Gear Talks: Thomas Headon

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Gear Talks: Thomas Headon

Thomas Headon
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Thomas Headon has had a wild few years. He was born in London, grew up mostly in Melbourne, but moved to London in early 2020 to pursue music. He was told by his mother that he had to get a "proper job" or he'd have to return home.

Thomas remains based in London, having signed to Warner Music, so he seems to be making ends meet.

His new project six songs that thomas headon like and thinks you would like too is live today and we had a chance to sit down with Thomas to discuss his processes over the last few years and how he’s evolving as an artist.

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

I begin by asking about the title of the release. It’s seemingly simple title, but much like a lot of Thomas’ music, there must be more beneath the surface.

“It is as simple as it seems. I wanted it to be long, to be honest. I think because it wasn’t something, like, an art-focused project, it’s um… just literally what it is. I thought there was a lot of irony and comedy essentially in calling it that.

A lot of people weren’t happy about it, but I was— I could get away with it.”

There’s something fleeting about Headon’s music, he manages to capture the energy of a moment really well, through both lyrics and arrangement. The title might seem simple enough to him, but it also manages to capture the simplicity of it all. I explain that I love that there’s no agonising over anything, just enjoying the moment and making some songs.

Thomas laughs here. “I’m glad.”

A little research has told me Thomas is self taught as far as songwriting and producing goes, and I ask what that looked like coming up.

“Yeah, I guess so. I think ‘self taught’ with the exception of like, especially production stuff, self taught just by looking at other people. Y’know?

And I think the same way everyone does, y’know, you can’t listen for hours on end on YouTube on ‘how do I get this exact 1975 sound?’ Or how do I get this exact microphone sound? And then it’s not coming up, so you use five different search words.”

We laugh about a lot of creativity being trial and error, just getting your hands on some hardware or software, figuring it out and hoping for the best.

“Totally. I started in Logic, well, I didn’t. When I was like 14, I was using Audacity. Which also I, sorry, I don’t think everyone agrees with me, but that shit is difficult. Like, Audacity is way harder than any other fucking DAW.”

Audacity is a DAW that a lot of people begin on, it’s budget friendly and has a lot of the tools to meet the needs of music making, albeit being a bit complicated in its layout and workflow.

“100%. So, uh, did that. But when I was 15, 16, I met my manager who used to work in a studio that he was like “Just try and start recording some of your stuff.” and I started at Logic. But it’s yeah, trial and error.

I mean, y’know, I think everything really started for me properly when I discovered Splice. Just, stupid Splice loops. Which is really fun, and I think it’s such a good tool to get people in the door, basically. Experimenting more. Especially because the stuff I was recording physically didn’t sound that good, it was like an Aldi guitar.

Definitely just trial and error, you make one good song, the next one you make would be shit and the one after would be better.”

There hasn’t been a lot of talk of hardware so far, so I ask if Headon works primarily in-the-box.

“Yeah, completely… well—ah, if I’m alone, yeah, but a lot of studios I’m in, a lot of studios have fuck off big racks and we’re still just putting everything into there [in-the-box].”

I’m looking a my notes and Thomas has naturally shifted to my next few questions: what does his process look like now compared to fumbling around on Audacity? He’s graduated to professional studios from a home recording space.

“I think [I’m] not alone so much anymore. I definitely think production for me now is what I use to flesh out ideas I have, but um, honestly, I say this very confidently: a lot of people I work with are far much better at it than me. And can do it quicker than me. And I think, just prefer it more than me. I love writing songs a lot, and I love production ideas and making something sound perfect, but I don’t like being behind a computer. I’m just not very good at it.

I think in terms of it changing, they’re better at finishing songs now. I use it just to start them. And then other people finish them.”

The way Headon speaks about music is very produce and songwriter focused. He’s not too concerned with how the sound is made, or what makes it, just that it sounds good. I ask if he sees himself as a producer or songwriter.

“It’s a good question. I think to be… can I produce? Yes. Am I a producer? Uh…”

Thomas seems unsure here, laughing.

“… No. But y’know, I would like to give myself some credit that if I did need to finish a song, I think I could do it.”

We pivot a little here, talking about how the role of producer, engineer and artists has become blurred. Rick Rubin is a prime example, he’s a taste maker and he helps shape and encourage the recording process to happen – despite not having much hand in engineering or writing per se.

“Well yeah, you’re right. You mention Rick Rubin, but I think a lot of people don’t realise, the average person doesn’t know, the bigger up in the studios you go, the engineer is doing a lot of the producing, and then there’s someone big there who’s doing all the ideas.”

Not all of us can speak to working in big studios, but it makes sense. Engineering was traditionally a technical job, while producing was creative or a project manager-type role. I ask how working in bigger spaces with more people has affected his output.

“I think, it depends, because sometimes there’s a writer in a room and a producer now. So I think, while I’m writing with the writer, sometimes the producer will start doing something and the best thing is I don’t really need to worry about it yet, and then we’ll revisit it afterwards.

But I think it’s just choice of sounds and whatnot, I think I used to be super worried, and like, if someone played a kick drum I’d be like ‘no it’s not right.’ before hearing it within an actual kit. And I think it’s a good thing now, that I can confidently be like ‘I can’t hear it within what it is yet. So carry on, go ahead.’

Because sometimes you get to somewhere that you originally didn’t get to, and then also sometimes you don’t and you end up changing the kick anyway. So, I don’t know, I think it’s giving freedom away, but it’s on a good level.”

We speak about the dichotomy of allowing skilled people in to the creative process to help, but it can be a battle to let them have any control in the making process.

“Totally. But that’s such a battle for a lot of artists I think that, bless them, a lot of new artists don’t realise it’s a battle yet. I think it is trusting, ‘cause I’ve got friends of mine that I know still do that, which there’s nothing wrong with, instantly being like ‘that’s the wrong kick.’ But, y’know, in my opinion just let whoever you trust just do their thing for a minute. And if it’s wrong, if you trust each other, then you can change it.”

Thomas laughs himself here. “[But] yeah, they’re in the room for a reason.”

Making the music is one thing, but what is Thomas Headon’s music? There’s dreamy moments, but he often has a guitar slung across his shoulder. There’s a natural rocky vibe to a lot of his releases, but the melodies get stuck in your head like a pop song.

“Good question. I don’t really know, I’m not afraid of the word ‘pop’. I was just speaking to my friend Alfie Templeman about this. I love pop music. I love so much pop music and I’m not afraid of pop music at all, or being called that. But at the same time, like I definitely have rock songs, but then I think I’ve got indie songs.

I think it’s such a music thing in general these days, we’re not— because of social media and how quick everything moves, I think no one is tied to a genre anymore. It is just ‘make music’ and the music will speak for itself, whatever that is.”

We pause for a moment to discuss how streaming services need to compartmentalise music in order for it to be easy to find for consumers, often drawing hard lnes between genres.

“Well that’s a really good point, cause I have songs on Rock playlists, and I’ve also got songs that are like ‘Summer Pop Hits’ and like ‘yeah, sure, whatever!’”

It’s interesting hearing Thomas speak about working in bigger studios, with more people at higher levels and him still remaining so focused on what serves the song, so I ask if he’s solely focused on the song or if there’s any equipment that he feels contribute to the ultimate result.

“I would say that, but I think I definitely, I prefer—” Thomas pauses here to grab a bulky condenser from his desk right beside him.

“This is the Aston Spirit. I’m obsessed with that mic, to a level that the studio I actually in a lot with my best friend-slash-producer Steven, they’ve got like a— one of those stupidly expensive Neumann mics?”

As soon as he says ‘stupidly expensive’, my mind goes to a Neumann U47.

“That. That’s the one. Yeah, and I just, we’ve used it on a lot of stuff but since having this one, I said to him ‘I’m just gonna bring this. But other than that, I mean there’s guitars I prefer playing, I’m a Tele guy. Strats, they work for me, but I play Tele’s live, and I think I probably will continue to.”

We agree that Telecasters are versatile, able to give a few different sounds. They’re workhorses.

“I agree. Yeah, I think I also prefer the look and feel, I just— yeah. I can’t give you details, I just prefer Teles I think. But yeah I think other than that, mainly yeah, in the session I focus a lot more on the songwriting than what we’re running through.”

Thomas Headon Telecaster

Shifting to Headon’s live show, I ask how his live performances look compared to studio productions.

“We’ve actually just changed MDs (musical director). So that’s been a super fun process that we’ve basically got to restart. Um, more so just structure wise, of like ‘well, there’s a guitar solo there, and it’s sick. And there’s just cymbals going, so it should be longer.’ All that kind of stuff.

But y’know, we’ve actually just got a playback rig. I don’t have any of the gear here that I can show you. The playback rig is great, because I mean, it’s got live tuning on it and whatnot as well, which is great because as well as being a helpful thing without the audience knowing, even using it creatively, like two or three songs in the set now have it like, turned up to shit, it’s just really fun. So um, y’know, doing that kind of shit.

The details of it, I don’t do, but I sat, Carly my new MD, we just sat in a room together for the whole day, went through songs, went through what we could make longer, shorter.

Probably a couple months ago now, but that was so much fun, just ‘cause I love doing that kind of stuff… [and] yeah, I’ve got a guitarist/bassist and a drummer.”

This feels like a natural conclusion, having covered Headon’s beginnings through to producing at studios of increasing prestige, involving bigger teams before eventually performing those songs for his rapidly growing fanbase.

“Lovely, alright. Nice to meet you, thanks for the great questions. I’ve never been asked these before.”

Keep up with Thomas Headon here.