by trevor elkin
photo: rhodri brooks
Based in the hills of Radnorshire, mid-Wales, we know Mark Daman Thomas best as the founder of DIY label Shape Records and also a member of Islet. He’s just released his solo debut album as Farm Hand, an authentic moniker for a project that elevates the ordinary, everyday world with its eerie arcane electronica. Entitled ‘International Dreams’, the title track references Thomas’ (mercifully unrealised) boyhood ambitions to play international football for Wales. According to Daman Thomas, the album’s greatest inspiration was the jumbled-genre, counterintuitive pop music of U.S. Girls, aka Toronto-based artist Meg Remy. With a dash of uneasy black humour and monkish vocals, ‘International Dreams’ is like a psilocybin stroll through Welsh countryside. At night. All alone.
Read on if you’re curious about the man behind the mystery, below.
Label owner, multi-instrumentalist, creative producer, farmer. That’s one diverse CV you have. How transferable are your skills?
I’m not 100% sure how to answer this so I’m just going to ‘reasonably’.
Which job came first and do you ever get mixed up between all your different roles?
Ha, farming came first, as we were out working for 50p an hour from a young age. I don’t tend to get mixed up too much but I did make the mistake of recording this album during lambing so things did get a bit mixed up then as I had to check the shed in between takes.
What was the best part of your day yesterday?
I actually did something I’d never done before and live-streamed a gig from my living room. I had a huge amount of fun as Instagram Live has a chat room element and lots of friends, family and people I didn’t know popped in to have a look and a chat. There was something about it that was incredibly different from doing a normal gig but still gave me the same kick.
Are you secretly glad you’re actually not an international footballer?
Yes, hugely glad. I wouldn’t have had much fun as I’d just want to do music. I’m actually actively trying to reduce the role of football in my life. I did an audit on myself and realised it isn’t adding anything particularly useful. I won a fantasy football league table last year with 20-odd teams in and I didn’t even get one text to say ‘well done’. So I just figured, what is the point in this?! I spent a disturbing amount of time messing around with my team selection and transfers – this year I haven’t even been on it. I’d rather use the time to do music and art. It is going ok but weirdly I’m struggling to shake the habit of reading about football. My goto website is still football365. Football also brings out the bad competitive, angry side of me which I’d rather not see.
Tell us a bit about the new album, ‘International Dreams’ where/how did it start?
I decided to make an album at the end of 2016 – I realised I was drifting a bit and needed to focus in a bit and making an album felt like the best way of doing so. I started writing songs and music just after my wife (Emma who is also in Islet) and I had just relocated from Cardiff to Mid Wales. We had a child and life changed a lot. It is very much of a time after we moved into our cold house in the hills surrounded by family, sheep, and new ways of living and being. One of the lines is “Chest freezer is full to the brim” as we live 20 mins from any shops and had to learn how to be prepared.
Who helped make it?
A man called Rob Jones produced it. It was a fun process as I didn’t know him before we did it, he was recommended to me by my friend Steve. Rob really knows his stuff and was patient with me. We both like posh coffee and he taught me how to do upside down aeropress. Meanwhile, my mum and dad looked on in horror at our extravagant and inefficiency at making hot drinks thinking “what on earth is wrong with instant coffee?”.
Other than proper coffee (essential), was there anything else from city life you couldn’t do without?
Gigs! Going to gigs. I love gigs. I might start going to more e-gigs on the internet to make up for it but I’m not sure it will be the same.
Your video for ‘Solution’ features a nighttime mountainside drive – don’t you get freaked out there in the dark?
I love the darkness around here. I’ve got a head-torch now as well which helps, I highly recommend getting one.
What’s the best piece of equipment you own and why?
Either my sp404 sampler or my boss loop pedal – both have been so useful and enabled me make music in a new way. I should also say – my phone. It is so useful to be able to record snippets directly onto something I carry with me at all times. Needless to say, it does have some distracting elements to it as well.
Do you have any good ghost stories?
No, not into ghost stories at all. Not in a scared way, just doesn’t interest me. I’ve never even got dressed up for Halloween. I didn’t grow up knowing Halloween was a ‘thing’. A farm up a lane in the middle of nowhere isn’t really prime for trick or treating so we knew nothing about it. I’m glad though as it looks annoying. Mind you, I do like roasted pumpkin soup.
You performed in a bat cave for Green Man last year, where would be your ultimate live venue?
I want to do a gig on the exact border between Wales + England with one foot in Wales and one in England. I live 2 miles from the border so it is part of my identity and it is something I am fascinated by – the culture of border people.
What makes border people different?
Well, I guess we have a regular and healthy relationship with both sides of the border. It’s odd being a border person as I’m Welsh, identify as Welsh and have only ever lived in Wales but I sometimes get a feeling I’m not ‘Welsh’ enough for some people. I drove to Manchester from here the other day and must have crossed the border about 6 or 7 times, it wiggles and winds all the way up. The ‘nothingness’ of the actual border interests me as it represents so much to people but yet it cannot be touched and the flora and fauna looks the same on both sides.
You must get a few demos sent to you at Shape? Who would you recommend we listen to?
Yeah we do get sent a lot of music. I actually have a difficult relationship with people sending us music as I don’t want to be seen as a gatekeeper in anyway. I think people spend too much time crafting emails to labels. I guess it works sometimes but I think it is better to make the labels come to you or, even better, make a label. That’s what we did and it is so liberating to know that you don’t have to stress about how or who is going to release your music. Anyways, to answer the question: these are not people who have sent us music but I recommend listening to Twinfield, Ski Saigon, Accü and W H Dyfodol.
What else is on your to do list for next 12 months?
I love to do lists. Embarrassingly, I’ve turned into a bit of a ‘productivity’ nutcase. I have less time than I used to owing to having a child (soon to be children) so have learnt to manage my time better and find time where I didn’t used to know it existed (the morning and when I used to be watching football). Doing this interview is on a to do list I made this morning. I simply can’t wait to tick it off! Also, I want to be way more prolific with music and record + release another Farm Hand album and finish and release the next Islet album. I also really need to put a curtain pole up on the window at the top of the stairs and lower the draught excluder on the front door.
14th November – The Social, London (Huw Stephens Presents)
6th December – The Lexington, London (supporting Sweet Baboo)