Interview with Tom Shear of Assemblage 23 on the new album Mourn. "It’s a pretty dark album"
The one man project that is Tom Shear of Assemblage 23 has now released his brand new album titled Mourn which combines genre-expanding electronics with an intensely personal subject matter. This phenomenal new album is certainly a standout in Assemblage 23's extensive catalog. Beyond the trappings of modern EBM & Industrial, Mourn seamlessly blends danceable electronics with intimate soul searching lyrics. This is a breathtaking album from one of the genre's best, and one of the most successful American industrial acts of all time.
We had the pleasure of having a socially distanced chat with Tom to ask him a few questions about the new release, and the past present and future...
Q. Hi Tom and welcome, it's a pleasure to have you here.
It’s a pleasure to talk with you!
Q. Well, you have been hard at work getting your album 'Mourn' ready for release. The response to the Crowd Funding campaign you set up for it was immense, I can imagine that was such a great feeling and opened up more avenues for the project?
I was completely shocked by the response. I hadn’t even initially planned on doing a crowdfund for this album, but I got a lot of emails from people asking if I was going to do another one and thought it couldn’t hurt to try. It ended up blowing the previous one out of the water. It’s been 4 years since the last album, so it was nice to know people were eager for the new one.
Q. Is there a specific theme behind the upcoming album at all? What was the inspiration behind it?
It’s a pretty dark album. Around the time I was finishing the previous album and touring for it, I fell into a deep depression. I’ve had depression most of my adult life and medication manages it well for the most part, but this was something new. It was bad to the point that I was barely functional. My life kind of went off the rails for awhile and I realized it was time to make some big changes in my life if things were going to get better. So the album is kind of a snapshot of this dark time in my life and the concept of taking control of your life and making positive change.
Q. During the making of 'Mourn' did you encounter any hurdles and if so how did you manage to overcome them?
Nothing too bad. I have noticed that I seem to have a significantly larger amount of technical issues as an album deadline approaches, and this one was no exception, but fortunately it was all stuff I could work through. No less stressful when you’re going through it, though!
Q. What is an average day in the studio like and what are your creative processes?
Generally speaking, my process is to collect song ideas as they come to me. When I am ready to start on an album, I sort through these and pick out the ones I think have the most potential and start developing those into full, proper songs. I am usually working on 2 or 3 songs at the same time, so if I get stuck on one, I can move on to another one and stay productive and moving forward. I can’t really say there is a “typical” day in the studio. Some days it might be writing songs, some days it might be programming synth sounds or making samples, some days it might be starting blankly at the screen with writer’s block.
Q. How have you been coping musically during the Covid-19 lockdown and do you have any plans on a tour once the situation dies down?
As it turns out, pandemics seem to be a pretty good time for holing up in the studio and making an album. Not being able to go anywhere or do anything else really gave me the opportunity to concentrate on nothing but the album. We do hope to get out and play live again once this goes away, but we have no idea what the situation with live music is going to end up being at this point. Scary times for performers for sure.
Q. Live stream concerts have been popular during these Covid times, what are your thoughts regards them and have you any plans on performing online?
Mari and I did a streaming set as Helix for the Terminus Festival, but I don’t have any plans to do an A23 one. One of my band mates lives in the midwest and another lives on the west coast, so to get together is not really the most responsible thing. That said, it was an interesting experience for sure. On the one hand, it was cool to be able to play for people essentially all over the world. On the other hand, so much of the live experience as a performer is the sort of feedback relationship you have with the audience. When you can’t see or hear your audience, it’s quite a strange feeling.
Q. Since moving from West to East Coast, how does the scene differ and how do you implement rehearsing with the live band members?
The members of A23 have never rehearsed together, so in that sense it’s not much of a change. We all rehearse independently and its not until we soundcheck for the first time that we’ve played new songs together. I can’t really speak with much authority about the scene here yet, as I’ve only been to a handful of shows since I moved out here. I will say that it’s nice to see more scene-related stuff happening in Boston. It was a really tough place to book shows for this genre for a really long time, but I feel like that’s changing. Providence, too… it’s so nice to be able to see shows without having to go all the way into Boston necessarily. They’re usually more intimate shows, too, so its a bit of a different experience.
Q. You have collaborated with many other artists over the years, is there one particular that you would love to work with that you already haven’t?
That’s hard to say. I really don’t do collaboration too often. For me, it would be far more interesting to sit over someone I admire’s shoulder and watch the way they work. Seeing what their methods and process are really appeals to me. Working with big producers would be interesting, too. Being able to work on something with someone like Flood or Trevor Horn would be such an opportunity to learn.
Q. In your 4 decades (correct me if I'm wrong?) of being an artist, what was the most defining show that you have performed at and why?
That’s another tough one to answer. I guess the most obvious one was the year we played the big stage at the M’era Luna festival in front of about 20,000 people. Prior to that, the biggest crowd we’d ever played in front of was probably 4 or 5 thousand. I was scared shitless. It turned out to be an amazing experience that I’ll never forget, though. Such an amazing feeling. Getting to open for OMD in Spain for a couple of gigs was pretty up there, too. The other ones that stand out are the ones that had sort of weird circumstances surrounding them. We played a gig in Rome, Italy in a circus tent that was in the middle of a gypsy camp. We had to switch venues in Philadelphia at the last moment on a tour once and ended up playing in a professional wrestling venue where the ring was our stage.
Q. Lastly. You have a side project 'Helix' with Mari Kattman, but have you thought about collaborating with Mila Kattman at all? We hear she has some interesting song lyrics from your social media posts and we always love to read them. The next big hit perhaps?
Haha… You know, she’s only 5, but Mila is already showing a propensity for singing. She’ll sing entire songs from Disney movies for us sometimes and nail every lyric. So I think she definitely inherited some of her mom’s talent. So you never know. Maybe some day there will be a Helix song called “Diarrhea Panda”!
Q. We look forward to hearing the album on it's release and hopefully see you return to the Goth-Ick/ unscene stage again in the near future. Many thanks for taking the time to speak with us, do you have any final words you would like to share?
Thanks for the opportunity. It’s really strange to have an album coming out without a tour to go with it, so we’re definitely eager to come back and play the new stuff for you guys. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy and wears their damn masks!
Be sure to check out the Assemblage 23 Bandcamp page where you can purchase the album in digital or hard copy. You’ll get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more:
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