Exclusive interview with The Fontana Instincts


Music is always a hot subject of debate in the D4 studio, we love it in all its colourful manifestations and particularly love to hear it played well live. Luckily as we all live in Sheffield, we’re rather spoiled for choice, which is no bad thing at all. Back in March we all went for a relaxing Friday after-work Ale at the Cremorne on London Road and it was here that we first saw the fantastic Fontana Instincts.

These guys literally blew us away with definitely the best performance I’ve seen in years. Passion, energy, creativity and unwavering talent define these guys and their sound is wonderfully rustic yet tightly composed. The band comprised of Tom Campbell, Magdalena Komorowska, Jim Widdop and Tom Kitchen have just yesterday released their debut album ‘Carousel’ and Tom Campbell kindly agreed to be interviewed by D4. So without further ramble here it is.

How did it all start for Fontana Instincts?
I was playing on my own, in-between bands doing the singer songwriter thing when I met Jim. He was playing dobro and pedal steel around town with a few different bands, he said he’d seen me doing my thing and said we should jam, which we did. He joined me for a few gigs here and there and after 6 months or so we recorded an E.P, but we didn’t really like it so we didn’t put it out. But it did lead to an invitation from these guys in Birmingham to go and record with them in their studio. We met Kitch at a gig at the Rockhouse in Derby, he’d just left Lost Alone and he wanted to play drums instead of bass. Kitch is such a great drummer so we were really lucky that it was easy as that. He struck up a really good relationship with Jim and those two can jam for hours! Another mate of ours Luke Wynne said he could play bass for a few gigs and do the recording with us, but that was all, but it was all we really needed anyway so we went in and met Brian (Nordhoff) and Rob (Ciarosti) at their studio just outside Moseley and did 4 songs in one 16 hour session, which was a bit mental but we came out with 4 really good takes. It was quite an intense recording session but we really got on with them, they both knew exactly what we were trying to do and they really liked it, they really are amazing people to work with. The only problem was that I’d already planned to go to Australia to do the backpacking thing, so everything kind of happened at the wrong time, and I just had to drop it and go away. About a week after I got there Brian sent me an email saying he loved the songs and I should definitely think about getting an album together and if it were ever going to happen, they would love to record it. After that it was all I could really think about, I’d taken my guitar with me so I was writing and busking as I went along and by the time I got back Summer 2010, we were eager to carry on.

Kitch had put me in touch with Mags a few weeks before I flew back to England, he’d heard about a Polish girl who played bass and had recently moved to Nottingham and was looking for a band to join. We all met up for the first time a week or so after I’d got back, we went for a few drinks and then went for a jam and had a great time. Mags was instantly brilliant, and that was the line up complete. We played our first gig about two weeks later, and then played as much as we could for about 4 months so we could go and record an album in Birmingham. We spent a fair amount time there last year and Brian and Rob were inspirational, it was a great experience. They taught us loads and we’ve made something we are really proud of, we’ve put lots into it and finally we are putting it out there.

Can you describe how your creative process works?
I’ve written the songs so far but this year we’ve started to work on ideas that have come from all four of us, especially Jim. Jim’s written some great songs and has come up with quite a few ideas so I’m looking forward to sharing songwriting duties and pairing up more. Writing collectively has automatically created a sort of space for us where anything’s possible. We’re spending the summer in our rehearsal room as much as possible and coming up with as many new songs as we can, now that this album is out we are already thinking of the next one, and this autumn when we play gigs in support of this album, it will be nice have something a bit different to play too.

Before making this album Kitch was the only one out of the four of us that had actually spent that much time in a studio, so for me, Jim and Mags it was a huge experience, and as a songwriter you learn how much more you can do with your songs when it comes to arrangements and stuff. I was heavily involved in the production and I had to make decisions when things didn’t sound right, or if something didn’t work.

Your songs tend to get scrutinised and stripped bare when you’re recording them and you can reveal something that all of a sudden changes the song a bit, and you have to change things to make it work right at the last minute.

What inspires you to write the music?
I think it’s just other songwriters, when I was young and I first got into music I wanted to be the people that I looked up to the most. It was footballers to begin with and I wanted to be Peter Beagrie who used to be my hero at Stoke, and then Paul Gascoigne etc, but when Oasis released Definitely Maybe and Whats the Story and they were on that roll, the thing that amazed me most was that it was really all because of one guy. As a band they sounded massive, I know one person can’t achieve that on their own, but the fact it started as one person, and was then arranged, and produced in a studio to become a great album, blew me away more than any player, game or goal than I’d ever seen.

And that’s still the case, obviously I listen to loads more than just old Oasis records, but because of the way songs communicate to me they make me feel like I have learnt a completely different language, and you want to be able to talk back, and be able to join in and share some of your own ideas. I can’t actually speak any other languages but I’m pretty sure this will be the closest I will get.

The other appeal with song writing for me is when you need to get something off my chest or I want to say something or just create something the only way I know how, whether it’s a stupid song or serious song, it feels good and it can be quite therapeutic, it’s one way of exorcising the demons. It can also have you pulling your hair out and leave you banging your head against a wall because you can’t put it to bed, but whether it gets played on the radio or it stays within the pages of a notebook, it’s still a piece of art, that can be satisfying enough.

Some people find it weird that somebody would want to write a song or paint a picture, for some people the thought of expressing themselves terrifies them, people don’t engage in things because they are afraid that they won’t understand it and I don’t want to be like that. There is no right or wrong, it’s whatever it means to you, and that’s what I love about writing songs and listening to music.

Who and what influences you musically/creatively?
There’s far too many to mention them all, there’s loads, old and new, it changes over the years but the old ones never really go away. I’m a huge fan of Dylan, Neil Young, The Beatles, Noel Gallagher, Ryan Adams, Tom Waits, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Elbow, Radiohead, Primal Scream, The Doves, Arcade Fire, but I love so much that I can’t list them all, and they all play a part in influencing me somehow, any genre or style whether its reggae, ska, country or blues. Music is amazing, why listen to just one genre when you can listen to them all.

Brian & Rob hadn’t really recorded a band like us before and that was a challenge for them, but perfect for us. Their background is mainly dub, reggae, trip-hop, but they are really open-minded, we all had a similar outlook and that’s why it was brilliant collaboration, it created an amazing vibe and a great atmosphere to work in.

Do these influences manifest in your sound?
Yeah the music that I love influences the songs that I write, and then the music the other three like will influence how they approach the songs. When I was a teenager it was all indie and rock music, but you start to work your way backwards and when I got into the Jam and Paul Weller it really got me in to soul and Motown, and that is where I started to develop more as a singer. A few years later when I had no band and I was writing more solo artist sort of material, I was listening a lot to Ryan Adams and Dylan, and that got me more into Gram Parsons and Country, Americana music, and although it started to altered how I was writing the music quite a lot, I felt like I was developing something that still had those older influences hidden in their somewhere. I feel the progression and the way these things changed over time led me to where I am now doing what I’m doing with The Fontana Instincts.

Brian the producer really picked up on all of them, he could hear it in the songs. I think some people have been surprised with the album because to begin with they were expecting something more rootsy, maybe more raw and stripped down, but it’s quite a big sounding album at times, and you can’t say that it sounds like this genre or that genre.

Would you say that Fontana Instincts work within a particular musical genre or is this something that you don’t necessarily subscribe to?
No not at all, I wouldn’t even know how you do that. We’ve each had our own adventures before this, and whatever’s shaped us before, musically, has come together in this sort of melting pot that is our band. It’s the timing of it all, it’s unpredictable but it just sort of makes sense right here right now.

How would you define your sound?
It’s got an alternative, Americana thing going on, there’s blues rock stuff and there’s country folk bits in there. I think we would like to be even harder to define, but we have to release more records first to do that. Primal Scream are really hard to define, musically they have covered a lot of ground and I think that’s why I love them so much.

Is playing live what makes it for you and how would you describe the experience of playing live?
I think the reason you keep going is mostly because of those special gigs, where you know it’s one of your best, everything clicks on stage and you can sense it in the audience, like they completely know what’s going on, and what it’s about.

You hope you get a good enough sound guy, or at least someone who gives a shit, and because of the fact its unpredictable and as we all know anything can happen, it adds to the adrenaline and you buzz of it before you go because you don’t know what to expect.

Once you get a taste for it you want more, it’s very addictive and probably why they say rock n roll is bad for your health.

Do you have a favourite venue to play at and why?
There’s an Irish bar in Derby called Ryan’s Bar, and its sort of have been our local for a few years. I love it, not just for gigs but for open mic nights too, there’s a great community of musicians that play in there, sometimes twice a week and it creates an amazing atmosphere. Derby doesn’t have very much to offer but I doubt there’s many places in this country that have what they have in there on some of those nights.

It does feel special. We put on a gig there in March and it was the first we’d done in a while, and it was probably one of the best gigs we’ve ever played, it was amazing.

Whats the weirdest thing that’s happened at a gig?
We played a gig at The Wetmore Whistle in Burton last year and Jim cracked his head really hard on this low door frame a few minutes before we went on stage, and it delayed us going on because he was in a bit of a mess and he had blood everywhere. We sorted him out and he said he felt okay and so we went on stage and I kept my eye on him throughout the gig and he was swaying around a bit, but he had this big grin on his face like he was completely punch drunk, and he played an absolute blinder! Southbank was really full on and psychedelic like he was tripping out, but he loved it, it was a great gig and of course he made a full recovery. Maybe not as weird as you were hoping for, I don’t think we’re at a level where anything that weird happens yet.

What advice would you give a band newly starting up?
My advice is wasted on you lot because you live in Sheffield, what could I possibly tell you that you don’t already know! If your not from Sheffield then my advice is go there! People in Sheffield love music, they really embrace the inner city culture, I love playing in Sheffield more than anywhere else in the country, one because theres always at least one brilliant band on the bill, and two because the people really appreciate what your trying to do. They are very open and it’s just a really amazing place with so much character. We feel lost or out of place at times but never in Sheffield and that gives us belief that its all worth it.

Your website is now launched. Will this add another dimension to the Fontana Instincts experience?
The website is up and running, there’s a few more bits we would like to add but it’s looking good. It’s good to finally have our own site instead of relying on social media all the time. We still use facebook and twitter but www.fontanainstincts.com is home!

And your Album was released yesterday!
Yes our debut album Carousel is available now on CD, and it’s available to download on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon. We are an unsigned band still so it means we have to do all the distribution ourselves and keep trying to book gigs to spread the word so there’s no time to stop!

Where’s the next show at?
Tramlines of course! We’re really looking forward to it, it’s a brilliant event and to be a part of it will be an honour. We are playing the Green Room on the Saturday, it’s going to be ace I can’t wait! See you there! x

If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Fontana Instincts Debut Album ‘Carousel’ then swing over to www.fontanainstincts.com and order a copy. Alternative it is available for download from itunes and Amazon.

Andy Richards
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