“I like to create a fog of sound onto which I can paint music. The pieces usually build up from there. It’s meditative music. I try to create something that is beautiful but which also has an underlying threat. Much like nature itself. The duality of nature—that it is both beautiful and terrifying.”
A stream of sound slowly unfolds. Finely woven together, spells of strings, sparks of piano and field recordings flow gracefully, like a warm breeze caressing a grove. A stream of passion, a surge of emotion, expands and contracts. Ghosts of autumn, shadows of winter, the sweet smell of spring, the warmth of a dreamy summer night. A natural circulation, an emotional panorama igniting the imagination. Earthworks, the debut album of Thomas Brookes as Drombeg, is filled with gentle yet assertive and powerful croons, breaking through mystical mists and drifting through picturesque, vast sceneries. It was released in January via the slowly but surely growing Futuresequence imprint. An engaging and highly evocative album that flows straight into the heart.
Thomas :: I grew up near Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, in a small town about half an hour’s drive north west from the city. A half hour’s drive further north west takes you to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park—so I was lucky to spend a lot of time in the countryside as a child; camping, hiking, abseiling and pot-holing with my Dad, but I also lived near a big city. I’ve always had a keen interest in the great outdoors.
I’m a self taught musician and can play guitar and piano and I manage to get by on a few other stringed instruments. I taught myself how to use Cubase in my teens and still use it now. I moved my family to County Kerry in the south west of Ireland a couple of years ago. It’s a place that I had visited a number of times on family holidays. I was attracted to its landscape and to its archaeology and also to its comparatively tiny population. The UK is far too busy for me. It’s peaceful here in Kerry. My publisher and manager are also Irish so it made sense. And the people here are wonderful.
I’m a singer-songwriter. I’ve released a number of singles and EPs on various small labels over the last 5 years; under different names, in different genres—folk rock, indie rock. But there’s been periods of inactivity for various reasons—raising a family, bereavement, travel. Lots of projects starting and stopping. I call it professional obscurity. The Drombeg album is my first full length album which is not what I had expected to happen.
When I arrived in Ireland I found myself composing music without voice, partly due to circumstance—most of my studio gear was packed up and I had no real private space in the house we lived in. I wrote on sampled piano and used sampled strings. Music for films in my head. I was listening to a lot of Arvo Pärt and Loscil at the time. So I gathered together a few pieces of music, created a pseudonym and uploaded them to Soundcloud—this was about a year ago, just as an experiment. The tracks received great feedback and I soon discovered there was a whole community of people making and listening to ambient/drone/experimental music. I found it thrilling—a secret community—and no pretence whatsoever. It’s music that is for the listener, it’s not about personalities or ego. I felt an affinity with that. I had just come through a period in my life where I had decided the ultimate artistic statement was silence.
I was in touch with Michael at Futuresequence and jumped at the chance to put something out with him. We released my ‘Notes From The Ocean Floor’ EP last year which I was really proud of. “The Way Love Emerges” has since had 18K plays on Soundcloud.
Sound & style?
Thomas :: The Drombeg project is really a soundtrack to the landscape here. Or my response to it. It’s an evocation. And it’s a reflection of my interest in pre-history, or my imagining of it. I live in an area where there is evidence of neolithic farming and later bronze age communities. In this part of Ireland you’re never more than 500 metres from some sort of pre-historic landmark. There’s a standing stone at the end of my road and cairns and fulacht fia on the slopes behind my house. At night when it’s black outside, I like to think that all these ancient ghosts come out and roam the hillsides. If there was ever a big movie about the Bronze Age people I’d like to score it.
The new album?
Thomas :: I do a fair bit of field recording—I usually try recording bird song or the weather or the sea. We get lots of rain here. I also spent some time recording the sound at various archaeological locations—stone circles, standing stones. The field recordings are electronically mutilated and regurgitated onto tape and serve as a canvas onto which I doodle piano lines or string lines. I like to create a fog of sound onto which I can paint music. The pieces usually build up from there. It’s meditative music. I try to create something that is beautiful but which also has an underlying threat. Much like nature itself. The duality of nature—that it is both beautiful and terrifying.
‘Earthworks’ is, in some ways, a concept album. It could have been even more of a concept album but I hesitated a little bit. Initially, each track referred to a particular archaeological site or location. So it was going to be a geographical album, a pre-historic mapping of the area. I later thought this might be a bit restricting. And restrictive for the listener also. A lot of the Irish names would be hard to pronounce etc. So, I broadened it a little and discarded the map. It’s really a tribute to the people of pre-history—the thought that without them we wouldn’t be here. The artwork was simply photographs I had taken on some of my treks around South Kerry.
An ‘Earthwork’ essentially refers to a man-made feature but I also like the idea that the ultimate ‘Earthwork’ is something nature has created, a glacial erratic, for example.
Thomas :: I had someone write to me the other day and call Drombeg the first great ambient/modern classical music to come out of Ireland which was very kind of him to say! I read that one aloud to everyone in the house.
On heavy rotation?
Thomas :: I’m currently listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar a lot and enjoying its poignancy and madness. Also to Górecki’s Symphony No.3 which is always on in my car. A Skelton CD is never too far away. My real inspiration when this whole experimental thing began was Peter Broderick. I think he’s the real talent at Erased Tapes. And somewhat unfairly overshadowed by his label mates. A friend and I managed to see him perform in Cork last year. He’s a genius and his prolificness astounds me.
Thomas :: I don’t have any plans to perform as Drombeg in the near future, unfortunately. I’m extremely busy rebuilding some of our house and I have a small recording studio to finish setting up. That should see me through ’til next autumn. I plan to record a vocal record this summer as well. Perhaps the odd one off show might be possible in the meantime. It would be lovely to play piano and have a cellist and violinist accompany me.