Bella and Edward. Peeta and Katniss. Ron and Hermoine. One True Pairing is a term used by internet fandoms to describe their dream character relationships. But for UK-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Tom Fleming, the meaning is something a little more complex. “I was writing these volatistic and angry songs, and then I was writing these heartfelt love songs that had a bit of hope to them. So I guess that’s the pairing—anger and hope.” As the former bassist for indie rock band Wild Beasts (who disbanded in 2018), One True Pairing marks the beginning of a new journey for Fleming. There’s also a lot of freedom with having such a moniker. “Once I settled on the name, it became a good hook to hang everything from… it can evolve as I work with it.”
In a similar fashion, Fleming wrote the songs on his debut album ONE TRUE PAIRING by simply starting with the titles. From there, the songs were able to take root. “I’m Not Afraid” is a standout, confident and assertive in its message: “I’ll wait right here for the enemies I made / And I won’t go back down to that place again”. Its driving, anthemic beat remains constant throughout, building in intensity before dissolving into fuzzy synths. Listening to the record, Fleming’s influences become apparent. The growling guitar licks and powerful vocals evoke Depeche Mode and Genesis, bands heavily associated with the ‘80s rock scene.
Indeed, Fleming has a fine-tuned appreciation for the decade, but it runs much deeper than novelty retro aesthetics. “There’s this slickness and aggression, this romantic authenticity,” Fleming muses. “A lot of this record is a love song to not only Springsteen and Petty, but to bands like Def Leppard. That’s the kind of music I heard as a kid.” Sentimental as that may sound, Fleming urges that ONE TRUE PAIRING is more of an anti-nostalgic record. “At the same time, there are also issues in society that haven’t gone away from when I was a kid. So there’s this conceptual alignment to the album, rather than: I like Springsteen, therefore I will do this.”
Fleming’s solo project is influenced not only by time, but by place. Living in England, he recalls one of the first concerts he ever attended—AC/DC at the Manchester Evening News Arena. “I was like 14, and it was awesome. It was chaos, it was really fun.” This was around the same time that The Strokes and similar indie rock outfits were rising to the top of the music scene. Fleming remembers, “I wasn’t into that at all, really. I wasn’t really an indie kid. I was much more of a metal kid.”
As for the differences between the music scene of Britain and that of America, Fleming comments, “Britain can be more of a hype machine, since it’s an island and things can be hot one moment and then it won’t be again. In the States, there are more alternatives for your music to fall into.” That idea of keeping an audience’s attention is important. “I want to give people a reason to listen. There are a lot of shifts in tone on the record. I think it’s important to make sure people aren’t always settled into what they’re listening to.” Another difference between the UK and the US? Dance moves. “I’ll see European styles of dancing that made it over to the US,” he adds with a laugh, conjuring a memory of those dancing to Flying Lotus’ set at Coachella. “Sometimes it’s like I’m watching it through my hands, like, ‘No, you’re doing it wrong!’”
You can listen to ONE TRUE PAIRING, out on Domino Records now.