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By: Phil Johnston
Thomas Ragsdale is pretty prolific. Not content releasing music with Gavin Miller as worriedaboutsatan/Ghosting Season, he has a string of releases as Winter Son and now his second full solo soundtrack album Bait is imminent. Phil Johnston had a chat about his relentless release schedule and much more.
(((o))): Hi Thomas, can you give us an insight into when you first started to play music and what your main influence was to do so?
Thomas: I go waaaaaaayyyyyyy back with music making. I started to mess around with guitars when I was 11 or 12, just playing anything my dad would show me. I heard him playing ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ once and wanted to learn that straight away! He’s really into the 60s/70s side of blues and he used to play Terry Reid, Black Cat Bones and Leaf Hound a lot, and eventually I got good enough to noodle over the solos with him. Then I took the natural progression into the most ridiculous nu metal phase known to man and learned every System Of A Down and Limp Bizkit riff after I got my own Fender Strat and 30watt amp. I still know loads of those tracks to this day.
(((o))): You seem to have a varied and wide taste in music which often is apparent in your various musical projects. What shaped your taste and is there anything new musically you would still like to try?
Thomas: I REALLY like inheriting other people’s music collections and I love delving into styles of music I’ve never encountered before! If I know of someone who’s giving away a box of old records/CDs/tapes then I’ll go straight over to their house and take the lot. Me and Gavin (from worriedaboutsatan) did that once to a DJ called Alex Smoke. On Twitter he said he wanted rid of about 1000 12” promos so we drove to London and literally filled my car with vinyl. I get most of my music from other people, but sometimes I’ll just buy something completely random and see how I get on. I’d definitely like to do a new wavey punk band before I die, something like Black Flag…. with drum machines (maybe). But I’ve done a lot of styles in the past, a lot more than I advertise. I pop up in some strange places with different projects, and I’ve even ghost written for a few artists.
(((o))): Barely a week goes past without a new solo venture from yourself being announced (or so it seems). Can you give us a round up of what you’ve been up to?
Thomas: Well, this may take a while! I have a lot of Winter Son music ready that’ll be coming this and next year, and that’s all quite big sounding techno. There’s plenty of worriedaboutsatan music being made at the moment, we’re deep into another album, which is sounding HUGE. There might even be a Ghosting Season EP or 2 at some point as we’ve done a load of tracks with that project. Ooo, and I’m just about to finish the follow up to Bait, which isn’t even released yet (at this time of writing), but I starting messing around on the guitar and ended up with an EP. I tend to get bored a lot.
(((o))): As well as exploring darker techno based music as Winter Son, you have scored two films (Before Dawn and Bait), as well as a short ‘Shell Shocked’. These have been directed by Dominic Brunt (better known to soap fans as Emmerdale’s Paddy). How did you get involved with these projects?
Thomas: We’ve known each other for a good few years, which is really strange as he’s literally Paddy from Emmerdale! I used to work on the show in the scripts department and my job was sorting out cast scripts and speaking to them about changes in the story. We just got speaking about zombie films, extreme gore and techno and then before I knew it I was doing my first film score! I have a habit of jumping into projects I’m probably completely out of my depth with, and scoring a film was no exception. We had a great time doing it and we both learned so much about fast food and what it feels like listening to insane sub bass at 3am.
(((o))): Is the approach to scoring much different to how you usually work and is it something you would continue in the future?
Thomas: It’s not that much different for me if I’m honest! I like to write all my music in the same way, in a live performance. We write all of the worriedaboutsatan music in these extended jam sessions that last hours on end! I’m not really interested in writing film music as an ‘underscore’, I want the music to exist in its own right. I HATE that nonsensical film score music that doesn’t seem to add anything other than an under bed to the film. What’s the point in it?! I’ll definitely do more films though, I love doing it. It’s super intense work. I write a lot of music for TV as my ‘day job’, so film music kind of fits nicely into my weekends.
(((o))): Bait feels very much a fully fleshed out album, rather than a collection of short clips directly lifted from the film. Did you go back and expand what you submitted for the film or was it always like this and pieces lifted to fit certain scenes.
Thomas: Ah yeah, the film ended up having about 25 different pieces in it, all of them quite short. It didn’t really flow as an album when I listened back to it, so I set about developing certain elements and cutting back on bits that I felt only fit the film. Gavin, who also run the label, said he wanted the album to be around 13 tracks at the most, so I had quite a brutal purge of the happy sounding music and tracks that were way too brutal!
(((o))): Although I’m not just as dedicated anymore I’ve always been a huge fan of Horror and Sci-fi movies. Is there any film you would love to have scored, or get the chance to re-score.
Thomas: I watched It Follows recently and I would’ve loved an attempt at that! One of my favourite films is Wait Until Dark and I had some amazing ideas about how to make it even more terrifying. Audrey Hepburn plays a blind lady who accidentally gets handed a doll full of drugs. The gang who want the doll have to convince her to let them into her house without letting her know their intentions. There’s this one INCREDIBLE scene where she’s alone in the middle of the kitchen and the light flickers on and off as one of the gang edges closer and closer to her. It’s BRUTAL.
(((o))): Without giving anything away what can we expect from the film Bait, as listening to the score gives me the impression its not going to be a rom-com.
Thomas: Oh God, it’s very violent, definitely not for the faint hearted. Seriously. It’s a really tense story and I think its edge comes from having two very strong female leads who do a fair bit of hand-to-hand combat. It’s filmed in north Lancashire too, so it has a very warm hearty atmosphere to it! But yeah, only see it if you can handle serious gore! When I was writing the score I spent around 16 hours a day working on it for a week and mid way through I had a terrifying experience. I took a break one night at 10pm and walked onto my balcony with a cup of tea and became massively paranoid that the nasty debt collector in the film was going to appear and throw me over!
(((o))): Aside from the music, you put a great deal of detail and effort into the packaging. Why do you feel this is important?
Thomas: There was a point when I thought music was becoming very stale in how it was presented and it always bugged me how little thought artists were giving to packaging (or even having an actual physical product). I’m definitely a person who likes having ‘things’, I don’t want empty shelves in my house filled with an iPad and a Kindle! I like having things to touch, look at and I kind of want people to feel the same about a music product as they would a photo or a book. You don’t have to store music away with all your CDs and records, you can have it with your ornaments! I love making all my packaging too, it’s a big part of the process from writing the music right through to putting it in the envelope and sending it off. It’s a shame that people are perfectly fine with just an mp3, there’s so much more you can do for very little money! It just takes a little time to put it all together. The packaging for Bait goes hand in hand with the music and the film, but it also exists as something you can put on display.
(((o))): A casual glance at your Instagram or Twitter will reveal a possible gear collecting addiction. Can you give us an insight into what your set up is like and how it changes depending on studio/live/satan/WS/scoring?
Thomas: Oh wow, there’s a lot of equipment here! And it’s definitely growing. My girlfriend said recently ‘what are you going to do when you’ve ran out of room across the walls?’ and I replied with ‘I’ll just start a new layer, coming in on the room!’. The room is getting smaller and smaller as it’s coming in on itself. It’s not really a ‘collection’ I have though, as I use everything I have. I’m not the kind of person who buys it and stores it away (I know people who do this). Everything is plugged in and ready to go in the studio. I have my computer in the middle of the room and to the left I have guitars and acoustic instruments and to the right I have synths, drum machines and electronic noise making boxes. I tend to use everything for all my projects, but using them in different ways and combinations. For worriedaboutsatan we’re very live in the studio, so we tend to use things that are a lot of fun to play with, but for scoring I’m more interested in making textures sometimes, so I’ll spend more time at the computer manipulating and designing sounds. My main focus is to have fun though when I’m writing music.
(((o))): Also do you need any help with your inability to walk past a music shop without buying something, or is it under control?
Thomas: Ah, it’s totally under control at the moment (I say this as I’m strapped to a chair, not allowed to go out with my wallet). Haha, to be honest Gumtree and eBay are he main ones. I’ve got some brilliant stuff from Gumtree. One of my most used synths was from a guy who was having a clear out and his wife was forcing him to sell his old equipment. I just offered him £50 for this old case and it turned out to be a beaut.
(((o))): As well as collecting an array of instruments, you seem to waste no time putting them to use. Are you always writing or in a creative mood, or do you set time aside for it.
Thomas: I can do it all day any day! One thing I do sometimes struggle with is how to go from jam session to finished track. I think that’s one of the biggest problems musicians have. I can easily get a nice little groove going with some chords and a bassline, but I HATE finishing a piece of music. A lot of people swear that you should write music quickly to keep the vibe tight and not to go off on tangents, but I’m the opposite. I think you should spend time going through sounds and playing, it’s how you enjoy music. It does get to the point where you realise that it’s time to commit to an idea and make an actual track though! Spending 3 days on a bassline isn’t healthy!
(((o))): Although it’s already been a busy year for you, what do you have lined up for the rest of the year (that you can share with us)?
Thomas: I have Bait coming at the end of August, and I’m just putting together my live show for it. I’ve got my first gig booked in supporting Her Name Is Calla too, so I’m really excited to do that. I’ve got plenty of Winter Son music coming too with a lot of different styles, and there’s a new worriedaboutsatan album well in the works! Who knows what else too, it totally depends how I wake up with what I’ll work on!
(((o))): Thanks for taking time out to talk to us, is there anything you’d like to add?
Thomas: Thanks for having me! Fun fact – when ITV programmes go off air at around 3am-6am every night and they play those adverts with what’s coming on TV that week – I write the music for that.
The soundtrack to Bait will be released via This is It Forever on August 31st. The film will see a DVD release in September following screenings at Film 4 Frightfest in London.