16 August 2018
This interview was conducted after Dale had worked 50 hours in 4 days so that he could go and play with The Bad Flowers in Slovenia, who says being in a band is easy! The Bad Flowers are off on a UK tour in September with co headliners Federal Charm. Details on how to buy tickets are at the end of the interview, if you have not already purchased them to see this excellent band who always put on a fabulous show.
How did you get on the bill for Motorcity in Solvenia?
Basically, it was someone that Ian, our booking agent, knows who had seen us play and wanted to book us and was very keen for us to be included. The next thing you know we are all confirmed. It was quite weird for us as it came out of the blue. It’s a great thing though and we are looking forward to playing.
Have you always been a bass player and what was your inspiration to start?
Yes, it wasn’t really an inspiration it was more of a necessity. I was at high school and some friends of mine wanted to start a band and the only position left was a bass player. So, it came about that I wanted to be in a band but the only instrument left was the bass. So, I went and bought myself a bass and then the band never took off, it never actually happened. So, I was sitting at home with this bass and Tom and I used to ride BMX together and I broke my ankle and I ended up having 6 weeks off school and then it was the summer holidays so I was in a cast for 12 weeks with just a bass to play, and that is how it came about.
Did you have lessons or did you learn off YouTube, or how did you learn?
Literally, I learnt by pulling tabs off the Internet and playing along to the Black Sabbath, Paranoid album that my Dad had on vinyl. One of his friends came round and showed me a 12 bar walking bass line, so I got used to that and then my Dad said “Now you are playing bass, listen to this bass player, which happened to be Geezer Butler and so I got into it and spent the whole 12 weeks playing and by the end I could play the whole album back to front. It was because I was playing for 4 to 5 hours every day, just sitting there, pulling tabs off the internet and listening to each piece but in 20 to 30 second snippets. I would keep playing the same track over and over and working out what to do.
Is that still how you pick things up?
A lot of the time, yeah. Now because I play and practise that much I pick a lot of stuff by ear. I have trained my ears to get good recognition of pitch. I can hear something and within a couple of bars I know what key it is in. I mess about with things when I am practising and will put a song on and try to play to it. If I struggling, as a last resort I will drag the tab off the internet and go from there. But I try and do it all by ear, to be honest.
That must mean you have a great understanding of music if you can do that?
I am not sure, I suppose but it something I have always been able to do. I have always tried it that way first before going for the easy option of looking online. I always try to make it a little bit of a challenge for myself. I try and learn new things, like new scales which I do read the tab for, so that I can develop different styles and ways of playing, so I am not stuck in the same way of playing all the time. Especially as we are working towards the second album, we want it to be different and so different scales and ways of playing come in handy. I suppose a rounded bass player is what you need, so you have to try and learn as much as you can.
Talking about the second album, we heard one of the new songs at ‘Steelhouse Festival’, how did that funky bass line come about? It seemed to a departure to the Bad Flowers sound, in a good way.
It really just came about as Tom was jamming something and Karl was jamming something in the practice room. I had popped out for a fag and when I came back in they were just jamming along to this thing and I so I picked the bass up and tried to fill the space in between to be honest. It reminds me a lot of Andy Fraser playing from Free, that is the vibe I got from the song and so that was what I tried to go along with. As it is a simple song it doesn’t need anything too crazy, just simple, straightforward and something people can jump up and down to or nod along to and get them going.
Well, it certainly got the crowd doing that, didn’t it?
Very much so, it was great. The audience at ‘Steelhouse’ was amazing, absolutely incredible!
Then we had a quick chat about being prepared and hunting for suitcases 😊
You alluded to this in your last couple of answers, do you think the next album, the follow up to ‘Starting Gun’ will see some differences in tracks and vibe?
Yes, because since the writing of ‘Starting Gun’ the band has developed and grown in its own way. The things we are doing and listening to now are slightly different from 12-18 months ago. Something we have always tried to do when we sit down to write songs or are jamming together is that if it sounds too similar to something we have done before we try and adapt and change it because we want every song to come across as something different, not only for us to play but for people listening. We have about 5 or 6 ideas already and some of them are pretty much full songs for the next album, there is some bluesy stuff, some heavier stuff and also developing the sound we have now to make it bigger and better.
It is brilliant to have that many songs ready so quickly after the last album
To be honest, we didn’t stop writing. We had, maybe a month of concentrating on the set for the tour with ‘Stone Broken’ and Jared (James Nichols)’ but we start each practise session just jamming, to get us all warmed up and 90% of the time, that is what turns into a song. We can just jam something out at the beginning of practice and then we say “Remember that”, we then run through the set and come back to it. This is what we have always done and it happened that a fair few of them were things we thought “oh that is second album, that’s a keeper”.
You said you are all listening to different things than you were 12 -18 months ago so what are you listening to now?
A varied amount. I have gone way back and started listening to a lot of disco, soul and early blues, just different stuff. I have got into ‘Chic’ quite a bit recently and also ‘Phil Collins’, I am not sure why but they have more funky, pop bass lines. Also, I am listening to some heavier stuff, it is whatever catches my ear at the moment that I listen to. I think I am coming to the peak of the ‘Phil Collins’ stage but who knows what it will be next week!
So, the next Bad Flowers track could be a disco / soul track?
Giggles …. Yes, it really could! This is what makes us work, there is such a varied range of influences from everyone that we all bring something different. Especially as we are a 3 piece you can put the early disco, soul, funk stuff that have such great bass lines to fill out the sounds in the background.
How important is a bass line to a song as there are some great 2 pieces out there? I do realise that I am asking a bass player this question!
I am going fight the corner of the bass player! Yes, but there are both sides as ‘Royal Blood’ is just bass and drums and so it shows it can be done. I try and think of it, and I am not sure if it is from my preference from being a bass player, but the bass line always seems to carry the song. The melodies come from the guitar, the beat and rhythm come from the drums and the bass is always the middle ground that links the two together. I think you can either play for the song or you can play something completely different that will change the entire feel of the song. So you could play something really technical and it can change the feel of the song or you could drop it back, stripped back and simple, like the new one we did at ‘Steelhouse’ and that is just dead simple all the way through and it just seems to carry the song and keeps it going, it keeps people grooving.
So, you are the filling in the Bad Flowers sandwich then?
Yes, a Dale Tonks sandwich!!
Well, you heard it heard first!
We have heard you sing a few times, ‘War Pig’s and backing vocals are there any plans for you to be a bit more, up front, on the next album?
I have definitely been working on being a bit more vocal. It was one of those things that I struggled with. It was a confidence thing, but I have got over that now and started looking after my voice a lot more. So, when we come around to the second album I can out more in. Trying to get some melodies going on some of the hook lines and change up some choruses as harmonies can really, really make a song and take it to that next level. This is something I am working on more, Tom has been badgering me for years to pull my finger out so I am concentrating on this.
That will be great, I can’t wait to hear that.
Neither can I, you’ll probably hear it when it is finished!
No, we want to hear all of the outtakes as that is always good fun as well
I have heard a couple and they sound weird!
After Slovenia, the next thing you have coming up is your co headline tour, how do you prepare for that?
As a band or personally?
As a band we increase practise length and when we do practise we will get into the rehearsal room and not stop until we are happy with what we have done, if anything needs changing we will change it there and then. Once we have something settled it is just literally, over and over again and again. We keep it going and try and hit a better standard every time, so it becomes almost second nature for the tour. It is nice to go out and know that everyone is comfortable as it works so much better that way.
And personally, do you do any prep before you go away? Find your suitcase more than 30 seconds before you go out the door 😊?
Normally, it is a deep clean of the van and a deep clean of my clothes … giggles. I think when you are about to go on tour it is about keeping on top of the nerves and not getting too carried away with it as you can get excited about it. Try and keep on a level so you can go out and do it every night. Don’t wear yourself out before you have even got there but you do need to practice hard before you go, so even if you are a bit knackered it can be good and you get the benefit at the end of the tour, a bit like running a marathon, the more you do it the longer you can keep going.
Is it fun?
It is, especially when you look back on it. The weather we had in February made it quite eventful, so I am hoping the weather stays the way it is for September. I would quite like a tour in 30 degrees, it would be quite nice.
I hope you have a great time on tour in September and enjoy Slovenia!
Interview by Samantha Lamb, Spin Sunday Music Reviews