Interview with Tom Monger
February 22, 2010, Paradiso Amsterdam, NL
- by Peter Hoogenboom, iJHF
Tom Monger is the first harpist to storm the charts of popular music in many countries around the world. He is the harpist of Florence & the Machine, awarded Britain’s best band in 2009. Their release album “Lungs” is a hit in many countries and they have been touring through the UK, Europe, North America and Australia since. iJHF spoke with him on the eve of their European tour in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Mainstream harpists mostly play music composed by others. What was your drive to pursue your own music?
It was never my dream to play classical music. I started playing Irish Folk music and rock music in several bands in High school.
When did you start improvising?
When I was very young I always played my own songs. I was always busy making my own music. My decision to pursue a serious career in music was made at the age of 7 after hearing an album by Madness, and since then I've spent much of my time experimenting with the harp in different musical settings, utilising different technologies available to me.
What is your relation with jazz music?
My grandfather was a jazz guitarist and I used to listen to him play. I use these jazz influences in my works, both in my Lunamoth projects as is my pop/rock repertoire.
Did you find it difficult or encounter any problems in trying to learn and to play such different music?
I was very lucky to have such wonderful teachers who offered me the possibility and who stimulated me in developing my own music. At the age of ten I began studying with Hugh Webb, who has worked extensively in contemporary music. Webb is not a stranger to iJHF off course.
When I asked a jazz club in London if I could play there once, they just laughed at me. A harp in a Jazz club, what are you thinking? Off course I play much bigger clubs now days.
Do you feel teachers, schools and conservatories should pay more attention to alternative styles like Jazz?
Yes, I was lucky to meet the right teachers, but many teachers simply won’t allow it. When I had to choose between audition training and a gig with the band I chose the latter. They nearly threw me out of the conservatory because they don’t understand a gig to me can be as important as an audition tot a classical harpist.
What’s it like, touring with Florence?
Well, the best thing is that they are carrying the harp and all equipment for you. Our roady even learnt to replace strings recently. It’s crazy though, travelling from city to city overnight performing throughout Europe and the rest of the world for that matter.
Which musicians inspire you the most?
Oof, that’s a lot. I started playing music after listening to Madness, but I’m seriously inspired by various artists like Björk, Stivell, Aphex Twin, Stevie Wonder and Kate Bush. Their styles vary from electronic, acid, ambient, folk, rock and simply unique.
What is your ambition, who is Tom Monger 5 years from now?
I’ll be involved in the whole Florence & the Machine craze for a while, recording our second album this fall. I love to travel, so that’s convenient. I will never stop making music though, developing my own new styles.