CHRIS TOMSON OF DAMS OF THE WEST ON WHY HE’S A ‘YOUNGISH AMERICAN’
You probably know Chris Tomson as CT – the drummer of Vampire Weekend. Not long after I Had a Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij (also of Vampire weekend), Tomson is the next member to release solo work. Tomson’s album – Youngish American – is out today February 24 on iTunes and Spotify under his new band Dams of the West.
Produced with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, Youngish American is about Tomson’s transition into being a guy in his thirties. Or, as he joked at his Wednesday show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, history transition from being a Nets Jersey guy to a J Crew sweater guy. I was lucky enough to talk to CT about all things New Jersey, Dams of the West, and what’s next for Vampire Weekend.
INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS TOMSON
CONOR (HIGHLARK): I’ve really enjoyed the songs you’ve released so far from you new project Dams of the West – and was wondering where the name comes from?
CT (DAMS OF THE WEST): I had read articles about dams in the Western US and the various debates surrounding their continuing existence and functions. As a straight, white male writing (generally speaking) rock and roll songs I felt a certain camaraderie with such crumbling infrastructure. Also, the twitter @ was available.
CONOR: It’s been fun watching the music videos you’ve collaborated on with your wife Emily Tomson – for “Death Wish” and for “The Inerrancy of You and Me” – what has it been like to collaborate with her?
CT: It’s been great! And simultaneously stressful! Working on a creative project with a romantic partner definitely tests your collective capacity for communication but, ideally, draws on a deep level of trust that allows for some great ideas to come forth.
CONOR: The title of the album – Youngish American – seems to be referencing your transition into being a married guy in your thirties – do you think there’s any truth to that?
CT: Absolutely. That phrase, to me, felt representative of being in-between a youthful sense of abandon and a real deal grown-up understanding of true responsibility, a place in which I currently reside.
CONOR: Many of the lyrics are about simple domestic acts – like making pasta, little fights at Home Depot, and even flossing. What’s inspiring about these things?
CT:I have always felt more drawn to details and routines and find them more instructive than one-off special occasions. So, when I was trying to find a way to write songs that felt both interesting and personally viable I naturally gravitated toward such minutia. I think an intensive trip to a home goods store tells you way more about a person than a night out.
CONOR: How has the experience been going from a very collaborative project like Vampire Weekend to being the lead singer and frontman of Dams of the West?
CT: It has been alternately (and in no particular order of occurrence or magnitude) confusing, exhilarating, depressing, fun, weird, informative and, in one isolated instance, extremely itchy.
CONOR: Between all the Nets jerseys, hats, and jackets – you’ve always seemed to be quite the proud New Jerseyean. How has being from Jersey shaped you as a a writer and musician?
CT:I would say it shaped my perspective more than anything, although that obviously has fed into whatever musicality I have developed. There was a general sense of being overlooked or undervalued (“Armpit of America” jokes et al.) by virtue of being the suburbs between Philadelphia and NYC. I think I would have naturally had a lot of pride for wherever I came from but, in the case of NJ, that pride was deepened by the idea that everyone else thought we were a bit shit.
I did have a conversation recently though that made me rethink some of my more unexamined assumptions. He essentially said that “You Jersey dudes want it both ways, saying “everyone hates us” while still claiming such cultural symbols as Springsteen and The Sopranos. Try being from Connecticut.” Which, to be fair, is a valid point.
CONOR: On twitter you’ve joked around a lot about how Chris Tomson and Dams of the West are different people – so where exactly does CT end and Dams begin?
CT: Good question! I think that the answer is always shifting in one direction or another and I’m probably purposefully being opaque on its exact location. I would take the over on my wife or close friends being able to answer this question better than I can.
CONOR: The Dams of the West Instagram follows three people – Dolly Parton, Justin Trudeau, and Lebron James. Why those three?
CT: Those are three of the four pillars of my adult life. I mean that emotionally, morally, athletically and musically. The fourth is Rick Danko but unfortunately he passed away in the 90s and so is currently unavailable to sign up for Instagram.
CONOR: What can we expect from Dams of the West in the future?
CT: In a band sense, I do not know! I am really figuring this out as it goes along. I certainly feel like there is a lot more ground I’d like to cover and songs I’d like to write, but for now I’m just excited to tour as much as I can and bring Youngish American to whoever wants to hear it.
In an infrastructure sense, I think we will see a lot more debate on whether they should be demolished or reinforced, especially as the effects of climate change continue to stress the current system.
CONOR: Lastly I have to ask – is there anything you can tell us about Vampire Weekend LP4?
CT: That it is being worked on! But not much more than that.