Next week welcomes Thomas Oliver’s debut show in London, as well as the return of Louis Baker to UK shores. The singer-songwriter friends – who have burgeoning solo careers – are taking this opportunity to play a double bill show in London before their duo performance at the Edinburgh Festival, and solo stages at Sziget Festival, Budapest. I grabbed the chance to chat with them.
Louis, you’ve made quite an impression the last couple of times you’ve been here – how does it feel to be coming back?
Louis: It’s a joy to be coming back to the UK. I am highly fortunate. I have an outstanding manager (Cushla Aston at Aston Rd), so things run smoothly and I’m always taken care of. Aston Rd is very supportive of my career, helping to make this trip possible. Last time I was over this way, I did shows at Field Days Festival, and Sonar in Barcelona, Spain.
Coming back this time with Thomas Oliver and Cushla is a fresh thing for us all, and we are super excited!
Thomas, this is your London debut. How are you feeling about it, and any expectations?
Thomas: I am really looking forward to finally getting a chance to try to understand the sheer size and depth of activity in London. It’s hard to comprehend from the mellow streets of Wellington. I really want to ingest as much of it as I can while we’re there – food, drink, live music, art, culture, architecture, history, countryside, everything! Our manager, Cushla, lived there for years, so we’re fortunate enough to have someone who can show us what’s up! There are also a few musicians and label owners over there whom I have collaborated with but never met, so I look forward to meeting them, as well as anyone else I can, and of course catching up with all our Kiwi friends living there. I hear it’s sizzling there right now too, so that will be welcome change from cowering next to the heater back home!
You guys are friends from back in New Zealand – how did you meet, and how has this joint-tour come about?
Louis: Wellington has a close musical community. Thomas and I met at a show I was supporting him on at a small cafe down Cuba Street one night, where we played to around 20 people. This friendship flourished through our common love of music and musical taste. To this day he stands as a sort of musical mentor of mine, helping guide and connect me with some key people that I work with today. A tour together has always been on the cards. It makes me so happy that we now have this opportunity to play our songs for people in faraway lands.
Thomas: Music brought us together a few years back – the Wellington music scene is very tight-knit and supportive, so everyone knows everyone (almost). Louis and I really connected over our desire to create music with emotional resonance, and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ve toured together many times, and played many shows on the same stages, but, for some reason, it wasn’t until recently that we actually started playing together. We got asked if we would play as a duo for a festival in New Zealand called Homegrown, on the Red Bull “Sound Lab” stage which was all about artists coming together with other artists and working together to create something new. And we enjoyed it so much that we decided to do some more of it! And we’re stoked to have the opportunities to do it on the other side of the world.
Thomas, you’re internationally considered as one of the leading players of the Weissenborn lap-steel guitar. What can you tell us about the instrument, and how did you become interested in playing it?
Thomas: Of all the musical instruments on the planet, the Weissenborn is my favourite. For me, it sits somewhere between an acoustic guitar and the human voice; a guitar because of its 6 strings and the hollow chamber, and the human voice because of its infinite intonation and its raw and distinctive character. I started playing when I was 17 as a result of being captivated by Ben Harper’s first album, Welcome to the Cruel World, upon my first listen. I stared at the stereo, trying to decipher what this sound was. It sounded similar to a guitar, but it was deeper and richer and scratchier, and I just had to know what it was! I soon learned that it was a Weissenborn, and soon after I had one of my own. But I never knew at the time just how deep my love affair with it would run!
You’re going on to play the Edinburgh Festival after London. Have either of you played Edinburgh before, and what can our readers there expect from you?
Louis: I can’t wait to get to Scotland and be immersed in its vibe! Edinburgh will be a new place to play for both Thomas and I, and the show will be a duo set as part of New Zealand Season at the festival. We have unique and distinctive sounds, and I think that people can expect nothing less than an all out, expressive, soulful and uplifting performance.
Thomas: We’ll be doing a full duo set in Edinburgh. We have a good time playing this way. Some songs are all about Louis and I just do what I can to make him sound better, and some songs are the other way around, and then some are just the meeting of our minds in real time. It’s a progressive dynamic that we both enjoy. I’ve never been to Edinburgh before, but I am eagerly awaiting our time there! As a kid, I had bookshelves full of books about castles, and I used to draw castles in the back of my school books when I should have been paying attention. I was probably the only 10-year-old who knew what crenulations were. Haha. However, despite my obsession, I have never seen a castle! So, whilst I’m sure many people over there are entirely accustomed to the idea of one of the world’s most amazing castles right in the middle of the city, it excites the hell out of me!
Any plans for how you intend to spend your time in London and Edinburgh, other than gigging?
Louis: Travelling is one of the most life-expanding things to do; I love it. There are places to go and people to meet! I think it would be rude not to get involved in the local food, nature, whisky, markets, sightseeing, and the arts.
Thomas: We plan to do a bit of driving to check out some English and Scottish countryside. I hear it’s remarkable. There’s a few clubs I’d love to check out as well (especially Fabric), and Cushla knows a few amazing restaurants which I’m sure we’ll make the most of! Aside from all of the things I mentioned above; the culture, the castles, the art, the history, I just want to feel a part of the place, alongside the company of my friends.
After your UK duo shows, you’re taking up solo stages at Sziget Festival in Budapest. How are you feeling about the festival, and what do you expect the crowds to be like there?
Louis: To be able to perform at a festival like Sziget in Budapest – playing musical creations of your own to people for the first time – is a dream come true. It has been an aspiration of mine ever since I was a young boy to play around the world so I am fizzing. In my limited experience, European crowds are very warm and receptive so I look forward to this very much.
Thomas: To be honest, it’s really hard to know! The line-up is so amazingly diverse. Everything from NOFX, to Deadmau5, to Louis Baker, to Queens of the Stone Age…I expect there will be a lot of open-minded music lovers there. And it will certainly be the biggest festival I’ve ever played at. I just hope I’m not playing at the same time as NOFX…Haha. I collaborated with Black Sun Empire a couple of years back, so I was stoked to see them on the bill, and I look forward to catching up with them again, as friendly faces will be most relished in a 400,000 strong festival!
What’s next for both of you after this tour?
Louis: I have a lot of plans for my career, and visions of where I’d like to go with it. When I get home I will be back into song writing, performing, working, teaching and more shows in NZ and Australia.
Thomas: I’ll be heading back into the studio to keep working on my next album. I’m about halfway through it right now, and I’m amped about where it’s heading and how it’s sounding. Come November, it looks as if Louis and I might be touring NZ together again, so I look forward to that. But for now, my mind is purely set on the UK and Europe!
Thomas Oliver and Louis Baker will play a FREE double bill show at London’s Bedroom Bar, this coming Wednesday 6th August (on stage at 8.30pm), and will feature in the NZ Music Showcase of the Edinburgh Festival on Monday 11th August (on stage at 10.15pm).
This interview originally featured on NZNewsUK.
I also interviewed Louis Baker when he was in London last year – you can check out the original feature here.