James Gracey meets leader of the lo-fi league, Tom McShane
With a flair for penning reflective and tender songs drenched in melancholy and warmth, Tom McShane has firmly established himself as a musician of some worth since his first foray into the music scene in Belfast in 2003. Performing steadily since then, McShane has calmly gathered a devout following with his eloquent songwriting, rich lyricism and quietly evocative performances.
McShane began his musical career playing guitar in various Indie bands such as Roque Junior. But the urge to write songs propelled the young Co Down man toward centre stage, and he soon branched out on his own - all thanks to his mum.
‘My mum had an old classical guitar,’ recalls McShane. ‘She told my sisters and I that the first of us to learn 10 songs could keep the guitar. But I was never really interested in learning other people’s songs so I wrote 10 of my own. It was cheating, I guess, and the songs were terrible, but I got the guitar. I still write most of my songs on that guitar.’
McShane’s current output as a solo artist has garnered him a reputation for creating heart-felt, lo-fi melodic musings, and comparisons with the likes of Nick Drake and Will Oldham are now commonplace.
‘People keep putting me in that lo-fi, slow core bracket, which I’m quite happy with,’ reflects McShane. ‘I certainly think there’s no shame in being labeled as such. I’m in highly esteemed company. But I’m sure when people make such comparisons they’re referring to the style and not the quality of my music.’
It’s this humble modesty that has held McShane in good stead, and it shines through in his music and live performances. But when it comes to creating his particular brand of lush and longing compositions, McShane admits to not following a formula.
‘I started playing solo shows in 2003. I’d recorded a lot of songs for my own amusement and I hadn’t really intended to do anything with them. But I put a little mini-album together of my eight favourite tracks, Songs Are Sad. I gave a few copies to close friends and they passed them on to their friends and the whole thing snowballed.'
With McShane’s growing popularity it would seem that NI audiences certainly can relate to his music. It’s also apparent that with bands such as Oppenheimer covering his songs, other musicians are enthralled enthralled with his material. The bruised and achingly delicate ‘Don’t Call Me’ from Songs Are Sad lent itself surprisingly well to Oppenheimer's shimmery electro-pop interpretation.
‘When I was making Songs Are Sad I deliberately tried not to get sucked into the signer/songwriter ‘woe is me’ trap. But when I had almost finished it I realised that it was a lot more downbeat than I’d intended. That’s why I gave the CD that title and I wrote the title track as a little joke at my own expense.
'I write when I’m motivated by events or emotions. I like to write songs with a strong narrative and hope that I’m becoming more skilled as a storyteller. I just hope my ideas are good, that I articulate them well and that an audience can find something in there they can relate to.'
With a tour of the US scheduled for December, doors will continue to open for McShane and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to greet new listeners and grace their ears with his enthralling and intimate body of work. He also sees Northern Ireland as the perfect platform from which to launch his assault on the global charts.
‘The scene is so vibrant at the moment,’ comments McShane. ‘Hard working acts like Oppenheimer and Duke Special really deserve all the success they get. Not only are they making fantastic music, but they really work to make it happen for themselves. And look at Snow Patrol, a few years ago they were on the verge of calling it a day. There are so many other great bands on the cusp of breaking through. There’s really no shortage of talent here.
‘I’m currently writing material for my first full length album. I’ll be recording that early in the new year if all goes according to plan. I really want to push myself to do as much touring to promote it as possible. I don’t think I’ve come close to realising my full potential. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to reach a new audience. I want to see how far I can take this.’