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N.H. musician Tom Eaton on his group’s Grammy nomination for Best New Age Album

Musician Tom Eaton has been nominated for his album "Brothers," which he created with Will Ackerman and Jeff Oster.
Musician Tom Eaton has been nominated for his album "Brothers," which he created with Will Ackerman and Jeff Oster.

Tom Eaton is an East Kingston-based musician who’s been in the industry for 25 years, but recently, his newest album, “Brothers,” which he created alongside Will Ackerman and Jeff Oster, has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age Album category.

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Eaton grew up in New Hampshire and recently returned. He records and masters out of his home studio. Eaton lends his skills playing piano, keyboards, bass, electric guitar and percussion to “Brothers,” bolstered by Ackerman on acoustic guitar and Oster on flugelhorn and trumpet.

Their music flows effortlessly, with the goal of creating an “illusion of a world,” and allowing the listener to exist in that world for as long as they want, evoking emotions that might be suppressed in the slog of everyday life.

Will Ackerman, left, and Tom Eaton, right, in the studio.
Will Ackerman, left, and Tom Eaton, right, in the studio.

All Things Considered host Peter Biello sat down with Eaton to talk about his music career and what this nomination means to him. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: Tom, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Tom Eaton: Thank you for having me, I'm happy to be here.

Peter Biello: And nice to have you in the studio. I wanted to get to know you a little bit as far as your musical background because you started your interest in music back in high school, right?

Tom Eaton: I did. As a kid, I played saxophone in the typical kind of things you do in elementary school, but I started playing piano kind of seriously in high school and started dabbling in electronic music in high school, and that opened a whole bunch of doors for me as time went on.

Peter Biello: And now you are nominated for a Grammy for New Age Music. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into New Age music?

Tom Eaton: New Age music is... the category I think is a construct as all the musical categories are. Most of the people who work in that genre don't even know what the genre is, I think.

Peter Biello: I was going to say, how do you feel about those words, New Age, to describe your music?

Tom Eaton: Well, it's interesting to describe a 40-year-old genre as New Age, like, you know, New Wave music or whatever. But, whatever it is, it kind of describes music maybe that's instrumental mostly and has some kind of relaxation or spiritual quality to it.

Peter Biello: But it's essentially instrumental music that's emotionally evocative.

Tom Eaton: Sure.

Peter Biello: Well, let's listen to a little bit of this album, "Brothers". This track is called "The Golden Hour." I read on your blog, Tom, that you are interested in music that has some kind of consistency. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you meant by that, consistency inside a song.

Tom Eaton: Consistency inside a song, to me, means that you never break the world that you've created. It's really important to me as a musician and as a mastering engineer, which is a whole other half of my life, to create the illusion of a world and never allow that illusion to break until the listener wants it to break.

Peter Biello: So as we listen to this song, "The Golden Hour," and we think about what you're saying about consistency, like what would we be listening for?

Tom Eaton: For me, it would be the exact opposite. It would be the thing you never hear. The way I describe it, you only notice the trash on the street when the trash people don't pick it up. So the consistency of the music is there by the nature of the inconsistencies being removed and ideally, you never notice.

Peter Biello: This album was nominated for a Grammy. So, is there a track on here that you think really caught the judges' notice or what would you have us listen to?

Tom Eaton: "Head For The Sky." I really enjoy that.

Peter Biello: So this one is "Head For The Sky." What can you tell us about your process or the process of you and the two other gentlemen working on this album? What's your process for a song like this?

Tom Eaton: This song, Jeff Oster, who's the third part of this album and a crucially important part of the album, the album was his brainchild. This song started by Jeff coming to my studio and us working on a basic track that involved basically a keyboard part that was the chordal part and then his horn line. And with us, the three of us have played together a lot, Will Ackerman, Jeff Oster and I, in various forms and usually, it's just a process of shaped improvisation. There's a note, and then the note suggests what follows that note. So in this case, it was Jeff and me kind of coming up with a structure and a chord progression that we enjoyed and Jeff coming up with a melody that worked on top of that. And then we took it to Will and we recorded Will's guitars on top of that. So there's a chord pattern and there's Jeff's response to that. And then there's Will's response to that. And none of it is intellectual. It's all what does it feel like? What does it want?

Peter Biello: Is there a unifying theme to the album, "Brothers?"

Tom Eaton: It was not a record that was designed to have a theme in that sense, except that it's a conversation between the three of us. A lot of my job in the post part of the album was to make sure that that conversation was as clear as possible. But in terms of a concept, no, I think it was just that we enjoy making music together.

Peter Biello: Let's wrap up with another song. Is there another song you'd like to share, something you'd like to give us insight into?

Tom Eaton: It's probably we should play one where Will was the genesis. Maybe "It Had To Be Like That" would be a good one.

Peter Biello: OK, here is "It Had To Be Like That." What do you think really works well about this one?

Tom Eaton: I love Will. And he has this instantly recognizable sound. He plays with metal finger picks and his touch is amazing. He's an emotionally intuitive player and every note matters to him and Will and I have been producing records together for more than 10 years now, and he still blows me away every time he picks up a guitar. It's just he's one 100 percent there. He's 100 percent in the music. And this was one of the pieces where his guitar was the genesis of the piece. And then Jeff and I got to respond to that, which I love.

Peter Biello: So what does the Grammy nomination mean to you?

Tom Eaton: The Grammy nomination to me is some kind of pat on the back for a job well done and some kind of acknowledgment that this thing you made is being heard.

Peter Biello: Well, Tom Eaton, thank you very much for speaking with me and telling us about your music. Really appreciate it.

Tom Eaton: Thank you very much.

Peter Biello: Tom Eaton is a New Hampshire-based musician. His album "Brothers'' has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age album category. His music can be found on Spotify, Apple Music and his website.

Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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