On a cold December night Triptykon, At The Gates and Morbus Chron rolled into Birmingham, England to treat the locals to a lesson in no frills metal. Before the show, enigmatic frontman Tom G spent half an hour chatting with our very own Dewie about music, art and more…
Stepping onto the enormous tour bus that Triptykon share with At The Gates, I am greeted by the tour manager and ushered through to the seated area where Tom is reading a german philosophy book. Resplendent in a jet black hat and a classic Norton motorcycles leather jacket he removes his spectacles, smiles and greets me in a soft deep tone.
“Pleased to meet you. Have you seen the venue yet?”.
I confess I haven’t. He shakes his head slowly “It’s terrible. Smaller than our rehearsal space – I am not even joking”. Neither arrogant nor bitter – just painfully honest, he explains that the decision to move the gig to a smaller venue was taken by the headliners and the fact that it is sold out beyond normal capacity suggests it wasn’t a wise move.
As I fumble to start my tape recorder and ask if he’s ready to begin he states “but we have begun…” with a wry smile. Seemingly nothing is off-record for Tom.
Now, I have long been a fan of Mr Fischer and his various bands, but I wouldn’t say I am a rabid, obsessive fanboy. You would probably say that if you met me, but I am not willing to admit that publicly. So…I ease in by asking not how the tour has been going but rather what the fan reaction has been like (bearing in mind they are not the main act on the bill).
“The reception from the fans has been absolutely fantastic so far. We have been extremely lucky – both in Celtic Frost and Triptykon – to be really well accepted over here. The welcome we usually receive from audiences here is much better than in our home country. I don’t know why that is but we feel extremely honoured – it’s a very good feeling.”
Have you played with At the Gates Before?
“No, this is our first time. Two members of our band are huge fans of At The Gates so that’s really how this tour came together.”
It’s been 8 months or so now since the latest album came out – have you been pleased with the response?
“It’s been fantastic. The reactions have actually been quite overwhelming. I had a rather…critical stance recording the album – I was unsure – but I seem to be the only one, which is a good feeling.”
Some people, myself included, who have been fans of your music for many years, were worried that there may not be another Triptykon album after the first one, due to the wait. Was that ever a possibility?
“Well…there’s always a possibility – if I die there will be no more Triptykon. But as long as I live there will be further albums. This is what I do. I formed Triptykon out of passion and I wasn’t prepared to stop my musical path just because in Celtic Frost some people decided to spend their time having ego fights instead of creating music. I wasn’t prepared to end this path so when I left Celtic Frost I knew immediately I was going to form a new group that would continue Celtic Frost’s path as closely as possible, so of course – as long as I am existing, I enjoy recording albums with Triptykon and I think – I tend to think – I am able to create albums that are still relevant…”
Tom tails off with a tone of voice that suggests the last phrase may have been a question to me. I immediately retort “absolutely” – as if the master of the riff needs me to reassure him he’s still got it. There is no mistaking his genuine humility and passion here…as I ask why he decided to start a new band rather than, as many may have chosen to do, carry on his previous band but with new members….
“It would have been impossible. I made that mistake once before. When Celtic Frost originally fell apart in the late 1980’s I was immature and foolish enough to think that I could continue with some replacements – and the results were disastrous. Celtic Frost is essentially Martin Ain and me – and if either one of us is not part of the band it’s not possible. So – I have learned from past mistakes and this time I knew if we couldn’t get it together then the only reasonable action would be to form a new band. Of course in this new band, my part is as close as possible to what it was in Celtic Frost because I loved the musical part of Celtic Frost – I was very happy with that – just not the ego fights. So, I formed Triptykon in the hopes of coming as close as possible to that – minus the personal deficiencies”.
Tom remains calm and very direct when talking about stuff that has clearly caused him a great deal of strife and is always careful in his choice of words but never seems guarded. I ask whether he still gets a kick out of playing CF stuff that he has aired live so many times as well as the early Hellhammer tracks Triptykon are known to play too…
“Of course – I didn’t form this band to be a bunch of actors performing – we are playing exactly what we like. The setlist reflects what we think is best from our and from my back catalogue. These are my songs – I don’t tend to see them as Hellhammer songs, as Celtic Frost songs – these are songs that I wrote and each one represents a certain phase of my life and for one reason or another each one is important to me. I enjoy – we enjoy collectively playing them.”
You’ve got about a 45 minute set and I note you’re playing Prolonging in there…in fact at Bloodstock you had a shorter set and still played it there. Many bands pick shorter songs to cram them in but I think it’s great you still include that…
“The Prolonging is an essential track for Triptykon and I cannot envisage a concert without it and if you give us a 20 minute set time then we will play Prolonging only……..that song carries an important meaning – the first Triptykon album was probably one of the most important albums for me personally and it was…you said earlier did I lament the loss of Celtic Frost and yes I did – very much so – it was my life’s work – but also after all the personal problems it was very liberating to be in a band like this where I could focus on the music rather than how you survive as individuals – and The Prolonging is a condensation of all these things. It’s a song that actually comes to life much more on stage than on the album.”
I was a big fan of the stuff you did with Apollyon Sun – when you seemed to be taking something of a departure from the path of Celtic Frost – could you ever see something like, say, ‘God Leaves’ working in a live set with Triptykon?
“I have occasionally pondered about that – there are one or two songs that I could envision working, but on the other hand it may seem to some like I am digging in the trash because I cannot come up with new ideas so I don’t know…..I haven’t really decided yet. Apollyon Sun for me was simply an experiment – I wanted to try a more electronic approach because I was fascinated with electronic music almost as long as I was fascinated with hard music. I listened to Kraftwerk in the 1970s and I have always loved their music – then later the first few singles of Depeche Mode intrigued me – I was musically curious and wanted to try it, but of course my passion has always been on the heavier side – and I don’t know if I really want to combine the two. But of course there is the song Mother Misplaced which is quite ferocious and I think Triptykon could make it even more ferocious… but I still haven’t made the decision as to whether it is actually compatible”
Having briefly salivated, and from a purely selfish point of view tried to assert that it would be an excellent addition to their live set, I move on to the topic of Giger. Knowing that the artist’s death was not merely the loss of the man who created some of their album covers but the loss of a close friend and collaborator I feel it only polite to check with Tom if he minds discussing the subject….
“Of course – you can ask me whatever you want – I will answer anything – this is why we are here…”
How do you reflect on his work now? Do you look at it differently since the emotions you must have gone through when he passed away?
“No, my view of his work hasn’t changed ever since I first saw it when I was a child in the 1970s. It has always had the same effect on me and has the same aura to me and it says the same things to me – it’s actually been a very steady path. The only thing that has changed is that I have had the enormous honour to make his acquaintance – but his work means exactly the same to me as it has always done.”
And did the artwork simply fit with your existing musical vision or did you draw inspiration from it when you wrote?
“Always. I always drew inspiration from his artwork in my music. I talked to Martin about it many times in Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. It is one of the few instances where something visual has actually had a musical effect on me. It is always inspiring in our music. Of course we never put ourselves on the same level – to me he is a genius and we are minute little creatures compared to his genius and talent….but on our tiny level he had a huge influence on us and was hugely inspiring, yes.”
I discovered him because of your album covers back in Celtic Frost…how did you discover his work – via your father, wasn’t it?
“Yes. My father had a signed print of one of his most amazing paintings. I saw my father rarely because I was a child of divorced parents but whenever I was at his apartment I saw this print and my father had the two earliest books of Giger’s work – two underground publications, very primitively made – and I had never seen anything like that. Nowadays art like Giger’s is a household thing – certainly in our scene – but back then I had never seen anything like that and of course it drew me in immensely.”
I believe you used to do guided tours around the Giger museum and were involved with his later works…do you still plan to invlolve yourself with his legacy?
“Yeah, I have been an assistant to Giger and his workshop for seven and a half years and I still work very closely with his widow and his circle of friends”
Were there any works he was involved with when he passed away that are still to see the light of day?
“Only three dimensional things. He didn’t create new works any more. He decided he was drained. He no longer had the visions that were necessary to create new things and he was honest enough to say ‘I don’t want to repeat myself just for money’ so what he did was take things from his paintings and evolve them into jewellery or sculptures and the other area he was involved in was the creation of his museum, which is still thriving. With the jewellery his workshop is still extremely active and we are also planning new Giger books because there is tons of his work that has never been released and we are planning national exhibitions too.”
So you will continue to draw inspiration from him for future material?
“Yeah…it’s on a different level now that he has become a part of my life and I was part of his life, but to the day of his death he was always a genius and I worshipped him.”
How did it feel to you when he first said he liked your music and he wanted to work with you?
“I was astonished…as I say, my first perception goes back to my childhood and I would never ever in my wildest dreams have guessed…it was a great honour…..I would never have rated my own creations as great enough that they would attract attention from somebody like him so…it’s a great honour.”
Was the current album – was it a difficult process bringing it into being – it took quite a long time and you mentioned in some interviews prior to its release that it had been a painful album to make…do painful emotions help you to write or does it actually make life more difficult when you have to work on your music and record it?
“Oh of course it helps – if you are the child of a millionaire and you grew up in a mansion with servants – if everything in your life is catered for I don’t think you are able to create raw, passionate, dirty music – as is evidenced by Metallica” [smirks from me, but no hint of a grin from Tom – he isn’t being cheeky – he means every word]
“I tend to think you have to draw your emotions from somewhere and although it may seem absurd, I guess suffering helps our kind of music – which is not to say we crave this – everybody craves a life that is carefree, but that’s not how it is in the real world. There is a level where constant trouble in your life is very distracting and it’s paralysing – it leads to depression and other issues. I think that’s what happened at times with this album – the album languished at the studio for one and a half years, with nobody in the band working on it because of things like that and we were completely crippled because a number of band members had to attend to things in our lives – myself included – and that’s not…I’m not saying that to portray a dramatic element to promote the album or anything like that – it’s just the way it was.
We all feel a certain degree of surprise that it came into being but now that it’s done it is a great relief that that period is behind us. A lot of people seem to connect to the emotions on it…but for me it’s a very difficult thing because it carries so many thoughts I am glad to leave behind and personally I am working on the next album. I am extremely grateful for the success of this album but it allows me to think about something else right now.”
Do you have a lot of ideas for the new album…do you write on the road at all?
“No. Unfortunately that is the one thing I cannot do on the road – which I regret because I am relegated to reproducing rather than creating. When you are on a huge bus like this – and with another band – you never get time to just sit with your guitar and create which is very frustrating – but at home I have tons of ideas and the concept and the sound…everything of the album is in my head and I have made lots of sketches and I am very clear musically. It takes a lot of work to get there but I pretty much know what the whole album will be like and the title and everything.”
Is that something you’re able to discuss now, in terms of the title, or not until nearer the time?
“I would feel very uncomfortable because as soon as I divulge something then it’s kind of etched in stone and certain fans may expect something….I like to have the liberty to let my creativity go where it goes. We are a very free band. Until the very last day of mixing things always change – so the more details I give out now the more fans will search for them later, so I would rather let everything flow. As opposed to Celtic Frost there is a lot of open communication in this band and everyone has influence – especially between Victor and I during the mixing process – it’s like an explosion of creativity at times…but I can let you know more about it the closer we come to finishing it.”
And what do you do between shows on the road – I notice you have a lot of books – do you listen to other bands too?
“I am very old school in that I carry books with me and magazines. I don’t have a Kindle and I don’t play computer games. What I usually do is write on one of my blogs or read the news or read a book…or just talk with the band…which, since we are all friends in this band, is quite a pleasant thing. It was at times impossible in Celtic Frost but in this band it is actually a pleasure. There is of course our crew who I am happy to say have also grown into friends so there is a lot of interaction.”
What bands are you listening to at the moment? Do you listen to a lot of heavy music?
“No, not really. I listen to a lot of heavy rock, but not much beyond a certain time…most of what I listen to ends in the 1980s. I tend to miss a lot of songwriting qualities in music these days. Maybe that’s an unfair statement, but I feel the market is saturated with a lot of mediocre bands right now. There is the occasional fantastic band, but by and large when you listen to Led Zeppelin or prog rock from the 1970s or even classic rock music from the 70s there is such an absolute passion and creativity there that sometimes I tend to miss with modern bands.
I tend to listen to the music that has always been important to me and has helped shape my life. I always feel at home in that music. On tour you always get exposed to new music and I have to say on this tour the band Code Orange – which has been controversial when discussed amongst us – I am one of the people who likes them very much.”
I started as a fan of the heavier end of the spectrum but then more recently I have delved back into 70s prog and very much discovered that world and the two seem connected to me, in terms of passion and creativity…
“Absolutely – my MP3 player is full of Camel, Rush…early Genesis, early Barclay James Harvest…real adventurous progressive bands – I love that.”
A friend recently introduced me to early Genesis and told me I needed to hear “Lamb Lies Down…” and it really is unbridled in its approach – they seem so unrestrained by any idea of what they should be or sound like…
“Absolutely – there is so much music like that from the 1970s…prog music in that era…there is tons – just so much – and then solo projects from the musicians from those bands – there is so much there that I have little need to listen to much beyond that…I don’t live in the past but the past has created a lot of great music, and great music doesn’t age.”
You have talked about Giger and what a genius he is and an icon to you…you must be aware that to many people, myself included, you are very much an icon…
“They are probably deluded [smiles]”
Is it weird to you, then, to be viewed like that?
“Yes it is. It’s very awkward for me because it doesn’t fit with how I see myself. I had an extremely humble and at times extremely difficult upbringing and I am still mentally very close to that – it is not something I can just put away.
I had this surreal dream of one day being a musician and when I was a teenager that dream seemed completely far fetched and impossible to realise but finally it happened and in spite of it happening it still seems far fetched to me now. I am simply a guy who is passionate about music – and all the things that happen around it feel a little surreal to me. I see really capable musicians who I think are a million times better than me and I think they should be getting the attention.”
Can you tell me of newer a band that you feel inspired by?
“The Wounded Kings for example are an amazing band. There are many good bands out there and there will always be great new bands I hope.”
Well thank you for taking time to talk to ThisIsNotAScene, it’s been a genuine pleasure.
“Well, thank you, very much”.
And despite finding the idea of being an icon somewhat awkward, he eases my awkwardness when I nervously ask to have a picture taken with him by putting his arm round my shoulder and saying “Of course – get a couple just to make sure they come out okay”. He bids me farewell and promises that tonight Triptykon will “prevail, despite the venue”. And they do. [Read the review of the show here…]