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Thomas E. Brown
Thomas E Brown
Thomas E Brown
Thomas E Brown
Thomas E Brown

Thomas E. Brown

Film Composer, Producer, Guitarist
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Thomas E. Brown
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Jocee
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Roisin Quinn

In-demand, EMMY Award-winning London-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, Thomas E. Brown has had one hell of a year! From Oscar and Bafta buzz to celebrating the huge win for the documentary 'The Nightcrawlers' at the EMMY's. 2020 has been anything but boring for Tom. We sit down with the talented composer to find out what he's got in store for the future and why Aston mics are a staple in his recording set up...

Jocee, The Nightcrawlers, Roisin Quinn
Still gives me the shivers now

At primary school, I did what everyone did, recorder lessons but I also did violin for a few years. I got up to a couple of grades but then I gave it up just because I didn’t like the feeling of the strings on the bow, still gives me the shivers now, I think it was probably the way I was playing it more than anything. I looked at playing guitar and then on my 13th birthday, my next-door neighbour brought me round an electric guitar and said, I’ve got this for you. So, I took that guitar on a camping trip with my parents all around Europe, I couldn’t play it of course, I’d just got it, so I took it with me, it took up so much space but I undid the case, looked at it, picked it up, put it back in the case, yeah, took it all round Europe so that’s how it kind of started.

From there I had guitar lessons and did some of the grades so I took it kind of seriously, even though I was 13 or 14 and then I did that all through school and I got into some dance so I started doing the rock thing. Did some touring with a couple of bands, did the lowest of the low tours and shows which is always fun and then at the same time when I was doing my A levels, I really wanted to continue music and study it further so once I’d finished my A levels I decided to go to uni to do a degree in music. I kind of had the rock thing going on on one side but then also I wanted to take it further and also cover my other options so yeah, studied at degree level. I did a diploma first actually and then I did a degree. So that’s how I started to get into it more I guess professionally and academically as well.

My love for films and film music kind of lead me down that path

I would say I always considered myself, I have two avenues or two endeavours;  I have the band thing so I’ve been in a 9 piece Soul and Motown band with an artist called Jocee and that’s actually how I got in with you guys, using your stuff to record and produce EPs and albums so that’s one avenue. I would consider myself a guitarist and I did the production as well on the albums so I have that kind of route. Also, my solo career I would call it cos when I was doing the rock thing and the rock thing is so unstable, people leave and then you have to try and find new members. When that started to happen, I thought I needed a solo career as well to give myself some options so I thought I’m not a singer/songwriter, definitely not so I was considering what I would do as a musical solo career. My love for films and film music kind of lead me down that path so I would also say that I’m a film composer in the other avenue so I’ve got a film composer thing which is composing and producing at the same time and then I’ve got the musician type performer as well.

The EMMY’s came out of the blue

I just won an EMMY,  It was actually a surprise. With this film we had the Oscar campaign and the BAFTA campaign at the end of last year so we made the short list for both of those. I think we might have been the only film that made the short list for both BAFTA’s and Oscars but with that we had a campaign before so we knew it was happening and then we didn’t make the nominations, we got down to the final 10 in the world. The EMMY’s came out of the blue a bit, they just announced it, oh we’re up for an EMMY and then because it was in America, we found out overnight. I woke up in the morning to the news that we’d won & we didn’t think we’d win because we were up against some of the films that we were up against in the Oscars who won so we were quite surprised that we took it.

It’s a documentary as well so everything was very real. It took a few years to finish from start to finish but yeah it was really exciting actually. The great thing with documentaries and other things like that is you learn about the subject content as well. I went from not knowing anything about the Philippines and the political landscape to quite a lot. It’s pretty intense and I mean so much that goes on over there but I think in the documentary we tried to capture the overall issues regarding this war on drugs. Also the human aspect as well so it’s going out into more rural areas and following some stories of some very real and human connections. We tried to pose the kind of very violent and vitriol world with a very organic and I guess very human level of story as well.

It was almost 3 years in the making

It was almost 3 years in the making, I’d say 2 and a half. It was intense in moments and then it was obvious then there were moments where we had not very much to do because for a long while there was only 3 of us. To start with it was the director, the producer and me and they were going out and they were filming the content so we were lead by the content of course that they were filming. Going out to the Philippines is obviously quite a task so having to keep going out to film new/updated content. We were following people so we needed to wait for the stories to develop before we could capture it.

The narrative is a reflection of a real life story that’s going on. We probably had over 20 revisions of the documentary and the more that was filmed; we went down different avenues because things happened that we didn’t expect so yeah it was interesting to see the development of the story over the couple of years. I mean, it’s unusual that I came on right at the beginning, a lot of the time composers and post-production come in near the end, they come in and write the score so in that context it meant I could start writing straight away and then we could develop it over the months and the years and so hopefully what we achieved was something that was a little more connected cos we could go over it so many times.

Other than the Emmy winning documentary that was also in the BAFTA and Oscar race? I mean that’s the top at the moment. We’re looking forward to the next one that we’re planning to do, it’s a bit top secret at the moment but we have a plan going forward for the next one that’s kind of in the works, it’s already kind of picking up pace so hopefully that will be the next highlight.

Human connection

I have a Mac that is the hub hosting synths and sample libraries to write most of the score so a lot of it is sequenced in the box but then I’ve got some analogue gear that I love; analogue synths, guitars and loads of really random instruments actually. I always pick up a random instrument wherever I go, just because they all have a unique sound. It’s usually a mixture of organic and digital gear and then I have been using for the vocals and for if we mic stuff up, I’ve been using the Stealth from you guys in fact I’ve got the Origin and the Spirit but I tend to go with the Spirit more and in fact that’s what we used for the last, all of the Jocee, the last three records actually it was just the Spirit I believe nothing else, that was on all the vocals, everything.

It feels a long time ago now that I first heard of Aston. I think I saw them somewhere, maybe in an advert in a magazine it was something like that rather than word of mouth but it was back in the day it was probably about 5 or 6 years ago maybe. I feel like it was near the beginning of Aston and so I emailed James and said *look I’m interested in teaming up, I’m a producer and a guitarist and I’ve been recording albums for Jocee; a really cool British soul artist and I want to use your mics.* It was from that and so, I was also working in Hitchin occasionally at the time so I popped in a few times, I was only up the road in Letchworth so I popped in a few times so when I ordered stuff I would just pop by and pick it up. I ended up with a couple of Halo’s and most of the mics, all the bits and pieces that go with it. I just love the idea of working with a small company or a small ‘ish’ company because you get that kind of human connection rather than being just another number kind of thing.

I don’t record vocals without it, ever

I’ve got both the Spirit and Stealth at the same time and on a vocal I preferred the Spirit as the sound of it was just, in my preference, the detail in the Spirit was excellent.. so yeah I just stuck with that one because it sounded good so we just stayed with it. Then I got the Stealth fairly recently, maybe a year or so ago? The Stealth is a good option as well because of the variety you can get with it, I would probably say that that is more of a mic that I would use on instruments and also if I want a different vocal effect it’s quite nice to chuck that on there as well. You know, some different sonic qualities.

 

The Halo is the ‘go-to’! Honestly, I have one at home and I have one in the studio and I don’t record vocals without it, ever. I’ve got the black one, I had the purple one first and then the black one came out and I was like I have to get the black one.

 

Top secret

All of our gigs were cancelled over the summer and who knows how it’s going to go forward but we managed to write an album with Jocee and the team so the plan is to get into the studio and obviously depending on the rules and get that done so we’ve used the time to try and set ourselves up for when everything goes back to whatever the normal is going to be so that’s kind of the immediate thing I would say.

We’re just going into pre-production now and just try and get the bits down so we’re going to be doing that at my space in the studio so that’s that kind of one. I mentioned before the new film, the new documentary, the top secret one is, it looks like it’s going to be starting very soon as well and that’s going to be a lot shorter as well in terms of time. We’ll probably have between 6 months and a year to get that started and finished so that’s going to take up most of the time.

 

Outtakes and Credits

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. I always try and separate the two things so my favourite artist is City and Colour, that’s the guy, Dallas Green that I could listen to at any time and any mood, I can stick his stuff on and I’m good with it. Some is mood dependent, most artists but that guy for me he’s the one I can stick on and that’s cool and I’m good, any album, any song. That’s an easy one.

Film score is more about the actual soundtracks for me, rather than the artists so I would go for specific soundtracks rather than anything else and I have a massive film playlist that just goes on shuffle. But if I could give you a name or two I would say Harry Gregson-Williams and Lorne Balfe are my go-tos at the mo!

Q. If you weren’t working in music, what do you think you’d be doing?
A. I don’t really know. I don’t know if I’m good at anything else, I’m not even saying I’m good at this, but I do love animals so maybe something to with safari? Maybe go and save the elephants in Africa or something - actually I'm not good in the sun haha. I don’t know really, that’s a tricky one. Ooh, no, I’ll tell you, I’d be a footballer [or maybe baseball in another life]. I’d play for Tottenham - easy. There you go either animals or sports.

Q. What would your fantasy microphone be i.e. one that’s not currently in existence
A. Do you know what, it would be amazing, just a mic that you wouldn’t have to do anything after to it. I know that’s just impossible but just imagine if you had a mic that could adapt to a situation where it would just EQ as part of it’s surroundings, I mean that’s a bit AI I know but that would be so cool, it would just EQ it all for you in the moment.

I know there’s some mic modelling going around where you can choose different mics and then the plug in that you’ve got goes with it. That is interesting as well to have the option of going through any of the classic mics just with one mic but, yeah I don’t know really, I’m not that fussy.

Q. What are the four words that you would choose to describe Aston or your experience with the brand?
A. Family, innovative, original and unique

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. Can I change the question? There’s a particular piece of music that is just so beautiful and touching that it’s just so emotionally charged and it’s, did you ever see the film Seven Pounds with Will Smith? The film is pretty good but the soundtrack is just incredible and it’s Angelo Milli and the piece is called Requiem and it’s actually the bit in the film where he gets in the bath and he gets stung with jellyfish, [the weird bit] but the actual piece of music that goes with it is just incredible.

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