Talks with Tom Green aka Another Fine Day 
about A Good Place to Be

©2015 Ambient Visions


Tom Green

Visit Tom's website

Interchill Records


A Good Place to Be

AV:  Tell me about your roots in music and how it was that you started composing music and what you find satisfying about the music that you create.

TG:  I started playing piano about 6, but never really learnt the dots, I made a much nicer noise improvising. I had a relatively sheltered upbringing but by about 13 (1973) I was hearing other music than just the pop and light classical I'd been exposed to, and it was always the more experimental, instrumental, music that really interested me. There was all the 'usual' music of the time, but it was the leftfield stuff - Can, the minimalists, the dub music just coming out, as well as really old blues and jazz, that I was actually buying. Mostly because often it was the only way to find out what the hell this stuff sounded like.

 I started actually writing (experimenting, really) with three cassette decks, a piano, and a microphone, at 18, almost out of boredom, one day. But got into it so fast that by the end of the summer I'd bought a tiny Wasp synth, and that was it, I was gone, and I've never really come back. What's satisfying about writing music like AFD is that there's never an 'endpoint' or particular result that I'm ever trying to get - starting a tune is like sowing the seed of a flower you've never seen before and have little idea of what it'll be. The thing just grows in front of you and there it is. But how it grows is up to the tune, not so much up to me, each creates its own logic. 

AV:  How did all of your musical experiences with the likes of Dum Dum Dum, Abdul Tee Jay and of course The Orb help to create the musician that you are today? 

TG:  The great thing about working in bands and projects is you always get something that's greater than the sum of the parts, and you all learn from each other. In those particular cases, from Dum Dum Dum, I learnt how to cope on stage (it was a baptism of fire...), from Abdul, RHYTHM and all its intricacies, and from The Orb, the benefits of a loose hand on the tiller and the art of 'honouring your mistake as a hidden intention'. "Umm, I didn't meant to play that." "Who cares ? It's just kicked off a much better idea. Let's try this ..."

AV:  Iím just going to refer to the music you create as ambient even though Iím sure there are many other genres that it might fall under for brevityís sake. What were some of your first memories of listening to and enjoying electronic music and what were your thoughts about this broad genre of music that sometimes can go unnoticed if you donít actually stumble across it somehow?

TG:  I first heard Eno's Obscure label in about 1980, I think, and his work on EG a few years later, so the 'original' formula has always been very familiar. I loved it then and I love it now. For me, really good ambient music is actually much closer to classical, than it is to the conception of electronica being 'Kraftwerkian' in terms of rigid timing, sequences, etc. But I think in the end 'ambient' music isn't so much a music genre, as a 'usage'. It's music that happens to create a particular kind of emotional state and acoustic 'space' for the listener while not necessarily drawing that much attention to itself. It serves the listener rather than dominates. And a lot of different genres of music can do that. For many, it could be just as much Bach or Ravel, as Eno.
 

AV:  Were there any artists that you were exposed to that stood out in your mind as having motivated you to further explore the genre for yourself in your own music?

TG:  The main three are Brian Eno, Miles Davis, and Steve Reich. Without them the music I make would not exist.

AV:  You are also known as Another Fine Day with your own compositions so what was it that prompted you to want to put your own music out there in the world and was there any connotations to the name AFD?

TG:  It was all happenstance... over about 4 years I'd put together a disparate number of experimental tunes that ended up on a cassette, on the desk of a small label called Beyond, in 1992. I hadn't sent them, a friend happened to be there and said 'by the way, have a listen to this, it's a mate of mine'. They liked it, and rang me up.

-  "We want to put it out, what's the project name, we need one today ?"  

-  "Umm, it's not a project, it's just a few tunes - btw, which tunes ?"  

 - "Bunch of downtempo things..." 

 - " Oh, that lot. Let me have a quick think..." 

It happened to be a nice day, so on the spot I made up ... "Another Fine Day ? How about that ?" 

- "Yep, that'll do."   

So there you go. An entirely accidental project was created on the spot.

 

AV:  When you do an AFD album what is it that distinguishes the music that ends up on an AFD album as opposed to what you might do in collaboration with someone else or for a TV or film project? 

TG:  Mostly, a wide open 'brief'. If I'm composing for film, what I write has to serve the film and please the director, I'm hired to do what he wants. With AFD the 'brief', such as there is, is, at best, 'chilled', and that's it. I can do anything I like, use any instrument I like, mix genres as I like, and take as much time over it as I like.

AV:  Iíve been listening to your latest album A Good Place to Be quite a lot lately. Is the title a reference to where you are musically at this moment in time and how that is a good place for you to be right now? Or something else?

TG:  As it happens, musically I think I may finally have some handle on what I'm about (but hoping not too much of one)... and that is, i think, a good place to be, personally. But in terms of the album it's all about the listener's 'good place to be'. If the music ether puts you in one, or reminds you of real places that mean a lot to you, then I've achieved my goal. 
AV:  Are you a jazz enthusiast? Iíve noticed a lot of elements about A Good Place to Be that are definitely oriented towards a jazz vibe and was curious as to whether jazz is something that you enjoy listening to?

TG:  I do like jazz, but mostly a very particular period, late 50s to mid 60s, Davis, Coltrane, Bill Evans, though I'm very partial to Duke Ellington, Armstrong, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson. Be-bop etc i respect, rather than like, usually, ditto quite a lot of current jazz, which seems more about technique than it is about emotion. But 'Kind of Blue' absolutely nails it for me. It's literally a 'perfect' album, in the same way that Bach is 'perfect'. Move one note and it would all fall apart. But they got it absolutely right. In one day flat.

AV:  There was a recent Nielsen 2014 year-end report that showed that jazz has become the least popular genre in the U.S. What are your feelings about why jazz has fallen to this point and why arenít people listening to it anymore?

TG:  As said above, seems to me a lot of current jazz is more about the player, and technique, than it is about the listener, and what they need from music. It's taught in music colleges, it rarely comes from the street, anymore. That's hardly likely to get mass appeal.

AV:  Was there any overall direction/feel that guided you in the composing and/or selection of music that ended up on your latest album?

TG:  What usually happens is I throw a lot of stuff at the wall, and see what sticks. A picture sort of appears, and then I know how to fill in the gaps. But otherwise the best metaphor is that while I do the driving, it's the music itself that tells me where to go. I'll start with a tiny phrase, and from that phrase other ideas will appear, and the piece grows. Each piece then feeds into the other pieces, when I'm writing an album I'm usually writing all of the tunes 'at once', I'm constantly referencing the others, at whatever stage they're in, while working on one or another. So the whole thing slowly comes into being much like a photograph does in the darkroom. And gradually I get rid of all the stuff that's not quite right or doesn't fit, and then one day it's finished.

AV:  Since you do have other things on your plate as a composer and musician how long have you been working on A Good Place to Be and is this typical of the time frames that accompany your other releases?

TG:  The jazzier two (Nature Boy and Spanish Blue) date from 2007 (though they've been heavily reworked) when I happened to write quite a lot of jazzier ideas and wondered if there might be an AFD album there. But decided most of them weren't good enough and I didn't want to put out a really jazzy album as AFD, so shelved them. Otherwise it was as usual with AFD - I only really got started on it properly because a label was asking me to write one, that had happened with Beyond, then again with Six Degrees in the late 90s. This time it was Interchill, and most of the tunes were written in about 3 months up to January 2015. There isn't really any usual timeframe - or even intention- about making music as AFD. It either happens because I have just enough time and just enough money to do it, or it doesn't. And for 14 years there, it didn't. I'm quite happy to admit that the financial side of it does matter. I have to make a living, so high priority goes to commissions, not 'art' music. AFD is not a 'sensible' option when it comes to the necessity of making a living.

AV:  I havenít asked you to try and place A Good Place to Be in a genre because I feel that it falls into many classifications but I am curious as to whether you give any thought to the music that goes into a project and how your selections will determine how it will eventually be marketed to fans who are waiting for your next release?

TG:  Not a lot. You hope to take your previous fans with you, but beyond that it's more a case of seeing what you end up with. I guess you then try and 'market' that to whoever you think may like it, but in a genre as small and as specialist as this, the whole idea of marketing is slightly absurd, I think. You might, if you're lucky, get a little bit of radio play, but really what you do is simply put it out there, and tell a few people it exists. After that, it either sinks or swims.

AV:  Nature Boy was one of my favorite jazz oriented songs from this project. When you compose something that is obviously quite jazzy do you have to be in a particular frame of mind as a composer to write a song like Nature Boy as compared to a song like Enfolded which is very much an ambient piece?

TG:  Not really. Ambient does require a certain kind of concentration and way of listening that's both subtle and quite intense, but that's more about 'creative technique' than 'frame of mind'. As a working composer I've long learned how to divorce my current frame of mind from the creative process, since very often what you have to write today may be the opposite of how you happen to be feeling. Obviously if you're asked to write something really upbeat and happy, it'll help if you're not depressed, at the time. But you'd be surprised how often having to do that will turn your depression around, and you end up a bit happier than before, if only for a while. That's the power of music.

AV:  When you are working on an album like this do you ever get stuck creatively and if so how is it that you rekindle the creative spark and push forward?

TG:  It happens, usually only for a day or two, during which everything you attempt falls apart. The way through is just keep pushing on, just put the thing into record and improvise, play anything, anything at all. At some stage something tiny will pop up and you think 'hang on, I quite like that bit...' and you're off and running again. If it's really not happening despite that, get out for the day and do something else. Then come back and get on with it, regardless.

AV:  Is A Good Place to Be your baby from beginning to end or were there others involved with bringing it to life?

TG:  It's my baby, all of it. There wasn't really the budget to get musicians in, this time .... and I think sometimes, if you're lucky, only having one mind on a project can bring a very particular flavour, much like a very good single malt whisky. But you do have to get lucky, it's a dangerous game to play, subjectively, because you're making ALL the decisions, from the writing to the mix to the track sequencing. And you could be entirely wrong on all of them... 

AV:  Were there any songs on A Good Place to Be that were particularly satisfying for you as a composer during the writing and recording of this album?

TG:  I've got a soft spot for Child's Play, it made me laugh, writing it. It also took me back to a very early period in my life- the persona who 'wrote' that tune is about 4 years old, playing in a garden. It was nice to meet him again, so I named it after him.

AV:  How did you connect with Interchill Records and how does a label support an artistís release in this digital age?

TG:  They mailed me, quite simply, and suggested it was high time for a 3rd AFD. After a few years of doing odd little releases DIY it was rather nice to have someone else handling all the admin side, and of course they do have a bigger reach than I would have done. i think that's the main plus to working with a label. There's a lot of DIY music out there and while it's often just as good as music on labels, it is harder to get it heard, doing it DIY.

AV:  When all of the recording is done and you start tweaking how is it that you know when you have reached the point where an album is as good as it will ever be and you need to let go of it?

TG:  These days 'recording' and 'tweaking' are all part of the same process, really - but it's when I can listen all the way through and I don't hear anything that makes me think 'gotta fix that', whether it's a note, a beat, a mix issue, whatever. Or I've tried to fix that bit, but in the end couldn't get it any better, so I'll just have to live with it.

AV:  How do you feel about the music that you created for A Good Place to Be?

TG:  Happier than usual - I do find I'm actually putting it on because I want to hear it, as a record, like any other record, for pleasure. That's pretty rare, when it comes to my own music.

AV:  I realize that A Good Place to Be hasnít been out there all that long but what kind of feedback have you received from fans and critics so far and does that affect you in one way or another?

TG:  So far, nothing but good things, and sometimes very good things indeed, it seems to have touched a lot of hearts. I guess I feel happy, mostly, that it seems to be working for people as I hoped it would. Making albums like this is a labour of love. Getting the love back makes it worth the labour.

AV:  And finally was there anything else about the making of A Good Place to Be that you would like to share with the readers of Ambient Visions and your fans?

TG:  Only that I hope you all find your own good places to be, and this music suits them. Thanks for reading all the way to the end ;)

AV:  And thank you Tom for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us here at Ambient Visions. From what I have heard A Good Place to Be should please your fans and bring in new listeners as well.