Interview: Tom Verberne on his 'Life Like' EP.

Interview: Tom Verberne on his 'Life Like' EP.

"I'm so sick of being miserable," Tom Verberne sings in the opening line of 'You Make Me Hate Myself The Most', from his 'Life Like' EP released earlier this year. This self-reflection and awareness is ever-present in Verberne's songwriting, with the six-track release touching on infatuation ('You Last Night'), trying to understand someone else ('Tangled'), and all wrapped up in a 90s inspired sound.

The project has since seen a deluxe re-release, with two new songs - 'Big Deal' seeing Verberne team up with his friend and collaborator Postcard Boy, and 'I try, I try and I Just Try' closing out the project.

We caught up with Verberne to discuss the new EP, his songwriting, reflecting on his past self, and more...

COUP DE MAIN: Your new EP follows you releasing a full album 'I’ll Watch You Do Anything' last year. Do you find you have a fast writing/recording process, which means you have a lot of music to churn out?
TOM VERBERNE: I'd say I make quite a lot of music. I feel like I am fast when I do it, but it's probably because I become attached to songs and then want to put them all out. In this day and age, you can just put them out, you don't have to wait three years to put out an album. It's quite fun, just making a song and then trying not to wait for ages to put it out.
CDM: Then it feels more current too.
TOM: Yeah! Because if you sit on stuff too long, it just becomes so stale. Even with all my releases, it's always been a year after I've made them that they come out. By that point, you're excited about the next stuff, which can be kind of annoying.

CDM: Do you have any songs that you work on that don't come out? Do you have to sort through a lot of ideas?
TOM: There's a lot of really bad songs that don't come out. But usually, I'll spend a couple of hours writing a song, and then realise the next day that it's terrible, and just never touch it again.
CDM: How do you know it's terrible?
TOM: Sometimes it's really obvious.
CDM: How do you know when an idea is good?
TOM: That's a good question. I don't really know. It just feels good, you want to listen to it, and if it's exciting. Making a good song is kind of like a really slow adrenaline rush, you just feel really hyped on it.

CDM: Does it take you a long time to get from the beginning of creating a song to the end?
TOM: Yeah usually. I'll rarely write a whole song in one sitting, it's usually over a week or two.

CDM: Because you're writing and producing everything yourself, you can change every single aspect of it. Do you have to put parameters in place to be like, 'Okay, I'm going to stop with the song,' or else you can kind of go on forever?
TOM: Yeah, I feel like my process is that I go way over the top. Then everyone's like, "You need to tone it down a bit." And then I go back, and start cleaning it off.

CDM: What was it about this collection of songs that made you put together 'Life Like'?
TOM: I kind of just... writing the song 'Ain't Life Like That', that just felt pretty good. Because it was a song that's kind of all-encompassing about life, rather than just one thing, which is something that's pretty rare for me.

CDM: Do you find it generally easier to write about really specific things, as opposed to a broader concept?
TOM: For me, it's a lot easier to write about something specific. Because there's a lot of pressure if you're writing about something pretty all-encompassing. You're like, "I have to sum this up in three verses, how am I gonna do that?" But that was a song that I actually wrote in one sitting, it kind of resonated with me, and I feel like it resonated with the rest of the songs, although they are more specific songs.

CDM: Was 'Ain't Life Like This' one of the first songs you wrote for the project?
TOM: It was actually the second to last song, I think.

CDM: When you were writing those other songs, did you know that they were going to form part of the EP?
TOM: I never really write with a project in mind. I always make music and then if I feel like the songs fit together, then they fit together and I'll put them out.

CDM: A lot of the EP feels very inspired by 90s guitar music. Was there anything in particular you found yourself listening to over the time of creating a lot of stuff?
TOM: A lot of stuff! 90s guitars is a big one, I've been listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins. I love the whole culture around early 2000s shit too. I'm big into Green Day, but I'm not that big into the music, I don't really like Weezer. But the 90s stuff I get behind a lot more. Or just specifically, Smashing Pumpkins.

CDM: The EP feels very reflective about different moments of your life - I always think it’s interesting to look back as people have such vastly different experiences. Are there really important life lessons you think you hold onto in particular?
TOM: That's an interesting question. I feel like it's been a wild last couple of years. I think I've kind of been just learning to roll with it more instead of the opposite. Because writing songs, if you're writing about a moment or whatever, you can become so stuck in it, if you know what I mean.

CDM: Do you often write about things while they're happening, or after the fact? Because often people say that writing during something important happening can be hard.
TOM: I think it kind of varies for me, to be honest. Sometimes I'll write the day after something happens, or when it is happening. And other times, it'll be six months, or I just will never write a song about it. It kind of depends on... actually, it doesn't depend on anything. It just happens. It's pretty random.

CDM: Do you have any friends or family that have also given you any specific life advice in the last few years that you think has been particularly helpful?
TOM: Probably just by my parents. It's not so much specific life advice, but their kind of ethos is, 'Well, you're doing music, so just go hard at it, and commit.' I think initially they wanted me to go study for a proper degree, but when I actually started doing it, they were like, 'Just go hard.' Advice is a weird one though, I don't think I have any advice. People can tell you stuff all the time, but you have to kind of come to the conclusion yourself.

CDM: In ‘Ain’t Life Like That’ you say, “I wondered / In and out of different pasts / Futures that I would have killed to have.” The idea of wondering about different futures for yourself is something I think is really common for young adults especially. Do you think a lot about what your future will look like?
TOM: Yeah, especially being in music. It's such a 'I don't know if it will work out...' type of thing. I have no idea what's going to happen in the next two years, let alone 50. Especially hitting 21, I was kind of like, "I'm 21 now," I just think it's kind of all becoming a bit more real. Which is scary. But that line is a little bit nostalgic, if you know what I mean. More thinking about the past, and decisions that I've made.

CDM: Do you often think or wish that you had made different decisions about your past?
TOM: Sort of. There aren't any decisions that I'm like, "I should've done that." It's an interesting thing to contemplate. But I don't think there's anything specific because I don't think there's much point in being regretful. I'm not going to beat myself up about stuff.

CDM: What do you think that high-school-Tom would think of you now?
TOM: I think I'd be pretty stoked. I think I'd be pretty happy with the decisions that I'd made.
CDM: Did you envisage what you would be doing when you were in high school?
TOM: I probably don't think that I would have done some of the stuff. I think of it like... this is a tangent, but my brother had a concussion. He couldn't remember the last year of his life for three days or something, which is bad. I kind of wish that that could happen to me every year, and I could play myself the music that I'd made in the year. I feel like every year if I played myself what I'd made, I'd be pretty stoked with that. Surprised sometimes, I think, but I feel like that's kind of the goal.
CDM: I always wish I could re-watch a movie for the first time, and experience that feeling of it. I feel like that's a similar vibe.
TOM: Yeah. But I feel like that, if I can keep being like that, being kind of stoked with the music that I'm making, then that's a good thing.

CDM: In ‘You Make Me Hate Myself The Most’ you sing, “I’ve been trying to get out of this rut.” Do you have particular ways to combat when you are feeling not so great?
TOM: Sort of, I mean, in lockdown, that was when I started running. I was like, 'Let's do some exercise, get those endorphins going or whatever.' But, apart from lockdown, just seeing friends and stuff, and taking a break from music a lot of the time helps out. And trying to do fun activities because it's pretty hard sometimes when you're like, 'I need to make more songs.'
CDM: Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself musically to produce content?
TOM: Yeah for sure. When you're your own boss, you're like, 'This is my dream. I've got to make it happen.' You just have to knuckle down. It gets pretty tough like that.

CDM: Do you remember when you wrote that song (‘You Make Me Hate Myself The Most’) in particular? What was kind of running through your mind when you were working on it?
TOM: Yeah. I was just pretty angsty and all that. It's a pretty angsty song. And it actually started off as a really slow song, it was kind of fun. I was listening to a lot of Green Day and Jean Dawson at the time. I think I must have written it, and then been in a mood, and then gone back to it a couple of days later and been pretty hyped, like, 'Let's make something fun.' So I changed the whole song. It's kind of cool getting those conflicting vibes.

CDM: In ‘Tangled’ you sing, “Your heart speaks in words I can’t work out.” Do you think that the hardest part of friendships/relationships can be figuring out what the other person is thinking?
TOM: Yeah 100%. I don't know why. I think for me, usually I'm kind of a pessimist, I guess. Or I have a fair amount of self-doubt. So I'm always kind of assuming the worst. It's just hard to assume that someone is thinking what you want them to be thinking all the time. So I usually just fall in the opposite way. This might be completely wrong, but probably everyone feels like what I just said a little bit. So then everyone's kind of holding back, and not quite being as open as they could be.

CDM: What made you want to have live drums and live instruments when recording ‘It Shows Heaps’?
TOM: I've kind of always wanted, maybe not, but I've been wanting to do it for a while. It's kind of hard to do when you're just a bedroom producer; lots of studio time is something that I can't afford. But my drummer Ezra has a little studio set up in a storage unit, so when I knew that he had that I was pretty immediately keen to record some drums. So we did that, which was sick, and I enjoyed in that song blending live drums and electronic drums together. It's a vibe that I quite like.

CDM: How did you find opening for the BENEE tour last October?  
TOM: It was crazy. That's something that if I told myself that when I was in Year 13, I would have been like, 'What the fuck?' It was surreal, to be honest. It's been a while now, but it's still a pretty wild thing to think about. It's one of the highlights.

CDM: Has it been exciting to put together your own live show?
TOM: Yeah, for sure. I think with my live show, it has kind of grown into itself quite a lot. A lot of the music I make now, I think about more how it will go down live and stuff, which has kind of resulted in me going in a bit more of a rocky direction. It's so much more fun to perform. I kind of miss rock gigs, I feel like there aren't that many gigs along those lines anymore.

CDM: This is a question from Harry Teardrop: “Tell them about when your car got stolen. The night he opened for BENEE. I feel like that’s a crazy story.”
TOM: Basically, we finished the first night of the BENEE shows, and went home. We were all like, 'Wow. Crazy night.' We went to bed because we were going to do it again tomorrow. My friend was out with some other people, so I left my keys in my shoes by my door. We think that someone came and saw the shoes, which weren't great shoes, they were a battered pair of Converse that I skate in. We think they took my shoes, must have looked inside and thought they hit the jackpot with the car keys. Luckily, they didn't go inside the house - it was my house keys and the car keys - but they took my car. Then a couple of weeks later, I got a call from the police saying that they had found it and I got it back with no seats, no radio, and no door handles. Just really weird things had been taken off. But the car still works and drives!

CDM: Harry Teardrop wrote some of ‘Tangled’ right? It’s so cool to see this global music community with artists like you guys, Maxwell Young, etc. Do you think young artists having people around them who are doing a similar thing is motivating, and helpful?
TOM: The very end bit! He did actually feature on it too, but we decided that it didn't really work well with the song. But he wrote the very last bit. For sure, it's super motivating. Especially because I genuinely love their music so much. Like Harry, James Ivy... It's pretty hype being kind of associated with people that you love, and believing in all your friends.
CDM: I feel like so much of music is so competitive sometimes. So it's nice to see people that are genuinely hyping each other and helping each other out.
TOM: Yeah for sure. I feel like it's a good group in that way. Because I think we all just, hopefully, like each other's music a lot. We just want to see everyone do well.

Tom Verberne's 'Life Like' EP is out now - watch a live performance of 'You Make Me Hate Myself The Most' below:

[Made with the support of NZ On Air]