Words by Josh Barrow | Surf photography by Delon Isaacs
Thom Pringle has been a household name in our industry over the last decade for various reasons — Once a professional surfer, still a phenomenal photographer and after a stint in the advertising world, has now found his calling in all things sound. We’ve had the pleasure of working with Thom on numerous projects over the last few years, watching his portfolio grow from skate edits to big brand commercial campaigns. So we thought it was about time to take a moment and ask the questions we don’t have the time to ask when on deadline together.
Where have you been based the last few years ?
Before Melbourne I was on the Sunshine Coast, QLD. I was living there for a little bit but going back and forth and doing quite a lot of travelling. Spending time in Europe, and anywhere I could afford to get a flight to. I tried to keep moving and experiencing new stuff!
And now you’re planning to move to the US… Why is that?
Quite a lot of it is work related. Obviously when you work in advertising and film related stuff, the US has a surplus of work and is quite a great opportunity to grow and work with new people, bigger agencies. A chance to grow in my work, and then I also just really like the States. I’ve spent quite a bit of time travelling there, so I’m excited for the change. Australia is great but Australia is small. The US is also a lot closer to Europe and I think it just makes it easier with work connections. I have a lot of good friends there.
You were one of the main guys on the surf team in the height of Insight before surfing for Brixton. At what level were you involved with them?
Riding for Insight was cool, I was a big fan on the campaigns, clothing and overall feeling through my teens. With the years I was involved (18 – 21) I was more or less just getting support from them for surfing, I don’t think my creative views at that point had much credibility (laughs). But the most special thing with riding for them was the team, Warren Smith, Otis Carey and Rangi Ormond all became super close friends, so it was great to get to spend time and do trips with them.
Did you work with them on a higher level than just a paid surfer?
No I didn’t with Insight, but when I rode for Brixton and Vans both those companies would listen to my opinions for surfing related ideas, trips and riders. Brixton also came to me for some music and art related ideas with some events they were doing at the time. I had really great relationships with both those companies.
A favourite project you worked on in those times as a professional surfer? A film, video, shoot or something else…
One of the most special trips I did as a pro surfer was the Nti Sheeto trip with Dion Agius, Warren Smith, Creed Mctaggart, Ozzie Wright, Blake Myers, Cole Barash, John Respondek and Hamish Humphreys. What an amazing group of people. We got amazing waves in Sumbawa. Having a crew of individuals like that, there were amazing conversations, incredible surfing sessions and endless fun every night.
Who are your favourite people to watch surf these days?
Definitely the Rage crew. Their films are the best. Dion’s last film was crazy, anyone thats hucking really big airs/turns. I’m into it if they’re pushing as hard as they can, people like Eithan (Osborne), Harry (Bryant), Jaleesa (Vincent) and RCJ (Ross Clarke Jones). I’m getting pretty old but I haven’t got into the smooth controlled surfing approach yet.
Any surf trips in the pipeline?
Not right now. But that would be nice.
Are you still surfing and skating a lot?
Being down in Melbourne, I don’t surf much anymore just because it’s a bit of work to get to the coast and an hour and half away. If the waves are quite good it’s a bit of a commitment. But I do surf the wave pool quite often and that’s great. I do skateboard a lot, there’s some great spots close to my house. Once I’m back to LA it will be a lot easier.
Do you still take a lot of photos? I see you have some stuff on your website..
I’m definitely still passionate about photography but I think with photography, for me, it’s travelling and being in new places, new areas that inspires me to shoot. It’s interesting because I worked in film and photography quite a lot before the music thing started, and I was around a heap of people who also shot. I feel like I learnt a lot from that world, that I took from working in music for film. I think I gained a lot of experience there. Before I did the music thing, I was shooting quite a lot of second camera and camera assisting, with a bunch of different people, which actually I work with now on the music side of things. So I gained quite a lot of contacts through working in this industry, and learning from them as the music and the sound. I got more opportunities and experiences and put them into my work.
You used to have the photography blog which you updated regularly with images from your trips. Do you still have all your camera gear? What’s your favourite camera to shoot with?
Yeah I still take my camera when I do a trip or leave my regular city loop. I still have a digital Nikon and my Contax G2. The Contax is a great camera, I’ve had it for a long time and it’s a little broken but the 45mm Carl Zeiss lens is so sharp and body is built like a tank.
Tell us about how you got into your current job as a sound designer and music composer?
When I grew up I was really into punk music scene and I played in different bands through my teens. Definitely on the more noisy and experimental end of punk rock. I was forever going to concerts and different events. I always played quite a bit of music but surfing and skateboarding, photography and film took over. When I was surfing a lot, I really got into synthesiszers and I wanted to work out how to make music myself on the computer. I was travelling a lot and I didn’t have time to play in bands and constantly rehearse with people and so I pretty much got on GarageBand and Ableton and started working out how to make music myself. It took me quite a while to work out how to just make stuff alone, but it’s been a passion since I’ve been 11 or 12. I’ve always just generally been interested in sound.
And your first bit of work was?
The first project I worked on was with Blake Myers. He just heard some music I’d put out and was working on a video with a skateboarder and wanted some scored music. At that time I jumped at the chance and I was obviously pretty green and didn’t know what I was doing and only one song ended up getting used, but from then worked on more together. So between Blake giving me some work, Guillem (Cruells) saw some stuff I did with Blake and then also Riley (Blakeway). Between the three of them that was kind of my start… they gave me the opportunity and worked with me and gave me tips on how to make it fit the piece. I learnt a lot through those three people. Then as their work all started gaining more recognition I was probably in the right place at the right time to have my sound on those projects. They were growing as artists and obviously I was connected to that so that snowballed from there.
So sound design and composition is your full time gig?
It has been for a few years. I always feel like I’m learning new things and progressing, and obviously I still have certain projects where I feel I didn’t execute it great. But I feel like there’s so many different styles and it’s different people all the time so it’s always a new thing and you learn as you go.
As your work is quite a personal type of thing… How does working with the people you work with all the time and are comfortable with compare to working with fresh clients?
There’s definitely something really nice about working with people you know and knowing what kind of vibe they like. You can naturally go back and forth with them, feel comfortable and give them a bunch of different options. But there is also something really nice about working with new people and working with bigger agencies. I did a car commercial last year for Ford and you go in really anxious and think it’s going to be really intense and going back forth with all these people, but when you finish the project and you’ve satisfied the client you leave with a really great sense of satisfaction. It’s always nice to do work which has different styles, narrative etc. Having change is nice.
A favourite project and a biggest project?
One of my favourite projects to date was the Invincible project which I did with Riley Blakeway. That short film was a really creative back and forth and an interesting conceptual project to be a part of.
Biggest commercial piece I’ve done would probably have to be a Ford Ranger campaign I did for Australia. It was an interesting project to do.. and it’s also extremely funny when people like my dad hit me up and say they’re being bombarded by the music you made for that Ford commercial (laughs).
What does your work agenda look like?
My work really seems to come in waves. Right now it’s been multiple projects a week with people saying they want me for a project on x date and what’s my availability like. January/February is quite a quiet period, then then there’s a big influx of projects in March & April, also November & December as everyone’s trying to get everything done before the end of the year.
Are you working on any specific sound projects at this very moment?
There’s always a lot of ideas in my mind/noted down of projects I would love to make happen, but I’ve been very busy with commercial work recently and have struggled to find time outside this to work on something special for myself. Although I just worked on an art film with my friend Minh Pham that was pretty interesting and also a possibility of doing composition for a feature length film if it goes ahead, so we will see.