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Surfacepressure

Tommy Perman and I have been friends for a long time and he has one of the best time management approaches to work I know. This is quite handy for him as he always seems to have a few art or audio projects on the go at once. His art mainly takes what could be conceived as dull architecture and makes them into subtle magnificence. Even though he was recently described by Deeko Gervais as having “the lips of a young David Baddiel” is hasn’t seemed to effect his musical output with his band FOUND. Always busy, but we sat down for a minute or two and here is what was said.
Read on.

TSG :: Hi Tommy. We’ve known each other for near on decade now but how do you want to handle this? Strictly business or more informal?

Tommy :: Hello Euan. I think that this should be a mixture of the two. We’ve been drunk together more times then I could possible remember. Surely we can just recount some tales along the ‘What’s rang wi my eye?’ variety?

TSG :: I like that, thought it was going to be all EPMD Business Never Personal style. So, since the last time we were drunk what’s been going on? Even in reality right now I could just have at look at your laptop sat next to me.

Well you know, we’re both at one with nature so it’s become more and more difficult to separate man from machine. Since the last beverage together I’ve been away at Camp Bestival in Dorset with FOUND entertaining children in a field in the grounds of a Lulworth Castle. It was strange we were playing on the Insect Circus stage at 9.30 pm (at precisely the same time as The Flaming Lips took to the main stage – damn it!). The act before us was Howard Marx reading fairy tales to the kids – literally reading children their bed time story. This was partly because from 7 pm the Lord of Lulworth or whatever he’s called conducts his own religious ceremony in the caste every Saturday and he didn’t want festival soundsystems getting in the way.

TSG :: You read that as literally what you’ve been up to this weekend eh?
Still sounds good.
Right this interview could take forever writing back and forth like this. I’m switching it up with more than one question at a time, ready?

Yaz.

TSG :: Right, so I’m assuming all is good in both the arts and music world? Is either monopolizing the other or are you finding a happy balance?

I tend to work on a project by project basis. Some times it’s heavily tipped in one direction (mostly music or mostly art) and sometimes the project I’m working on will involve art and music in equal measures. I’m often happiest when my schedule is really full with a variety of projects as I find that they feed into each other.

TSG :: Does making the music help your art and vice versa or is it just good escapism?

I think the two activities do help each other out. I’ve often tried to combine the two pursuits with varying degrees of success. Trying to draw or paint a piece of music is a bit of a cliched/naff idea, but I’ve tried to adapt some of the processes involved in making music to making art. I’m particularly interested in the concept of remixing and I’ve done a fair few visual remix projects. Perhaps my favourite one was the poster remix project for FOUND’s Stop Look Listen exhibition. The original poster that I designed was made up purely of type, lines and logos. I made a vector version of the poster available on the site and asked people to download it and remix it. We got hundreds of extremely inventive entries – possibly my most successful collaborative project.

I also tried to translate music production techniques and musical structures into visual art with a project called Synchronicity that I did while on a residency in Eindhoven, Holland with my friend Roel Knappstein. We did some ‘visual sampling’ and created a palette of small graphic images (icons) which we isolated from photographs of our local surroundings in Eindhoven. We used these icons to create silkscreens, etching plates and stamps which we then composed artworks from. A lot of the artworks produced were improvised at the printing press in a similar way as a musician might improvise while performing. At the end of the residency we installed the works in an improvised way as well: taking it in turns to choose an artwork to hang to the wall in a fairly organic structure. I’d love to work like that again sometime.

Synchronicity, installation detail (Tommy Perman and Roel Knappstein)

TSG :: You said the recently at a gig you played at Flaming Lips had some crazy stage show, if you had that stage what would you have done to have blown the kids minds?

I would have hired Jamie Oliver to come and give a live demo on healthy eating for kids. He would play the drums with carrots along to our set. That would really blow the kids’ minds.

TSG :: How come all three of you Perman youth are involved in music in some way?

My mum played Frank Zappa to us when we were still in the womb . . . and then we tried our best to forget about experimental-comedy-jazz-fusion.

Both my folks are amateur musicians. My dad plays bass in a blues band and my mum is a percussionist. My dad claims that his high school band supported The Who at a gig in Hemel Hempstead but it transpires they played in the same venue a week apart. By that logic, my band have supported The Who, James Brown, Chuck Berry and Roy Walker from Catchphrase.

We were lucky enough to grow up in a roomy Edinburgh town house full of instruments and had a surprisingly good deal with our neighbours – basically they didn’t mind us making a racket. Impromptu jam sessions broke out frequently . . . I can remember some epic 12 bar blues sessions – woeful.

My dad was made redundant when I was about 15 and for some stupid reason he decided to blow some of his redundancy pay and buy us all instruments. My wee bro got a full size drum kit (to replace the kid’s kit he’d had since he was 6), my big bro got a guitar and amp and I scooped a Korg sound module and copy of Cubasis . . . boom I got my midi beats on.

TSG :: Right lets get back to art? Why buildings all the time eh?

I’ve spent my entire life in the sprawling metropolis of Edinburgh with a brief sojourn in the cultural mecca of the North East, Aberdeen. All I know is buildings. I love them – they’re great to draw. I love geometric shapes; large areas of flat colour; bold striking shadows; repeated patterns; perspective; unusual juxtapositions of architectural style . . .

TSG :: And cones man, what’s up? I remember you as a student but even with your art I don’t think you ever stole cones, thankfully.

My cone fetish is purely asexual, honestly. I’m fascinated by the visual language of the road and the motor car. I love all the accompanying design and graphics. Street furniture and signs often offer an interesting focal point in the city which can often be a large field of grey . . . especially in the midst of the dark Scottish winter . . . especially up in Aberdeen.

TSG :: I know your Survey:UK you wanted to draw items all over the UK, still intent on it?

Survey:UK was a highly ambitious project that I embarked upon when I was just fresh out of college, bursting with energy and enthusiasm. I got a show at Sumo in Sheffield really soon after graduating and I thought “right, I’m gonna do this, I’m going to do a visual survey of the whole of the UK”. I remember getting drunk with the guys from Sumo. I woke up the next day with a stinky hangover and looked at this huge wall map of England that Seb from Sumo had on his wall. I looked at the many hundreds of place names and my enthusiasm began to wane.
I’ve not completely abandoned the idea, although I’ve decided to change it’s scope to include places I visit outside of the UK. I realised I like traveling abroad and there are many wonderful places outside of Great Britain waiting to be drawn.

TSG :: Any cities world wide you’re wanting to vectorize?

I do fancy a US tour – I got loads out of a short visit to Vancouver and Seatle and I think I could do a lot of drawing across North America. I’m also a huge fan of Northern Europe – all the Scandies and Holland, Belgium and Germany. I’ve been researching some architecture for some new t-shirt designs and stumbled across this fantastic building in Graz, Austria – it’s a modern art gallery designed by English architect Peter Cook and the locals have dubbed it the ‘friendly alien’. It looks like a big blue sea creature has landed slap-bang in the middle of a historic Austrian town. I want to go there.
I was in Sao Paulo last summer and there was a wealth of incredible architecture there. It’s a bit of an ocular assault and something of an architects playground. We’re so conservative when it comes to buildings in the UK. I wish we encouraged our own architectural talent more and commissioned them to build on home soil.

Kunsthaus, Graz

TSG :: Yea that building in Austria is amazing, plus I know you’ve had the BLane Sweden Tour of Gothenburg and Malmö which have some treats too, have you never contemplated a foray in architecture itself?

Yes, I’ve often thought that if I love buildings so much why don’t I learn how to design them and the answer my head always comes up with is “another seven years of studying” . . . I studied art for five years which was enough. Maybe when I’m older.

TSG :: Now dipping back a bit in time you, CPLD and myself a successful but un-oraganised venture in the tshirt market and I know you still produce for people still, do you think it’s one of the best ways of getting work examples out there? I personally have had a lot of satisfaction seeing clothing my work on the torsos of people or shelves of stores.

T-shirts are such an immediate artform. I love them and it seems that many, many others do too. They’re an affordable way of owning artwork and I agree that it’s pretty cool to have your work adorning someone’s chest. I’m planning to do a lot more tees in the future and definitely want to have a t-shirt retrospective further down the line.

TSG :: Maybe we should get that back on the go, like some comeback tour after 6 years working on solo projects.

Yeah! The Climate Culture Comeback Tour 2009 . . . playing all the hits: ‘Make Tees Not War’, the ‘Great Bear’ and of course ‘METRO BOULOT DODO!’ although I’d prefer if we didn’t just tour the old venues (Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow) and took it a little more global.

TSG :: You collaborate with a lot of people too, do you find the combination of other peoples approaches to an idea makes it more interesting?

A lot of my own work is quite labour intensive and takes a long time, so I’m used to spending a lot of time alone working. I think that I choose to collaborate partly to break from the monotony of being a one-man-band. It’s great to get another perspective on an idea and to see how someone else approaches a project – I find I learn a great deal through collaborations and I often steal ideas that later appear in my own work.

TSG :: Has there been many which have started as one thing and come out completely different to what you expected?

All the time! But I think that’s part of the fun of a collab – personally I don’t really want to know exactly how something’s going to turn out from the beginning – that seems a bit boring to me. It’s exciting making mistakes and discovering new ideas and methods of working.

FOUND is a great case in point . . . it started out as a collaboration between myself, Ziggy Campbell and Kev Sim and it’s evolved into many different things.

TSG :: I know FOUND came out the hot-bed of Grays Art School in Aberdeen, what was the initial idea, to make visuals or just a racket?

Hahaha . . . I love hearing Grays described as a ‘hot-bed’ . . . not the first adjective I’d attach to that particular learning establishment. FOUND came about as a way to explore sound. I had spent a lot of my time at Grays trying to find ways that my tutors would let me make music as part of my course. They weren’t really down with it – they seemed to think that music wasn’t painting. Dicks. Things became a little more free in the final year and I discovered that there were two other students with similar interests: Kev in printmaking and Ziggy in sculpture. A mutual friend called Martyn Coulson brought us together to work on a noise project called the Random Audio Therapy Unit and in all developed from there.

After we graduated we were full of ideas (most of which emanated from the pub) and we discovered that there was a lot of funding available for ‘sound art’ projects. So we went for them – and that’s why we produced a fair amount of noise in the early days . . . all about the money, fame and girls.

TSG :: Having been at some of the very first FOUND outings, which I’m not gonna sugar the bull here, was a right bleeding racket haha you have now transformed into quite a structured outfit. Any reason?

We got bored of noise. We wanted money, fame and girls.

TSG :: Has the input of Fence Records helped a lot besides a guaranteed fish supper in Anstruther every year?

It’s been great to have been adopted into the Fence family. They’re a friendly, hairy bunch and it seems like a happy home for FOUND. Like a lot of their fans, I love the fact that there’s a really bustling, diverse and exciting music scene coming out of a tiny fishing village in Scotland. And their Homegame festival is definitely my favourite festival.

TSG :: It’s all a far cry from some interesting djing nights we used to have when I was DJ Chubby (thanks Billy) and you were ESC. Is the ESC title retired now or just on a sabbatical?

Ah, the heady heights of the Esco Bar on a Monday night, it’s what every DJ dreams of. Yeah I think ESC is taking a long sabbatical. I’m older, hairier and wisened now . . . I have a new pseudonym awaiting for some as yet undefined project . . . introducing Tobacco Beard (because someone once remarked that my facial hair resembles rolling tobacco . . . nice)

TSG :: Right, nuff teary eyed reminiscing lets get into the future, what’s going on?

Futures . . . I’m loving drawing again, which is really good – I took quite a big break from it over the last year to concentrate on music, but I’m getting right back into it now. I’ve just finished some new t-shirt designs for Six Pack and I’ve also done a series of deck designs for Focus Skateboards depicting Edinburgh and Glasgow street skatespots. I’m really looking forward to seeing those printed.

Bath Street, Glasgow (Deck design for Focus)

I’ve been remixing a lot this year and there’s more of that in the pipeline. FOUND are working on new material and I have some brand new musical collaborations on the horizon too.

FOUND are going to be touring the Scottish Highlands and Islands as part of the Scottish Arts Council Tune Up tours – that should be great fun and we’re planning to make a wee road movie along the way. We’re also pitching for a couple of ambitious projects for next year which I can’t really elaborate on at the moment . . . oh and how could I forget the Climate Culture Comeback Tour.

TSG :: Sounds like a busy few months ahead. We’ll catch up soon and see what’s up.

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Tommy can be found online over at Surfacepressure.