Pianist and singer-songwriter Tom Rogerson today releases a new track from his forthcoming album; ‘Chant’ was borne out of a desire to express unexplored thoughts in a minimalist style.
Since the release of his last album – 2017’s Finding Shore on Dead Oceans, a collaboration with Brian Eno – Tom Rogerson’s life has undergone a number of dramatic transformations. While writing his new album Retreat to Bliss, Rogerson had a child, lost a parent, and received his own diagnosis of a rare form of blood cancer. The new decade brought him from Berlin to the Suffolk of his childhood, composing profound pieces of minimal songwriting in the church next to his parents’ home.
Talking about the track, Rogerson said: ‘With this song, I’d made a conscious decision to write as minimally and simply as I could, after years of making lots of loud and complicated music. This was the first song with words I wrote, in an effort to express a lot of things that had been on my mind for some time but had lain unexplored. I deliberately left myself nowhere to hide, and for that reason I didn’t expect to record it, or release it, until I started performing it live in the middle of long improvised piano sets, where it seemed to make sense.”
Rogerson studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music under mentors like Harrison Birtwistle, and he made his live debut as an improvising pianist in 2002, before releasing an improvised record with Reid Anderson (Bad Plus) and Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Bon Iver) in 2004. He formed the band Three Trapped Tigers in 2007, expertly blending elements of electronic, jazz and noise rock into a cohesive whole. The band earned a reputation for innovative live shows and went on to perform and collaborate with artists like Brian Eno, Deftones, and the Dillinger Escape Plan. It was working with Eno, another Suffolk native, that eventually led Rogerson back to his roots and back to a place where he could write Retreat to Bliss, his solo debut album announced for a March 25th release on Western Vinyl.
“All my life, the piano has been my constant companion, my confessor, my best friend, and my worst enemy,” Rogerson explains. “I’ve always written music on and for the piano, but it felt too personal, too private to release.”
Indeed, listening to Retreat to Bliss feels almost like eavesdropping, as though you’re crouched in the belfry of a Suffolk church, bearing witness to a form of musical bloodletting. For the first time in his noteworthy career, Rogerson has combined masterful piano playing and subtle electronics with the texture of his own voice, an attempt to express deeply private emotions that were difficult to articulate using instrumental music alone.
Rogerson gives some background on the track: “I was in the middle of a few months where lots of big life events were happening and I wrote lots of things very quickly, having spent years struggling to do anything at all. It was the first sustained period of working by myself with no one else to bounce ideas off, and I instinctively started singing a bit more seriously – I even started using a vocal mic! The whole thing including lyrics was new for me but felt like a necessary response to the mood I was in.”
The eleven tracks that make up Retreat to Bliss were recorded by Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno, David Byrne, Grace Jones) over the course of just a few days, a process that emphasized spontaneity and the artist’s own commitment to improvisation.
“The last few years have brought some struggle, some joy, and a lot of change. My response has been to retreat to what I trust the most: the piano, my voice, and the landscape I grew up in. That’s how the album got its title, and how I came to be ready finally to release a solo record,” he adds.
The opening track, “Descent”, begins with a series of spare notes suspended like icicles, an inhalation of breath audible in the void. The emotional piece builds in intensity until Rogerson’s masterful piano playing has completely taken over, conjuring sonic images of rainfall on glass.
The collection draws the listener in further with songs like the contemplative “Toumani”, inspired by the music of the Malian kora player of the same name, and the centrepiece “Chant”, in which Rogerson quietly pleads, “Please don’t leave me / in this perfect place.” The album finishes with the climactic “Retreat To” and the brief outro “Coda”, a revelatory diptych that unfolds like a confession, furious and mournful one moment and in the next, simply questioning.
Secular yet devotional, intensely personal yet profound, the experience of listening to Retreat to Bliss seems to evade characterisation. It’s physical and emotional, a glimpse into the mind of an artist who has chosen exposure over withdrawal, who uses his command of the piano to chart an unflinching path forward, never looking back.