We’ll had a little chat with Tommy about his music, the life of a professional musician, and working with a fellow Oz muso turned “superstar.”
How would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in a crazy colourful house, surrounded by glamorous people, incredible art works, and lots of great music. I was very lucky really!
Do you come from a musical family?
Only in so much as everyone danced and music holds a very high position in our priorities. I’m the only muso though, felt a little isolated growing up.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? What were your earliest musical influences?
I vividly remember Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, as a HUGE factor in my developing ear. Mum was into Kraftwerk, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Bowie, Grace Jones, Sly and Robbie, Bob Dylan, Joan Armatrading. Dad was into Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Philip Glass, Brahms, etc.
You talk with such joy about your days of “busking”. Would you ever consider doing it again for fun?
All the time. In fact, when my kids are old enough it’s going to be a regular hobby for us. Family band type thing!
When did you know you wanted to be a career musician?
Wow. I fell into it. I was hungrier to be a photographer (still am!) but I started young with a record and publishing deal and my life seemed to grow around that.
What were some of your early musical endeavors/bands?
Well my first proper band I played in was called Murdoch, kind of heavy math rock that I played saxophone over. Then New World Souls, which morphed into Offcutts. I also started a side project called The Sneaker Trio, which was with some best friends and such a highlight of my musical career. Then a bunch of other people’s bands till I decided to do my own thing completely.
It seems you play a lot of instruments. What do you play, and are you self-taught?
Started on alto saxophone. Taught myself guitar, harmonica, bass and singing, working on keys!
How and when did you discover you could whistle so well?
My godfather was amazing at making a whistle. I was obsessed from a young age and just kept at it till I got it.
Tell us about your record label, Donut Beach. Do you use it primarily for your own work, or are other artists on it?
I’m using it mainly for my own work but have immediate plans to start releasing other artists.
Talk about your writing process…which comes first, the music or the lyrics?
Music, then lyrics. Though I’ve had a tough time writing anything of substance lately. It takes space and time and I’ve been finding it hard to find either!
What kinds of things inspire you to write?
The way words feel and sound. Poetry, music sort of speaks at me. Often, stream of consciousness singing over a great piece of music. Live theatre really really truly gets me excited about writing. Also, great books!
Do you prefer producing or performing?
They are completely separate disciplines-like taking a photograph and using photoshop. One is in the moment. The other is as long as you want it to be.
How did you start working on TV and commercials?
My original music started getting used a bit. I kept pushing around till I got some work and its drip drip dripped ever since. I’m always waiting for what I call the “ad gods“ to smile upon us. It’s a great cash boost when you’re a struggling indie artist.
In one interview, you described your routine while living in a hotel. Did you really write a song a day? Are you still working on any of these songs, or was it just therapy?
Most of the material I’ve released is from that period! Very creative and disciplined. Most of the songs were junk though…
How did you and Michael Iverson connect? Who did he work with first, you or Wally?
He was working with me first. Wally’s producer, Franc Tetaz, had offered to work on mine and kept telling me I needed to meet this great musical drummer guy. He lived in Sydney and myself in Melbourne. We got there in the end and made a lot of great music together. When the opportunity arose for him to go on tour with Wally, he jumped. I haven’t seen him in a while. He lives in Los Angeles now.
The video for ‘Never Again’ is great. Who came up with the concept? Are you able to eat cake or does the sight of it bring back nightmares?
My mate Wilk. I was a huge fan of his photographs and when he told me he wanted to make clips I asked him to make 3 for my EP. It was all his idea! Wedding cakes make me nervous now!
How long did the ‘Bed And Chair’ shoot take? How sore were you afterwards? Any injuries on set?
If I were to tell you you’d laugh. It was at least 3 days of lots of shots!
There was an alternate video for ‘Bed And Chair’. Why was that scrapped?
I trust Wilk in entirety because I respect him as an artist and collaborator, and if he isn’t happy, then we change tracks without question. He changed his mind a lot!
The Lake is a powerful and moving song. Autobiographical in any way?
Every word is the truth.
You and Wally recorded ‘Hotel Home’ two weeks before ‘STIUTK’ was released. How did you react to the success of that song?
It was dizzying. It was like watching a shuttle launch and having a little bit of yourself in the cargo not quite knowing when you’ll see it again. I’ve been so proud and excited. And of course, very patient. I didn’t want to release the song when ‘STIUTK’ was exploding.
If you could collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Charles Mingus…he is one amazing man…I wish I was him.
What song can you not get out of your head these days?
Unknown Mortal Orchestra- ‘Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)’ . I’m totally hooked!
Can you tell us about any projects you are working on now?
Well, my next EP is finished and I’m looking for more guests to collaborate on my album. I’m also working on a side project band called Forest of Eyes. It’s a place for me to make instrumental music, pure freedom from lyrics and pop forms. Very Talking Heads/Fela Kuti/Morricone.
Any plans to tour outside of Australia?
I’ll be in Bali doing a show in a month. Then some international show case stuff! It’s expensive and takes a lot of work to get out of Australia.
Thanks Tommy! It’s been a pleasure!