Portsmouth songwriter and producer Tom Wells has been on our radar for a while, since last November in fact when he released his single ‘The English Way’, taken from his forthcoming EP, out later in the year.
Focusing on men’s mental health, and encouraging people to speak out about their feelings instead of suffering in silence, Wells manages to write story laden pop, in the sort of Squeeze / Tears for Fears kind of way, with a lovely balance between melody and emotion.
We eventually managed to track him down, and spoke to him about his plans.
Hi Tom, can you give us a potted history of Fast Trains?
Hi, my name’s Tom Wells and I’m a songwriter and producer from Portsmouth who makes music under the name Fast Trains.
I started Fast Trains in 2019, beginning with a short animated video called ‘Measure by Measure’. A collaboration with illustrator/animator Sam Brandon, the video premiered at the British Animation Film Festival in Leicester Square and has since been screened at film festivals all over the world.
After the music from ‘Measure by Measure’ was picked up by Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music, I then started releasing tracks exclusively to YouTube and the Fast Trains website (www.fasttrains.co.uk). These received backing from BBC Introducing and led to the formation of a live band that we debuted at Icebreaker Festival at the start of 2020.
Since the pandemic we’ve continued to release music and video to YouTube, including a new series of live performances called The Hourglass Sessions. I’m now about to release a new EP called ourWorld Volume 1, a collection of four singles, starting with ‘The English Way’.
Who inspired you to start making music?
I had some great teachers and lecturers over the years that really pushed me forward, but the person who’s always backed me is my Dad. He played in a band too and writes songs, so I’ve thankfully inherited the music gene from him… and at the moment his guitar too. A permanent loan I think.
And the one record that inspired you artistically?
A massive inspiration when I started Fast Trains was Martin Newell and his album ‘The Greatest Living Englishman’. Martin is a legendary songwriter who was a pioneer in home recording, making his albums on quite primitive equipment really – and the records sound amazing. There’s something about the Englishness of them coupled with that DIY approach… it really inspired me to make the Fast Trains records in my flat and to embrace the way I naturally sound.
On ‘The Greatest Living Englishman’ his label brought in Andy Partridge from XTC to produce, a musical hero of mine and another very English character. They really managed to hone the formula on that album. There’s a direct link from that album to what I try to do now.
If you’re trying to explain who you sound like to someone that’s never heard you, what do you say?
I’m really into alternative 80s bands like XTC, Squeeze, Talk Talk… there’s so many great bands from that era. I think the music I make is a modern take on that. I run with “alternative pop”… that’s a good phrase.
Tell us about you last single, The English Way?
It’s the first single from a forthcoming EP called ourWorld Volume 1.
‘The English Way’ is a song about men’s mental health, encouraging people to speak out about their problems and avoid those dangerous British traits of a “stiff upper lip” and “manning up”.
This topic is really close to my heart, and I hope that in addressing it like this it helps open up the conversation further, building on the great work of charities such as Mind and My Black Dog.
Where can we listen to it?
‘The English Way’ will be released exclusively to YouTube and the Fast Trains website (www.fasttrains.co.uk) on Friday 13th November 2020. The new EP ourWorld Volume 1 will follow in 2021.
Tell us how you write?
So I write everything myself. I always start with the music, usually on a guitar or piano, just being instinctive and stumbling on something that excites me. Be that a strange chord or little riff, I try not to think about it too much at this point. I’ll probably flesh out a rough structure then, filming it on my phone, before I commit to recording a basic demo.
The craft bit is always the lyrics. I keep lists of song names and quirky phrases I find. You know when you’ve got a good match of a chorus hook and lyric. From there it’s just a case of perspiration, chipping away at it until every line is how it should be.
Tell us about your live show? And how much have you been missing it recently
I’m very lucky to have some brilliant people around me, and none more so than the guys who play in the live band. They’re excellent musicians and I just try to let them do their thing as much as possible. The live show sounds very different to the records, with lots of improvisation and a more direct, harder edged sound. It’s exciting to take risks and not know quite how it’s going to sound each time.
We’d only just started performing live when the pandemic hit. After our performance at Icebreaker Festival in January we did a sold out headline show in Portsmouth and it really felt like we had the momentum building towards our first summer festival dates. We’ve managed to meet up a couple of times this year and run through the songs, and it’s clear we all just miss playing live terribly. I can’t wait to get back on a stage.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
The ourWorld Volume 1 EP will take me up to around April/May next year, with each track being released as a single, so lots of new music on the way. The next single ‘I Work in Lies’ comes out on February 5th. We’ve also got some festivals and live dates lined up for that time too… whether they’re allowed to happen of course, we shall see.
Over the Christmas period I plan to be back recording again. The next thing is written and just needs committing to tape really, I hope it’s as enjoyable to record as this music was.
Tell us your favourite records that are rocking your stereo
At the moment I’m going through a big Tears For Fears phase, particularly the album ‘Elemental’. That’s a great sounding record and a bit of a lost gem. In terms of new albums, I love the debut album from Another Sky, ‘I Slept On The Floor’. That seems like a really important record this year. I’m a bit obsessed with Matt Maltese too. He’s an incredible songwriter, very underappreciated. Go give him some love!