"That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a singer" – Tesseract's Daniel Tompkins on the 10 albums that changed his life

Danile Tompkins
(Image credit: Richard Oakes (Dark Fable Media))

Given he was working five jobs when he re-joined Tesseract in 2014 after a three-year hiatus, it’s a pleasure to find Daniel Tompkins in 2020 being able to concentrate fully on an assortment of musical projects freed from financial pressures. 

“This last year has been the only time I have not had to worry about money since I decided to leave the police and be a singer. I’m comfortable, I’m happy, I can afford time now,” Daniel explains, after a day in the studio. Not only does the added time the singer has had to dedicate to his craft has not only allowed him more time for creativity but also to work on his voice, informing us that “Only at this point now do I feel like ‘I am Daniel Tompkins, I’ve got my own vocal style now, I know who I am, and the next album’s going to be the best.”

But before whatever the ‘next album’ is going to be, we have the small matter of his second solo album, Ruins. Written alongside Chimp Spanner’s Paul Ortiz, the album isn’t so much as a sequel to debut Castles, but more a reimagining of ideas with the emphasis on reminding fans of the music they’re more accustomed to hearing him sing over.

“The whole idea behind Castles was to take the reins of my own creativity a little bit,” explains Daniel. “I wanted to do something inspiring, because a few years ago I didn't necessarily have writer's block, but I needed some excitement. I felt like I'd toured for so long it was taking away the love of the music a little bit. 

"So I wanted to do things that I'd never done before, dressing up, the full make-up shoot and the idea of dipping into any genre of music I wanted to. It just so happens that over the last few years I've really been into contemporary modern pop, listening to it far more than rock and metal. And that influenced the style of the first record. 

"I am very much firmly grounded in the rock and metal world"

“The problem for me was that album was actually seven years old, I'd kept it in a locked folder for ages. I thought it'd be good to introduce myself with this record and it'd be a shame not to do anything with it, but the vocals were quite old and I've matured a lot as a singer. So I wanted to re-record the vocals and do them justice. 

"And thirdly, not all of my core fanbase understood what I was doing and I didn't want them to get the impression that 'Oh Dan's going down this weird pop angle, we're never going to see him again.’ So I wanted to bring them back into the fold, to show I am very much firmly grounded in the rock and metal world. The music was completely rewritten. I just wanted to create a really heavy interpretation of it.

"But I'm going to treat this project as a way to express myself in different ways. So you're not going to know what's happening record to record.”

Dan Tompkins

Daniel worked with guitarist Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner) on Ruins  (Image credit: Richard Oakes (Dark Fable Media))

While enlightening us on Ruins, Daniel also heads down memory lane to discuss the 10 albums that have helped shape his life, with many of the entries on the list greatly influencing Ruins’ honouring of the turn-of-the-century-rock and metal that had such a profound impact on the young singer. 

The list also represents a journey and evolution of Daniel honing his craft and how various singers have helped shape his talents, which for us at least means demonstrations of interjecting the anecdotes, making it feel as much as a vocal seminar as an interview.

1. Enigma – MCMXC a.D. (1990)

“I actually first discovered this album when my mum had a blank cassette tape with ‘Enigma’ written on it when I was eight. There was something about it that kept me listening to it. It just used to make me cry and feel sad, I didn't know why, and I kept going back to it. 

"There was a curiosity I couldn't put my finger on. There was an expression in the music that was different to everything that was on the radio at the time. Coupled with the Gregorian choir and world music that's within Enigma's spectrum there was a spirituality that I was too young to understand. But thinking back I totally get it. 

“When I was in my early teens and the next record came out I looked on the back, found the address of the record company, and wrote a letter of thanks to Enigma. It never got sent but it was the notion of wanting to express my gratitude to someone for writing music.  

“I've got a real soft spot for it, I got my family members into it – I got my granddad into it! I'm not embarrassed about it, but there are people out there who keep it to themselves. I've had conversations with other metal artists and they whisper 'You're kidding me? That's one of my favourite records.' And I say 'What are you whispering for?!'”

2. A Perfect Circle – Mer de Noms (2000)

“I heard A Perfect Circle before Tool. It came out when I was 16 and it was something I'd never heard before. It's the mood. A lot of the albums I've chosen are all about the mood and the journey. It's not just about Maynard [James Keenan]; all the musicianship is utterly fantastic. 

“I saw them tour this at Nottingham Rock City. I was front row, mesmerised the whole time. The way the stage was lit with the back-lit silhouettes created this mood; a mesmerisation that was hypnotic. People were just in awe.

“As a 16-year-old kid who didn't know what he wanted to do other than sing, I said 'No matter what happens I have to do this; this is magical.' That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a singer. I didn't know how I was going to get there, but I knew I wanted a piece of it.”

3. Active Child – You Are All I See (2011)

“The singer, Patrick James Grossi, is so unique. He takes a classical approach and plays the harp, but it's contemporary pop with these 80s synths. It's so vibey. His vocal approach is so unique, I can't think of anyone else who's doing what he does. 

"Tonally it's fantastic, the way he uses his voice from a production point of view, percussively, with all the harmonies and vocal chops to create the song. It isn't acapella by any means, but the vocals are a massive aspect. There are moments on this album that are utterly magical.

“I don't think he's that big but he's very influential. There was one song, Hanging On, I used religiously for a few years to warm up on tour. It would warm up my head voice so nicely.”

4. Sevendust – Seasons (2003)

“I have got a massive soft spot for early 2000s metal"

“Huge songs. Every song's got an amazing hook to it. Lajon Witherspoon's voice is the most well-rounded, soulful, rich voice. The production of the records was so huge it left me thinking 'Why do more people not know who Sevendust are? Why are they not as big as Korn?' They've been going for years, and they've just released a new album that's absolutely amazing!

“I used to listen to it in the car religiously. I can sing along to Lajon's voice well but can I write anything like it? Can I get my voice to sit in the same zone tonally? I can't do it, I haven't got the soul!

“I have got a massive soft spot for early 2000s metal. And that's why early 2000s metal has totally inspired Ruins. We were referencing Sevendust, Deftones, APC, and trying to put a little of something into this record because they were so influential for me and Paul.”

5. Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory (2000)

"It was just Chester's voice. I'd never heard anything like it"

“It influenced a generation, undeniably. I remember throughout my teens, I'd be waiting to get taken to school and I'd put MTV2 on. You could guarantee In The End would be on every half an hour. 

“It was just Chester's voice. I'd never heard anything like it. How was that a thing? How can someone make that rasp and that grit when they're singing? I managed to catch them at Download 2014 when they played Hybrid Theory all the way through and I was so happy I got to see that.

“I got raided by Mike Shinoda on Twitch last week! When you've finished your stream on Twitch you can raid a channel – you throw all of your viewers at someone else's live stream, it bumps up the viewers. And he raided me with 900 people, which was amazing, we got loads of new fans and new Tesseract fans. It was a massive complement. 

“Twitch is how I got involved with Matt Heafy, too. He even said live on a stream, 'Dan's one of my favourite singers, Tesseract are one of my favourite bands'. I thought ‘What is life right now?’ So I reached out and I asked if he wanted to guest on a song, and that's how The Gift came about.”

6. Deftones – White Pony (2000)

“It was from that period of time where I was the most excited about music. That's why I reference a lot of albums from around that period. It was my life at that point. 

What an album from start to finish. It's another moody album: a dark mood, and weird with all those high-pitched squeals and crooning vocals. But it's also so spacey and edgy. Chino's voice is incredible and the whole band are fantastic.

“Every time I see them live they've been amazing, great energy, and it doesn't matter if Chino sings out of tune you still enjoy it because it's got that much character. I love the way he can get away with all the vocal effects and people think it's his voice. That it is not his naked voice, that's production, but he's made it his own, his identity. I think Chino is always the reference when I think of vocal production. I've always wanted to experiment with vocal effects and have loads of fun with it. But you can't, only Chino can do that, it's his thing.”

Stephen Carpenter likes Tesseract too! We played Download and he was watching us by the side of the cabs. I thought 'What? Is? This!?'”

7. Extol – Synergy (2003)

“My mate gave me a mixtape. He was amazing for finding the best music, which he'd burn onto a CD for me. And Blood Red Cover from Synergy was on one. The production was very different to everything else I'd heard: it wasn't as big, but it was clean. 

"It was really complex, harsh sounding metal with really gritty, weird screaming I'd never heard before, and with the most amazing vocal hooks every now and then that sucked you in. It made you want to go back and listen to how it built into that moment of pure harmony before going back to the frantic math metal. 

"That was probably the first technical music I'd ever listened to"

“That was probably the first technical music I'd ever listened to and I think they were around for a long time before a lot of others. I had this conversation the other day and I can't think of any other bands who were doing what Extol were doing at that time. For me they're super original, I can't compare them to anyone else. If you listen to bands like Sikth you can hear a lot of similarity with Extol, and Extol were around a long time before. 

“So Extol are a curious band for me. I don't know much about their world but they're amazing songwriters and the musicianship is incredible.”

8. Sikth – The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild (2003)

“Members of Sikth were pivotal in the directions I took and the people that I met"

“The character of Mikee [Goodman]'s vocals, all the poetry and spoken word, with Justin Hill's amazing high-range: it's utterly frantic but there was a calm in the storm whenever Justin sang.  

“Members of Sikth were pivotal in the directions I took and the people that I met, that then linked me into other things, which led me to joining Tesseract. They're a big part of my backstory. 

"I made a decision when I was 21 that even though I was in the police force, I had a career but that was plan B, a means to an end. I was going to be a singer. I hadn’t studied, I didn’t know music theory, but I told myself I was going to invest in my voice. I started doing vocal lessons after work, then I bought myself a microphone and stand, and started to look on Myspace for bands that were advertising for singers – the Myspace days hey? Amazing. 

"I took annual leave and went out on my first tour. That was the experience that changed my life"

"I used to follow Sikth, and Dan [Weller] and Justin started to do Weller Hill productions, mixing bands. They put up a post saying ‘We’re mixing a band, Piano, and they need a singer.’ So I sent a message and it just so happened the members of that band were in Nottingham University, by where I lived. I learnt a few songs, turned up at the rehearsal, looking all professional, and sang for 15 minutes. They said ‘We’d love to have you in the band. By the way we’re signed to a Japanese record label, we’re going out there to tour in a few weeks.’ So I took annual leave and went out on my first tour. That was the experience that changed my life.

“If it wasn’t for Sikth I wouldn’t have had that chance, I wouldn’t have met First Signs Of Frost, and I wouldn’t have played a show with Tesseract, after which they messaged me and asked me if I wanted to audition. It’s funny how things work out!”

9. System Of A Down – System Of A Down (1998)

“I got into Sikth on the back of liking System Of A Down. At the time the Radio 1 Rock Show with Mary Ann Hobbs was playing all these awesome acts, I discovered a lot of music on the back of that. 

“I wore this CD out. As a pretty stupid teenager I'd sit in my mate's bedroom and just go mental listening to this album. 'SUGAR!' I remember being in a very weird point of confusion – as many teenagers are at the point. There was something about it that got under my skin and would send me absolutely crazy. I'd bounce off the walls. It possessed me. I loved how heavy it was with one guitar, a bassist, a drummer and a singer with no effects on his voice. It made no sense but it did, if that makes sense?”

10. Tool – 10,000 days (2006)

"When 10,000 Days came out I felt that I connected more with that album"

“I didn’t get Tool for a long time. There’s a total level of maturity to what they are and their music, but when I first heard them there was something I didn’t get. I appreciated it but it wasn’t System Of A Down; it wasn’t immediately hooky. I think I enjoyed Lateralus but I did give it some distance.

“When 10,000 Days came out I felt that I connected more with that album. I’m not sure why that was, because the production was a step up, it sounded more polished and bigger. But there were definitely more vocal moments within that which made me go, ‘Wow’ more than Lateralus. 

"Having said that once I got hooked on 10,000 Days it did give me a greater appreciation for Lateralus as well. But I always reference 10,000 Days because Right In Two is one of my favourite songs.

“Out of all the people in the music industry I’ve had the biggest fanboy moment by being stood 10 feet from Maynard when we played a festival with Puscifer a few years ago. I don’t have idols, I don’t believe in idols, but I did get a bit excited when I stood next to him. I thought, ‘I’ve listened to you for so long, you’ve influenced every step that I’ve taken as a singer.’”

Ruins is released on 11 December via Kscope. For more info on preorders visit danieltompkins.lnk