Tom Carlson has a profound passion for music. They have been working in music since their early teenage years, playing alone or with a band, at bars, restaurants, open mics and more, performing covers and original songs. They have done jazz, ‘Jazz Manouche’ (a style developed by Django Reinhardt) and bedroom pop. They have recorded many demos inspired by a myriad of things – and finally, after five years of a complicated creative process, Carlson has released their third major album, “The Dead Flowers.”
With the memorable piano riffs of “Buñuel’s Angel” and “The Realest Thing,” catchy guitar rhythms of “June” and “Elephant’s Legs” and the melancholy melodies of “Melting” and “Sifting,” “The Dead Flowers” has something to offer for everyone.
Currently a junior linguistics major, Carlson has a lot on their plate. Between taking classes, learning several languages and doing independent research, Carlson still finds time to not only perform at the Freedom Café and MUSO Open Mics, but to compose and record music.
The work on “The Dead Flowers” began five years ago. Carlson would spend hours almost every day in a coffee shop, writing music on a house guitar.
“I would kill time, but I would kill time doing things that eventually ended up being a lot of the material for [the album],” Carlson said, “At that point [five years ago] I had written the first song on the album, ‘Ser Mi Amor.’”
Carlson’s passion for languages harmonizes well with their talent for songwriting. “Ser Mi Amor” is partially in Spanish, while “What a Statue Does” features a verse in French.
After the summer of their junior year had ended, a friend joined Carlson for their music sessions. Spending time writing and workshopping songs with him, Carlson attempted recording the album on their own, but every attempt left them dissatisfied. Spending four days in a farmhouse in Great Barrington recording from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. the next summer turned out to not be enough time for Carlson and their then-team; college separated those who were invested into the album, leaving Carlson on their own.
“It became utterly impossible to do, given our financial situation,” Carlson said. “So, we gave up.”
During their first year of college, Carlson moved on to writing new songs on their own. Four of them came out on Carlson’s “Winning Horse” – a five-song demo album also available on Carlson’s Bandcamp. However, Carlson later realized that those four songs belong with the unfinished project of “The Dead Flowers.” Just like that, the album was separated into three distinct parts: songs written in the coffee shop five years ago, songs from Carlson’s last high school summer, and things written in their dorm in Eaton House at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).
The idea to record the album in a studio setting returned to Carlson again when they created a band their sophomore year. Playing shows that were distances away from UNH, The Dead Flowers – yes, the album name is, to an extent, an homage to the band – lasted for some time but faded away eventually. Before that, Carlson had one last attempt at recording “The Dead Flowers” at their bandmate’s house.
Carlson still was not happy with the sound.
“So I took all those recordings that I had and I kept them in mind and I said, ‘I’m just going to do it myself,’” Carlson said. “I’m going to take the album into my hands, and then after weeks and months of taking all the old half-recorded versions, and re-tracking things – and adding new things, re-writing songs and writing new songs to fill in the gaps in the story – I had finally created a sort of skeleton for the album, based on the way that we performed those songs, based on the way that in some sense they were intended when they were first recorded.”
“The Dead Flowers” was recorded almost entirely in a UNH dorm. Using what available equipment they had with the help of several friends, Carlson brought together guitar, bass, synthesizers and voice into what they were ready to present as “The Dead Flowers.”
Various aspects of Carlson’s life are the inspiration behind the album.
“Going broke, so you start writing songs, and then you have crises about your gender and sexuality… ” Carlson said. “Just overall, it’s kind of like a reflection of all the stuff that made me myself over the past five years.”