Tom Crouch has come a long way in the past two years. From a small following in his home town of Romsey near Southampton, the affable 19-year-old has become an internet star, with thousands of hits on his YouTube videos and SoundCloud posts from fans in 26 countries. Covering artists from Coldplay to DJ Fresh, his own material is also blossoming, as is his session work. Recently chosen by UK chart-topper Gabrielle Aplin to play guitar in her live band, 2013 could be Tom Crouch’s year…
For readers not familiar with your work, what do you do?
I’m a singer-songwriter. I write songs, record them at home, and upload my songs and covers on to YouTube and SoundCloud. I also gig regularly and do session work, playing for artists including Gabrielle Aplin, who had a number one before Christmas.
How would you describe your music?
I’m writing within the folk, post-rock, indie genre. A lot of it is ambient, atmospheric and not a standard pop song. It’s a blend of different genres.
And you play covers?
Yes, Coldplay, Bon Iver and I’ve even covered a DJ Fresh song. The covers that I do are rarely current. They’ll often be old songs that I love. I rarely use the same chords and voicings as the originals. I tend to do my own versions of them.
How did you start in music?
My parents both played instruments and my wider family – particularly my granddad – was very musical, so from a young age I was brought up around music. I started learning piano at six and picked up the guitar at nine.
Are you self-taught?
Predominantly so, yes. My dad set me off when I got my first guitar – a Peavey Raptor Special – on Christmas Day, ten years ago. He taught me a few chords, E, A and D. Then I listened to things, played them by ear and figured out the chords. I’d play for two or three hours in my bedroom after school every night for three or four years, much to my parents’ delight! I used to print out pictures of big crowds and put them on my wardrobe in front of me, so I could imagine that I was playing to thousands of people! I used to get an empty loo roll tube, tape it to the wardrobe door and pop my little £7.99 microphone that I’d bought from Comet through it. The loo roll was my microphone stand until I got a proper one!
Let’s talk guitars. What acoustic are you currently using?
A Martin OM-21, with an AER AK-15 Plus pickup system in it, which has a piezo electric system and a mic as well. It’s the smaller body size – 000-14. I found that the tone is balanced, so every note rings out like it should. It sounds great in any system that I put it through. I’ve only recently got it and I love it. I’m grateful to the guys at Martin for sorting me out with that.
Is that what you’re playing on most of your YouTube videos?
Yes. Up until I got that guitar, I was playing a Breedlove C25/CRH. That was my first acoustic. It served me well, but the Martin is more versatile.
What gear do you play through?
Straight through the PA. I also use pedals – an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man delay, a Strymon blueSky reverb and a tuner. The blueSky is my favourite. It’s amazing. The reverb is so authentic and you can create some interesting effects.
And you play electric as well?
Yes, either a Fender Tele with Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pickups in the neck and vintage at the bridge, or a Fender Strat with Custom Shop ‘69 pickups.
Does an acoustic help you compose new songs?
Yes, I often write my songs on an acoustic. Recently I’ve started to look at my lyrics. I’m trying to be more poetic and take inspiration from literature. After I’ve got some lyrics I’ll go to the guitar and create something that reflects those lyrics.
When did you start writing songs?
I wrote my first song – ‘Destination’ – with my friend when we were ten. An anthem to the last few years of our primary school, it was about how we wanted to be famous rock stars. We played at school assemblies and fêtes in a band that we had together.
When did you realise that your own songs were good enough to be performed?
That first song, ‘Destination’. When people started to like the song and sing it back, and we sold CDs at school and people bought them, I was like, “I love it!” And ever since then, I’ve wanted to write songs.
Do you practise every day?
I play every day, but recently I’ve slacked on practising, scales and warm-ups.
Do you use a pick or are you fingerstyle?
A mixture. I used to use picks all the time, but now I do a lot more fingerpicking as well.
Any alternate tunings?
Yes, I’ve started using DADGAD and open G. When you tune your guitar to open G and drop your E string to a drop C, it goes to the perfect fourth. You can get some amazing sounds out of it.
How do you record your YouTube performances?
I have a small set-up in my house… much to my family’s delight! I have studio speakers that my granddad gave me. I have a Focusrite two-track interface. And then I’ve got a condenser microphone, some dynamic microphones and my guitars. I plug into my interface and get everything up and running in Logic Pro. From there, I record how I want to. I produce everything myself and always strive for the best quality.
How important has YouTube and social media been to your career?
It hikes it up a gear. Before I did YouTube, everything was local. All the people who knew about me, who came to my shows and listened to my music, were just in my local town [Romsey] and city [Southampton]. I started doing YouTube stuff two years ago and since then my audience has become much bigger. It’s incredible the exposure you can get from the net. I was looking at the statistics from a track I put on my SoundCloud a few weeks ago. Within 24 hours it was being played in 26 countries, which blew my mind! Something that I made in a little room at home in Romsey that reaches 26 countries…
So would you recommend the net as a good promotional tool?
Definitely. Putting things out on the net is the best way to get your biggest exposure. If you’re a budding songwriter or musician, start uploading tracks to YouTube and SoundCloud and get spreading the word. The net has spawned much of the recent work that I’ve done.
That work has included playing guitar with Gabrielle Aplin. How did that come about?
Gabrielle was on tour last March and I supported her at London’s Bush Hall. A fortnight later she texted me. It was very casual – “Would you like to play guitar and do some backing vocals in my band when we come to do some live stuff?” I thought, “Great, I’d love to do that!” We’ve played some terrific shows.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt as a musician?
Being open to anything that comes your way. When opportunities have come up for me to play guitar for people, if I’d said no to half of them, I wouldn’t be half the musician that I am now. Taking any opportunity you can to play music and to make music is the best thing you can do.
What’s next for Tom Crouch?
Releasing some original material. My main focus is getting an EP out, hopefully later this year. At the moment I’m in the process of writing songs and working on a sound that I’m happy with. I want to ensure it’s perfect before I release it. I’ve also been rehearsing with some friends – new songs, new covers – and we’re building up a set which we’ll gig.
What’s the secret of good playing?
Discipline. It’s easy to get frustrated and walk off if you can’t play something. You don’t get anywhere; it just sets you back further. So discipline yourself to think positively and take things one step at a time. It’s much more effective.