Tom Armstrong

A Conversation with Tom Armstrong

Puremusic: So let's start with you telling about how you first got together with Conrad Praetzel and Robert Powell.

Tom Armstrong: Well, there's a guy up in Santa Rosa named Bill Frater who has a radio show and a website called Freight Train Boogie. I met Bill at South by Southwest 2001. That's when I got to know Bill, but he'd had both of my records [Songs That Make The Jukebox Play and Tom Armstrong Sings Heart Songs] and he was playing them on his show--actually I guess at that time only the first one was out.

So Conrad heard me on the radio and he tracked me down through Bill. I got this call from Conrad out of the blue, and he told me he was working on a project and he'd like for me to come down and sing a few songs and I said okay.

PM: How did he describe the project to you?

TA: Well... I don't remember exactly. He said he wanted to do an Americana type thing but with looped beats and electronic manipulation and atmospherics.

PM: And that seemed like a cool idea to you.

TA: You know, obviously it's not what I'm going to do myself, you could figure that from hearing my CDs. But I come from a pretty eclectic background.

PM: You got some punk in your background, right?

TA: Yeah, and I was all into free jazz for a number of years. [laughs]

PM: Oh really? So when you were into free jazz, what were you doing--were you singing or playing guitar or...?

TA: Mostly I played drums. But [laughing] I never really got very good at it.

PM: Sure. It takes a lifetime to get good at that kind of drums.

TA: It does. So I got out of it. And other things happened. But anyway, about the project, my taste is kind of open. And on my first CD, you know that song "I'm Damned"? That one, to me, it's kind of like half Velvet Underground and half Hank Williams. And I've been into stuff that was more atmospheric, I guess, so...

PM: Right, so it wasn't that much of a stretch for you.

TA: You know, I haven't messed around with electronics, or with samples and loops and stuff, but I was open to the idea if that's what he wanted to do. I thought, "Why not give it a shot, this might be cool."

PM: So what about the trio of tunes that Conrad pulled you in on? Did you bring the tunes to the table or did he suggest them, or how did that come to pass? "Ramblin' Man," for instance.

TA: He picked that. I knew the song, but I had to go back and listen to it a few times and kind of get it down.

PM: How about "My Home Is Not A Home"?

TA: That one and "My Sweet Love Ain't Around" I ended up bringing to him. He had a bunch of stuff picked out that he wanted me to do, and we actually cut a bunch of things. I just went up to his house in Santa Rosa--his studio's in his house--I just went up there and cut it all in one afternoon. He was kind of expecting it to just be roughs, but I went up there and knocked it out and he decided to keep it all.

PM: So you're a one-take guy?

TA: [laughs] Well, I don't know about that.

PM: But that afternoon you were, apparently.

TA: [laughing] That afternoon, yeah. And it was easy because he was playing a click track and I was playing guitar and singing. I'd practiced the songs for about a week beforehand, so I knew that I could just go in and do it. We also did "Color Of The Blues" by George Jones, "Lay Down My Old Guitar" by the Delmore Brothers, and... I can't remember what else.

PM: Maybe they'll appear on the next record?

TA: I don't know if he's planning to do anything with those or not. He's got 'em in the can, so...

PM: He seems to have another similar album planned, so I wouldn't be surprised.

TA: Oh good.  continue

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