EP Walkthrough: Tom Snowdon breaks down the covers of his debut EP, Channel
On his first solo release, the Australian musician - one of the best we have - breathes new light into some of his old favourites.
For something so often dismissed as lazy musicianship, there's a lot that goes into giving justice when performing another musician's song. Typically, covers are commercially reduced to just clichés - pub bands, talent shows - and a sign that you don't have the songwriting abilities to create something for yourself, but they're also moments where artists can shine at their best, so much so that the covers blossoms more-so in the commercial and critical eye than the original (cue Natalie Imbruglia's infamous Torn, for example).
Let's just cut to the chase straight-up: Tom Snowdon isn't someone releasing an introductory EP full of covers because he doesn't have the musicianship to write music of his own, nor because he's lazy. Over the last decade, the Melbourne-via-Alice Springs musician has become one of the country's most celebrated, known for his remarkable vocals that define every project he plays a part in - whether that be as one-half of No Mono or a key member of old-favourites Lowlakes, right through to his work as a guest collaborator with #1 Dads, Willaris. K and upsidedownhead - all artists that have elevated Snowdon with his work, while Snowdon elevates their work back with his presence.
He's one of Australia's most gifted musicians, welcoming an angelic voice that can tear your heart into pieces and build it back up again with sheer emotional potency. Instead, choosing to make his entrance as a solo musician through a collection of covers came down to his fondness of the art, and how they've played an integral role in his own journey as a musician (it's noted that growing up, one of Snowdon's favourite records was the covers album Messenger by Jimmy Little - the record that inspired the idea behind Channel and its now-arrival).
The end result is something quite spectacular. Channel is an EP that feels like the perfect introduction to Tom Snowdown as a solo musician. It emphasises his world-renowned vocals and how they're capable of moving amongst a production's natural ebbs and flows (it should be worth noting too that the album was meant to be a live recording with a full band, but instead was stripped back to its most intimate and subtle); the angelic and heavenly embrace that his music holds finding itself a nest amongst Channel, as his vocal warmth and the familiarity of the songs he sings unite for quite a comforting experience.
On that, it also feels like an introduction to the musical moments that inspire Tom Snowdon; a snapshot to monumental releases that are free of a common-shared genre, instead captured on this EP as a way of showing significance to their existence in Snowdon's musical life. On one side, you have artists like Men at Work and Elvis - formidable names in pockets of pop and rock's evolution - alongside musicians like Kylie, Björk and Britney Spears, three faces that define modern-day pop and their many sides. There's also a Selena Gomez cover thrown in there, one Snowdon was drawn to because of its theatrical emotional display.
Either way, regardless of what Tom Snowdon attempts to cover, Channel proves that he can make it his own - and that's really what it's all about. Take a dive into the EP below, and underneath, allow Tom Snowdon to guide you through the covers and the stories behind them, one song at a time:
My Channel EP – capturing the special moments in some of my favourite songs.
My EP Channel is a collection of cover songs I’ve long-loved and recently fallen for. It’s broadly inspired by my great affection for Yorta Yorta singer/songwriter Jimmy Little’s covers album Messenger, released in 1999. That record’s so special to me for its haunting and unique atmosphere – the rich organic sounds and the gentle power of Little’s vocal presence. I wanted to explore that same atmosphere on Channel.
Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now
I’d wanted to cover this song for a long time. There’s such potent imagery in the words and in Colin Hay’s voice. I also love how the song’s both playful and melancholic. It was a big part of my childhood, this song. I remember long family road-trips from our home in Central Australia to the East Coast with this song on repeat. I’d just gaze out the window at the landscape and picture a sad man in his house, lonely but content. Only much later I started to wonder about the deeper messages of fear, anxiety and isolation in the words.
I wanted to capture that feeling in my version of it – haunting and uplifting. A big part of doing that was performing the vocal in a relaxed way and also in layering more instrumental and atmospheric vocal parts around the main part.
Selena Gomez – Lose You To Love Me
I love the drama in this song. My friend Megan Washington suggested I cover this and at first I thought it was a bit ‘out of my lane’ but I put that to bed pretty quickly. It’s such a powerful song to sing with a beautiful melody and dramatic words. It was tricky to record because I originally planned to record this record with a live band and so didn’t plan on performing each instrument. When the COVID lockdown stuff happened that became impossible and meant I had to do most of it myself.
I generally find that my best vocal performances are captured when I’m performing the song live, but I’m not a great piano player so it probably took me 25 takes to nail a useable version. Lost in the mood of the track I also kept singing the wrong words. Eventually, I think Matt Redlich (who produced the EP with me) chose the first take anyway.
Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
I recorded a demo of this locked down in my bedroom and that became the bed the actual version on the EP was built from. The main thing in this track I think is the dancey energy in the rhythm and so getting the drum and bass sounds to cut through was important. It also made singing the song challenging – mostly because it’s not a conventionally melodious song but is more a bump-n-grind vibe. Bringing out a more energetic vocal delivery was, I thought, the best way to pay homage to that great energy in the original but still give it a haunting feeling.
Björk – Unravel
This is one of my most favourite songs. It’s a song I sing as a vocal warm-up before I perform and just has the most spine-tingling atmosphere. Obviously Björk is in rare air as a vocal artist and I was so excited to try and use my voice to express that raw emotional energy in this song. It wasn’t originally going to be part of the EP.
During recording, Matt Redlich and I were talking about Björk and her work and we hit on that Unravel is a favourite of us both. We decided late in the piece to learn it and record it for the EP. It happened really quickly. Our main focus was making it really delicate like a fragile breath and so we recorded the piano played very softly and with only a couple of other delicate elements - tapping on the piano as the drums and a plucked auto-harp layered with my voice.
Britney Spears – Everytime
I’d wanted to cover this song for a long time. I was in primary school when it was released and I remember loving it then. A few years ago I heard it playing in a supermarket and so fell for it again. I love the drama in the words and wanted to give it a really minimal but dramatic interpretation. The main inspiration for the sounds was Yves Tumor’s instrumental track Limerance which uses richly delayed and layered synthesisers. My version started with the delayed synthesiser you hear on the EP and then I played multiple piano parts over the top. After the original demo, I tried to recreate the song multiple times but ultimately went back to that first demo and built from that. It was probably the most difficult song to complete because the delayed synth I played on it was really loose.
It’s also probably the most satisfying one to sing.
Elvis – Blue Moon
My favourite version of this song is Elvis’s stripped back and relaxed interpretation – like the end of the night or the start of the morning, it has a resigned and peaceful feeling to it. I thought it would be cool to record the guitar really gently-played and have my voice recorded intimately over the top so it had that same delicate feeling as the Elvis version. The recording of the version on the EP was done live and also quickly late at the end of a tracking session - 12:30 AM after a full day tracking other songs for this EP and Matt (Redlich) and I were packing up. I took one quick shot at a live take before we turned the lights off and that’s the version on the EP – a whisper goodnight before lights off, it felt like the perfect way to bookend this collection of songs.
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