Biography of Tom Monger on International Jazz Harp Foundation
translated from the Dutch.....):
.....After school, Tom studied at Trinity College of Music, London, with Sioned Williams. He also studied for a number of years with Hugh Webb.
much of his training was in the classical field, and although
he does enjoy playing classical music, Tom was always more keen
on playing other styles of music. His decision to pursue a serious
career in music was made at the age of 7 after hearing an album
by Madness. Since then he's spent much of his time experimenting
with the harp in different musical settings, utilising different
technologies available to him. Tom has been playing in bands since
the age of 14 and over the last 10 years he has concentrated on
electronic/techno music. He released several records in this style
under the name Lunamoth.
In 2005, he recorded a cover version of "Army Of Me" by Björk, which was chosen by Björk herself to appear on the compilation album "Army of Me - Remixes and Covers", released on the One Little Indian label that same year. Ironically, this is probably his most successful Lunamoth recording, yet it was a complete departure from the techno sound, bearing more of a relation to contemporary classical music.
Tom joined Florence and the Machine in 2008, although he'd been recording with Florence and Isabella (the keyboard player) for some time prior to actually joining the band, working on early demos of various tracks, a number of which ended up on the Florence and the Machine album.
Tom plays an Aoyama Amphion harp, and he amplifies it using 2 AKG C411L contact microphones. In the past, he has used a number of effects boxes, including the Korg Kaoss Pad, and Alesis Air FX, and various types of guitar pedals. However, whilst working on the Lunamoth material, he started using the Ableton Live software. This enabled him not only to run the loops and samples he used, but offered scope for live improvisation and looping both with the harp and with the pre-programmed material. Tom was finding the electronic music performance a little bit stifling. It was difficult to improvise or alter the pre-programmed material which meant that a lot of performances were identical. With the Ableton programme, he is able to play around with everything in real time and give more of an 'honest performance', as he puts it. The programme comes with a large number of audio effects, which are really good, and that is what he uses for the harp. He plugs it into the laptop, and he's got a MIDI foot pedal enabling him to turn the effects on and off, change the parameters etc, without having to stop playing, while the other effects boxes required him to change things with his hands.
Tom's main interest
lies in playing with sounds, and the harp offers a lot. "I
still have a lot of work to do to discover new sounds and effects
from the harp, but that's what I plan to work on... At the moment,
my schedule with Florence is pretty hectic and half the time I
don't even know where my harp is (it often travels along with
all the other equipment, separately from the band)... but hopefully
soon I'll be able to sit down and work with it again and see what
I can discover."
"Halfway through our European tour, the trailer carrying all our instruments and equipment caught fire and destroyed everything (including my harp), so we have been having to put everything back together and re-organise...frustrating, time-consuming, but necessary. Happily, I now have a new harp, but the one I lost I had owned for 17 years and we'd been through a lot together...it was like losing a best friend."
Interview on International Jazz Harp Foundation website :
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.
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 and in 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 of 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? Of course I play much bigger clubs nowadays!
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 to 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 roadie 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.
Do you have any advice for beginning Jazz harpists?
When they tell you to do something you don't like, DON'T! Don't be scared to make mistakes, and just play what feels right.