Introducing New York-based Reliant Tom, the avant-pop duet from the minds of Claire Cuny a singer/songwriter and dance choreographer and Monte Weber a commissioned composer and sound artist. The pair met in NYC last year where their juxtaposing musical backgrounds excited one another and the collaboration began. I stumbled across their music recently and immediately was intrigued by their sound as it slightly reminded me of a combination of two of my all time favorites Portishead & Radiohead. You can't help but be fascinated by Weber's sound design and sensibility of composition as well as be captivated by the haunting timbre of Cuny's voice. I got the opportunity to interview this interesting duo where I got to learn more about their music and recently released self titled debut EP which you can read about below:
MHB: Where are you from and how did you two meet? How was Reliant Tom formed?
Monte: We met in NYC in 2015 after a contemporary dance show Claire performed in. Claire was a gigging singer/songwriter as well as a working dancer choreographer, and Monte was obtaining his Master's in music theory and composition from NYU while also working as a commissioned composer and sound artist. Shortly after I left NYC for a semester abroad in Paris studying music at IRCAM. We continued to collaborate abroad sending song sketches back and forth while I brainstormed some creative controller designs to use later for live performance. When I returned to NYC we formed Reliant Tom, and used recording the first Ep as a way to really figure out our sound together.
MHB: How long has music been a part of your lives? How did it come to be a part of it?
Monte: I come from a very musical family, my parents operate a small Samba School in western MA where they teach and perform Brazilian percussion styles. I grew up teaching and performing in the family band. After high school I moved to Chicago where I attained a degree in Music Theory and Composition. Later I continued my composition studies in NYC where I attained a Masters in experimental electronic music comp at NYU. Music has always been a very powerful force in my life from as far back as I can remember.
Claire : My father is a pianist, so I grew up with live music inundating the house. As a little girl I’d dance with my sister while dad would play, and that eventually turned into my sister and I seriously training in Classical ballet and other forms of dance. I didn’t start writing songs and singing until I moved to NYC and collaborated with bands, but that initial love of music through dance still informs the songwriter in me today.
MHB: Was there ever a moment that happened that made you say, that it what I want to do with my life and if so, what was it?
Monte: I guess because I started playing music at such an early age it always seemed to be my path in life. There have been many small triumphs here and there and I think overall I’ve always felt that this has been the right choice for me.
Claire: The first time I ever sang with a full band. I was too nervous to even enjoy it but it was such an electric feeling to be part of the energy created, I’ve been addicted ever since.
MHB: Can you recall your earliest musical memory growing up?
Monte: One of my first gigs I ever played was at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA. My parents’ band led a parade from off stage down through the aisle and up to the main stage wing entrances at the beginning of the show. I believe my father was the first to the stage, a bright spotlight overhead. He looked down at his side and there I was wearing a red beret with tambourine in hand. I think I was supposed to stay off stage and enter from the other wing with the rest of the band later on but I must have decided to take my solo early that day.
Claire: Probably “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” by Mr. Rogers.
MHB: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up & what bands continue to influence you and your music?
Monte: Growing up I listened to a lot of Brazilian music, Bossa Nova, American Jazz and Classical music. I’ll always have a place in my heart for Tom Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Marisa Monte, Coltrane, Miles, Mingus. But I think the artist who are more influential to me now are ones I discovered later on, Radiohead, Cat Power, Talking Heads, Brian Eno. Not to mention all the contemporary classical and avant-garde composers I’ve studied over the years.
Claire: My mom was obsessed with The Beatles so I grew up listening to them nonstop. In High School I had one of those hipster Yellow Submarine tin lunch boxes. I love their melodies and harmonies but most of all I love their later, more experimental studio work. I’m a huge fan of Nirvana. I love Kurt Cobain’s vocal melodies and crude but beautiful cryptic lyrics over that extremely powerful 90s grunge sound. Early Cat Power is another artist I always come back to. Her voice is insane, and she has some of the most interesting melodies over such simple chord progressions. Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel is a songwriter I really look up to with his slightly less traditional forms, and very untraditional lyrics/subject matter. His songs feel like magical Christmas nostalgia. There are countless others and the list is always growing but lastly I’ll mention Radiohead. Radiohead is one of the greatest band’s of all time in my opinion. Their progression from the 90s to today is incredible with their forms, electronic design, concepts, rhythms, and songwriting. Radiohead was also the first musical connection Monte and I had in the early stages of our relationship so there will always be that nostalgic freeze in time when I hear them.
MHB: How would you describe YOUR sound to a new listener? What makes your music unique?
Monte: I like saying “stargazer” pop instead of “shoegazer” pop because of our interest in interactive technology which utilizes Claire’s movements on stage to generate sound. If “shoegazing" is akin to introspection then “stargazing” is akin to extraversion, which is really just a reminder to ourselves to look outwards and to remain interested in the constantly changing frontier of new music. There a lot of elements to Reliant Tom’s sound, whether we are exploring music and interactive dance technology, unique approaches to live vocal modulation, or experimenting with ways to deviate from typical song form, there’s always a push and pull, an ebb and flow of experimentation and entertainment which works it’s way into our sound.
MHB: What can you tell us about your EP that you just released? What was the inspiration behind it?
Monte/Claire: This EP has been a way for us to figure out our own sound and to test our compatibility as artists. There’s a strange relationship between compromise and collaboration finding common ground was an initial first step. The EP stands as a mini concept album. The four tracks describe an apocalyptic narrative from personal obsolescence to alien abduction to societal matriculation. A feeling of 21st century ambivalence towards a multitude of musical genres help create the combinatorial nature of our musical interests.
MHB: What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Monte/Claire: For now we are interested in releasing singles and preparing for our live shows.
MHB: If you had the chance to go back and see any artist perform live, who would you each choose?
Monte: John Cage especially to pick his brain after a show, or perhaps just share some comfortable silence.
Claire: Janis Joplin. Her recordings put me in such an visceral place, I can’t even imagine what that would feel like to experience live.
MHB: What is the ultimate driving force that gets you up every morning?
Monte: Our two new adopted kittens Hobbes and Willow, who quite literally are the driving force which gets me up in the morning.
Claire: I still have trouble getting up in the morning. Thankfully Monte gets up first and makes the coffee so I’d have to go with “coffee” as my answer.
MHB: What does music mean to you?
Monte: Music for me means growth. It can be an escape as much as it can be a catalyst of insight a way into connection with the people around me or new ideas. It’s the lens through which I view the world... its a stick, a stone, It’s the end of the road..
Claire: Music is my escape, and I love the world we are creating with ours. Don’t know if I’ll come back.
MHB: Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself and/or your music?
Claire: I just started playing Dungeons and Dragons and I’m a level 4 elf wizard.
Reliant Tom's self titled EP is their first official release and available now. Check out my personal favorite song off the EP called "Flying Ships" below and be taken on a beautiful "star-gazing" journey: