Tuesday, 21st August 2018. 11:36:50am ET
Interviews (EBM, Electro, Electronica) Interview- Assemblage 23

It has been over a decade since Tom Shear was inspired by Depeche Mode in 1988.  This multi talented man, creator of inspirational music, has done it again with his new LP entitled, “Compass”.  I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Tom on behalf of Grave Concerns E-zine, and although his website answers most questions, I found a way to find out a bit more about him.

He’s a regular guy, living a life fulfilled with happiness. He has a successful music career, his own label, a supportive and wonderful wife, and as Tom clearly pointed out, “My life kind of kicks ass, I wouldn’t change a thing!”  He could on the other hand, use a vacation during a heavy snow fall with a beer or two in hand :o) ! 


          Assemblage 23

Grave Concerns (Linda):  Hello Tom! How are you? 

Tom S: Just starting the shipping out of all the pre-orders for the new album, so I’m very busy, but in a good way.

(Linda) You must be excited about “Compass.”

Grave Concerns (Linda): I see you are now booking for your upcoming US tour, any particular state(s) of interest?  

Tom S:  It’s still in the early stages, but it’s shaping up to be similar to the previous US tours we’ve done.  A couple new spots, but I don’t want to talk about specifics until contracts are signed and all that good stuff.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Has this changed over time with each album?  If you can create your own genre, what would you call it?

Tom S:  I think it’s the listener’s job to categorize music rather than the artist, so I don’t give a whole lot of thought to it, to be honest.  Personally I think electronic music in general has too many sub-genres, but I get why people do it.  I’m really more concerned with whether people think the music is good or not than having it fit into some specific style.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  With your many albums released, I noticed on your website, the equipment/software used, increased. Would you mind briefly, without giving away your secrets, describing your music-making process to your fans and others bands that may have interest in using similar software programs available today?  And out of the many software programs which is your favorite and most user friendly?

Tom S:  Yeah, I’m a bit of a software packrat!  Recently, though, my studio computer died and I had to get a new one, so a lot of the older plug-ins I had won’t run for me anymore, so it has sort of forced a slightly simplified set-up on me, which I think is actually a good thing.  But the Cliff’s notes version of my process… I usually get an idea in my head away from the studio.  I generally work the idea for the song out in my head quite a bit before I sit down at a keyboard.  I figure if the idea is any good, it will be easy to remember, and if I lose the idea, it might not have been so great after all.  Then I generally record a very basic demo into Logic – like just a bassline and a simple drum beat, or chords and drums, etc.  I keep ‘definite’, ‘maybe’, and ‘probably not’ folders for all of these ideas based on what I think the potential is.  Then, once I’m ready to start work on an album, I sort through these to find what I feel are the strongest ideas and flesh them out into full arrangements.  As far as software… Logic is the main hub for everything I do.  It’s a lot more user friendly than it used to be back in the day, but it’s still an amazingly deep program with a lot to learn about.


Grave Concerns (Linda):  Tom, you are the composer of the music; do any of your live band members help you during the music making process?  If not, what are your rehearsals generally like before your performances? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice, or are rehearsals more spontaneous? 

Tom S:  We’ve never rehearsed together, actually!  We all rehearse the set individually, but because we’re all spread out in different parts of the country, rehearsing together really isn’t practical or possible.  But no, the live guys don’t contribute to the albums at all.  The albums are all my babies. Haha

(Linda) and let me say, what inspirational, admirable, creative babies they are Tom!

Grave Concerns:  What has been your biggest challenge as a band?  Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?

Tom S:  Probably not strangling each other after 6 weeks crammed into a tour van.  Alcohol helps.

(Linda) Yes being crammed into a van can be stressful, trust a soccer mom that travels a lot!  Pack the crew in the back with a TV that you can attach a Play Station to, hand them the controllers and you’re all set!! :o)  Yes, Alcohol can have its bonuses.   For me a nice relaxing glass of red wine does the trick.


Grave Concerns (Linda):  Between the years 1988 (when Assemblage was officially born) and 1998 (when Assemblage 23 gathered enough positive acclaim to attract the attention of record labels), what was going through your mind?  Did you ever want to give up?  Did you ever think you would be where you are today?  Have you ever looked back into that time frame and now wish you did something differently?  If so, what?      

Tom S:  No, I never expected things would’ve gone as far as they have.  I’m still constantly amazed by it.  It was frustrating before I got signed because virtually everyone I played demos for raved about them and asked me why a label hadn’t scooped me up.  I could only really shrug my shoulders and keep making music simply because I loved it.  I wouldn’t have done anything differently, I don’t think.  It would’ve been nice to have experienced a few more years when the music industry was in good shape, but ultimately, I’m glad everything happened the way it did.

(Linda)  Many bands out there are saying the same thing about wondering “Why hasn’t a label scooped them up?”

Grave Concerns (Linda):  If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?

Tom S:  My life kind of kicks ass.  Wouldn’t change a thing!

(Linda) That’s an incredible feeling….good for you!  :o)

Grave Concerns (Linda):  How do you find balance between your musical career, label (23db Records), day time job, and family life?

Tom S:  Assemblage 23 is my daytime job, so that helps.  Trying to do this and balancing it with a job would be tough.  Even 23db has a pretty light release schedule. Obviously it adds a bit of work to my plate when we’re putting something new out, but I’m not afraid of a little hard work.  The biggest challenge is always balancing all the music stuff and time with my wife.  Fortunately, she used to be a musician too, so she understands when I need to go off on tour, or when I have a deadline and can’t hang out as much.  She rules.

(Linda) That’s cool, nothing better than having a career/job that you absolutely love to do, go to, and work on!    

Grave Concerns (Linda):  What image do you think your music conveys to your fans?

Tom S:  I honestly don’t know.  We’ve never been much of an ‘image’ band.  The high-backed leather chair in the promo photos for Meta became a bit iconic for awhile.  I got asked more questions about that chair on the last tour than probably almost any other topic. Haha


(Tom in the Black Leather high-backed chair mentioned in the interview, and as fans stated he’s, “The king of EBM on his throne, in need of an ottoman!")


Grave Concerns (Linda):  What are your immediate music career goals? (Next 1 to 3 years.)

Tom S:  Survive.  The music industry is getting tougher and tougher, so honestly, if I can just maintain what we’ve built up over the past 10+ years, I’ll be happy. 

(Linda) I totally agree, the music industry is getting tougher.  Illegal downloads don’t help artists either. 


Grave Concerns (Linda):  What are your long-term career goals? What is the ultimate direction for Assemblage 23?

Tom S:  I don’t think you necessarily CAN have long term goals these days with how rapidly things change in the music business.  I just make music I’d enjoy listening to and hope it keeps appealing to others out there.  Where that will take me, who knows? 

(Linda) It has taken you this far, it will take you further.  Sometimes it’s hard to focus on long term goals, when there is so much attention needed with a shorter term. 

Grave Concerns:  How would you define the word “success”?

Tom S:  Being happy.  You can sell 1.5 million copies of your album and live in a mansion with a view, but if you’re not happy, to me, you still haven’t succeeded.

(Linda) Couldn’t have said it any other way!!  Sometimes when watching VH1, MTV or the entertainment Channel I really take a good hard look at the lives of celebs, they have it all, but don’t, yah know? As much as I’d love to be in their financial situation, I would not want the stress and drama that comes along with their heavy bankroll.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  What are your views on the current Industrial/Electro scenes?

Tom S:  Heh. I’m going to sound like the grumpy old man here, but honestly, I’ve pretty much lost interest in it.  So few bands have their own identity anymore, it’s just a bunch of Vanguard presets and whispering through a distortion pedal to sound evil.  I think there are far more interesting things happening outside the scene with stuff like dub step, electro house, and IDM doing a lot of the real innovative stuff.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  How do you feel about the current economy?  If you were able to change it, what would you do?

Tom S:  The economy sucks, but it’s much better than it was this time a year ago.  When the recession first hit, it really spooked people and people just stopped buying anything.  Hopefully, things will keep turning around and we’ll start to see those unemployment numbers going in the other direction.   

(Linda)  We all are hoping for the same.


Grave Concerns (Linda):  What advice do you have for people who want to form their own band?

Tom S:  Do it because you love it.  If you’re having a good time doing what you’re doing, you can never really fail.

(Linda) Spoken like a true inspiration!!!

Grave Concerns (Linda):  What is something about the human race that really gets you down…makes you wonder…how could that person do that, act that way or say that?

Tom S:  The overwhelming greed and selfishness.  That’s what triggered the economic collapse and we’re seeing a lot of it right now with the health care debates in this country where so many people seem to have this “fuck the poor, I’ve got mine” attitude.

(Linda) I totally agree with you.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  What is your favorite_?

  • Color -   Tom S:  Clear  
    • (Linda) Does that really count as a color??  LOL
  • Holiday – The drinking ones. 
    • (Linda)  WOW my life is one big holiday then, haha!
  • Pass time – Cooking 
    • (Linda)  cooking is a great pass time, and you get a yummy treat when it’s done.
  • Foods – Thai and Chinese
    • (Linda)  Yum, good stuff!
  • TV show – Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job 
    • (Linda) never seen this show, will have to find it.
  • Movie - Fargo
  • Drink – Beer 
    • (Linda) As Homer Simpson would say, "mmmm beer!”  And lots of it!
  • Weather – Heavy snow or rain
    • (Linda)  I like the warm weather to be honest, but if I had a choice between snow and rain, it would for sure be the peaceful beautiful snow. 
  • Season – Fall
    • (Linda) Oh yes Fall with its brilliant colors, and smell of the fresher none stale air. 
  • Sport – They all bore me to death
    • (Linda) I use to get into baseball and football, but it’s the same jocks doing the same thing, so it does get rather boring. 
  • Animal - Cats
  • Vacationing spot – Vacation?!  What’s that?
    • (Linda) I bet a lot of people would answer that the same way.  I just got back from California, wow, I loved it there.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  You are just waking up, what is the first thing you think of, and the first thing you do?


Compass Cover


Tom S:  I wouldn’t say I have much of a thought process at all when I get up, but I usually check my mail to see what horrors the day has prepared for me to deal with. haha

Grave Concerns (Linda):  What inspired you when composing your new LP titled, Compass?  In your mind, how does this album differ from your others?

Tom S:  I can’t say one individual thing inspired me.  I just knew I wanted to do something different.  For years, I’ve mainly been listening to stuff like Trentemoller, the Presets, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc., so I wanted to let those influences come through a bit more.  I think this album probably is the most different thing I’ve done in awhile, but it still has the features that I think draw people to A23 in the first place… I hope!

Grave Concerns (Linda):  If you were to write a review about Assemblage 23, as 23db Records, what would you say, how would you describe Assemblage 23 to their fans?

Tom S:  Eh, I’m really not comfortable judging my own stuff.  Best to leave that up to the listeners.

(Linda) I understand completely, I find it hard to talk about myself as well.  You are your toughest critique, though. 

Grave Concerns (Linda):  If you had the chance to travel back in time, where would you go, what year would it be, what would you want to leave as a reminder of your time spent there, and what would you bring back into the present with you?

Tom S:  I’d much rather go forward in time.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  If you were granted three wishes what would they be (you cannot ask for more wishes either, haha)?

Tom S:  My first wish would be for someone else to grant me the wishes so I COULD ask for more wishes.  Haha Then I’d probably wish for all the people in the world to exist and peace and harmony, and for myself, my family, and my friends to have long, healthy, happy lives.

(Linda) hahah you found a loop hole by asking a friend to make more wishes, LOL!

Grave Concerns (Linda):  If you were granted one special power, invisibility, invincibly, or immortality, which one would you choose and why?

Tom S:  Probably invisibility.  The potential to fuck with people is too great to pass up.

Grave Concerns (Linda):  Is there anything else that you would like to let us, your fans, know?  Anyone you’d like to mention?

Tom S:  Just thanks to everyone out there who has supported us!

Well Tom, thank you very much for giving Grave Concerns the gratifying opportunity to have this interview.  We here at Grave Concerns wish you continued success and we look forward to seeing you tour.  Thanks again!

If anyone would like to know more about Assemblage 23 check out the website at http://www.assemblage23.com

Interview by: Linda DeFlaminis

October 6th, 2009






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