from Steve Mac and also Mike Spencer who’s done loads of stuff for Jamiroquai, Rudimental, JP Cooper - you name it he’s done it. Everything on the album sounds on a similar wavelength and it does have a good bit of variety in there which I really wanted.  I’ve got my own sound but I think it’s wrong to not leap into new things that you’ve not tried before. To try and write another Leave A Light On every time would be pointless wouldn’t it?

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Big Sync Music, Tue, 03 Jul 2018 15:43:52 GMT