Assemblage 23 Interview
Interview Date – 27th July 2011
Interviewer – Phill Bruce
Photos – Bob Libby
Assemblage 23 stand up as one of the true greats of industrial music, they have been an influence for many of the new bands who have emerged on the scene. I got change to catch up with Tom from Assemblage 23 and here is how it went.
Phill – Thank you for agreeing to this interview with Grave Concerns Ezine, Tom. May I ask, before you started Assemblage 23, when you were playing bass in a punk band, what was the main reason you wanted to take the darkness of punk rock and put it into the industrial sounds of Assemblage 23?
Tom – I’ve always had fairly eclectic taste in music, so although I was very into bands like The Clash, Circle Jerks, Buzzcocks, etc., I also was really attracted to unusual sounds made possible through electronic instrumentation. Truthfully, a lot of electronic music really shares the same DIY ethos as punk. You don’t need to be a classically trained musician to make the music and at the end of the day, the fans generally judge the way the music effects them at a visceral level than worrying about technique. So to me, the transition is quite a logical one.
Phill – What was the reason you decided to take up the role of vocals in Assemblage 23 when you had previously played bass?
Tom – I sang a little bit in my old band, but the main reason I took that on in Assemblage 23 is I grew up in rural New Hampshire, which isn’t exactly at the forefront of electronic music. There were only maybe 3 or 4 people in my high school who even knew who Depeche Mode was outside of “aren’t they those People are People guys?” So it came down to necessity. I simply didn’t know other musicians into the same kind of stuff I was into.
Phill – Did you come up against any issues getting your music out to the masses, if so what were the issues and how did you overcome them?
Tom – I had a very hard time getting my foot in the door in the early days. When I really started to get serious about sending out demos, guitar-based industrial was pretty much the only game in town in the U.S. If you didn’t sound like Ministry or NIN, the labels weren’t all that interested. This was the days before the internet, so getting info on European labels wasn’t easy, so I was kind of stuck. But for me, music was something I enjoyed doing, so ot having a label didn’t really keep me from making music. I sent it out to college radio stations and magazines and got a lot of really positive feedback. So essentially, it was just a matter of waiting until the climate in the US industrial scene was more receptive to the type of stuff I was doing.
Phill – What was the alternative scene like when you started and do you feel it has changed?
Tom – It was a lot healthier in many ways. For one thing, it wasn’t as compartmentalized. When I was in high school, most clubs had “alternative” nights where you might hear The Smiths, New Order, Front 242, Future Sound of London, and Bauhaus back to back. That’s almost unimaginable these days. Everything has become so specific, which is a shame, because it keeps club goers from discovering new music they might not have otherwise discovered. No one wants to go outside their comfort zone anymore. And honestly, it feels like the music is a lot less important than fashion is these days. When I first started going to clubs, the patrons were a mix of average everyday joes dressed normally and the more goth look. Nowadays everyone dresses the same. Ironically, a scene that started by priding itself on its individuality seems to have become much more homogenous.
Tom Shear, Assemblage 23
Phill – How do you feel Assemblage 23’s music has evolved over the years?
Tom – I think the sound has definitely matured over the years, both in terms of the music and the subject matter.
Phill – At what point in your music career did you realise you had the potential to become as big with Assemblage 23 as you have?
Tom – Not for a while. To be honest, I never thought I’d be able to make music for a living. That just wasn’t even on my radar. After the first album came out, I was a bit surprised by the response that I got, but I didn’t expect it to last, thus the title of the second album, “Failure”. But things just seemed to grow, and at one point, I just said, “Well, let’s see if I can make this happen.” Much to my surprise, things got to the point where I could make this my full time job.
Phill – All of your music must make you proud but is there any album that has stood out for you out of all the albums you have released?
Tom – Well, due to the subject matter, “Failure” will always hold a special place in my heart, but generally speaking, I’m usually happiest with whatever my most recent release is. Probably because I just haven’t had the chance to get tired of the songs yet. haha
Phill – What do you feel has been your greatest achievement whilst being in Assemblage 23?
Tom – We recently opened for OMD on a couple dates, and while they were by no means the largest shows we’ve ever played, it was kind of amazing to get to support a band that had been so influential to me in my formative years.
Phill – What do you think it is that makes Assemblage 23 so popular apart from the music?
Tom – Hard to say, but most of the fans seem to really connect with the lyrics.
Phill – You are currently working on a new album, what new ideas and material can we expect to hear?
Tom – Yes, I’m working on a new album that’ll be out early next year. It’s a bit early to give any concrete details, but I’ve been really happy with how the new songs are sounding. I think the production is taking another step up.
Tom Shear, Assemblage 23
Phill – You recently covered ‘Don’t Change’ by INXS, what was it about Don’t Change that made you want to cover the song?
Tom – It’s always been my favorite INXS song and was one I always had in the back of my mind as one I’d like to cover. Simple as that.
Phill – Over the many years we have seen many innovations in recording medium, cassette, vinyl, cd, etc. But the innovation of mp3 has made music more available to people all over the world but it does have it’s draw backs like illegal downloads. What medium do you prefer to have Assemblage 23’s albums on?
Tom – CD is my preferred medium, but I realize that puts me in the minority these days. The digital formats have been fantastic for the consumer without a doubt, but they’ve not been very kind to the artists themselves. It’s hard to imagine where the music industry is going to be ten years from now.
Phill – You have played some amazing venues, which one holds the most music for you?
Tom – While it wasn’t a favorite by any means, probably the most memorable was the time we played in a circus tent surrounded by a gypsy camp in Rome. haha
Phill – Of all the songs you have remixed which has been the most fun?
Tom – I really enjoyed remixing Blaqk Audio, the AFI side-project. The one I did for Birthday Massacre recently was also a lot of fun. They’re all fun in their own way, though.
Phill – If you could perform with anyone in a band who would it be and what sort of music would you play?
Tom – Peter Hook on Bass, Stewart Copeland on Drums, Alan Wilder on keys, and Robert Fripp on guitars. It would most likely sound like a car accident. haha
Phill – What is the most recent band you have seen in concert?
Tom – I got to see IAMX and Sono at the Blackfield festival in Germany recently, both of whom put on fantastic performances.
Tom Shear, Assemblage 23
Phill – What music have you been listening to recently?
Tom – I’ve been working on the new album in the studio mostly, so I’ve been more in a creating mode than a listening mode, but I’ve recently got into a guy from Portland called Solvent that does very cool retro-sounding/analog synth music. Skream, Deadmau5, Skrillex, O Children, Twin Shadow, Digitalism, Florence and the Machine, Rex the Dog, Robyn, John Foxx and the Maths…
Phill – What’s your favourite TV show?
Tom – I just recently started watching Breaking Bad, which is excellent. Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman is a fave. I’m also a big Tim and Eric fan.
Phill – What would be your perfect vacation?
Tom – Somewhere quiet, isolated, and beautiful.
Phill – You are on a rather long journey, what entertains you on this long journey?
Tom – Music, both making it and listening to it, reading, politics, and booze.
Phill – What’s your favourite period in history?
Tom – The future!
Phill – Do you have any pet hates?
Tom – Stupidity and wilful ignorance.
Phill – Thank for giving Grave Concerns this interview Tom is there anything you would like to add?
Tom – Thanks for the interview and thanks to all the fans!
Phill - Good luck with your up and coming album, Tom. Take care
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