Tin Star Use 'Head' To Shine On American Airwaves

Their debut album, The Thrill Kisser, was recorded in a London apartment.

From its modern, electronic sound, you'd expect the debut album by British rock trio Tin Star to have been made in a spiffy, high-tech recording studio.

But according to members of the band, The Thrill Kisser was recorded at the bass player's apartment in a tiny room cluttered by musical instruments and sound equipment.

"It got a bit claustrophobic," vocalist/lyricist Dave Tomlinson, 31, said of the three-meter cubbyhole in bassist/keyboardist/producer Tim Gordine's London dwelling. That space served as the band's de facto recording studio for most of a year. "There was no room for a drum kit," Tomlinson said, "so we used machines."

"Sometimes it got to be a bit of a scrap, a bit of a mess," Gordine, also 31, said.

Despite the monetary limitations that kept them working in such Spartan circumstances, Tin Star were able to commit 10 dance-oriented pop tunes to record. Now, the band, which formed in late 1997, is beginning to get noticed by the American public.

The album's lead-off track "Head" (RealAudio excerpt), which is also its first single, has climbed to #14 on Billboard's Modern Rock Chart, putting Tin Star in the company of such established chart performers as Lenny Kravitz, No Doubt and Dave Matthews Band.

Tomlinson said the song's rise has paid dividends. He cited the sold-out small to mid-sized venues on the band's current U.S. swing. Recent gigs for Tin Star, which also includes 32-year-old guitarist/keyboardist Tim Bricheno, have included promotional appearances on radio shows in New York and Columbus, Ohio.

"It's fantastic," Tomlinson exclaimed from the band's New York stop. "We're just three guys from England who've been fortunate to achieve this kind of success. People are turning up on the strength of the song on the radio."

"Head" is a spirited, hook-filled piece of electro-pop. It begins with a spooky, fractious guitar riff, with a drum machine and a funky bass loop driving the music from there. Tomlinson sings of paranoia and confusion in an emotional, expressive voice ("I'm not getting along/ I'm not getting the answer/ I can't get out of my head") as an Alfred Hitchcock-inspired string effect enters and exits the mix.

While that "Head" lyric might reveal a soul in torment, Tomlinson said he literally fell into the concept. He tumbled out of bed one night last year; the accident left him momentarily dazed and lost as he struggled to grasp what had just occurred.

"I changed 'I can't get out of bed' to 'I can't get out of my head.' It sounds more intense, [but it's] not a particularly deep song," Tomlinson deadpanned.

Tin Star's recording space -- which Gordine and Tomlinson acknowledged they are considering using again for their next album -- was rather daunting. Gordine said he surrounded his 8-track digital recording unit with instruments, samplers, drum machines and a keyboard rack, leaving the men with little room to maneuver.

But Gordine said the physical tension contributed greatly to the final result. "It was quite an intimate experience, I guess," he said. He cited the solemn "Wonderful World" (RealAudio excerpt) and the melodic "Don't Say" as songs that were affected by the tighter-than-normal process and the room's acoustics.

Tomlinson said it was access to advanced technology and a fancy studio that contributed to the death of XC-NN, an industrial-rock band that that featured him and Bricheno.

Signed to Sony Music subsidiary 550 Music, XC-NN was allowed in 1996 to use a recording studio in Los Angeles to make Lifted, the band's second and final album. Tomlinson said the musicians felt lost in the environment.

"We played it live because of the equipment available," he said. "[But it] wasn't going where we wanted it to go." Their disappointment with the resulting album led to XC-NN's decision to disband.

At a London pub, Tomlinson and Bricheno were discussing their need for a bassist to get a new band off the ground. Gordine overheard the men by chance and engaged them in a discussion. A working relationship was formed on the spot, and the new band soon struck a recording deal with V2.

Gordine is a veteran producer and engineer who has worked with Robbie Robertson and Deep Forest. Tomlinson credited him with giving The Thrill Kisser the direction and focus it needed. Gordine said he sees his role as keeping the music as honest as possible.

"You can f--- with the sonic world as much as you want, but keep it honest," Gordine insisted.

Less lofty in his aspirations, Tomlinson simply considers Tin Star a pop band with a healthy future. "We're still basically a song band," he said. "We want you to move your hips."

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