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TOMKAT live in the Studio

Earlier this year I had 40% of the Denton band TOMKAT in the studio for another live session. Andrew McMillan (guitar) and Katrina Cain (vocals, piano) showed up with stripped down arrangements of 2 songs from their latest album, Icarus. TOMKAT are a band that has slowly been gaining ground and much deserved notoriety in Denton and DFW, helped in part by recent performances at SXSW and rave reviews of their album by such critics as the Huffington Post. I'm not sure how to unhelpfully stereotype their band into a meaningless genre corner: it's perhaps pop, dream pop, jazzish electronica, dance rock, music that one might groove to, not sure.

What I am sure of is that they are very talented and write great tunes. While there is a pop format to their music, it's definitely complex, textured and substantive, which can't always be said for a lot of music in this genre: like cheap gum it tastes good and rich at first, but after about 5 minutes all the flavor has evaporated and your jaws have already started to tire. Not so with TOMKAT. There's a lot of effort in their songwriting, and a certain thoughtfulness and musical depth that makes engaging with their music very rewarding.

Andrew and Katrina are great people to work with: laid back but also very serious about their music. They showed up with a Suhr guitar, a modulation littered pedalboard and some electronic drum machine stuff. Andrew brought his amp but upon seeing the studio's silverface Deluxe Reverb, his eyes widened. Utilizing my powers of perception I began moving it into the amp room and setting it up for him.

For the first tune Katrina played piano and sang, a haunting arrangement of the song Persephone. She was rather self effacing about her piano skills, saying she didn't perform much on keys; however, when I hit record what I heard coming through the control room monitors was no amateur. A very refined, smooth arpeggio carried the rhythm of the song beautifully and allowed her voice, an instrument in its own right, to soar, revealing an impressive range and expert control over her delivery. For the second tune she moved to a table that contained a couple of different drum machines and navigated them well: she moved easily between altering the drum patterns in real time and adding bass notes, all the while singing.

Andrew skillfully complemented the arrangements of both songs by working his way through a number of different textures and tones on the guitar. Sometimes it sounded like a half a dozen swirling guitars playing different rhythmic patterns, other times it sounded like a synthesizer or even a chorus of human voices. His pedalboard is populated with a lot of time based and modulation effects, all of which he used tastefully, and most of which I am probably too dumb to operate. Andrew is an intentional player. He doesn't just turn a bunch of stuff on to create a wash of sound and hope for the best. Each note is calculated and written, and each tone is employed to serve the emotion of the song. He plays with feel and an ongoing, underlying sense of groove.

I truly enjoyed my time working with them, the mixes turned out great, and both videos are now up on YouTube for your enjoyment, compliments of Shake Music TV. Check it out, and be sure to catch them live!

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