When it comes to Tom Vek, there’s always been an air of mystery lingering. It’s an intrigue that Vek’s thrived upon, and any attempts to gauge a cast iron understanding of creative intentions over three records will have left you on a hiding to nothing.
It was his disappearance for ‘five long years’ that perhaps cemented that element of intrigue, but it’s one that began its establishment with a debut record that seemed to subvert the obvious at every opportunity.
With ‘We Have Sound’ turning ten this month, it’s set to be revisited. And when it comes to sitting down and talking about the record - the time and place, where the record came out of and his affinity with the working process - any enigmatic preconceptions of Vek drip away. “I’m just really proud of it, you know,” he beams, more than happy to open up with a personable and nostalgic sincerity, mapping out each morsel of his debut and all that went into it.
Originally signed by Tummy Touch Records, it’s his relationship with label head Tim Love Lee that serves as the most apt starting point when it comes to ‘We Have Sound’. For one, it’s a relationship that’s seen it right through the decade, with Lee’s dub remixes of the ‘We Have Sound’ singles making up one disk of the album’s anniversary reissue. It’s a creative relationship that goes back beyond Vek’s debut, though. “My solo stuff when I was at college was this instrumental electronic stuff. Diesel used to do this thing called ‘Diesel U:Music Awards’ and I’d accidentally won the first electronica section and that’s how I got in touch properly with Tim Lee from Tummy Touch. We’d put a couple of seven inches out under the name Souvenir,” he says – seven inches that actually feature remixes from Lee. It all forms part of a tapestry of various projects and interests that eventually came to weave themselves together in the form of ‘We Have Sound’ (listen to pre-debut recording ‘Dirty Water’, below).
That period of time prior the album’s release is another aspect represented in the album’s anniversary edition release, with a third ‘Pre Have Sound’ LP giving a soundtrack to Vek’s creative exploration in the years running up to release. “There are four or five years of stuff leading up to ‘We Have Sound’, and I think you can hear where it was sort of meandering around,” he says. It’s that clunky, almost chucked-together nature of Vek’s disparate influences that contributed so greatly to the appeal of the record, coming to take the form of a new dance-rock hybrid that had emerged at the beginning of the millennium. “The big wave of that era was basically started by The Rapture for me. I remember seeing The Rapture at Club Optimo in Glasgow and thinking ‘Holy shit, this is insane’. It was like a totally new genre of music, this sort of punk funk and everyone went home and started trying to play disco beats on their drums. It was a cool time, and it felt like the traditional band could make a new sound.”
This was just one of the many influences Vek was able to explore at leisure while working on music, explorations that would go on to form a central part of his debut. “We converted our garage in to a kind of make shift studio at my parents’. I always had this space where I was able to go and just mess around and I think that allowed all of my influences to come out,” he explains. “In the sleevenotes it says that a lot of the songs were conceived in our garage, which I called PVK studios – my dad’s initials. We had a very old field recorder with a couple of mics plugged in and I just use to hit record and get an idea down. The ‘Little Word In Your Ear’ drums, the ‘C-C’ kind of organ sound, all that really analogue crushed sound was from the resampling of these ideas cassettes that I’d made. But Tom Rixton was instrumental in dragging them into sounding like contemporary pieces of music, doing some quite brutal editing with them.”
Vek cites producer Rixton as instrumental to the album’s existence, not only opening up new sonic possibilities due to his proficiency with computer recording but also facilitating a relationship that allowed Vek to create a record true to his own artistic vision. “It’s all well and good and very common for producers to be writers as well but I think if you want an artist to feel like it’s their music you have to coax it out of them. I was very bullish myself anyway and wouldn’t other people doing things, but I didn’t really have any fights over it and I felt total ownership of the record as a result. I ended up working with Tom a bit on the second record as well because I’d romanticised that period of working with him so much, because it had seemed so easy.”
That ownership was something that meant even more to Tom when the album came to be licenced through Island. “Growing up, all of my favourite music, although it was alternative, it was coming out on majors,” he recounts. “It was a great era you know; nineties, Island, PJ Harvey, and all that kind of stuff. It felt like a seal of approval. I was a bratty art school kid and it was very much a St Martin’s thing that you’ve got to stand up for your work. Getting a major label to release a record that was so uncompromised - people still say to me now, it’s quite insane what happened.”
It was also a vastly different environment to the one in to which Vek released his third LP ‘Luck’ a year ago, and one that he was able to witness from the cusp of the monumental change that was forthcoming in the industry. “The record was done and it was mastered in November 2004. It was sitting on a CDR in my car for months before it came out and I was ripping copies for my friends with no pressure of worries about it leaking. It was nice and slow, I had all this time to do the artwork and it could still come out with this impact point.” It wasn’t until two months after the album’s release that Vek got round to making a Myspace page and while there are lot of ways that you can imagine a decade, when you put it in to the terms of social media and consider the implications of such changes, you can realise just how much has changed. “I’m really pleased that I experienced it because it was such a profoundly different process now.”
With ‘We Have Sound’ hailed as a cult record ten years on, it’s a tag that Vek seems fairly comfortable with when discussing anniversary plans. “I’d noticed that there were some kind of cult bands that were coming back and playing albums back to back. I think it was seeing the Slint album ‘Spiderland’ on flyers around the area I live and just thinking ‘Wow’”, he says, remembering when plans for his own showcasing first started to formulate. With these types of shows and reissues not being to everyone’s taste, it’s a conundrum that Vek’s more than conscious of, but sees it as an opportunity to revisit things in a way that’s different to what’s gone before.
“It’s a very complicated emotion I think towards revisiting older stuff,” he says, promising a live show that will be as authentic to the record as ever before and buoyed by the technological advancements of the last decade. “We’ll be very faithful and authentic about it for the people that really like that record and they’ll know exactly what they’re getting. If you know that album inside out it’ll be that thing of when one song finishes you’re already expecting the next one to start and with the things that I developed to play the second record, in a way it will be a bit more faithful now… aside from the length of my hair. It depends which you think is more important.”