The following interview is in conversation with the wonderful Doug Thomas, a French composer and artist based in London. Doug’s most recent EP Ballades was released through Piano and Coffee Records and features four beautiful tracks performed by various pianists such as Marta Cascales. Below we discuss Doug’s musical background, compositional process, advice for first time composers and much more.
Hello Doug, how are you doing? Could you introduce yourself please, what’s your musical story?
I am a French composer and artist based in London. I started playing the guitar at 11, and moved to the UK in 2010 to study the instrument at the Institute, in North London. I learned to master the guitar and got introduced to a wide range of music genres—anything you can think of, really— and it’s only when I reached my last year at university that I realised that I wanted to be a composer, and I decided to go back to the piano, my early childhood instrument. Since then, I’ve been working on releasing my own projects, as well as collaborations with other artists.
What compositional process do you tend to adopt? Does it change with every piece?
I have a general guideline for composing a piece of music. Very often I start with a musical idea, a concept, a feeling I want to express or something I want to illustrate. I then brainstorm a lot about how I am going to work on this piece, if there is any music that I will use as a reference, what sort of structure I want, the instrumentation etc. I also go through my archives to see if there is anything that has been left on the side that I can use. It’s a long process, and at this stage there is no music involved at all. Once I have my general blueprint laid down then starts the composition process, and actual music notes get written, with or (quite often) without the instrument. It might seem very unartistic but it works for me. Having said that, each piece is different, and when creation strikes who knows what can happen!
Do you feel there’s meaning behind what you write or would you see your music as more of a stream of consciousness on your part?
I tend to see myself as a songwriter who writes music without words. I always try to tell something, or convey an idea or a feeling. Of course, there is always a bit of music nerding, but I always use this as a medium more than anything else. I always try to learn from what I compose, and I try to evolve piece after piece. If there is a stream of consciousness at some point, I will tend to tame it and control it to extract the most of it.
What is it about a composing day that you enjoy the most?
With my day job it’s quite impossible to have a full composing day. Very often it comes bit by bit, whenever I can find a moment in the morning or the evening. I am very organised about it, and I prefer to compose in regular intervals, perhaps for shorter amounts of time, rather than through a long creative process. I’ve realised that by being able to control my creativity, the switch was constantly turned on, and all I had to do was to decide whenever I wanted to use it or no.
Is there any advice you would give to any first time composers?
Two. First, be curious. As much as possible, about everything and anything. You never know where inspiration might come from. Secondly, do not let musical training affect you so much. It takes a very long time to find your own voice, but you will never get there if you let people dictate what should and shouldn’t be. Never forget that music is an art, and that art evolves by experimenting and thinking out of the box.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I have several projects that I would like to release in 2018, that are still secret… But my main one is “The Seasons”, a homage to Tchaikovsky’s. Through collaborations with pianists around the world, I will be releasing one piece each month, following the seasons and months of the year.
What music are you enjoying right now?
I am doing a lot of music reviews at the moment, and have been discovering great artists within the neoclassical genre, such as Simeon Walker, Roberto Attanasio, Marta Cascales Alimbau, and more recently Lars Jakob Rudjord. Of course, I try to listen to as much music as I can, regardless of the genre. A very good discovery recently was Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamar Anna Cislowska’s Unsent Love Letters, Meditations on Erik Satie.
Finally, we’ve really been enjoying your writings and album reviews on your website. Do you find the process of studying other artists work rewarding? And if so, how?
Very rewarding indeed! Although we all have an opinion about a piece of music upon hearing it, it’s a completely different process having to write something about it. It forces you to listen again, to analyse each piece, to study the artist carefully etc. It’s very different from composing music, but very exciting too, and very rewarding. And I keep discovering new music all the time, which is great!
Stream and download Ballades here –