def.fo’s debut album, Eternity, is glued to Del Pike’s turntable. Del tracks down Tom Powell to find out how this banging new album was created and how it fits into Liverpool’s musical legacy.
Once in a while, an album comes along where every track is a banger. No matter how hard you try, you can’t help but flip it over again as soon as it finishes. Eternity, the debut long player by def.fo (aka Tom Powell), is such a record.
Released at the end of last year, this is an album that, whilst fresh and original, also feels like a retrospective of some of the best Liverpool music of the past 30-odd years. Unsurprising, as the record is produced by Tom’s Dad, Steve Powell. The elder Powell has worked as either producer or guitarist (or both) with the great and good of the Scouse music scene. The list includes Michael Head, Cast, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Farm, The Stairs, Space, Rain, and Oceanic. Tom is in good hands and the pristine production work on the album certainly makes it feel a million miles away from a debut offering.
Tom himself is currently bassist for Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band. That band’s most recent album, Dear Scott, topped many annual album reviews at the close of 2022. New material is on the way.
The influences of working with the Liverpool legend are clear, and the tracks “Dreamers” and “The Healing Fields” feature Head on dual vocals. The latter sounds curiously like “Hocken’s Hey” from Mick’s 1998 Magical World of The Strands album. That album also happened to feature… Steve Powell. It goes round in circles, and “Circles” is also a standout track from Tom’s album, see what I mean.
Belle and Sebastiane’s Chris Geddes, also guests on keys.
As Eternity has not left my turntable in all its glowing yellow vinyl, ten-track glory, I was particularly excited to chat with Tom. I wanted to find out more about this hidden gem of a record that is screaming out for more exposure, and Tom was only too happy to oblige.
I start by relaying how addictive the album is, to which Tom takes that praise gladly.
Tom Powell: “There’s a lot of different styles on there, so it could’ve quite easily not worked, but I feel like I like to take risks and do things quite differently. Going back to the start of the recording of it, I was aiming for about 21, but there was probably about 25 that I’d recorded. It was a lot of material, and I drove my Dad absolutely fuckin’ nuts with it. He’d come in, and I’d be like, ‘I’ve written another one,’ and he’s like, ‘You better stop doing this.’”
The album is the first part of a three-album project that should take Tom into the middle of 2025. But is it a concept album?
“Originally, it was going to be a 21-track concept album initially, and I was adamant. Everyone around me was saying ‘You’re making a mistake.” And I was like ‘ahhh, I want to do something different.’ Then, literally, at the last minute, I changed what I was going to do. I got new artwork and a new title, so the actual concept album it was going to be will be out in the autumn.”
I ask what remnants of that concept remain in Eternity.
“The original concept idea for what was going to be the first album is that of a dystopian utopia (dystopia?). So it was meant to be about human beings originating from Mars, they absolutely ruined the planet they were on, the Utopia that was flourishing with flora and fauna, so they have to move over to another planet which is Earth. So that’s now going to be album two. But I don’t want to give much more away. So I took some songs that I thought didn’t really fit the concept, and that would work on another album. One track that stood out for me was ‘Eternity,’ just that one word that would make a good title track.”
The album cover is an original idea based on trip-hoppy graffiti imagery. Tom tells me how that came about.
“The idea of the artwork is, it’s a figure 8 (across a gatefold) that’s built into a wall, the eternity figure being an 8 on its side kind of thing, and there’s a character trying to break through to the other side where there is a utopia, trying to get away from the bad. And in a nutshell it is saying get rid of the bad and let the good in. There are bits of graffiti on the artwork because I kind of like that trip-hop style and graffiti.”
We talk about the feel of the album that I read as optimistic, Tom reasons…
“Hopefully, man, there’s still stuff that sounds moody on there, like in the bass, but hopefully it’s more like psychedelic, positive. I think that’s the running theme, you know, in terms of theme. I think psychedelic is the one.”
I bring up the idea that there is a distinct Liverpool sound to the album, particularly for me, the lost ’90s wonders Top, and of course, the many incarnations of Michael Head. I put it to Tom that it’s like a potted history of Liverpool music but with his own spin on it.
“Yeah, there’s always gonna be a nod to that. But there’s even things that I’ve not listened loads to, but people put stuff in front of me. Like some have said I sound like The Boo Radleys, and they put me onto it. I’ve not really heard it before my record was released, but I listened to it, and it’s like, ’That sound, it’s really good.’ It’s a good way of discovering music. Put a record out and then people go, ‘Are‘ you onto this?’”
Discussing the influence of Dad, Steve states…
“Oh, for sure, yeah, there was always stuff coming through the house. I remember from a really, really young age, whatever he was working on was always getting played, and you absorb that kind of stuff. I wanted to do music for as long as I can remember. Even in the street, I grew up in Old Swan (suburb of Liverpool), with some of the neighbours kids, we’d just play the guitar, like sit on the doorstep and busk – just absolute nonsense. And around then I used to just love the first two Space albums. I was trying to write songs like Space when I was about 7 or something. I was obsessed with them at the time and I still really like their albums.”
We talk about how blessed we are to come from a city like Liverpool that has such a rich musical heritage.
“But even Manchester you know, it has some boss stuff, just the Northwest, there’s something to it in the fact that the music has travelled all over the world. Like the biggest bands in the world, The Beatles or Oasis or whatever, two of the biggest bands to ever exist, and they come from opposite ends of the M62. From a small little pinprick on the globe, it’s pretty impressive innit?”
Tom enthuses quite heavily about how he wants to make great quality music “not rubbish” but is also excited by other mediums such as film, animations, and video. He intends to make a short film to accompany every song he releases on these albums and already has produced quite a few.
“These are all concepts I’ve come up with and helped with the direction. For the debut single, ‘Play it Cool,’ we had a great time with that. We ended up hiring an old Cadillac Convertible, because initially I wanted a nod to True Romance, one of my favourite films. I was going to get a different car, nowhere near as good. I couldn’t find a pink convertible and it’s all self-financed. I’d found a Stag Triumph online, but he pulled out last minute.
“My Missus says, ‘I saw a pink Cadillac Convertible on the route from our house to town.’ We found it and I thought, that’s perfect. I left a note and didn’t hear back, and we had like a week to the shoot. We had the cast and crew, the props and costumes, but I’m missing this car. Then I got a text saying, ‘I don’t normally do this but it sounds interesting.’ He was dead sound, the fella, and we got chatting about music and stuff and it turns out he was a relative of Phil and Danny from The Red Elastic Band (laughs). It is such a small world and it just shows you, sometimes, it’s like the universe is speaking to you.
“But that video was a great day, we did it in a garage in Halewood (another Liverpool suburb). The fella and his wife were brilliant and let us shut it for the day. We started at 7 am and finished at 11 at night but it was absolutely brilliant doing it.”
We talk a little about the multimedia aspect of the project and def.fo is keen to be in control of that.
“Whether it’s the artwork, the lyrics, the music or the video, social media, however you portray yourself – it’s all part of a package. And I don’t want to say it’s how you market yourself. Marketing is like business talk, music is business, but it’s one part of my life I want to keep as passion and love. Music is my release, it’s not my day job. It’s never been about the money, I’ve never played a note for the money.”
That passion does translate into the album, and Tom is happy about the response that it has had.
“One thing I’d like to mention that’s important is, lots of people have been sharing pictures and lyrics online. It’s not gone unnoticed from me. It means a lot to me.”
We chat a bit about Tom’s role in the Red Elastic Band.
“I’m the bass player in the band; I love being involved. Mick is boss – sound and funny, just a mega-talented songwriter and musician as well.”
We talk about the recent fantastic Mick gig at Knowsley Music Festival before Christmas that I was lucky enough to attend, and how great the new material sounded that was being debuted that night.
“It’s an exciting time with the new stuff; every time Mick says he’s got a new idea, we all get really excited. Because I’m a big fan, first and foremost, regardless of being in the band, it’s such a buzz.”
With family, life on the road with Michael Head and the recording of the next two albums, Tom has no plans to go live with his own material soon. He wants to wait until the three albums are out there so he can curate a perfect setlist.
“I just want to make as much music as possible, and if people enjoy it, then I just get a massive kick and a buzz out of that.”
Eternity by def.fo is out now and is well worth a listen. If you like it, let him know, he really does appreciate it.
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