Interview: Nigel Thomas
Songwriting meets Nigel Thomas, the former frontman of UK indie hopefuls The Foxes, as he prepares to go it alone
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. Once upon a time, there was a band called The Foxes. They formed in 2006, released two singles that reached the Top 10 on the UK indie chart, and supported everyone from The Troggs to Amy McDonald, via Newton Faulkner and The Magic Numbers. In 2011, they recorded their debut album, Last Of Many, with producer John Cornfield (Muse, Cast, Ride, Shed Seven)… and then disappeared. The end.
Except it’s not the end. Because about a month ago, an email landed in the Songwriting inbox that contained a link to the video for Fever – the debut solo single from former Foxes frontman Nigel Thomas. You can watch the video below – be warned, it’s quite harrowing! – and the single will be available to buy from 9 November… but the big news is, there’s also a full album in the pipeline.
Armed with that information, we got Nigel on the phone to find out more…
Let’s start with the striking Fever video… we’re told it’s based on personal experience?
“Well, the song is based on a time that I was quite ill, and I got up to go to the bathroom and collapsed on the floor. I passed out for a few minutes and when I came round, I started thinking, y’know, what if I was alone or elderly and that happened? And that inspired me to write a song about feeling isolated and being in the depths of despair. Before I did music for a living, I’d worked in a mental healthcare trust, so it’s something that’s always been of interest to me. That’s what inspired the song. The video, though, was more a reflection of a fevered mind, and really it was inspired by classic cinema and how mental illness is depicted on-screen.”
Before going solo you were with The Foxes, who had some degree of success, recorded an album and then seemingly stopped. What happened there, then?
“Well, I guess we stopped because we’d been doing it intensively for four or five years, and by the time we’d finished the album, everyone was just exhausted and things started to drift apart. And then a couple of the band members got married and it just came to its conclusion, really. It’s a shame but I think it’s just how things go with bands.”
And is that separation final, do you think?
“It’s hard to say. I’m still friends with all the members of the band and John, who was Foxes’ guitarist, plays on my new album and will be coming on some of the tour dates. There’d have to be a strong demand for us to get back together, but I wouldn’t say never.”
“My Dad used to play guitar to my mother’s bump before I was born”
Now let’s rewind… how did you first get into making music and writing songs?
“You could say I was influenced by music before I was even born… my Dad was a singer-songwriter, he had some singles out in the 80s, and apparently he used to play guitar and sing to my mother’s bump before I was born! But other than that it’s the usual story of violin and piano and choir lessons at school, and then once my voice broke I decided I wanted to go more in a pop/rock direction. So I was given a guitar for my birthday and I’ve never looked back!”
Can you remember the first song you wrote?
“Yes, I think I can… well actually, when I was about 13 I had this little Casio keyboard that I used to record little melodies into, but my first ‘proper’ song was when I was about 16. Classically, I was a break-up song: my ex-girlfriend sent me a letter saying ‘Don’t cry any more, let it go,’ so I wrote a song called Let It Go… way before the Frozen thing!”
And how did you get from that first song, to being in Foxes?
“I went to Exeter University to study English, we formed a band at uni that went through various incarnations and became Foxes, and we got to support some cool bands like Magic Numbers while we were there and then when we finished college we moved to London. That’s it, really.”
Let’s move on to your actual songwriting, then. Were you the primary songwriter in Foxes and if so, how does writing as a solo artist differ?
“I was, yes. Well, quite often it was me and John, he’d do a lot of the arrangements. So some were jointly written, some by me. As for the differences… being in the band there was a bit more pressure to come up with something that was a bit heavier or a bit more commercial, whereas doing the solo thing there’s less pressure, it’s not like ‘Where’s the big chorus?’ or anything.”
So you feel freer going it alone?
“I guess, but then I’m very lucky because I can still get John’s input or feedback if I want to.”
“I’ll go make a cup of tea and suddenly a melody will come to me”
Do you have a particular songwriting routine or method?
“Well, it’s generally in afternoons and evenings, I’m not much of a morning person! Quite often it’s just when inspiration strikes… sometimes a melody hits me when I’m lying in bed at night and I have to jump up, grab a guitar and record it. But I do set time aside for songwriting as well – sometimes you have to force yourself to at least try.
“One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that some of my best songs have come along at the end of a session, when I was feeling like I was useless and I’d never write a song again. I can sit there for hours thinking ‘Why are you even doing this? You can’t create anything!’ and then I’ll get up and make a cup of tea and suddenly a whole melody will come to me. It really varies.”
Do you write melody-first, generally, or lyric-first?
“Normally words come later, for me… the music will inspire the mood of the lyric. Sometimes I’ll start with a word or a title but usually the music comes first.
Do you carry a notebook around, or record ideas on your phone?
“Both! I’ve got several notebooks full of scrawled bits and pieces of lyrics, and I’ve got lots of little snippets of video on my phone where I’ve hummed in a melody idea. And I’ll upload those to my computer, and every now and then I’ll go through them, and sometimes something will inspire me and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes I’ll listen back to something I was excited about and it’ll sound *rubbish… but then I keep them in a ‘no good’ folder anyway, just in case I change my mind again later on!”
Looking forward, what’s next after the single… I gather from what you’ve been saying there’s an album in the pipeline?
“Yep, it’s finished, it’ll be out at the start of February, and it’s provisionally titled Travelling Man, which is one of the tracks on there.”
“If you’ve just heard the single, you might be quite surprised by the album”
And what can we expect from the album musically, compared to the single?
“I think if you’ve just heard the single, you might be quite surprised by the album, because the single’s one of the simpler, more approachable songs. There’s more instrumentation on the album… there are some traditional guitar-based songs on there but then there are also songs that are primarily harp or strings. There are lots of different sounds, it’s not all just guitar-based pop, but hopefully people will find it interesting.”
What about touring plans?
“There’s a sort of mini-tour of the UK and Germany for the single in November, and then we’ll do some more dates when the album comes out, and probably go back to Germany as well. We played there quite a bit as Foxes and some of the people we met have asked me back, and also I’ve toured there with the band Darling Boy and met some people that way. It’s incredible how much fun it is touring in Germany, and how responsive the audiences are over there. Being based in London, one of the cons is that it’s hard to build up a local fanbase, whereas in Germany, and in the Czech Republic as well, they seem to really appreciate you going over there.
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