An Interview With Tin Foil Top Hat
Tin Foil Top Hat just dropped a massive album dubbed Gods . Martyrs. Ghosts. Monsters. and it's laced with some classic feeling 90's radio rock with a little garage undertone and some heartfelt and honest tracks that seem like they'd fit well in a film or TV show somewhere.
There is a lot of beautiful melody driven guitar work scattered all over the record and an air of classic rock influence. Songs have jam out moments and the guys definitely have a good time laying down these songs as you can feel how each musician feeds off of the next.
At times, a jazz style peaks it's head out and says hello as percussion bass and guitars all give off that jazz trio effect during longer sessions.
Reverb laden vocals tell stories and the band keeps songs floating like a small boat flowing with the subtle waves of an ocean. There is emotion with most songs and some great diversity in styles as the record plays on.
We wanted to have a sit down with Tin Foil Top Hat to find out what made the album happen and what's next for them.
Okay guys, let's start with Gods . Martyrs. Ghosts. Monsters. This album is massive and has so much great guitar work on it. Very in depth journey musically. Where did this come from?
TFTH: Following up on The Superhero Wins, and going through some lineup changes in the band, we wanted to lean more on our strengths as instrumentalists. Paul studied as a classical guitarist, Pros has a degree in composition, and Eddy has been playing bass since before they were both born. The Superhero Wins was really a collection of songs that the previous lineup of Tin Foil Top Hat had been playing together as we felt out who we were and found our footing with each other. We recorded them and put out an album, which came out great but was really just a collection of songs we had in our repertoire at the time. Gods • Martyrs • Ghosts • Monsters is a much more intentional journey. It is a deep dive into what we could get away with as instrumentalists while still staying on this side of accessibility as a band in a world where soundbites and immediate gratification are the norm. We wanted to lay out an album that had a cohesive architecture. As a songwriter, Paul tries to grab onto the grittiest parts of himself, so trying to weave an album with some heavy, sometimes esoteric content, along with extended instrumental sections, into something that a present-day listener might bother with for more than a few nanoseconds was a challenge.
TSWS: So how long have you been doing this? How did this start for you guys?
TFTH: Paul has been playing guitar since he was 9. He studied classical guitar at Whitworth before going out into the big wide world to figure out how to make his style work in a larger popular music context. Pros began playing hand drums in drum circles the day he came onto this Earth, before getting his first kit at age 11. He got his degree in composition from Eastern Washington University. Eddy started playing bass at 17.
TFTH: Tin Foil Top Hat started when Paul moved from Spokane to Seattle in the summer of 2016. The group has gone through several iterations in that time. Eddy came on as the bassist for the group in February of 2018 after answering an ad looking for a replacement for a recently departed bassist, and he immediately fit right in. He learned quickly and played his first gig with the band less than a month after joining. Paul and Prosperity have been acquainted for some number of years. Pros came on as the band’s drummer in September 2019 and was on a gig stage after two weeks on the throne. Being a trio of musicians who have been at it for many years has given us a chance to really hone in on some of the nuances of our sound.
TSWS: With some variety in the styles of these songs I wanted to find out what bands influenced you. What bands really changed you?
TFTH: Paul grew up on a steady diet of Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. While the other people his age were diving headlong into Pearl Jam and Nirvana, he was digesting albums like The Wall and Thick As A Brick. He’s spent his time as a songwriter trying to seamlessly meld his classical training with the progressive rock he grew up listening to. His horizons have widened since then to include everything from Broken Bells and Interpol to Neko Case, Lady Gaga, and Cupcakke.
Eddy grew up listening to Cream, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report. He spent years in Top 40 bands to put food on the table. He loves rock music. His favorite band is Queens of the Stone Age.
Prosperity’s main influences were the great Seattle bands of the grunge era. He loves Soundgarden, Alice In Chains.
TSWS: I also really liked the 2018 release The Superhero Wins and can hear the evolution of your sound change. Did the new album come out the way you expected? Why the 2 year gap?
TFTH: The two year gap was the result of some lineup changes in the band. Peter Peng was the vocalist for The Superhero Wins, and unfortunately we lost him when his student visa ran out and he had to return to China. That was a blow to us, not only as a band with a hole in our sound, but also as people who were losing a friend with no certainty we’d see him again. He’d been such an integral part of who we were as a group that finding our new footing came with some peril. Personal tragedy and internal struggles sidelined our drummer, Nicole Ryan, shortly after that. We tried a couple of vocalists who didn’t really work out, and Paul finally decided that if he were going to spend time training yet another singer to perform the songs he writes, he might as well train himself.
The new album has been quite the exploration of that sound. We didn’t really know what to expect. Having spent so much time and energy honing a certain sound with an iconic vocalist, and then making the transition to someone whose vocal style is so qualitatively different, it was anyone’s ballgame when we started recording the new album. We had to go back and retake a bunch of tracks we’d already recorded, because the previous style and feel just didn’t fit the new sound. We knew we were going to keep at it until we got it right, and the new album, for all the work we put into it, is a step up from our previous outing. That’s the goal, right? Keep improving.
TSWS: Did you guys used to play live shows? Will you be getting back to that when the time comes?
TFTH: We love playing live shows. As pleased as we are with how Gods • Martyrs • Ghosts • Monsters came out, live shows are really the reason we do what we do. As soon as it’s safe and allowed, expect to see us on any stage that we can sneak onto before security drags us away.
TSWS: What's next for you as a band?
TFTH: We’re constantly growing and evolving. We’ve got a solid trio, and we are good at reading each other and finding subtlety and nuance in our sound. No matter how many times we think we’ve got something right, we are always open to changes and growth. We will keep writing, learning, and arranging new material, and older material is always fair game on the table to dissect, rewrite, and rework. No one who comes to one of our shows is just going to hear a regurgitation of what’s on our albums. Those recordings are snapshots in time, but those songs are always finding new life and new ways of being played.
In addition to being an accomplished bass player, Eddy is also a skilled producer. Gods • Martyrs • Ghosts • Monsters is the first album to be released on 8th Direction Records, which is a label we launched in March of 2019. But it was only the first of many to come. The label also put out Yet Set Go’s debut release this year, and we’re already looking at new projects for 2021.
TSWS: You've been at this for a while, is there any advice you'd give to other aspiring bands trying to get heard out there?
TFTH: Don’t quit. Listen to experienced players and learn from their mistakes. Be open to new ideas. That includes being willing to take risks that might put you outside the box or outside established genres. There are a lot of bands and a lot of sound out there. If you play it safe, you’ll get lost in the noise. If you’re playing a show with twelve other bands, what is the audience going to remember about you?
Define your successes based on things that matter the most to you rather than by external criteria. We get it, everyone would love to be famous or get paid lots of money for playing music, and we firmly believe no one should be expected to play for free. Musicians playing for free is a spell that needs to be broken immediately. But if fame and money are the primary metrics you have for whether you’re successful, you will be forced by life’s realities to give up before you get there. Financially you will be better off working a middle of the road nine-to-five job than making a living as a musician. Find metrics that matter to you as an artist and work toward those. Don’t expect people to worship you. Make art that matters.
We’ve seen a lot of performers who were leaning on their charisma and chasing the feeling of adoration and worship give up and go nowhere. Charisma matters, for sure. Audiences have to like you. But if that’s all you have in your tool belt, people will tire of you. Once they see the schtick, they’ve seen the schtick. You can’t cast the same spell forever. Take risks and make art that matters.
TSWS: What do you guys do when you're NOT working on music?
TFTH: Pros tends bar and spends time jamming with other musicians and hanging out with his large extended family. Eddy makes constant improvements on his studio, does other recording projects, and plays with his dogs. Paul sells women’s clothing and rebuilds motorcycles.
TSWS: Before we go, is there anything you want to say to fans of the music?
TFTH: Listen with an open mind. Music isn’t always supposed to be easy. Engage with music that stretches what you’re used to hearing. Listen to things you don’t get the first time. Go back and listen to them again. And again. And again. Listen until you are able to understand what you’re hearing, even if that takes a measure of effort. Engaging with music you don’t understand the first time is worth the journey, and you will be better for it. There’s nothing wrong with music that’s easily accessible the first time, but that shouldn’t be your only diet. Music that you grasp easily upon first hearing has its own reward, but any music that you can fully understand the first time you hear it is music you will tire of quickly.
To fans of Tin Foil Top Hat, we super duper appreciate you. We work really hard to give you something we think is worth having, and we’re always grateful when you also think it’s worth having.