I decided it would be about a woman and her journey, as she reflects on the choices she has made. What is feels like to lie to yourself until it hurts and then get yourself up and out of there. The day I took these photos of Tommy, we sat and talked about where he is in his creative process…
Songwriting is really mysterious to me. I kind of write things without a plan –they just come out. The process is always a little different: sometimes I’ll write things and think “this song is about this” and then something will happen in my life that makes me see the meaning of the song completely different.
My dad is a self taught rocker. He always played guitar around the house. He was my first teacher. I think I started learning to play when I was 6 and got more serious when I was ten, playing in bands around town in Arkansas. I was really into indie/punk rock and then I discovered some old vinyl of Classical and Jazz recordings at the public library, which completely changed my world. I ended up studying classical guitar and going to multiple schools till I received the “terminal” degree and was jettisoned out of academia… Since then I’ve been living as a freelance classical guitarist. I’ve always written songs and more abstract music and played in various bands along the way. I was in the band Devotchka, which a lot of people have heard of…
When did you start playing with Devotchka?
I was one of the founding members and played with devotchka for about 5 years. Since 1996 til 2001. Toured a bit, recorded a bit. Then I left to pursue my own things. Devotchka was doing really well and it was clear to me that, the way things were going, playing in the band was going to be the majority of what I would have time and energy to do, which would have been fantastic but maybe wasn’t the right path for me. And there was also the fact that Nick Urata, the lead in the band Devotchkais, is such a powerful songwriter, and being the very impressionable person that I am, I felt like I needed to be independent to explore my own thing at the time. So I left town to go to more music school and to spend time working on my craft. I still play with them when we are in the same city and they’ve been nice enough to have me out to record with them a bit since I left the band. I love those guys. . . I’m a classical guitarist. That’s a big part of what I do musically and that takes a lot of school and training to do it well. I also was very interested in finding my voice as an artist, the kind of music I was going to make –what modes of musical expression were satisfying to me etc. . . It was really important for me to gain a certain degree of mastery on my instrument and to spend a lot of time learning about the fundamentals of music (harmony, counterpoint etc. . .). I’ve learned that I’m the kind of person who can easily spend countless hours isolated and working alone on things before sharing them with my community.
It’s nice to start the day playing Bach and end it by mangling a guitar line by running it through the filter section of a synth, or making some weird-ass synth patch for a new song.
Do you play and sing all of the parts when recording “Man, Woman, Friend, Computer”?
Do you have a favorite instrument that you play?
I would say it is the classical guitar, I mean that’s my core. I feel very connected to how that instrument allows me to express myself. For me, knowing classical guitar encourages me to experiment with other instruments. So I have been spending a lot of time with electronic synthesizers and really focusing on how to make sounds that resemble other instruments, or machines, or sounds in nature, or that don’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard before at all. Synthesis is about taking core materials (in this case the core materials are various kinds of electronic wave forms) and sculpting them so they sound like a snare drum or a clarinet, or maybe one part refrigerator hum, one part oscillating fan, or a beating heart, etc… Learning make a synth patch is a lot like learning to orchestrate. Learning how the pairing of the clarinet with the flute to play a melodic line will create a certain kind of sound and effect that’s different from a bassoon and an oboe paired together. All it takes is to listen to a master orchestrator such as Maurice Ravel, Toru Takemitsu, or Morton Feldman to hear how much musical depth can be found in just the orchestral colors of a piece. As a classical guitarist, when preparing a piece for a performance, I am using different techniques to give different timbres, or tone colors, to different parts of a musical texture. Timbre is one of the primary modes of expression available to a classical guitarist, and we use it to make up for a somewhat limited dynamic range in comparison to other instruments. So analogue synthesizers are collectively my second favorite instrument because they provide a natural bridge to a wider range of musical expression through the exploration of timbre. It feels very natural to me to go from the classical guitar to the materials of electronic music. It’s nice to start the day playing Bach and end it by mangling a guitar line by running it through the filter section of a synth, or making some weird-ass synth patch for a new song.
There is one track that is called “Eschatology” that is classical guitar and synthesizers only. It’s an instrumental, cinematic kind of piece. I think it’s making the cut for the album. I often work out concepts on my classical guitar but then pass the parts to another instrument once I start to hear what I think the song needs. . .
When can we hear your new album? Any release dates?
All the tracks are there, I’m in the process of mixing and mastering all the tracks. It will have 12 tracks out of 30 that I am digging through, but I believe I made the final selection. “Eternal Return” will definitely be one of them, and it will be available for download in my new bandcamp site this week when the video airs. But no release date for the album yet.
The world we live in overemphasizes the value of extrinsic things, but the acquisition of these extrinsic things don’t really mean that you have arrived at a healthy place within yourself, does it?
There is something about the lyrics of “Eternal Return” that everyone could resonate with. Tell me about your process of writing it.
Songwriting is really mysterious to me. I kind of write things without a plan –they just come out. The process is always a little different: sometimes I’ll write things and think “this song is about this” and then something will happen in my life that makes me see the meaning of the song completely different. But specifically with “Eternal Return”: I was in a pretty stressful relationship at the time that I wrote it, where i felt a lot of pressure to succeed and thrive. Some of the pressure was good and some of it was bad for me. I know the song came out of that space. I created up the base line patch and then the song just ran through me. I am generally a pretty happy person, but I always tend to write songs that are pretty dark. When I think of some of the lines like “to the race” , “let’s get on with it” and “how long till we just start living”. . . I felt ready to accept where I was in life and to continue to move forward from there. I think it’s important to be able to look at yourself and say that you are proud of what you have done and where you are while also being able to project forward into where you want to be, but expectations from others can be disrupting of that process –needing certain things to be legitimized, like “You need to own a house by the time you are 30 or 35” or whatever. Those are all extrinsic things, not intrinsic. The world we live in overemphasizes the value of extrinsic things, but the acquisition of these extrinsic things don’t really mean that you have arrived at a healthy place within yourself, does it? Life is a process, and insecurity is one of the conditions of being human. I’m in the process, and it’s necessary that my relationship with the people that are near and dear to me respect that.
Why did you name the song “Eternal Return”?
“Eternal Return” is a complicated concept that was important to Frederich Nietzsche, though the idea of eternal return is found in many other sources throughout history. An extremely general oversimplification is that everything has either already happened or will happen again. In this case, the song is a kind of dialogue between a person and his elders. A person finds that he has repeated some of the mistakes of his parents or something like that. I think the song is maybe about repeating patterns and learning your own lessons even if you have been given very good examples of where certain decisions will take you. Finding yourself in a situation where you are suddenly an adult, and, quite suddenly, you find that you have made a pretty sloppy bed for yourself to sleep in, but that, in spite of this, you can accept yourself and live with dignity.
What’s next for you?
Ha! I don’t know! I’m just excited to finally be sharing a lot of music that I’ve been working on for a long time.
I’ve learned that I’m the kind of person who can easily spend countless hours isolated and working alone on things before sharing them with my community.
I will have tracks up as they become available.“Eternal Return” will be available for download at manwomanfriendcomputer.bandcamp.com
Photography and Video Directed by Alice Rabbit