Tom de Wit is a busy man. From Amersfoort in the Netherlands, he owns up to “making stuff and doing things” in the field of music, words, audio, video and web design. Progman Tom’s main musical project is Dreamwalkers Inc next to his solo work under the name of TDW. He also runs the Layered Reality Productions label. Andrew Doherty caught up with Tom to get an update.
AN: Hi Tom! We see each other every year at ProgPower Europe but never have a proper conversation, so let’s do that now! Thanks for agreeing to give us insight into your musical world. You brought 7 releases under the name of TDW and now recently your first with Dreamwalkers Inc and I believe you’ve been writing since the age of 14. What about Tom the man – what makes you tick?
TDW: Well, first of all I think it’s awesome that you are actually interested. I will try to make this worth your while, as much as I can, haha!
Your first question is immediately one I can’t answer easily, haha! There’s many things that make me tick in terms of inspiration. I have always been a media addict of sorts. Music, movies, videogames, theatre and many other art forms have been a source of inspiration in my life in one way or the other. I tend to be a sponge in terms of soaking up influences and that reflects in all the things that I do.
I think the inside of my mind is pretty much an incoherent mess of everything I love and/or hate at the same time, but that is a great source to pull ideas from when making things yourself. And experiencing a lot of different influences and ideas only makes that pool bigger and bigger.
AN: I associate you strongly with Progressive music, but wouldn’t want to buttonhole you as just someone who composes and performs prog. One thing I sense about you is intensity. Is intensity something that you think runs through you, and in particular your musical creations?
TDW: In one word: Absolutely! It is my one strength and weakness in being who I am.
I am a so-called “HSP” and I know that it is a term that a lot of people have problems with (as it is not an official diagnosis but more like an umbrella term for a certain set of mental features & characteristics), but I have been living intensely for as long as I can remember. Every little impulse and sensation that I perceive is basically registered with high intensity and that goes on 24/7. I cannot turn that off or pretend it isn’t there. It’s always there and it’s regular for me, by now. But over the years I have learned that that makes me different from most other people and sometimes I had to learn that the hard way as well.
From birth until I was about 20 years old, I had a pretty tough time finding a way to deal with that and to this day it can still be a hindrance in everyday life. I can for example interpret the most subtle of signals like they mean much more then they actually do. It’s weird, but I did learn how to deal with that by reading and learning a lot about human psychology and behaviour. That way I could understand that what I was “getting/receiving” was not positive or negative, but just “there” without a reason.
In a social / regular behaviour sense, this can be quite the curse, but in a creative sense it is my greatest blessing. Because my way of perceiving and registering things, is a source that I can always use for my music, videos or whatever art I am working on.
Over the years I learned how to use my “madness” so to speak, and that results in the music that everyone can listen to now. So if that is intense, then the inside of my head is probably about ten times more intense I guess.
AN: My first encounter with your music was your acoustic show at ProgPower in 2016. Two things struck me about that performance: the personal nature of your songs, and the warmth that radiated through the room. What are your memories of that evening?
TDW: That night was quite a special experience indeed. I can remember that the whole build-up to it was rather tense for me, as it was both my debut show with my own music (the very first time I would perform TDW music live) and at a festival that stole my heart none the less. So there was this double feeling of “this really should be good! We really have to nail this!” which is something I normally already feel, but was even more prominent now.
That personal nature of my songs was also something that I was a bit scared of to be honest. I don’t just write about myself though. I prefer to write about third person characters that go through things and then strategically placing parts of myself in them, but still, it is very direct.
Singing about these things in a rehearsal space with friends/band members is one thing, but baring your heart in front of such an audience in such a location (a chapel of all places) is another. However, the moment we took to the stage and I started introducing the first song, the cold tension that was there all day changed into a warm feeling of comfort and the show went by in a flash. It felt like we only played for 5 minutes or something.
I can remember that after the show (beside friends & fans that I knew) a lady came up to me who I had never seen before. She asked me if we could chat for a bit and then told me that one of my songs hit her very intensely and that it resonated with her because she lost a loved one recently. That for me, was one of those prime moments that made me realize why I do this. I ended up giving her a big hug and it was quite a special moment to share. Sometimes it’s just very nice to know that someone feels what you do deeply and that it can be of comfort.
AN: I confess that I don’t know your earlier albums – “Music to Stand Around and Feel Awkward To!” is such a great title, by the way – but I do know your 2017 work “The Antithetic Affiliation”. I find it’s complex, angst-ridden and sometimes angry. I can see how it would appeal to someone going through turmoil, but it would be more difficult for someone of a colder disposition. Do you look to connect to people emotionally in your recordings, or are you relating the story of your life? Or something else, even?
TDW: Well, there is a lot of people that don’t know my earlier albums, so I can’t blame you for that, haha! This is actually a question that I have been asking myself more and more over the years. My original intent for writing and producing music was just to get ideas, thoughts and feelings out of my head and into a shape that would help me cope. It started out as purely therapeutic and that’s it. I had my ideas of a “career”, but honestly in the beginning I just needed to express myself and do something that I felt that I could actually do right. Even though I had no musical training, experience or anything whatsoever. I just felt that this was the thing to do.
Over the years, that internal drive has stayed with me and is strong as ever, but I do think that my writing has become more reflective and therefore perhaps more relatable to others as well. My older lyrics used to be very blunt and direct, and there wasn’t much left to the imagination. I still wouldn’t write “poetic jimble jamble” as I like directness, but I think that now that I got older and I learn more about myself and the world around me, that my music and lyrics evolved along with that.
However in the end, you really should ask the listeners about that, because as the writer myself it’s impossible to see it objectively and perhaps my lyrics are just a mess that makes no sense, haha!
AN: You’re clearly someone with artistic ideas and a sense of adventure. This comes across very strongly on both “The Antithetic Affiliation” and “First Re-Draft”. How do you go about capturing your personal thoughts and musical ideas on a daily basis? Do you keep a diary, or does it all build up in your mind until it’s time for a musical extravaganza?
TDW: Well, I always carry writing stuff with me (notebook and pen) and the recording function on my phone is sacred! As a proper Dutchman, I ride my bicycle a lot. I actually get a lot of ideas while doing that. So I often have my phone in front of my mouth then so I can just quickly sing an idea into my phone, wind noises and all, haha! … of course I don’t do that on a busy or dangerous street. As important as art is, I am not a complete idiot!
Some of my best song ideas started in weird places like that. I can remember “writing” the chorus for Anthem on a train to The Hague and just knowing that it was a good bit. We now close every live show with it and people still have it in their heads afterwards, so I am glad I had my phone with me then.
I do try to pile up all the ideas and categorize it somewhat, so I still have some good ideas lying around from years ago which might pop up in future projects as well. There’s always something going around in my brain, so really it’s just a matter of catching that.
AD: There’s so much in a Tom de Wit production in terms of soft, heavy and symphonic styles, sound techniques and contrasting emotions. Somewhere along the line you must filter your ideas. How do you channel all your musical and lyrical ideas to finish up with what you’re looking for?
TDW: For me the song dictates what it needs. I often start out with a basic direction knowing what kind of emotion I want to put in a piece and then I start working from that. I tend to work chronologically, as songs unveil themselves as I work on them. I often don’t know how a song will end and that is actually very exciting for me. It is a journey into my subconscious in which I open up myself to the chaos that is going on in my head. But because I have a pretty structured way of working, I can keep it all under control and then a song takes shape relatively quickly.
There is a weird balancing act in which I like doing weird stuff like time signature changes, weird synth sounds crashing into heavy guitars etc, but there is always a thread that keeps a song cohesive for me. That thread is however, a purely emotional thing. It’s almost like a voice inside me tells me that it is or is not okay to add that one saxophone sound or distorted vocal or something. But that is purely based on my gut feeling that has been guiding me for years.
Believe it or not, but I wrote the full 8 minutes of Aphrodisia (from The Antithetic Affiliation) in a day. It was just waiting to come out like it did and when I played it back in full for the first time I was kind of surprised at what had “happened”. But apparently that angry, sexual emotion in that song, needed to be expressed. And if something “needs” to be expressed, the song almost comes out by itself. To me, that flow is the best thing about being the musician/composer that I am. It feels like I am then genuinely able to express myself.
AN: I’m really interested in what you did with “First De-Draft”. Having first composed it in 2004 and then re-released it in 2011, you have transformed it into what it is now. What’s the difference between Tom de Wit versions 2004, 2011 and 2019?
TDW: Oh man, so many things. Not just the age difference, but to be fair, I am in a far better place then I was back then in both time periods for different reasons.
As a 16 year old (2004) everything was chaotic & weird and I was mostly struggling with all the conflicting experiences and emotions that I felt combined with the fun dementia that is post-puberty. So that first record was extremely raw, unpolished and unprofessional. I cannot listen to that ever again. It’s so incredibly…. rough to me. But it was my start none the less.
Then 7 years later, my life was in a completely different place once again and that changed the album again as well. I do think that the records I made in that time period, deserve that new chance (the other album Scrapbook is also something I would like to revisit sometime later…) as back then, I was not in the best place physically due to a long illness I battled and I hear that on those recordings. The potential was there, but it missed the power. The intent, so to speak. So I could not give those songs the treatment they deserve.
And now, in 2019, I feel like I am the man that I want and should be in terms of life- and production experience. So now it feel like I am actually capable to give the songs the impact and depth that they deserve.
AN: I detect a playful side on “First Re-Draft”. Songs like “Dreamwalk” are for sure very dark, but falling down rabbit holes has that Alice in Wonderland fantasy element about it. The whole ambience of the “First Re-Draft” album seems lighter and airier than what I had heard before. Is you something you determined from the start, or did something happen during the production of the album?
TDW: Well, to be fair, my other albums Scrapbook and “Music To Stand Around…” already had lighter shades and some more comedic songs and/or influences. But The Antithetic Affiliation was a very serious and dense release, so I can see that some people might be a bit “surprised” by that lighter tone. However for me, it’s not that weird, as I tend to put my darkness into my music, but I try to be as positive and optimistic a person as I can be.
I am a huge fan of Frank Zappa for instance. And then especially in how he blended musical intricacy with comedy and satire in the way he did. I wouldn’t mind discovering that side of myself more as well in the future. I do think it is good that Dreamwalkers Inc is for my serious symphonic, progressive music, so perhaps this is something I can discover under the TDW name on my own.
I dare to say that besides art and music, comedy is one of my biggest passions. I love jokes, imitations and making people laugh. One of my greatest heroes was Robin Williams for instance. I think it’s very useful to laugh and put relativity to life. Life often is dark enough as it is, and art can both help as catharsis through confrontation, but also through positive ridicule I think.
AN: I love the idea of the choir on “First Re-Draft” and I think it adds mystery to the mix. How did the inclusion of a choir come about?
TDW: To be fair, that was just a lucky accident really. I have been writing choir parts on my albums ever since “Music…” and I feel that it has become a very distinct element of my sound. So I knew that I wanted to have a few guest singers to beef up the choir to make it sound big like I did on “Antithetic…”.
So I placed a facebook ad asking for singers…. And then I suddenly had 17 capable candidates ready to go and I had this massive choir to work with. Each and every one of them came into the studio and recorded layer after layer to end up with the big sound we have now. I knew that I could make something big in advance, but the fact that it would turn out as big as it does here, is really just beyond anything I expected!
AN: How do you account for the multitude of musicians who are part of Dreamwalkers Inc now and you have worked with in the past? If I’ve got it right, you’ve got eight members in the band, or should I call it an orchestra, plus people who have guested and collaborated with you previously, and the choir of course. Is it just “horses for courses” with each creation, or just a case of time and people moving on?
TDW: The most basic idea I always have is that I want people to be in the right place on the right song and that always guides my choices for album guests. And when I invite someone to guest on a song it’s just that, a guest spot. I do like collaborating with people and seeing what they think when I send my song to them for their parts because sometimes people can really enhance an idea that was already there and then collaboration truly is one of the most beautiful things.
However regarding the live band that is Dreamwalkers Inc, I really searched for people that would both be able to understand and play the music as well as understand what is going on in my head and spirit, as that is very much connected to one another. And that leads to interesting situations to say the least. I really try to keep my band members as close to me as I can, because the task that I am asking them to perform is not an easy one. I really want them to feel appreciated and heard as much as I can. Obviously, this is something that is not always easy to achieve, but I do try to put as much of that positivity in it as possible.
I think it’s a privilege for me that someone wants to play this stuff that I wrote live on a stage. It should not be taken for granted that someone puts that amount of effort in, I think.
AN: How do you co-ordinate so many musicians, and how are they all engaged in contributing to the creative process?
TDW: I think the coordination is something that I am pretty good at naturally as I tend to be pretty goal driven. I see the bigger picture for a record and/or song by nature quite quickly. So once that goal has been decided on, the rest of the work is basically trying to achieve that goal as well as possible. And within that framework I try to give everyone the individual space to find their best ways of contributing. And that can really go as far as “just adding a solo” or letting someone rewrite a part entirely if it improves it. So each person contributes his or her own parts and strengths and that adds up to a greater final whole.
AN: Is there anyone else in the world of music or art you’d really like to collaborate with, if you had the choice?
TDW: Oh wow, good question, some names come to mind, but this list is far from complete really. If you would discuss this with me for a longer time, I would probably end up with a list as long as this interview, but let’s not do that, haha!
But I would love to work with Marjana Semkina from Iamthemorning once as I love her voice and creative presence. Steve Hackett would be a bucketlist thing – just singing something with him once would already be an honor of epic proportions. I would love to work with either Paul Waggoner or Tommy Rogers from Between the Buried And Me as well. Also a Dutch musician called Peter Slager from a Dutch popband called Bløf comes to mind, because I really like his songwriting and lyrics. And then I could mention many many more people, but I won’t bore you with that.
I have a pretty broad musical taste, so for me it would really be about trying to do something that would challenge both involved parties into making something that we both never did before I think. However, this in the end is just speculation of course.
AN: The Netherlands seems to be an epicentre of prog. Musicians and bands seem to grown on trees, and the spectators I see at ProgPower and elsewhere are so knowledgeable, living and breathing lyrics and the emotions of the music. Why do you think this is the case?
TDW: Honestly I am asking myself that question as well as it is quite telling that the Dutchies seem to have a pretty firm grasp on prog and all its subgenres. I do have a theory on this though.
There is a socio-economic advantage that the Netherlands has had for many years, as we are one of the most prosperous countries on earth and all that. And once a country is financially stable, there is more time and space to enjoy art in its many facets, because the basic human needs have been met. I think by extension it’s easier for Dutch people to find art & music through many ways with high speed internet connections, an open worldview due to our nature as international traders etc. The Dutch always have been forced to blend in with the rest of the world in terms of speaking English and taking in other cultures, because our own culture really is just a drop of water on the hot plate that is the rest of the world. The world won’t adapt to us… So we adapt to them.
So the chance of bumping into people that know any obscure genre because of that, is significantly greater I think. The Dutch fans want to be a part of something bigger I think. Basically for almost every obscure genre, no matter what musical direction, there is a pretty dedicated fanbase for in The Netherlands. So by that logic, prog is no exception to that rule. I think it’s also a really Dutch thing to be really into something and to make that into a “thing” in itself.
Like “Look at us being the best fans”! I guess that is what you get when you are but a tiny country that most people in the world don’t give a rats’ ass about, haha!
AN: How have things gone with your label Layered Reality Productions? On this, I must congratulate you on signing Hillsphere, whose album “Florescence” was delicate, subtle, balanced and powerful. Do have any more gems up your sleeve?
TDW: The label is doing great and growing steadily with every step that we take. There’s more people actively working on the label as we speak and we are busy attracting new bands to join the roster so we can expand our reach worldwide. The basic idea always has been to make it a DIY label/collective were musicians have the freedom to make their own career in the way they want to, but with the power of a collection of artists thinking along with them. And so far that has really proven to be a well working concept, so that makes me very proud.
Good that you mention Hillsphere! Their album was a milestone for the label and very much a personal honor for me to be able to sign such a band and release such an excellent album. The record has been received well and the band is now working on new material so that is always good!
Right now the label focus is on launching the debut album of Instrumental Symphonic Metal project Unforeseen Motion through digital distribution channels and the promo circus that comes with that. Next to that we are also trying to get more gigs going for the current label bands. And finally, we are working on re-launching a band somewhere in the coming months, which is going to be very exciting and talks with new bands are going strong, so yeah, there’s plenty to do!
AN: What’s next for you? A prog rock opera, perhaps?
TDW: Right now the focus will be on playing live shows to support Re-Draft and write new material for the next Dreamwalkers Inc album. I can say that the next album will indeed be a concept record and quite a dense one at that. But we are really in the very early beginning stages of that, so I can only say that “yes, this is a concept and yes, it’s going to be big” and that’s all for now.
Also, next to it, I decided to start with a new personal project in making cover songs on youtube of songs that inspired me throughout my life in other genres. I want to try to make a cover a month with a video and a full song. This is just meant as a fun project to spread my wings and challenge myself creatively and my first cover of the song “Jesus He Knows Me” by Genesis, got some good responses already. I am excited to see what I can do with this project. I have the mission to either make a non-metal song into a metal song or make a metal song into something completely different musically.
AN: And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to readers of Ave Noctum
TDW: Thank you for reading this long interview and paying the attention to it! It is much appreciated. And also a lot of thanks goes out to the fans who bought the albums already and those who support the band by getting tickets to shows and sharing the videos around. All these things help a lot, so please keep it up!
Also, if you want to get your hands on one of my albums, be sure to visit https://www.layered-reality.com/webstore and get your fix there or listen to the Dreamwalkers Inc and/or TDW music on Spotify, Apple Music and/or other streaming services as it in the end always helps my creative work if you do so. Thanks!
AN: Thank you once again! I‘m sure we’ll see each other again at ProgPower. In the meantime I wish you all the very best with your life, your music and your label!