It's not a stretch in the slightest to call Tom Iansek a bonafide genius. He is #1 Dads, one half of Big Scary, one half of No Mono and one third of indie Melbourne label Pieater. His three albums under the moniker of #1 Dads alone, the project we're here to learn more about, has gone from a curious side project to an enduring phenomenon in its own right.
His flawless third album (and our November Record Of The Month) Golden Repair is a pristine collection of melodies and meditations on the human spirit. The title is so apt for the music Ianesk makes - it’s a reference to the Japanese artform Kintsugi, meaning to patch with gold. By repairing broken bowls with this precious metal, fault lines are transformed into borders of beauty and strength. Iansek sings of everyday struggles with tenderness. He invites us to find resilience through the cracks and confusion. Each song is executed with care, layering vocals, plaintive piano figures, acoustic guitar, and understated percussion.
In the time leading into the songwriting for Golden Repair, Tom bore witness to loved ones’ loss; experienced the mystery of new life created; and practised listening to a universe that would bestow peace and progress to those patient enough. There are songs of merciless self-confession, songs of accepting limitations, and songs of romantic, familial and marital love. But to understand even more about the man's mind, we jumped on the phone for a quick chat....
WL: Hey Tom, How’re you doing man? What's happening?
TI: Going well thank you, just coming out of Melbourne lockdown so enjoying sitting at cafes and getting out more. It’s also nice to be able to welcome some people back into the studio, rather than hanging out by myself all the time there (which I also do love).
WL: I don’t want to harp on about isolation much, because boring, but I imagine you had plenty to do with a newborn (CONGRATULATIONS btw) and endless songs swimming about your brain. Are you, in fact, the overachiever I’m imagining?
TI: I have had plenty to do most of this year yes, thankfully I’ve still been able to carry on by myself at the studio, which has to a large degree allowed the creative process to continue. No childcare meant that I spent a few extra days a week at home for a while there, which was challenging initially but I am now so grateful for that extra time I got with our son. While I’ve been busy, it certainly hasn’t been all roses this year, there have been many moments of struggle, but this year has been about letting life take me away from what I think is important. Being at peace with this as best I can has helped a great deal and has taught me a lot also.
WL: How is juggling fatherhood and your prolific songwriting, recording and producing so far?
TI: Becoming a parent has probably been the most challenging thing and simultaneously the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Perhaps as it’s a continual work-in-progress, and so with this everyday brings something new and different, it keeps you on your toes continually. It’s not so much juggling these two separate things anymore but rather accepting that it’s all part of the same dance. This is perhaps one of the biggest revelations parenthood has bought me. With this I mean that the ‘life’ that happens all around the music thing is kinda vital to the whole creative process, the juggle itself becomes note-worthy and worth exploring creatively.
WL: Congratulations on Golden Repair. For us, it’s actually one of those records we struggle to form words for, such is the feeling it gives us. And it’s our Record Of The Month - HOW GOOD. I know you're not much a self-sensentialiser, but what would you say to those receiving your record this month that have never heard of #1 Dads, Big Scary or Pieater?
TI: Thank you for choosing this record, what an honour! I would say that this record, like more and more of the records I make, has an element of mystery to me. I brought it into this world, so it is undeniably a part of me but at the same time it is not completely mine also. It was partly a way to return to songwriting, partly a way for me to process some challenging things that were happening in my life at that time. A large part of it came from my unconscious depths I guess I could say, and for this reason it is perhaps why I don’t fully understand it all myself, and so is not fully mine. But I would say that this mystery is perhaps what makes the record the interesting thing that it is, perhaps why words can’t seem to pin it down, as you say.
WL: Well, using other people's words, I've seen it accurately been assigned adjectives like “meditative” - I love that! How does that sound to you, was it something you aimed for when you set out making the record?
TI: I think that’s a wonderful adjective to assign to this record. As I mentioned just above, the record was as much a therapeutic effort as a creative one. I used it to help process things that were going on in my life at the time. I went away for about ten days to write most of the songs, and that time was like a little health retreat, I literally did meditate every day, so it seems the music did imbibe some of that!
WL: Obviously, it’s a very personal one for you. Is there anything in there where you thought “Nah, I don’t want to give that much away?” Or something interesting we might’ve missed?
TI: The initial mixes I did had some very personal artifacts in there, echoey recordings of my partner around the home, and a recording of our son’s heartbeat in utero but I felt it put too strong a personal stamp on the songs, and so I decided to remove them. I wanted it to feel personal so that it would engage the listener in that way but not so personally specific to me that they felt they were only hearing about me, the writer. I feel a song is more powerful when the listener can see fragments of themselves in it.
WL: The sign of a good record, for me, is how often my favourite song off the album changes. ‘Freedom Fighter’ might be the obvious, I see ‘Orion’ mentioned a lot, ‘Another Day’ was the first single BUT what is your pick on the record for purely sentimental reasons?
TI: I feel it will be Orion that I return to most on this record, purely as I feel it most poetically examines some of those great mysteries of life, it has a beautiful ambiguity to it, and because my brain can’t fully wrap itself around it, it will live on in me in restless way. There’s a similar song at the end of the first #1Dads record “Sleepwalking” which works on me in a similar way.
WL: While on ‘Freedom Fighter’ - we have discussions at HQ about the lyrics - are they beautiful or brutal? They are certainly evocative, but can you please shed some light on the feeling of mortality that seems to seep in?
TI: I remember discussing songwriting with Sam Bentley of the Paper Kites and we were talking about how the mind craves understanding, but the soul craves mystery. When it comes to music appreciation we tend to move somewhere between these two. For me I feel that once I do fully understand something that it tends to lose some value for me. I often marvel at a piano piece I hear, and think ‘How the heck did they do/come up with that?’ then I get the sheet music and learn it and when I see the mechanics of it, while it is enjoyable to a degree the song loses that element of mystery to me and with it a certain level exotic excitement. All of this to say, that perhaps I won’t give too much away with the lyrics! I will say that 'Freedom Fighter' was more one of those songs that came from my own unconscious material, questioning some of the subtleties of life that seem to permeate our everyday lives. I can say that as a major backdrop to the whole album there was a theme of birth and death, and the constant cycle between them. My wife's mother passed away from cancer and exactly a year later we found out we were expecting our first child. Perhaps this is where some of that feeling comes from.
WL: I saw a quote from you saying the album title refers to Kintsugi and you compared it to your own restoration process and not always loving what you discovered about yourself. Now, from such a gifted, flawless guy, what’s left to fix?
TI: Thanks dude, you are right, I am perfect.
WL: What’s on the horizon for #1 Dads?
TI: There’s a few question marks around the music industry at the moment which I’m sure you understand, most notably live performances. I haven’t yet had a chance to tour this album, and I can’t say with certainty that I will. Thankfully I have been to move forward in other ways and so there has been more writing happening, it’s not something I want to rush too much however, I just want to enjoy the process.
WL: And how about for you, Tom Iansek, the Pieater crew and as half of both Big Scary and No Mono?
TI: Well, as you know, I love to stay creative and enjoy sending that energy through many different avenues so there might be activity on many of these fronts in coming months.
WL: Thanks for the chat, Tom. Really grateful for your time for our little record club….
TI: Thank you for hosting me and my record this month, I hope you enjoy it!