Found the first interview I did with Tom Withers/Klute (the second being here), way back in March 2009…
I had a chat with Tom Withers AKA Tommy Stupid, drummer from recently reformed UK skatepunk band The Stupids, before their gig at Bristol Bierkeller. Withers may be better known to drum n’ bass fans as maverick producer Klute, and owner of forward-thinking record label Commercial Suicide. I spoke to him about all of his musical endeavours, including his less publicised career as a composer of airport music – to which I got some ominous answers.
S: So, The Stupids; why the reformation? Are you back for good or is this a one-off?
T: It’s more of a case of unfinished business than anything else really. Martin [AKA Marty Tuff, guitarist] and I had decided to play again, and it wasn’t necessarily going to be The Stupids. It just came about that Boss Tuneage were reissuing the albums; there was an old demo I had recorded by myself when we were still The Stupids, and we decided to record a new album. We’re just doing it for fun, and it is no-mans land for us really.
S: Your style seemed to be quite different from the typical UK hardcore and punk sounds of the 80’s, like anarcho or crust and grind?
T: It was hardcore I guess when we started, we were just really into American sounds; so we just kind of went off and did that, and seemed to be one of the first bands in England that was just really into US stuff. At the time all there was what they call UK82; GBH, Exploited, and that ilk.
S: Were you connected with everything that was going on back then, the ‘scene’ if there was one?
T: No, not really. We were just middle class boys from Ipswich really. We weren’t really taken seriously because we weren’t, as you say, crusty-ish. Everything was politically based then, and we liked The Ramones and how they sang about…well nothing…which meant more to us.
S: You toured the US; did you find more acceptance there because of your sound?
T: Yeah we toured there once with a band called Ludichrist in ‘86 or ‘87. We toured pretty much as an unknown band…as we are now [laughter]. The tour in America was good; I think back in those days there was less music altogether, so people were just more interested and grabbed a hold of things. Now you can go to sleep for two weeks and you’re not going to miss anything
S: The Stupids mk.1 ended in 1990; by this point were you into dance music?
T: No, I was going through a crazy transitional period listening to Joe Satriani and Racer X and all kinds of technical guitar stuff.
S: So when did you actually get into it, when did you start producing?
T: Around 91/92 when I was over in the states actually, through rave in general. I bought a sampler in late ‘92 and just start piddling around with that; it was like a real musical revolution for me. I pretty much overnight rejected any interest in being in a band, and just got into the dance side of things.
S: The first Klute releases were 1995 on Certificate 18, which by that point were well known for the whole ‘intelligent drum n’ bass’ sound. How did you end up getting your first releases with them?
T: The guy who ran it, Paul Arnold, was based up in Ipswich, so my reputation preceded me. He’s always been a communicative and open person, and was just interested straight away because of what I had done in the past, like “oh wow he’s someone from this scene and he’s doing this”. So that’s how it happened.
S: Going from one form of underground music to another, are there any similarities or differences between the organisation and the self-regulation that goes on within these scenes? The Do-It-Yourself ethic appears to be prevalent in both hardcore and drum n’ bass…
T: Drum n’ bass is way more DIY I’d say; I don’t know too much about underground hardcore these days, and most of what I see around is people trying to behave well so they can be as popular as possible; I guess that’s what they call mall punk. I don’t know too much about the underground hardcore scene per se and what is going on.
S: Klute recently toured America with a tour named ‘F*ck You America’?
T: No…it was a big misunderstanding. When I spoke to the agent in America it was a bad connection and I wanted to call it ‘Thank You America’, and the mobile phone [imitates line breaking up]…and so it came out as ‘F*ck You America’. And it was all really unfortunate and embarrassing…
S: In terms of drum n’ bass these seems like the music is moving on again, with lots of deep sounds coming out which are avoiding the pigeon-holing of ‘liquid’ or ‘neuro’. What’s your take on the music at the moment?
T: I’m still totally in love with drum n’ bass, but I think there’s a huge amount of boring music personally. I just think there needs to be more individuality; there’s a sea of mediocrity, it makes it sound like I’m down about it a little bit.
S: I guess that’s the same with any genre?
T: I think it’s more a case of people just going along with the status quo; I don’t think there is anything particularly exciting like when a movement is just really happening; there’s no time to think, there’s no time to talk about it, it’s just happening. And I think there’s a lot of talk and people jeering themselves up, going “yeah it’s good, its good right now”, when it’s fine – yeah – but it’s not superb like it has been.
S: When was it superb?
T: For me it’s never been as blindingly exciting as it was when I discovered it in ’92, but that’s not to say that it’s been like a fuse that’s been dying down, I don’t think it’s like that really. I think people can step out of regiment a bit more than they are.
S: More experimentation?
T: Yeah, I mean I saw a comment “why did Klute not make the intro of this one track symmetrical so its easy to mix, I can’t play it”. And to me, I don’t care. If a track’s good enough, I’ll find a way to mix it. Because you can literally mix d’n’b without hearing a track because you know what the into is; and I think that if that’s the case it’s time to mix things up, keep people on their toes.
S: Another musical endeavour of yours is that I found out that you make muzak of sorts?
T: How dare you! [laughter] Yeah it’s something I can’t really talk about; funnily enough there’s a lot of security issues with airports, and there is technology that you can put into music…there’s a company called Silent Sounds who put subliminal messages in the music.
S: Do you do that?
T: No, it’s nothing to do with me.
S: What’s next for Klute and commercial Suicide?
T: I’m working on my sixth artist album, and continuing to release really good stuff on Commercial Suicide. The Stupids have finished an album which is coming out in June.
Klute’s latest single ‘Ashram’ b/w ‘Trust Me’ is out now on Commercial Suicide. The Stupids new single ‘Feel my Suck’ is out now on Boss Tuneage, who are also reissuing their 6 albums from the 80s.