Fast Track To Bliss: Tom VR on Midland, Valby Rotary & thinking outside the box

Tom VR’s sound has layers. Since his early releases on Valby Rotary, the young producer has added string after string to his creative bow; fine tuning his aesthetic from sad, hopeful and optimistic into something larger and brighter, yet brimming with the same tears-on-the-dancefloor emotionality that made us fall in love with his productions in the first place.

Last year’s release on Seb Wildblood’s All My Thoughts label provided a sign of things to come and now – as we welcome the release of Fast Track To Bliss on Midland’s Inter-Graded imprint – we are hearing something truly unlike anything the artist has produced before.

We caught up with Tom post-release to chat sound experimentation, Bicep edits, label plans and words of wisdom from Midland.

As an artist I feel like you’ve really grown into your own sound; happy and sad and brimming with subtle optimism. What is your process like in creating a track? Do you have certain methods or is it just down to what you’re feeling at the time?

It can always be quite different. I think for a long time I seemed to gravitate to making more emotional style music and focused on stuff being quite sad and nostalgic. More recently – the last couple years – I had a bit of a change of heart. I figured I could make things a bit more vibrant whilst still keeping it nostalgic and emotional. I think that’s when I started going into my own sound, in a way, especially with my release last year (Acheless on All My Thoughts). That was the first thing I’d put out for a while that was a bit different.

In terms of processes and stuff, I do quite a lot of recycling of old projects. I think that’s key to my sound in a way. I never really let projects go, I’ll always revisit the graveyard of old projects and old songs. Even if it’s just dropping an old bounce of some demo that’s never going to see the light of day. I do that quite a lot. In the end, it creates this patchwork; this textured, layered sound.

I really like the idea of your tracks being pieced together from the graveyard of old projects, the old birthing something new.

Yeah, it’s just sampling really, but re-sampling your own work. For me it works, and I’m always nervous to sample other peoples work anyway.

Your release on Inter-Graded is out now. Midland has been showing you a lot of love and has encouraged you to think outside the box when working on the record. How supportive has he been?

Harry’s really helped me and encouraged me to think differently about the way I make music. We started chatting a couple of years ago; I sent him a few demos on the suggestion of my friend Jack. I didn’t expect to hear anything back, but he gave me loads of feedback. I think, maybe, he saw that my style could be something if it was developed a bit more.

The demos I sent – looking back – were quite stale ideas. I remember one discussion we had where he said don’t be afraid to fully do what you want and experiment. Think outside the box for as much as you think is necessary, this is a good opportunity for you to do that.

I started to go in with no preconceptions about what I was going to make; whether it was going to be club functional or worrying whether it was going to be a house track. I went in a little more blind and a little more experimental from the get-go. That’s when then record as it stands now started being pieced together. Before then, I’d never had something say to me that it’s okay to go – not necessarily against the grain – but outside of my comfort zone.

Let’s talk about your label – Valby Rotary – how did that start?

Louis (Louf) and I met in Leeds, we both went to university there. We ended up living in the same apartment by chance and it transpired that we both made music.  We were making stuff with differing vibes, I was in a bit of a transitional phase and frustrated with what I was trying to do. He was making instrumental hip hop, that was his background.

We started to get a common theme going between our music; focusing on emotion. We started reaching out to labels with our own music and we weren’t getting anywhere. When you have a string of releases you have that catalogue, but when you’re going for your first one it can be quite difficult and you can become quite disillusioned by it, so we decided to start our own label.

Benito joined; he’s a friend from Chester, where I grew up. I was a resident at his night called Mango Club and played there for seven years. He loved our music and he’s a really trusting guy, so it was good to get him involved. Louis and I lived together for a few more years and then Jack (Jeigo) came to live with us. It felt like a really close-knit crew; we were just doing it for ourselves and our friends really.  Now it’s evolved into something quite nice.

We’ve been a bit slow with it over the last couple of years, mostly because we don’t live together anymore and we’ve been focusing on our own projects for a while. We’ve got – and everyone will always say this – big things planned! I hate saying that, because in reality they’re probably not that big, but we’ve started working on stuff again and we’re really happy with how it’s going. We’re going to put stuff out at our own pace from now on.

I think that’s actually quite a nice way to go about it. There’s so much pressure to always be at it, but when it’s a personal project I think not forcing it is the way to go.

A lot of labels are very focused on making sure they have a solid string of releases pumped out, and that is important. Some people are so clever at scheduling and it can make a really big impact and it’s sick for a lot of people; we’re just so DIY that we didn’t know how to do that. No one told us to do that. We were very much doing one thing and then going, cool, the records out, let’s start the next one. It’s such a slow process.

It’s the same with Inter-Graded. Harry and Chris that run it, I know they don’t rush their scheduling either, they just put something out when it feels right. Sometimes there’s a bit of  gap, but that means when something comes out it makes people more excited and you can tell that a lot of time and effort has gone into something.

The label hasn’t put a record out since 2019, but the album a few years back really felt like the crew had hit their signature sound and aesthetic, right down to the artwork. When can we expect some new Valby and will it more of the same?

You’re always going to be able to tell that it’s us, definitely. We’re not going to do something so completely different to what we’ve done before. If you listen to Louis’ more recent releases, and mine, it’s evident that we’ve seeked out new styles. We’re incorporated that into the label.

It will be slightly different. It’s us, but more mature. We’re still young, but when we started the label we were very much doing it for the love – and still are – but we’ve learned so much since then. The music that Louis makes now is sick, and I’m in more of a happy place with my stuff as well. I don’t want to turn fans of the label away from what they liked about it, but we’ll very much be incorporated our new vibes, for lack of a better phrase.

Bicep made an edit of one of your tracks from two years ago for their Mixmag mix. Did they reach out to you or did you simply tune in and hear it?

Yeah, they did an edit of my track Last Ride which is taken from a compilation album called Habits on Valby. That was pretty crazy.

Did they reach out to you to let you know they were doing it or was it a surprise?

I didn’t know they’d done the edit, but I knew they were fans of the label. They dropped us an email in February or March last year just to chat to us and tell us they were into our music, which obviously was a big deal for us at the time.

That track in particular, it doesn’t have much percussion at all. It doesn’t have a kick drum; it has all the elements that work in a club functional way but it’s beatless. Their version of it has a lot more drums, it’s more club functional. Very cool. I’m still super excited about that, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s amazing that anyone connects to the label to be honest, as it’s something that we just dreamed up ourselves.

What’s next for you?

It’s going to be a busy year for me, at least for the first half of it anyway. I suppose now is as good a time as any to say it, I’ve got an album coming out in the summer that I’ve been teasing away to some people. It’s a ten tracker, I’ve been working on it for years at this point. It was finished by November last year, but things transpired and there were delays and it was put on hold. Because of the delays I’ve been working on it even more, it’s been a long process but I’m super happy with it.

Cop Fast Track To Bliss by Tom VR on Inter-Graded here.

8th February 2021