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Talking Shop: Teddy Thompson

Teddy Thompson
Teddy Thompson is working with producer Marius de Vrues

With his fourth album, A Piece of What You Need, British musician Teddy Thompson has been attracting plenty of attention.

The son of 70s folk-rock stars Richard and Linda Thompson, he and his singer sister Kamila were brought up by their mother.

Thompson moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18, where he played alongside his father. He now lives in New York City.

He is currently on tour, supporting fellow British star James Blunt.


Was it inevitable that you would follow in your parents' footsteps?

Our parents never sat around the house playing music or composing. They divorced when I was only seven and we went to live with my mum at a time when she wasn't making music any more.

She remarried a businessman and our childhood was very normal. My mum exposed us to good music, but we didn't have what you'd call a musical upbringing.

Do you believe in the power of genes?

I think I do, but it's a combination of nature and nurture. Any talent has to be fostered. There are many children who have some talent in music who aren't brought up in an environment where it's encouraged and it just goes away.

When did you start writing songs?

I wrote my first song when I was in a band at school - I was probably 15. It wasn't much of a song - just a white Blues rip-off. We liked Cream, and 60s and 70s stuff because we hadn't heard the originals yet! I didn't write anything worthwhile until I was 18 or 19.

Until now people haven't known where to categorise you. Pop? Country? Folk rock?

It's been a bit of a problem, I suppose, career-wise - but that's probably a good thing. I didn't come out fully formed in one style, and I've never felt the need to aim for a style and stick with it.

The big mainstream music business needs to compartmentalise people to get hits. But musicians worth their salt make their own decisions.

Writing is private, but performing is very public. So are there two Teddy Thompsons for each skill?

Not everybody enjoys doing both. When I get ready to perform and put on a different shirt and my performing boots in the dressing-room, I start to put on that performer persona. The lights go up and it's that showbiz thing and something kicks in. You either have it or you don't - and I enjoy it.

Where and how do you write?

I play the guitar every day. I do a lot of 'passive' playing - with the guitar on my lap as I'm doing other things. I tend to have little ideas and a tune just from sitting there and messing about - often with a bit of a lyric.

Then, for me, the next stage is very different. It's when you have to sit down and do the work, and I prefer doing that away from home. I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms where I find I can set myself up at a writing desk and try to flesh out my ideas.

You've hit a new level of success with the fourth album. Is that all just great?

No - it's too complicated just to enjoy it, unfortunately. I think you would if it happened very early in your career and you'd go, "This is great! I'm everywhere! Life's fun! Isn't the music business easy?"

I've experienced not being played on the radio and not doing well, and struggling. And I still am. It takes a long time to see benefits, financial or otherwise. I feel like I've put in some of the groundwork for this.

You're working with a new producer, Marius de Vries, whose style is very pop. So who decided you should have a new direction?

It was my decision. Actually, Marius was the first producer I called to make my first record eight years ago, but it didn't work out.

My career took a different path for a while. It's not as if I woke up one day and abandoned everything I stood for before. I didn't change the way I wrote the songs, and for the most part they were all but done before Marius got involved.

Some of your songs feel very from the heart. Slippery Slope has the lyrics: "Look at me/Fully grown/Look at me/Still alone". Do you hesitate to get that confessional?

I hope it does feel straight from the heart, otherwise what's the point in doing it? There's really no point in making music - or doing anything creative - if you can't do it honestly, and truthfully, and from the heart. That's the only way it's going to be interesting and effective to anybody.

I can't say Slippery Slope and the single In My Arms are the same type of song, but I can say they're both truthful and that's what I strive for.

In another lyric you write: "New York is loud/It's wonderfully loud". Is that why you live there?

It's alive and loud and busy all the time, and you can get whatever you want any time of day or night. New York is really the ultimate city. I don't know where I can go from there.

What's next?

I've just recorded a Christmas song in the sunshine of LA. A sort of Capitol Records - Frank Sinatra Christmas song. Although it's kind of reggae, to be honest.




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