How It Happened: 
 AV talks with Tom Eaton


Tom Eaton

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How It Happened

AV:  So to start off how about bringing everyone up to date with how the FLOW touring went these last two years since we last spoke.  Did all go well and were you happy with results?  

TE:  The FLOW tours were a blast, and we got more and more comfortable the more that we played.  All of us are looking forward to getting back in the studio this summer and going back on the road this fall.  For a group made of four very individual artists it comes together incredibly easily... like it was meant to happen the way it did!   

AV: I am curious though, how in the world do you find time the time to work on your solo material? Touring with FLOW and then working in the studio on other artist’s projects how is it that you manage to carve out time for you to work on your own projects? 

TE:  I use "found" time for my own work.  Late at night, and weekends.  The kernels of most songs come from piano improvs which I tend to do in the mornings and before I go to sleep.  That part is easy, and then crafting those improv ideas into songs that feel like they are saying something is the hard work.  As you know I use a lot of layers to create appropriate environments for each song... and so there are so many little moving parts to sort out even when the melodies arrive from the piano!  On this album there are songs that started with keyboards, with a textural feeling rather than a specific melody.  Kind of like the end of the last record (Indesterren) where I drifted in to rhythm-less ambient territory... creating soundscapes that resonate with me emotionally. 

AV:  That last question leads directly into this one. When did you first start work on your latest album called How It Happened and where did you find the time to focus on what you wanted to do for your next album?  

TE:  I use playing music as my therapy... it's the way I work through what I'm feeling...and I am always playing.  Usually if I see a free day in my calendar I'll allow myself to dive into a recent idea, a couple of hours doesn't really allow me to get inside the piece.  The songs on this album were written in draft form over the past two years, and finished up into what they sound like now over the past winter.  I handed the master over in January and Spotted Peccary went right into production and here we are!   





AV:  Do you ever feel a push and pull between the deadlines you’d like to meet for releasing your next album pitted against the creative spark that is necessary for any progress to be made in the music you’re currently working on?  As we all know creativity does not adhere to timetables. 

TE:  I really wanted to maintain the momentum I felt I had after the last two records but my work life didn't allow me the time.  When I have the time I always have ideas waiting to be developed!   I honor the deadlines of other people before mine, and finishing the albums of Imaginary Road's and my own studio clients always comes before my own work.  When I do have the time to work on my music I am really never without either a spark or a project that needs more crafting when I am short on raw inspiration.  

AV:  In the liner notes you refer to your songs as stories. Here is a very esoteric question about the music on How It Happened. How is it that you take ideas, meanings, situations and memories and convert them into music that expresses them to listeners who will oftentimes be able to identify specific feelings or thoughts that are embedded in your music? I understand this question might be unanswerable but I thought I would ask it anyway.  

TE:  All I know is how it works form my end... I think about a person or a situation when I sit down to play a keyboard or the piano and the notes coming back seem to answer some questions that I probably didn't know to ask.  Many times I have been surprised by how emotionally loaded a memory is when I let the instrument do the talking.  The songs take on very specific qualities and characters for me.  I started working with trying to write specific memories or moments on the last album, and I think I got a foot in the right place with "The Red Blazer" which is about a very particular moment in a relationship when things changed for the better.  I tried to do more of that on the current album.  How it translates to other people?  No clue... and thankfully with this kind of music people invest their own meanings and memories in the music as they listen... it's one of the coolest things about instrumental music.  

AV:  So to the specifics of this album what is the foundation that How It Happened is built upon? What is the core meaning that listeners will find at the heart of the compositions that you included on this album?

TE:  I can't really speak to what people will get from it (see above) but I hope that some of the feelings I've invested in the music, some of the path clearing I've done to find my own truths, allows other people to see or feel things of value in their own lives.

AV:  I’ve always felt that as a photographer when I look very closely at my subjects new vistas and landscapes appear that I don’t see when I look at something from a distance. The words in your liner notes say “Being on foot allows me to slip between the trees into hidden places untouched places where nature and time are the only forces at play and wood, water, stone and sand take over” seems to suggest that as a composer the same factors are also at work as you seek to “commune” with the world around you in order to spark the creative flames that will form the music you write. How is it that you slow down and look closer at the world around you in order to be musically inspired?

TE:  For almost ten years I've been commuting back and forth from Will's studio in Vermont to my studio here on the coast of Massachusetts.  Sometimes ten hours a week in the car... through some beautiful country at high rates of speed.  It was when I started buying myself a little more time, leaving early so I could stop, get out of the car, take some pictures, breathe deeply... that I found all kinds of paths and nooks that I had been zipping past for years.  It has become a part of my daily life now, walking and running through the beautiful area I happen to live in...and taking lots of pictures!

AV:  Here’s a logistical question. You play the piano, synths, acoustic and electric guitars, fretless basses, accordion and percussion on this album as well as produce, record, mix and master How It Happened. Whew! That makes me tired just listing all of those jobs. My question is, as a musician moving between all of these roles do you need different mindsets for everything so that when you do each of these functions you are focused on getting the best of that particular instrument or function into your project?

TE:  There are different hats I have to wear along the way, for sure.  The start of the song is just exploration, kind of raw emotion.  Working alongside Will making records for other people for all this time has really helped me create a map for getting out of my head and finding my's the thing he demands from everyone.  Once I have something that feels, to whatever degree, true, I'll start shaping it, and that's where I start to balance craft with emotion.  After that it stays in that zone... where I'm applying some sculpting tools (other instrumental parts or sonic manipulations) to the initial idea with a eye on honoring its truth and also trying to really explore the world that truth can live it.

AV:  Tell me about your relationship with Spotted Peccary Records as they will be the label releasing How It Happened. Was there any creative collaboration between you and the label or will they simply be facilitating the distribution of your music to a wider audience via their well-established platforms?

TE:  I met Deborah Martin at the ZMR Awards last year, and we talked about doing something together... it seemed like a match made in heaven and so far it has turned out to be just that!  They handle the non-artist stuff which I stink at and allow me to use my limited time to focus on making music.  I should mention specifically Daniel Pipitone who did the gorgeous artwork, he just nailed the feeling of the world I was writing about.  Everyone at Spotted Peccary has been amazing and I am so very grateful for everything they are doing!

AV:  Although your fingerprints are all over this latest release were there any others who offered you advice or helped you work through issues you had to deal with during the process of creating How It Happened?

TE:  Oh, yes.  Howard Givens and Deborah from Spotted Peccary both helped tremendously.  I visited them on the West coast last fall and we listened to probably thirty pieces that I had in process... we chose the ones that would be on the album and Howard and I talked about the sonic world of Spotted Peccary.  He gave me some targets to hit in terms of sound that are different from the world I am normally in with my work with Will.  Imaginary Road records are very clean and clear, mostly acoustic and very articulate... my work tends to be more dense and a little harder to break into its elements... Howard encouraged me to go as far as I felt comfortable (and then a little further!) into space.  

AV:  In your mind are the songs of How It Happened an interconnected storyline with each picking up where the other left off or are they individual tales that share a common origin but are like short stories that stand on their own?

TE:  They are chapters in a book about love, I think.  There's a lot of "void" in the first piece, a lot of desolation, and we move through some opportunities and missteps until we find a real resolution at the end of "The Fog and the Lifting" after which there is a real sense, to me at least, of having found a space that is at peace, a dream state where the past falls away.

AV:  Are there any of the compositions from this album that you are particularly proud of in how it turned out compared to how it started?

TE:  I love "MK and How if Happened." It's the story of the French girl who taught me to waltz and then broke my heart back in high school.  I was revisiting the memory of her and that time and there was still a lot of emotional stuff there which really surprised me.  I think the piece really feels like the progression of my emotions through that relationship.  In "Hearts and Bones" Paul Simon has the wonderful line about "the arc of a love affair" and that's what this song is... it feels really true to me.  It really came to life in the overdubs... the accordion, bass, slide guitar, and the little ghostly electric guitar ostinato part all seemed to show up at the right times in the right ways.

AV:  What are your feelings about the music that you are giving to the world in this project? Regardless of what critics or listeners may think did How It Happened live up to your expectations when you reached the final mixes and you took that first listen to the final recording was it what you envisioned when you started?

TE:  I love the album and all the places it takes me.  I try to avoid expectations if at all possible... I just want the pieces to feel honest and carry the emotion that caused me to start writing them, and I think I got that (for me).  

AV:  As a way of closing this interview is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of Ambient Visions about the making of How It Happened and when it will be available for everyone to be able to pick up their own copy?   

TE:  The album comes out April 19th, and will be available everywhere that people buy music!  Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about the process and the music!

AV:  Always happy to help you share more info about your music and especially when everyone can pick up your next latest and greatest release. Take care.


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