Multi-instrumentalist and composer, Tommy Evans has more than a few projects he likes to keep spinning. Submotion Orchestra is just one of them, since beginning in 2009. They played at the Trinity in Bristol last year, and will be headlining this year’s New Year’s Eve party at Colston Hall.
Between composing and playing drums for dub step group Gentleman’s Dub Club, leading his own 14-piece orchestra, and writing music with jazz band IDST, Tommy appreciates the versatility of his varied musical career, and especially that of Submotion Orchestra:
“The beauty of SubMo is that it’s a very open platform to record music – it’s so varied. There are so many different kinds of music that we are all influenced by. The real challenge for us is to narrow the parameters when composing – it’s so easy to get taken in different directions. It’s a really fun project to write for because there are so many things you can bring to it.” Explains Tommy.
With four full length LPs and a stream of EPs too, Submotion Orchestra are seasoned professionals, yet, despite their well-honed skills in both recording and live performance, Tommy insists that they have not succumbed to the routinised monotony that familiarity might bring:
“We haven’t found a formula at all. I feel like a complete amateur when I sit down to write a new tune. Over 200 tunes are sat on my hard drive gathering dust. I think it is a really positive thing – it’s fresh – if there was a formula it would just get boring. We’re still trying to find out who we are – every band has that to a certain extent. We’re progressive.” Tommy says.
“I feel like the music itself moves with the times – we don’t always follow trends – but grow as a band,
we grow in our own direction.”
It is their adaptability combined with their jazz sensibilities that makes for a spontaneous show, very much in-the-moment and intrinsically reflective of both their internal dynamics as well as the audience reactions:
“Because we’re all jazz musicians we try and make it as open as possible. There are a series of signposts through the course of the gig and there are various signposts within each tune. Within those frameworks, there is still quite a lot of flexibility and openness. Depending on the crowd, we’ll vary things quite a bit. We all feel quite comfortable with each other, so we’ll take a few risks – we’ve been playing these tunes for years now, so we’ve got to find a way of adapting things, keeping it fresh. That’s part of the joy of it. We do play varying venues, so we mix up our sets quite a lot. Quite a mixed bag – it’s nice to try different stuff.” Tommy explains.
With an energy that is both frenetic and soothing, Submotion Orchestra hold themselves together with vocalist Ruby providing the power behind their lyrics. She came to the band through an almost organic process – with her reputation preceding her and an informal jamming session, the collaboration evolved naturally.
“Ruby is an incredible vocalist. She is amazing, we are very lucky to have her. I’d love to collaborate with some of the acts on our label, Counter Records, too – also Roots Manuva…” Tommy adds.
“If you’re a musician you don’t have the luxury of being able to switch off. You’re always working: there’s always the next album to write, there’s always the next rehearsal or gig…”
For someone so completely immersed in his compositions, it was during university, when inspiration struck – and Tommy began involving himself in jazz projects, as well as turning towards dub and reggae. At this point, he decided to start up his own project, merging elements from all spheres, and this was when SubMotion Orchestra was born:
“I didn’t start to see myself as a musician until I was quite late in my teens. Music has always been very special to me – I’ve worked really hard at it. During uni I was doing loads of jazz stuff – setting up jazz projects, jazz nights – I was also playing a lot of dub and reggae. It was around this time I started thinking there would be an easy way of bringing these elements together.” Tommy explains.
As the prolific composer that he is, there is often not the downtime needed in order to gain perspective and reflect on the finished work, but when you make the time, it can be an inspiring process, as Tommy experienced:
“I listened to our first album the other day. I had never sat down and listened to it in its entirety. When you know every single beat, and every single story behind every lyric and every chord change, it’s quite hard to distance yourself from it. I’d waited six years between putting it out and listening to it. It’s an immersive process. It has to be. The best music, you just have to throw yourself into it.”
Despite his wealth of experience and affinity for creating original compositions, Tommy remains grounded, and open to the new challenges that are continually evolving:
“There is no formula, concept or structure – it’s just completely different every time. I almost wish there was a formula – but the fact that I don’t really know what I am doing, is probably quite good. It means that nothing sounds the same.”
Get yourself to Colston Hall this New Year’s Eve to see Tommy and the rest of Submotion Orchestra.