TOM EATON
abendromen
(Riverwide Records)

 

Studio engineer expert Tom Eaton released his first ever solo album in 2016. The album, abendromen, is a magical journey into the art of keyboard-based New Age ambient instrumental music. Working as an engineer / producer for a number of folk-music artists early on in his career, Tom joined forces as a studio engineer for Imaginary Road studio and has worked with New Age / ambient music producer Will Ackerman on over fifty albums over the past five years. Commenting on the long and winding road towards completing abendromen, Tom tells mwe3.com, "I have always been writing and have had pieces of my own music in various states of completion but for some reason they never coalesce into a complete album, probably because I am extremely busy making music for others! I've been making records for clients at my own place for 23 years now, and working with Will Ackerman on the records we make at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont for the past five. However, last December I was processing some emotional stuff I was going through and this whole record emerged very quickly, in about four weeks start to finish. I worked late at night... sometimes overnight, after I'd done my regular music work for the day. The concept for the record—seven evening dreams—is the music, really. These were the things I was feeling as I worked those late nights, the 'dreams' I was having… the things I needed to say but couldn't find the words for." Tom Eaton is very much part of the new music movement of progressive instrumental and he’s been involved in the production of new music by 21st century recording artists such as Fiona Joy and Jeff Oster. If you enjoyed Fiona and Jeff’s latest works than abendromen will strike a similar vibe for you as well. Even though he’s known as a fine studio engineer and technician, not many know Tom as a musician and recording artist, yet one listen to abendromen will remedy all that. Another amazing thing is that on abendromen Tom plays everything himself, including all keyboards, synths as well as the ambient guitar sounds which all enhance his subtle and meditative music. Start to finish, abendromen is a captivating, all around album of sonically appealing keyboard-driven ambient music by keyboardist and studio wizard Tom Eaton. www.ThomasEaton.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
Tom Eaton



mwe3
: You have a wide background in all aspects of music so what made you want to step out from behind the glass booth and all the production work you do and have done for a solo album of your own? Is abendromen the first full length album released under your own name and when did you fully realize the concept for the album?

Tom Eaton: I have always been writing and have had pieces of my own music in various states of completion but for some reason they never coalesce into a complete album, probably because I am extremely busy making music for others! I've been making records for clients at my own place for 23 years now, and working with Will Ackerman on the records we make at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont for the past five.

However, last December I was processing some emotional stuff I was going through and this whole record emerged very quickly, in about four weeks start to finish. I worked late at night… sometimes overnight, after I'd done my regular music work for the day. The concept for the record—seven evening dreams—is the music, really. These were the things I was feeling as I worked those late nights, the 'dreams' I was having…the things I needed to say but couldn't find the words for.

Technically, abendromen is the first solo CD of my music. I released a small thing 25 years ago, and a duo cd with the cellist Kristen Miller about 5 years ago. The title 'abendromen' was a gift from my friend Marco Badot, who is a visual artist. He combined the German and Dutch words for 'evening' and 'dreams' into one new word, and wrapped the seven pieces I had written in the package of days of the week. It was completely brilliant and perfect for the music itself and the reasons behind the music.

mwe3: There are also three bonus tracks on the CD. How do they fit into the album overall especially as they are very ambient. Do you see them as separate and distinct from the overall abendromen CD?

Tom Eaton: The three bonus tracks are actually guitar loops that I wrote as bed tracks for two of the songs on the record, and one song I didn't use. Sometimes I like to create a sonic landscape in the key of the song that I then play over… it allows me to play less in the foreground. The very last loop piece, “Saturday Night”, has a little bit of backwards piano in it, which was my son's idea. He heard me rewinding a bit of a song and really liked the reverberant piano sounding backwards, so I folded a little of that in at the very end of the record. I found myself getting into a trance as I wrote the guitar loops, and I thought I'd put them on the CD by themselves way at the end as a way to let the energy of the CD dissipate slowly.

mwe3: Would you say piano is your main instrument? What pianos do you play on abendromen and how about other keyboards you recorded the album with? Was the idea to enhance the acoustic piano sounds with all kinds of synths? What are your favorite synths and what guitars are you playing on the CD?

Tom Eaton: I've been playing keyboards of one form or another since 1986. I was more synthesizer-oriented in those days, and there is a compilation of some of my early synth stuff available on line, called Days Of Green And Light. Piano was something I played more and more as I got older. I would say the primary melodic voice of abendromen is piano, and then I color it with synths, guitars, bass, and percussion. There are moments where the guitars carry the songs, but mostly the piano does it.

In my own work I can't live without textures and think of them as integral to the feeling of the songs, not a layer or add-on. The mystery of synths, the unidentifiable sounds, those are the ones I'm drawn to. The piano is relatable, we understand what it is, but then the colors are so powerful because they open up these questions… they bring an ambiguity to things.

As far as synths on the record, I played a Yamaha EX5, which is not really well known, but is gorgeous, a Roland JD800, Kawai K5000 and K5, Korg Wavestation, and the soft synth Omnisphere. The guitar is a Diamond with active EMG humbuckers, more of a "metal" guitar but very flexible. The guitar sounds are all from the Fractal AXE-FX processor, which is a dream machine for guitar sounds. I've done a bunch of work with the Fractal guys and they are so good at what they do.

mwe3: Speaking of synths, you were very influenced by Tangerine Dream, Patrick O’Hearn and Vangelis. What are some of your favorite albums by those artists and how did each one impact your own style. I was amazed by track 3 on abendromen called “Tuesday – The Compass” as the influences just seem to coalesce into a very unique sound of your own. Is that track getting a lot of airplay across the boards?

Tom Eaton: I think “The Compass” shows more of all my voices than the rest of the record. People do seem to like that one. It's one of the busiest tracks on the album with four or more guitars, piano, synths, percussion, and a pretty active bass part. Kind of a ‘chill’ track but very much in my own style.

Tangerine Dream was a huge influence. The interlocking sequencer patterns just drove me mad and as they moved from the early to mid-80's the melodies on top really started to become more formed and that really worked for me. For me, Underwater Sunlight is the one TD album I could not do without, but really from 1979-1986 I pretty much love every note.

Vangelis has the drama, the dynamics… the huge gorgeous sweeps. The unapologetic flair… Antarctica, Voices, Oceanic and Blade Runner are all favorites. He can hit you over the head and then play so simply and beautifully. His range is massive, too… choral, orchestral, pop songs, ambient stuff, long form, you name it.

Patrick O'Hearn can do all of that, and also the very quiet ambient/dark textural thing. And the bass playing is so great. Pretty much all of Patrick's albums are stunning, and they vary wildly. Glaciation is incredible, Trust and Metaphor are both great. Indigo is probably my favorite.

You don't mention Tim Story, but Tim is by far the most influential on me. Such incredibly beautiful and deep music created almost in slow motion. I can't help but be drawn into the worlds he creates. From Untitled through Shadowplay his solo albums were each stunning. His collaborations with Rodelius are also amazing. The album Beguiled is a constant companion, I listen to some of that every day.

mwe3: Are those early influences put into order on your retrospective album Days Of Green And Light, which is a collection of early tracks in the electronica mode? What can you tell us about that album and is it on CD or just digital download?

Tom Eaton: Days is only download at the moment. I don't know about putting in order, but you can definitely hear my synth influences there! I really was deep into programming in those days, creating sounds that were in my head through the various tools… and also kind of developing my arrangement chops—learning how much of what you can where without causing problems!

mwe3: I’m amazed at your studio UNS, Universal Noise Storage and the numerous pictures on the Facebook page are great looking. How amazing is that when you were finishing building work on UNS you met Will Ackerman. Can you recall what is was like meeting Will and how do you balance your work at UNS with you work at Will’s Imaginary Road studios? How would you compare the two studios soundwise? Is there such a thing as state of the art in studios anymore as it's changed so much over the last 30 years!

Tom Eaton: Meeting Will was the completion of a circle for me. I started getting into music through the instrumental, Tangerine Dream and such, but also George Winston, Michael Hedges and then at the outset I was producing folk and acoustic music records for a living. I opened my first studio in 1993 and catered to the Cambridge folk scene—making records that were "produced singer-songwriter" albums, very much in the shape of what Will did with John Gorka and Patty Larkin.

My fondness for instrumental music, and my comfort with acoustic instruments—and my pretty huge Windham Hill collection—made working with Will a pretty natural landing place. I never could have imagined it would have worked out this way, but it really is perfect. He and I work so well together and just love making records together. Most of my work at UNS these days is finishing the albums we start at Imaginary Road. I do the mixing and mastering here because it's a room I'm intimately familiar with sound-wise.

As far as studios go I would say that state of the art both has and hasn't changed. I don't see speakers getting a whole lot better in the past decade, and my primary DAC (digital to analog converter), which is really the interpreter of the music, is not new but sounds better than anything else I've tried. I did do things like use esoteric wire where it matters, and I built my own monitor controller because I needed more flexibility than I could find in an off-the-shelf controller.

There are some things that change because a new and better thing comes along, but much of what is new is only new. One thing that has gotten better is the software… the capacity to create very full and organic sounding tracks in the digital world has come a long way.

mwe3: How do you balance all your different activities—from sound and lighting man to music producer and engineer to recording artist?

Tom Eaton: Well, I haven't really done live sound or lighting in many years… so there's nothing to balance there! The rest is just getting done what Imaginary Road needs done and seeing what's left for my own life and work!

mwe3: Do you have any favorite recording studios in the US and around the world and who are / were some of your favorite recording engineers and producers?

Tom Eaton: No favorite studios, other than the two I get to spend my life in! I love the work of producer/engineer Kevin Killen. T-Bone Burnett usually makes great records. Will makes great records.

mwe3: What do you feel a producer’s role should be in helping to shape an artist’s album? What albums do you think of when you think of your favorite producers or engineers? For instance, I think of George Martin when I play any Beatles album.

Tom Eaton: I tend to think of the producer's role as simple to define but hard to execute: create an environment where you can bring out the best art each artist can create at that moment in time. How you approach that can vary as much as each artist varies! Will is very good at seeing a way through to the best way to present each artist, and of course I did it in my own way for 17 years with singer-songwriters before I met Will.

As far as producers touches on record I love, well, probably T Bone Burnett on the first Counting Crows record, and the first Wallflowers record, and Leo Kottke's My Father's Face. I tend to like Steve Lillywhite's productions.

mwe3: Is there a difference in the way you approach work with different artists?

Tom Eaton: Sure, every artist is different and what they have to say can emerge in completely different ways!

mwe3: Where do you see the music world going these days? Do you miss the old days or are these the good new days? Is there a way to keep up with it all and what role do you think the internet will have on music moving forward? Is there a way to make artists more financially successful by getting a bigger cut of the online music world?

Tom Eaton: Well, I am new to this side of the business as an artist. I have never had to think about it from this side and those are great questions that I don't have good answers for. In the studio very little has changed, we try to get great sounding takes of great performances and deliver those with the best fidelity possible, incorporating artistic intent as well) to the end listener. The tools are in many ways better to do that now than ever before. You can play the exact same file from your stereo that I can from mine. That part is incredible.

But obviously there are technological stumbling blocks. Piracy, unnecessary loudness, file size compression compromises, etc. And bad speakers! The internet is great in so many ways but also really allowed the music industry to come crashing down.

mwe3: Do you find that consumers have a hard time keeping up with all the technological advancements in recorded music? Just 30 years ago some people couldn’t even afford a CD player and now people are playing mp3 files on flash sticks in their smart cars! And what about the resurgence of vinyl?

Tom Eaton: I still like CDs… actually this morning we just put on Patrick O'Hearn's Rivers Gonna Rise on vinyl here… so who knows. I do wish people could take the time to let an album wash over them, and could do so in a semi-reasonable listening environment. But I really don't have control over the listener! I work hard to make really good sounding records, both with Will and on my own, and some of that trickles through the earbuds, but the experience of listening to, or even better allowing yourself to become immersed in, a well-made record on a great playback system is hard to replace. In the 70's most houses had actual speakers in them capable of actual bass response… now people listen on laptops or iPads…not much can be done except to encourage music fans to seek out the best reproduction system they can find!

mwe3: So tell us about plans for abendromen, as far as getting the word out and where you plan to go from here in all your different careers as far as future plans working with artists, other studio work, writing music and recording and the possibilities of live concerts down the line.

Tom Eaton: I said to a friend the other day that abendromen had already served its function for me by the time it was complete—before it went to the plant. I have had no expectations about how it would be received. I am just along for the ride at this point. I'm glad that people are liking it, and that it will be heard, but it was not written with any outside goals or ambitions. It's unlikely that I'll do it live, there are simply too many parts to each song and I don't know how I could pull it off and have it be both organic and as precise as I'd need it to be.

From here there are two records of my own in progress, one called Redemption has a couple of samples on my Soundcloud page, the other will be the second volume of abendromen. Both of those are half done which is the state my albums frequently sit in for some time!

Beyond that, we continue to have amazing artists come to Vermont to make records with us, and I get to work on some that are not Imaginary Road albums as well. I just mastered Jeff Pearce's new album—he’s a friend and brilliant ambient guitar player. It was Jeff as well as a nudge from Tim Story himself, who encouraged me to let abendromen loose into the world. I am glad to have finally gotten some work out there—to reveal a side of myself many people don't know about. It's been great to get feedback from so many folks, and very surprising to end up getting played on shows like Echoes. It challenges my own ideas of what my music is!




 

 
   
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