Moving into the second year since Richard Lomax’s full-length debut, Down There For Dancing, sailed into our slipstream, 2016 promises consolidation for the prolific songwriter and his Tontine band. Since Lomax graduated from his fluid conglomeration with Johnny5thWheelandthecowards, he, along with the other Tontines (Oli Hughes, Si Borkin and Dave Bertram), has developed a knowing dependability, both in the studio and on the stage, thanks in some part along the way to the fine-tuning extremes of his ‘52’ project – recording weekly until his heartstrings bled and the doctor ordered time to heal.

Having backpedalled to writing in moderation, ‘I Cycle’ – not the latest Apple gadget, but a jangly, heartwarmer of an ode to the freedom of riding – sets the wheels in motion for the band’s year as the gears shift towards their second LP. We’re hosting the first listen of the single exclusively here:

Richard answered our questions ahead of their ‘I Cycle’ single launch on 18 February at the Castle Hotel.

Why are The Tontine so named?

Because ‘The Bad Seeds’ was already taken. Plus it’s a deeply satisfying word to say. Say it out loud.

How does this incarnation compare with Johnny5thWheel&thecowards for you?

J5W was basically me and a percussionist (Andy Lyth) operating under a moniker with a loosely assorted pool of my favourite musicians (42 of them) who would join me as and when. The Tontine is a more streamlined venture.

Those are very different palettes to paint from. 5thWheel was a massive throw-everything-at-the-wall-of-sound venture based around horn and string sections (as well as pots and pans and hatboxes and singing saws) whereas the music I’m making at the moment with The Tontine is based around the more traditional guitar-bass-drums set up – with smatterings of Omnichord, bicycle and explosions, of course.

There are bits of electronics and samples in there too for this album and most likely there will be more in the future. The main crossover is probably the huge vocal layers and build-ups I tend to use. There’s a few of those on the new album.

Richard Lomax and the Tontine

Have you kept up a weekly song since completing your Project 52 compilation? What did you learn from the songwriters you collaborated with during that time?

I actually deliberately attempted to stop writing at the beginning of 2015. That exercise was a big learning experience and kept me at the top of my game certainly, but I did find it exposing releasing a new song that I’d written that week, every week. There were points in the year when I felt so sharp because of it, but towards the end of the year I had started to feel almost like I was reaching inside, swirling my guts around and pulling them out, dumping them on a table and calling everyone round to look at them.

My self-imposed writing embargo lasted about six weeks and by February I was writing again. I’ve always written a lot, but I felt in 2015 every song I wrote was strong and came from a place where they needed to come out, rather being forced out like last year.

The collaborations were very interesting. It was great to see everyone’s various working approach to songwriting. I tried where possible not to lead those sessions, but it just depended whether I had started writing before the meet or not really. The song with Avital was very methodical and face-to-face in the room, almost writing line-by-line whilst the other played an instrument and then we would swap over. The song with FirstnameFrank was more separated – Frank had a verse that needed a chorus. The song with Natalie was different again, I had written most of that before the session started and she added a pre-chorus after I played it to her.

You toured Italy in the autumn – how did that come about? Any plans to take the band overseas in 2016?

Italy has long been on the cards and massive kudos to Sonja who worked tirelessly to put that together. I would like to go back if possible this year and there has been talk of Spain too. Possibly a Scandinavian date or two. It would be nice to go back to Germany, but we’ll just have to see what works out.

What was your favourite gig to play in during 2015?

The Tetris gig in Trieste is up there. Kendal Calling too. Both completely different. The Tetris was very special – a wonderful co-op venue run by a group of very dedicated and passionate music lovers as volunteers. They take so much care with every aspect of the gig, so you really end up playing to a roomful of people who are exactly into what you’re doing. I must have played almost two hours for that crowd, they were so giving. It’s such a sweet exhaustion when that happens.

‘I Cycle’ launches in February. Does cycling help to create song ideas? Have you patented the title before Apple tries to claim it?

Well you can testify for me if Apple try anything sneaky…

I’ve always cycled and, yes, cycling does get the mind whirring. Unfortunately the bicycle on the song broke in two on the very journey after the recording session we captured its bike sound in. So I’m currently bike-less, which is a bit of a drag.

Richard Lomax

Is the song a teaser for your second album? What can we expect from that?

This is the first song from my second album yes. You can expect the best set of songs I’ve ever committed to record. After the frenetic ‘get it down / get it out’ nature of the 52 project, I really wanted to take my time with this and get everything right. I’ve had an excellent set of musicians and a fine producer in the form of Biff Roxby – of Debt Records, Bedlam Six and Honeyfeet – who have helped put it together.

The album will be out later in 2016, but there will be a couple of singles along the way so the wait doesn’t become unbearable.

How does working with Sotones Records help? Do you prefer to retain a certain amount of independence?

Sotones thankfully deal with a lot of the boring admin stuff in the release process, but there’s always independence with them. The label is run by artists and it’s very special for that fact. Having complete independence is wonderful, but it’s nice to be able to discuss things like release schedules with them. Musicians have to do so many jobs now if they want their music to be heard by people. I’ve always been good at the music-ing side of that equation. The other stuff is thrust upon you, so getting advice on it is always appreciated.

Are there any 2016 resolutions for the band?

I haven’t made any resolutions yet. The last two years were so resolution-heavy with the 52 project and then streamlining my working practices in 2015 almost as a reaction to that. I think I’ll be resolving to stick to my plans for 2016. And buy a new bicycle.

Richard Lomax plays at Matt & Phreds on 24 January, before launching ‘I Cycle’ at The Castle Hotel on 18 February.
Watch a video from his Kings Arms gig here (filmed by Ged Camera).

Photos inset by Ged Camera.
Background image: Cycle Swarm by James Green.

Ian Pennington