Michael Tomlinson, vocalist, MT
Success is being happy in your life ...
The tourists might be enamoured by the twinkling lights of Piccadilly Circus and the snow-speckled leas of Hyde Park, but it’s the tangle of music venues and the hidden dives of Clapton that have gotten their mitts into Michael Tomlinson. It was Brisbane’s loss but music’s gain when he-of-the-extraordinary-voice left our shores for the misty grey skies of England a few years back. A series of endings – including the break-up of local indie outfit Yves Klein Blue – led to Michael’s departure, but as usual the universe had its own agenda, and a serendipitous meeting of musical minds led to the formation of new London-based four-piece, MT. The band has already earnt itself a killer reputation for dynamic live shows and a head-looper of a new single, ‘Alpha Romeo’. As the cloak of winter fog settles on London and commuters burrow deeper into their scarves, Michael has returned home for a tropical Christmas, touching down on Brisbane soil last week. The Weekend Edition caught up with the frontman over a cup of coffee to talk endings, new beginnings and finding inspiration in the world around you.
What’s on your to-do list while you’re back home in Brisbane?
I’m just really excited to see all my friends and family. I’ve been hanging out with the guys from Yves Klein Blue and it’s amazing to see all the cool things everyone’s achieving.
Has the local music scene changed much since your Yves Klein Blue days?
I’m really amazed by the music scene in Brisbane at the moment. It’s fantastic. Everyone’s very helpful and friendly to each other – I’ve never seen such a wonderful music scene actually. People are just so open and welcoming, and they’re making great music.
What have you missed most about your hometown?
I miss the space. You don’t appreciate what you have when you have it. And of course loads of people I love are here, which I think is the most important thing about any place.
What led to the break-up of Yves Klein Blue and your subsequent move to London?
We didn’t break up for any particular reason apart from that we were older and wanted different things. We didn’t want to make the same music anymore, but we wanted to still be friends. I’m really proud of what we did though.
MT’s new single ‘Alpha Romeo’ has provoked some serious deep-shoulder action in our office … what’s the story behind the film clip?
The basic story behind the clip is we did a residency at Ridley Road Market Bar (Wu’s) in Hackney. Our friends would come down and the idea was to make it like a party, not a show where you’re like, ‘Right, the gig is on now’. But yeah it was just meant to be fun. So that’s what the clip is like – it’s the same people who would come to our gigs. It’s the only thing that a video for ‘Alpha Romeo’ could ever be.
The band has played at some of London’s most iconic venues, like the old Camden Palace now known as KOKO. Talk us through some of those early gigs.
The first time I ever went on stage at KOKO, I was wearing some purple boots I got in Antwerp – I’d always wanted a pair of purple boots because that’s what Ziggy Stardust wears on the cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But there was all this water on stage and I was doing some kind of can-can dance, and I fell on my ass … and then we sang all the songs from The Lion King. We’ve played at KOKO about eight times now, which is a rare honour.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A farmer. It seemed like a good thing to do. I also wanted to be a pilot at one stage … and a spaceman. And Spider-Man. And Superman.
When did your sights shift to music?
My grandmother had a guitar in her house, so I just grabbed it one day and tried to play. I started to seriously learn music when I heard a school friend play a song by the punk band 88 Fingers Louie on the guitar, and to me it sounded exactly like the record. It was just something that clicked in my brain – like, ‘I can do that’. I’d played the piano before, but until I heard a song I really liked played by someone, I didn’t totally understand I could do that.
What’s one of the most memorable gigs you’ve ever played?
The first time Yves Klein Blue played Splendour in the Grass, I got my pass cut up the night before the show. I was stealing vodka from the bar – it seems like a funny story, but it was not funny … I just thought it would be nice to take some vodka back to my friends, I didn’t mean to do it maliciously. The guy who owned the bar was really great and I felt terrible about it. It was the biggest gig ever for us at that point, and we thought we weren’t going to be able to play the show. I walked from where we were staying to the festival site like a man walking to his death. But the powers that be looked after me, they got me back in and we played the gig. All the gear was already set up, I just walked on to the stage and played to a packed tent, which was amazing. But I don’t remember anything about it because there was just so much adrenalin. I don’t even know if I would have been able to do it otherwise – I would have been paralysed by nerves – but we went from having this opportunity, to losing it – which felt like losing everything – to just having it given back. So that was a pretty special gig …
Do you still get nervous before shows?
Yeah, for sure, I definitely do. I go to the bathroom a lot from nervous peeing. I’ve found a good formula though – you have two tequilas, and then you do the gig.
What’s your idea of the perfect weekend?
Ideally, I’d like to go out late and wake early. For me, KOKO is one of the best places ever. So I’d go there on the Friday night and then I’d wake up early on Saturday and go to Broadway Market with friends. Later on, band rehearsal would be good. And then I’d meet friends and go to a party. Then very late that night, I’d be magically transported to my family home in Brisbane, where I’d go for a swim. I’d wake up in the morning, back in London, and go to Chatsworth Road Market to get okonomiyaki from Sho Foo Doh. Then I’d come back to Brisbane for Sunday-night dinner with my family and watch a Led Zeppelin DVD with my dad. And then I’d be magically transported to Aurora Borealis!
What does success mean to you?
If you’re happy in your life. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Approach every situation as if you want to get the best out of it, and you want to be happy.
FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
Perk up … with coffee or tequila, anywhere. 46B is my favourite place for coffee in London.
Relax … In bed.
Dine … Homeslice Pizza in Covent Garden.
Indulge … Sunday-night dinner at my parents’ house.
Shop … I’m too poor!
Catch-up … Somewhere quiet and not too manic. A place where you only know the one person you were meant to catch up with.
Be inspired … Everywhere. The universe.