Hayley Williams and hair dye. Matty Healy and a megaphone. Tom Fleming and a… tirade against toxic masculinity? Some marriages just work, and if your perfect musical union is state-of-the-nation rock sung a northern English accent, then you must fall in love with One True Pairing.
Wild Beasts fans will be familiar with his formidable baritone, but in his newly solo-guise, Tom is in noticeably fighting spirit. Harbouring no long-term desire to go it alone, he found himself forced in self-presentation simply through the recognition that despite the end of his band, there was still plenty more he wanted to say.
"I had these songs but knew I didn't want this to be an acoustic singer-songwriter record" he explains. "Hence the name, the way everything looks - I didn't want it to be earnest. You just have to look at the mainstream singer-songwriters to know that that stuff will never go away. I wanted this to be a threat to that, the way Wild Beasts were to macho, landfill indie. I want this to be a protest vote against society at large."
It's a bold undertaking, but certainly not one that Fleming is a stranger to. Brought up in the working-class region of Kendal, Cumbria, his experience of class tensions and community unrest is mirrored in current-day Britain, fuelling the political themes of the record. "The only way to talk about politics in an honest way is to implicate yourself. We grow up marinaded in violence. I went to a comprehensive school, and it's everywhere, literally going to a friend's house, and he's got eight or nine combat knives," he recalls. "It's a signifier of manhood, of how tough and badass you are. There's a fascination with it, and a society that doesn't really give a shit. 'Fight among yourselves, and we'll see who emerges the victor'; that's what the whole of British society is predicated upon, that's working-class advancement. 'Weapons' isn't a mournful song; it's just calling out the bullshit."
Building upon the acoustic-Americana skeletons of his demos ("in some places it's a proper love song to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty"), the musical landscape that Fleming crafts with producer Ben Hillier (Smashing Pumpkins, Blur, Nadine Shah) is as dystopian as its themes suggest, studded with industrial shrapnel and bleak electronics that add a strange, menacing-yet-danceable style. 'Elite Companion' is a notable example, detailing the class war that still thrives in our society.
"The scorn poured on working-class people from smaller towns is pretty revolting, and the powers that be, especially in art, will occasionally pick a working-class artist and hold them up to show how woke they are, and then forget about them," he explains. "Things like giving Skepta the Mercury Prize when he's been doing it for 15 years, being like 'oh now you may have this because we have decided you're good enough'. You're invited into those spaces and then told to leave via the backdoor. That's how it always was, but it's felt a lot more keenly when there's less money around. Everyone grasping, and kicking each other in the shins – you ever heard that metaphor 'a box of crabs'? That's what it feels like."
Speaking of the Mercury Prize, Fleming feels that this year's list is lacking one serious contender in the form of his former bandmate. "I'm absolutely rooting for Hayden, I think his record is so beautiful," he says. "He probably should have been in with a shout there, but it's one of those things. We're always going to draw comparisons I think, at least for the next few years, so it's good that our records have such clear water between them. Otherwise, it could have gotten messy."
Let's leave the mess then, to the future of an artist that isn't afraid to make one. From the internet-aping fonts of the record ("I love how it sort of looks like a black metal font, but also kind of cute"), to the 80s hair-metal influence that "uses a kind of campness to say something more serious", everything about One True Pairing is intentionally confrontational, and provides a serious shot in the arm because of it.
"This isn't some kind of metropolitan style exercise; this is art about things that are happening, real stuff," he explains. "Essentially, I want One True Pairing to sound like a new thing. Obviously, it's going to have a relationship to what came before, but I'm proceeding like it never happened because I have to. You have to assume that nobody is going to care." Here's hoping they do.
Taken from the October issue of Dork. One True Pairing's self-titled album is out 20th September.
Featuring Lauv, Swim Deep, Sports Team, Sampa The Great and more.