TOM McRAE

A CATHEDRAL-DIMENSIONED NOISE ENGULFS ME AS I MILL ABOUT IN THE FOYER OF THE NATIONAL CENTRE FOR EARLY MUSIC. IT’S A SOUND THAT SEEMS SOMEHOW APPROPRIATE FOR THIS CONVERTED CHURCH VENUE.

TOM MCRAE SQUAREIn the main hall, Tom McRae is coming to the end of soundcheck, running through the layers of colour his array of effects and looping devices bring to a one-man band sound. It’s a huge noise I was not entirely expecting. Having arrived an hour earlier for our appointment, I’d popped my head round the door and chatted briefly to McRae, standing with his acoustic guitar next to a piano on a modest stage. “Pretty standard set-up,” I’d thought, “for a singer-songwriter”…
Familiar with his albums – a self-titled debut (2000), JUST LIKE BLOOD (2003), ALL MAPS WELCOME (2005) and KING OF CARDS (2007) – and having at least one of them on my iPod as I pack myself off to a nearby cafe in York (the soundcheck was running hideously late and we rescheduled our chat), McRae’s music has recently been stripped right back for a pair of rustic-sounding releases which showcase the more intimate side of his writing. New self-released album FROM THE LOWLANDS sits as neat companion to 2010’s ALPHABET OF HURRICANES.

Back at the NCEM, McRae’s textural toying with segments of his sparse but immediately likeable new record filters through the building. I step into the main hall again, and see last minute touches being made – church candles positioned around the place – before McRae gives me the nod, a big smile and a thumbs up, and we make our way to the dressing room to record this edition of The Mouthcast. We’re interrupted a couple of times, and McRae is polite but firm in clearing the space for us to get right into our chat. I find him both friendly and entirely sure of himself and his art, and it’s unfailingly interesting to hear his take on ‘the life’ of a musician who has lived and recorded in America, been signed to a major label, and had his songs used on the soundtracks of SIX FEET UNDER and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

In this edition of The Mouthcast, McRae talks about his early forays into music, how songwriting is like snapshot photography, and why being playlisted for seven weeks in Belgium can feel like a major triumph…