Unless you’ve been living under a rock—or spending too much time practicing— you’ve probably heard of the rock band Florence and the Machine. And if you have any interest at all in the harp (which you probably do or you wouldn’t be here at Harp Column), you may have noticed that unlike most run of the mill rock bands, this one includes a harpist. That harpist is Tom Moth, a classically-trained London based player who has been recording and touring with Florence since 2008. Moth admits that being the right place at the right time helped him land every harpist’s dream gig. We first talked with Tom for our May-June 2011 article “Rock On.” (Download the issue here.) I checked in with him again to find out what he’s been up to lately.
Q: You have a pretty sweet gig playing as the harpist with the rock band Florence and the Machine. Can you tell us what that’s like?
It’s been pretty unreal…from a chance meeting in a car park to playing at some amazing events and venues. Managed to fulfill a lot of my ambitions…I feel very lucky.
Most of us have been in the band for nine years or so, so we know each other pretty well and know how we all work and how to work together…so things gel pretty quickly in rehearsals and the studio.
Q: You got some nice press last summer with Florence’s release of “Wish That You Were Here.” Whose idea was it to feature harp in that song?
That song was recorded for the Tim Burton movie Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, and I believe Tim Burton himself was very keen to have a harp element. I hadn’t heard the song before I got to the studio to record it, so together with Flo and Emile Haynie (the producer), we got something together which would complement the song. Tim Burton wanted something a bit more percussive and plucky, along the lines of “Dog Days,” which gave me a chance to do a bit of riffing in the outro which I enjoyed! But we stuck some “Hollywood Harp” glissandos in there too…for good measure. It’s a track I’m very proud to have been a part of.
Q: Do you help with the writing?
I write most of the harp parts…either by myself or in conjunction with the writers and/or producers. Sometimes there will be a definite idea already established at the initial writing stage, which I will transfer to the harp (for example, the opening sequence of “Dog Days” was something Flo and Isabella Summers wrote using a harp sound on a keyboard, so I replicated that and added a few embellishments such as the melody line that comes in a bit later). With the first album, a number of the harp parts were developed whilst playing live prior to the recording sessions, so they were pretty much arranged by the time we got to record them. For the second album we went into a rehearsal studio for about three weeks for pre-production and to work out our bits, but some of the parts are done on the fly in the studio. There have been a couple that were arranged by someone else—the songs we recorded for the Final Fantasy game soundtrack were done with a full orchestra, so the orchestral arranger wrote the parts for those.
Q: Do you ever worry Florence will wake up one day and decide she doesn’t need a harpist?
Q: What do you do when you’re not playing with Florence?
Session stuff and my own music. I’ve just built a recording studio in my back garden which allows me to work all day and night should I need to.
Recently I’ve worked with Lou Rhodes (singer from Lamb) on her latest solo album theyesandeye, the Americana act My Girl The River and with singer-songwriter Paul Mosley, who I’ve been working with a great deal for the last 11 years or so. I also recorded and toured with New Model Army who are a band I’ve loved for about 30 years. I’ve also been doing some recording for Gary Daly, singer of the 80s band China Crisis who were a major influence on me musically, so that was a big honour. I write a lot myself and have been working on some solo material, and I also played on a song for the latest Lady Gaga album, but that was performed by her as a duet with Florence, so not sure if that counts as an extra curricular activity.
When I’m not doing music stuff I’m looking after my 3-year-old daughter.
Q: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on a gig?
I can’t think of any unexpected occurrences, apart from the odd unplanned stage invasion….most of the strangest moments were either self-inflicted (such as when I attached a pair of flashing clip-on bicycle lamps to my nipples for a show—a very painful, potentially disfiguring, silly and ultimately pointless thing to do), or they’ve happened behind the scenes, like when I found myself in a car park behind the Millennium Dome in London, playing an Irish folk tune to a gorilla impersonator called Elfin.
Q: What would be your dream gig if you didn’t already have everybody else’s dream gig?
I’m not too sure to be honest. As long as it involves making music I’d be happy. Experimenting full time in the recording studio would perhaps be my dream.
Q: Where do you see your career 10 years from now?
Hah…I don’t have a clue. I’ve no idea what to expect—life throws out curveballs all the time, both good and bad. I hope I’ll still be still be actively involved in music—it’s what I’ve worked towards all my life.
Q: Favorite food, favorite city?
I do love a good veggie chili, and most things involving potatoes.
Favourite city? Hard to single out just one really, and the problem with touring is that you often can’t stick around in one place for long enough to fully appreciate it. New York is somewhere I always enjoy visiting. In 2009 we did [our] first US tour which started in New York. It was the first place I’d ever been outside of Europe, but you see so much of it on TV or in the movies—so many books and songs have been written about it, it all seemed very familiar when I finally got to see it, and it made me feel quite at home in a strange way. It still does.
Sydney is another place that’s very special to me—I love it there,…so much fun. I always feel rather mournful when we have to leave as it’s so far away from home I worry I’ll never get the chance to go back. A couple of years back, we did a festival in Budapest. It was the first time I’d been there and I loved it. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay there for very long, so I plan to go back and spend some proper time there. Also, last year we did our first proper tour of South America and I completely fell in love with Buenos Aires, but again we were only there for a brief time.
Q: Anything else you want to let Harp Column readers know about?
I’m currently working on a solo album. I hope to have it finished and available later in the year. It’s quite different to what I do in Florence—more electronic, loop-based and processed. I put out a few records a number of years back and have been trying to do some more since, but fitting it in around Florence shows and fatherhood has been quite tricky. Now I have my studio I can work much more easily, without the fear of annoying anyone else!