Image: Carys Bulmer.
Tomer Krail is an artist with a varied background. Loaded with experience from years spent as a jazz session musician, and teaming up with several bands, he’s now carving out his own journey as a solo artist.
Earlier this year the singer-songwriter was awarded with Reddit Indie Music Feedback’s ‘Song of The Year’ award for his single ‘Quadropede’.
I spoke to Tomer Krail over Facetime about making music as an independent artist, the expectations that come with growing a fanbase, and what we define as different genres and sounds in 2020.
DAN: I know that you’ve got a varied musical background, you’ve been in bands and you play multiple instruments. What does this bring to your music – apart from the obvious.
TOMER KRAIL: What would the obvious be?
DAN: I suppose things like, being able to layer different instruments without other people being involved.
TOMER KRAIL: Yeah. I’ve played in a lot of jazz bands over the years, kind of cut my teeth as a session player, and also played with indie bands making original music. Back in the day you’d have music that was a bit more like mine more often, because you’d get a singer-songwriter type like a Paul Simon or a Nick Drake, and then they’d just hire a bunch of jazz musicians to do sessions.
So you end up with these albums that have got deep songwriting at the core, but also have these amazing players on it. If Bob Dylan was always on his own people might not like it as much, but often he’s got the best Nashville players behind him, so with my music I guess you’re kind of getting interesting, hopefully, compositions on a lyrical, musical basis, but also the instrumentation to back that up with interesting key changes, chords that might not be found in pop music.
I think that’s where things might be lacking a lot these days, you have a lot of spirit, but not the technical know-how to deliver complicated compositions. Music industry execs will often say people like simple stuff, but Queen, say, one of the biggest bands of all time, and their music is really weird and complicated. So I think people will go for stuff like that if they’re given it, but the industry isn’t hooking talented singer-songwriters up with talented musicians any more, they’re kind of just letting people record in their bedrooms and see what happens.
DAN: Part of it must be about music being so accessible as well. Anybody who wants to create their own product when it comes to music can do so from their bedroom now.
TOMER KRAIL: Well you have a lot interesting, like, ‘bedroom pop’ musicians and ‘lo-fi’ sort of stuff.
DAN: Yeah lo-fi is huge right now.
TOMER KRAIL: But most of it is just shit, and we’re in a world where getting really well produced, nice sounding recordings is much easier than it’s ever been, but actually giving those recordings interesting harmonies and things like that – there’s a dearth of that right now.
DAN: So you’re not a new artist, in the sense that you’ve been working with different people, but you’re a relatively new solo act, so what are the biggest challenges of being that in 2020?
TOMER KRAIL: The biggest thing that I’ve found hard is promotion. Making the music had its challenges, but that’s kind of what I do, I think I’m good at song writing, playing the instruments and knowing how the record should sound. But then how to market it nowadays is different. Spotify playlists, which are the big thing now, people don’t really seem to know how to get on to them, they’re sort of esoteric.
Then you have blogs, and blogs have no reach – when I’ve been featured on a blog, which is rare, I might end up getting ten or so plays, but if I post it on Reddit or 4chan I’ll get way more than that. So the blogs don’t provide that service anymore, people think they have power but it’s an illusion of power, sort of like a lot of things in the modern world.
DAN: Yeah, traditional models are definitely struggling. You were awarded Song of The Year by Indie Music Feedback [editors note: a sub-Reddit dedicated to Indie Music with over 12,000 members]. What was that like in terms of recognition?
TOMER KRAIL: That was really great. When I first started, I thought “I’ve got to hit these blogs”, but blogs weren’t really interested in my music, so that was a bit annoying. So I kind of decided – partly because I wanted to and partly because I wasn’t being let in that way – that I was going to find a back way to all that. So then I actually got some people on the internet recognising my music and thinking my song was good, and I ended up getting more plays out of that than for any other projects that I’ve been with.
Artbreak, for example, we did a record with Tony Visconti, which should have been a huge deal, that record got maybe two-thousand, three-thousand plays, from loads of blogs and stuff like that. ‘Quadropede’ at just under twenty-thousand now, and that’s all from organic stuff online, which is really cool. You’ve kind of just got to hope that will happen, I didn’t do anything except just sharing the song in this one place, and getting involved in the community I suppose. But that was great, a real game-changer for me.
DAN: I listened to everything back to back, in preparation for talking to you today, and what stood out for me with ‘Quadropede’ was that it’s the one that’s the most cryptic. Your other songs I can see the meaning in them, even though you’ve left it open enough for listeners to interpret it, but that song is a lot more cryptic, is there a meaning or should that be left open completely to interpretation?
TOMER KRAIL: I know what you mean. ‘Bad Situation’, the first single, that’s a very simple song, it’s got a very simple “Aren’t I an idiot” sort of thing going. A famous songwriter once said that most songs boil down to “Oh baby, why’d you treat me so bad”, or “Oh baby, I love you so much”, and you can apply that to yourself as well, either “Oh I’m such a dick head,” or “I’m so great, this is why I’m amazing”, and most of the songs don’t fall into that, they kind of have a thing that I’m going for.
With ‘Quadropede’, the title actually comes from the fact that, whenever I come up with a riff or anything, I give it a name so I can come back to it and remember it, and with this I just called it ‘Quadropede’, I don’t know why but it felt like the right thing, like “what would a Quadropede be, it would probably be a sort of monster, and so on.” And I think it’s probably turned out so abstract because obviously a Quadropede doesn’t exist, it’s an invented word.
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DAN: Right, so that kind of led into the mythical-ness of the lyrics.
TOMER KRAIL: Yeah, it’s kind of like a horror story or something. Sometimes I’ll write lyrics or write a song, and then afterwards I think “Oh, it probably means this, or that”, but in that sense, I didn’t intend that. I’ve had it where people come to me and tell me their meaning of the song, and I think “Oh, that’s way better than what I was actually thinking of,” but I won’t say that, because it diminishes the song for them. That’s it though, you hope that somebody is listening to it thinking about what it means, and if the song is abstract for you I don’t want to ruin it by saying it means something.
DAN: I’ve seen on a social media post about your music, the word ‘Neofolk’. What are your thought on that, are you comfortable with that label.
TOMER KRAIL: That was one of those buzzwords from back when I was starting to promote my music. Back then the music felt, genre-wise it was all over the place, but the first CD felt like it had more of a folk-thing, and I like neo-soul, and neo-jazz, so I thought I’d add the term neofolk. Turns out there’s actually music called neofolk, someone else has come up with the term. It kind of works as a catch all for what I do. If people have a word to associate with what I do then that’s good, I kind of call it indie music a lot of the time, but I don’t really think of it as indie music any more than I think of it as neofolk.
DAN: I was having a conversation recently about how that term has become almost unrecognisable from when it was first coined, it has rarely has anything to do with being independent now, it’s a certain sound, regardless of what position you’re in as an artist.
TOMER KRAIL: And even as a sound and an aesthetic, it still has a massive gaping chasm in what it can be, The Arctic Monkeys are indie, and The Smiths are indie, but they don’t sound really anything like each other. I guess the good thing I can say about Indie is that the term emerged to say “this is different”, bands that were a bit more clever, maybe a bit jazzier, bit more sophisticated with what they were doing, kind of like The Smiths or Aztec Camera. But I don’t really like the ‘Indie’ that has become associated with the term over the last ten years or so which is like, Mumford and Sons or someone like that.
That’s more of an aesthetic than a style. But for me, if I call myself rock music people think of Van Halen, guys with long hair and guitar solos, things like that, so whatever you call yourself it comes with some sort of presumption. When I first started I was calling it classic rock and sending it to classic rock blogs, but that’s really music for truckers going round the UK listening to Whitesnake, so then they don’t wan’t to listen to ‘Bad Situation’ – it’s complicated.
DAN: What kind of artists are you listening to at the moment?
TOMER KRAIL: Well the best thing that’s come out of Tomer Krail is that people started sending me their music recommendations based on hearing my music. It’s the ultimate playlist generator because if people hear what you like, they’ll know. So I’m really into Car Seat Headrest at the moment, if you know them?
DAN: I really like them. They’re one of those bands that really defies genre, because sometimes they have a post-punk feel to them, sometimes an old-school punk feel, and sometimes all you can call them is rock. They’re interesting.
TOMER KRAIL: Yeah, when I put out ‘Bad Situation’ somebody said “Oh you remind me of this Car Seat Headrest guy”, and when I heard them I fell in love with them immediately. They’re probably the band that’s doing the closest to what I’m doing at the moment, I think. When I heard them I had this song ‘The Future is Futile’ that I’d already recorded at this point but hadn’t been mixed, so I got this Car Seat Headrest record Fill in The Blank, and I thought this reminds me of ‘The Future is Futile’, and said “can we mix it like that?” That song is now different even though it was already recorded, because of Car Seat Headrest. His story is so good, too.
He recorded like 11 albums at home on his own, ‘bedroom pop’, and those really don’t sound good, but he kept doing it, and eventually a label picked him up, and it’s a story of someone who was outside the music industry, he wouldn’t have gotten on any of the blogs we’re talking about because the music was too badly recorded, and yet he made it by just putting out his own music and following his own artistic path, which I think is great.
If you compare some of his early videos where he can’t sing that well, to the amazing live performances now – I love a good underdog story and they have one, with great music to go with it. That’s the big one I’m listening to at the moment. And then I’m always listening to Bob Dylan, always listening to the beatles. I really like Steely Dan, all sorts of old music, but I’m trying to listen to more new music because I don’t want to get stuck in the past too much.
DAN: What’s the reception been like for your latest song, ‘The Road’.
TOMER KRAIL: It’s been pretty good. It’s always difficult because ‘The Road’ was the first song I put out after I’d actually got some proper attention for the music; I’d put out ‘The Future is Futile’ but ‘Quadropede’ hadn’t had that award yet. So it was funny having fans to disappoint for the first time.
TOMER KRAIL: Because I think a lot of them wanted to hear a song that sounded like ‘Quadropede’, and The Road is a slower, more mellow ballad, quite pop, really. ‘Quadropede’ is more edgy – if you’re a teenager that sits in his room and has the lights off you can probably listen to it, while if you listen to The Road you’re probably like “What are these dumb emotions coming out of this guy.”
Saying that, the best thing that’s happened from it is that before I’d have to post this online a lot in different places to get people to listen to it, and even then I wouldn’t get that many plays. But now people are listening to it without me doing anything, and that’s great. Not as many people as ‘Quadropede’; that’s still got a hundred or so people listening every day which is great, but some of those people break off and listen to ‘The Road’, and they say they like it. So what the award thing’s taught me is that you kind of have to put these things out, do your best to promote them, but kind of wait for people to do their thing, wait for the people who really like that song to turn up.
We haven’t put out the video yet either, and I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve been developing that with my friend Felix Slander, another musician, and I’ve been recording some of his stuff at my house. The video’s all homemade and self-produced and stuff as well, which kind of fits in with the DIY aesthetic, but he’s [Felix] done a really good job of it and he has an eye for camerawork – the worst part of the video is me trying to look serious, because I’m not really good at that kind of thing, but if you can get past that you can enjoy it.
The new music video for ‘The Road’ is available on YouTube.
Dan Cody is Editor-in-Chief at No Majesty.