Tom A Leah aka Werkha is one of the UK's rising and most exciting talents on the alternative music scene bringing together everything including jazz, funk, afrobeat, bass and more to his compositions, productions, DJ sets and live performances.
Yeah, grand thanks, just catching up with stuff after a fairly mad couple of weeks gigging around Europe and trying to move to a new city at the same time. Settled now though.
Let's start at the beginning of your career as a music producer. When did you start making tunes?
I suppose I really only started music production in a serious manner about 5 or 6 years ago – which feels quite recent in comparison to the time spent learning instruments. And I only really started taking my own productions seriously towards the end of 2012 with my first EP “Cube & Puzzle”.
There are a huge number of genres that can be heard within your tracks. What or who would you say are your main musical influences? Be it artists, genres or cultural aspects.
It’s good to see you mention cultural aspects, because I do like the idea of bridging the different musical cultures I’ve been exposed to in my music. Growing up learning and listening to 60s folk music, later (much later) becoming acquainted with electronic music through the earlier 140 era, whilst also playing and performing jazz and afrobeat & being educated classically. I love it all, but especially the music which makes room for crossovers between them all.
Are you a musician yourself or more inclined to programming?
A musician I would say. The more I think about it, the more I keep writing, it is the compositional practice that I enjoy the most. Production is effectively another instrument to me, a means of getting ideas down on a record, a means of spicing up an idea.
Do you think being a musician makes a difference to the sound a producer can end up with?
Well I think it results in approaching production from a slightly different angle, but it doesn’t mean you can’t end up with a similar result. Ultimately it comes down to your ear, and that’s neither exclusively a musician’s nor a sound engineer’s trait.
You grew up in Manchester, which is a city that has a ripe history when it comes to dance music and club culture. How did growing up in the city affect your exposure to music?
Well I didn’t really do much growing up there. I was born there, moved away when I was about 7 and returned when I was about 18. So there’s a pretty big chunk of time I was away to be honest. However I’m 24 now, and the time I’ve lived in Manchester has exposed me to music like no other place has. The nature of the music scene there has put me in front so many different types of audience. That’s something never to underestimate the importance of.
Your debut album has just dropped on Tru Thoughts. Have you been a follower of the label for some time?
I grew up listening to Tru Thoughts, Bonobo, Quantic, Nostalgia 77… all influences on me. When they came calling a year and a bit ago saying they wanted to get some albums down together, that was a pretty wicked moment. Nice to be part of a label that matches your work ethic too.
What plans do you have for the rest of the summer now your album is out?
Gigs really, continuing to play some festivals with the band. Looking towards a more extensive string of dates post summer with the album dropping quite recently. To be honest, now I’ve got this album out there I’m getting on with writing more material. The ideas feel stronger than ever. I’ve learnt so much from this debut album experience so far.
You’re playing alongside Gilles Peterson, Channel One, Romare and more at the Global Rhythms party in August. Have any of the DJs on the line up inspired you musically?
Gilles' radio shows had a big influence on my growing up over the years. I might not have grown up in the city but I did have radio, and that changed a lot for me. And he’s a lovely bloke, been very supportive of my stuff over the years.
And it’s always nice to be on the same line up as Arch. One of my first DJ sets a few years ago was with Arch when he was playing live and I remember him being really interested in my vinyl set on the night, so it’s nice to catch him playing records now. His productions have an original flavour to them as well.
Can you tell those who are coming to Oval Space later this year what they can expect from your performance in three words?
I suppose you can expect to find live instrumentation from a 5 piece band – Drums, Cello/Bass, Viola/Violin, Vocals, Guitar/Bass/Buttons – churning out music through a groove ridden style of electronica. It’s jazzy, it’s bassy, it's beatsy and dynamic.