Tomachi - Driven by the Drums
Author: Gareth Shute (photography by Michelle Hopkinson)
For the last half-a-decade, Tom Atkinson has been one of New Zealandís busiest live drummers. He currently drums for Breaks Co-op, SJD and One Million Dollars, as well as recording and performing his own music under the name Tomachi. In April this year, his different commitments will come to a head when he leaves for the UK to promote the release of Breaks Co-op album ĎThe Sound Insideí through Parlophone which is a UK off-shoot of EMI.
"Breaks Co-op want the whole band to move to the UK and theyíve offered to rent out a house for us. At the moment weíre staying for a month, but they want us to stay for six. Unfortunately One Million Dollars are planning to release their next album on the day that Iíll probably be leaving!"
The trip will also conflict with the ongoing promotion of his own Tomachi album ĎHotel Vermont Sessionsí which was recorded in the basement of Tomís Vermont St, Ponsonby house. He built his own studio here in 2001 following the purchase of a MOTU recording interface (an 8-channel-in, 8-out, analogue interface - though it also requires a desk for the pre-amps). The studioís other main lynchpins are two Rode NTK tube mics, which Tom uses in combination with other special purpose mics.
The album was initially driven by melody lines that Tom laid down on various keyboards - his background training on piano whilst in his pre-teens paying dividends after all these years.
"I wanted to keep things fresh - thatís why I did the drum tracks at a point where the structure of the song was reasonably well nailed. Iíd do the structures without any drums, so all the melodies and basslines were all played in with keys to a click track. Finally when I was happy with that, Iíd do the drum tracks, which were mostly done all in one take, whereas most of the other takes are all overdubs cut-and-pasted all around. But it doesnít sound like Iíve used loops because most of them are really long - four-bar and eight-bar long loops."
ĎHotel Vermont Sessionsí spreads itself across the genres of funk, hip hop, and electronica, but always with the basslines at the forefront of the sound.
This is one aspect which can be traced back to Tomís first serious band, Jungle Fungus, which existed in the early Ď90s when Supergroove and Red Hot Chili Peppers brought funk back to the popular airwaves. Tom continued to pursue his interest in funk when he joined his brother Nick (ex-Supergroove) to form Foghorn, which later extended out to become The Roughness. He also spent some time in HMX, another funk group, before this dissolved and he became involved with the multitude of acts that he currently drums with.
Forming Tomachi allowed Tom to continue exploring his interest in improvisational composition - whereby the tunes are made up on the spot. Nonetheless, if he was unsatisfied with a particular performance, he would relearn the elements that worked and re-record the take. He also took advantage of having his own studio to experiment with various recording and post-production techniques.
"There is a bit of flanging and reverb on various tracks. On one of the tracks, I fed the drums back through a guitar amp and miked it. I had it up really high and put a tube mic quite close to it, so I was warming it up quite a lot, which I then put back into the mix, bounced down, and cut a loop out of. Then I cut that loop up into segments and triggered them with Midi. So thatís how I got the sound for track four - Stay This Way Forever. I also stole a kick drum from Reason for that track."
Tom brought in a number of highly respected guest musicians to contribute to the album including King Kapisi, Godfrey de Grut, Nick Atkinson, Tim Stewart, Kingsley Melhuish, Nigel Gavin, and John Highstead. On The Mic is Mine, the main beat was programmed by Hamish Clark of Breaks Co-op and rhymes were laid over that by Dam Native, who Tom has also played with (He also recorded drums for the track Strictly For My Horis off their new album).
Tom did all the final mixing for the Tomachi album himself, though he admits facing certain difficulties mixing in the same environment as he had recorded.
"I probably shouldíve taken it and mixed it in a different room, because the theory goes that when you mix in the place where you recorded, then the same resonant frequencies will still be there - so if something sounded loud the first time then it gets louder. Thatís why people usually mix in a different room, but I think it came out well. Overall itís quite bass-heavy, but I wanted it like that!"
Angus McNaughton mastered the resulting album at MAINZ check and the album was released late last year through Capitalrecordings in Wellington. Tomachi has only performed three times as a live group to promote the album so far, but Tom is keen to do more shows before he leaves for the UK and has even experimented with the idea of playing solo.
"Iíve got an idea where I could play a gig with just me on drums and a laptop playing tracks of the album, minus the drum track. Itís kinda wacky and it could end up like one of those weird one-man bands you see down at Victoria Park Market, but it would be really good for touring!"