U.K. Fave Tom McRae Makes U.S. Bow

With his eponymous debut album -- a collection of deeply personal tunes dark enough to be dubbed "wrist-slashing" and "laceratingly bitter" by the British press -- Tom McRae knows he's teetering on th

With his eponymous debut album -- a collection of deeply personal tunes dark enough to be dubbed "wrist-slashing" and "laceratingly bitter" by the British press -- Tom McRae knows he's teetering on the brink of self-indulgence.

"It's dangerous," McRae says. "But you have to walk that line. You have to take yourself seriously enough to believe that what you're doing is worthwhile. At the same time, you shouldn't believe anything you read, or think that anything you've done is any good."

If one were to believe a raft of European critics, "Tom McRae" (due out Aug. 21 in the U.S. via db/Arista) is not just good but a true gem. Since its international release last year, the album has been lauded for its disarming honesty -- making several critics' best-of 2000 lists and recently being nominated for the U.K.'s Mercury Music Prize -- and has sold more than 100,000 copies, according to Arista.

The Suffolk, England-born McRae, 27, says he can live with the sinister tag placed on his work (two songs on the album, he admits, are about killing people) but even though audience members have told him to "cheer the fuck up" he says he would disagree with those who've called his music depressing.

"My music might be sad, but it's also hopeful -- I mean, the reason I write is to get from sad to hopeful," McRae says. "I don't think, 'All right, I wanna be Nick Cave or Polly Harvey and have this thing because somehow it's cool.' It just happens that that's usually the mood I'm in when I'm struck with the need to write. When the sun's shining and I'm out with friends, I tend not to write about it."

One of the album's most powerful songs is "You Cut Her Hair," a track inspired by McRae's visit to a former Nazi concentration camp, where he was struck by a photograph of a young Jewish girl whose hair had been removed in preparation for her execution. In the song, he pursues her aging killer: "Turn, turn the page, start again, change your name/But I will find you still, move in for the kill."

The first artist signed to U.K. music exec Dave Bates' db imprint, McRae will support his album with a 10-city U.S. tour in September. But he already seems to be making his mark stateside. "I love [Tom McRae]," says Nic Harcourt, music director of KCRW Los Angeles, which has been spinning tracks from the record. "The guy's lyrics are very intense. He stands out from the pack."

Mark Sudack, Arista's project manager for Tom McRae, hopes that patience will prove the virtue that it did for David Gray's "White Ladder," (ATO), which took nearly two years to break in the States. In fact, the songs on Tom McRae were born in a similar manner as those on "White Ladder." Like Gray, McRae built the album around songs he wrote and recorded at home during a time when he was becoming increasingly frustrated by "endless rejection" from both non-responsive crowds and uninterested labels. Some of these songs (the aforementioned "You Cut Her Hair," "Untitled") made the album nearly unaltered.

"When I stopped trying to be a rock star and started writing about what I cared about -- not writing about just having a good time, girls, drugs, or cars but about the things that upset me -- that was when it made a connection," McRae says. "Even if these were things that other people might not necessarily understand the details of, they understand the emotion."

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