Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tomi Swick: Interview by Christine Albrecht

Tomi Swick broke through the music scene when his song, 'A Night Like This' was included in the Warner sampler From the Heart. People all over North America knew the tune (as it was in heavy rotation) but were not as sure who the singer was.

On August 15th, Tomi Swick released his first cd, Stalled Out in the Doorway (see link for purchase) which contains both "A Night Like This' and his latest single, 'Everything is Alright'. After much listening and discussion of the cd, my co-editor and I finally decided that Tomi uses his voice very much in the style of Thom Yorke (Radiohead)

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Swanktrendz managed to hook up with Tomi Swick on August 17/06 at 5:30 at The Red Room (courtesy Charlotte of Warners). Due to sound check, we were sequestered away in a small backstage lounge. We started the interview by chatting about his Canadian tour, the likelihood of him visiting Victoria, and the 'raspiness' of his throat. Quite the contrast to his lilting vocals during song. I asked Tomi if he had seen a singing instructor at all.

I used to think a vocal coach was a laugh - it's not an instrument - it's a muscle. My throat, in particular, my speaking voice is using my throat muscles wrong. It's like pulling a hamstring, no matter how much you want it to work, if it's not working - well, it's not working. The same with vocal chords - you got to treat them with respect.

Well then, have you ever taken formal vocal training?

Never. I'm seeing a speech pathologist right now, I'm just getting over... well I'm not even over it... well 50% over... laryngitis.

I know during the first stage of Canadian Touring, Steven of the band BOY, suffered a lot with his throat. A lot of that is different environments, but it also has to do with vocal training.

Yeah, I know BOY, I know Rolla.

Yes, the guys from BOY are great. Now, I've heard it said that if you have not had proper vocal training before the age of 35, you will not be able to hit the notes you're used to, after the age of 35.

For sure, and also vocal maintenance. For me, they are saying my vocals and way of singing are fine; it's my speaking voice that's done it. That's why I am seeing a speech pathologist. But they don't want me to take vocal lessons but rather maintenance lessons. That's my biggest problem, warming up and warming down and hydration.

Yes, warming up and warming down - that's part of vocal training.

If you take vocal lessons, then someone else is telling you how to use your own instrument which is kind of a shitty thing because your voice is so unique to you.

I was thinking more of taking vocal lessons for the diaphragm and breathing lessons.

Yes, for that, you've got to have some kind of maintenance.

Exactly, because after the age of 35 your voice is unable to learn it then. Prior to that, you have to learn how to take in air properly, warm up, etc.

I'm in the process of that.

Good, good.

I cut my appointments short to do this tour, so when I go home I've got a bunch more dates with my doctor who massages the throat to break up all the tissues and it hurts like hell.

Well, the maintenance is extremely important, and it helps the voice.


Let's visit your background - were you born in Hamilton?

Yep, born and raised. I've lived there my whole life except the two years I've lived in Burlington to attend the Cathedral. And then I just moved back.

I read that you are athletic and I assume football?

I played football, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

That's great! But no hockey?

No hockey - I played shinny though. My dad was big hockey guy, but I always loved basketball and football.

All right. Fair Enough.

I love watching hockey.

So, did all these athletics keep you out of trouble?

I was never one to really get into trouble. I got into fights and stuff, but I was never a bad kid, like stealing from people. I was never like that. It's funny, I just saw an article in the paper today (interviewer note - A Vancouver publication) and it made me look like a badass. And I am not a badass at all - I never got into trouble, maybe some mischief. I lived in one area of Hamilton until I was 14 and then I lived in a shitty area for two years. A place that had bikers and hookers and stuff. And I love Hamilton - I blow it up everywhere I go. It's my home town and I love that city. But in the paper it said 'where I live, from hookers to heroin, you can get anything you want.' I didn't mean it like that, but that's how it came out. Now I'm expecting calls saying, 'What the hell are you talking about?'

Your Mom will be phoning, saying, 'What were you thinking?'

Oh Jesus. He (the reporter) was asking me to explain the area and I just said if you want anything, from hookers to heroin, that's the place you would go.

Well every city has that - you have your good areas and bad areas. It all depends upon your perception of what equates bad. So why did you move to that area?

My Mom got a house down there because I wanted to play football at a school called Cathedral that had a wicked football team (Gaels). If you're good there at basketball or football, you can get scholarships. That's what I wanted to do. I had to be in the school's area.

So your Mom moved so you could fulfill this goal.

Yeah, my mom is amazing.

And your dad went along with this?

Ah no, they were separated.

How old were you when they separated?

Oh long time ago, I'm a legal bastard (laughing).

Ah well, good on you. Then you didn't have to deal with a father interfering.

It's funny because people always ask what my background is and Scottish comes up a lot. Then they say, well Swick isn't a real Scottish name, and I respond that Swick is my brothers' and sisters' dad's name. My dad's name was Anderson and my mom's a Finlay.

So you use your stepdad's name?

No, he was my other brothers' and sisters' dad. They just kept my name the same as my siblings for school and everything. I actually had two dads growing up. My last name is actually Finlay Anderson.

Good for your mother that she was able to support you the whole way.

My mom is a tough woman. A very tough woman.

Speaking of moms, what music was being played while you were growing up?

Music like 'The Skye Boat Song', every party would have an accordion, etc., Patsy Cline, Motown, old rock and roll like CCR. My brothers got me into rock, James Taylor is from my sister, Paul Simon from a girlfriend...

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

I grew up with 2 sisters and a brother and I have two other brothers.

And they're all older than you?

Yeah, I'm the youngest.

Then you definitely received the benefit of vast exposure to different music styles.

Two of my brothers, from my dad who was married before he met my mom, are 50 and 53 years old. My dad used to play a little constantina and he played the piano.

Did you ever take piano lessons?

I did for a little bit and I was actually all right, but I'm a 'wanna be' piano player. I would love to play the piano, but I am not very good at it. I will often write using the piano, but I am not a really good player. I wrote and played 'Listen Isa' (for my mom) on the piano, but I felt too unsure to play it for the cd. I can play it well, but I just don't.

It appears that you are surrounded by music. I noticed that you got your first guitar at 13. Who bought it for you?

My mom.

Really? Did you want it? Was it something you asked for?

I wanted a guitar and my mom gave it to me for my grade 8 graduation. It was a Kay electric guitar with a little, tiny Roland amp. And I played the shit out of it.

Are you self-taught on the guitar?


Wow, that's excellent. I have read that you have been in other bands prior to this one. What bands were you in?

The first band I was ever in was my brother-in-law's band. We opened for Jim Cutty (Blue Rodeo). Then I was in a band called Nimbus which became Red Echo which was heavy rock. We never toured, we just played around Hamilton. Then I played in a cover band for a couple of years to make money.

What was the cover band's name?

Atticus Radley. You know, Atticus and Boo Radley from 'To Kill a Mockingbird'? It was a stupid name, but we didn't care. We just needed a name and I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

You obviously developed a fan following as you are a well known singer in Hamilton.

Well there was only the three of us playing in this band and I think we got well known around Hamilton. People seemed to think I was a good singer. I was writing my own tunes and my girlfriend said, 'Why don't you start playing your own songs'? So I started playing them and started getting good responses.

So you're not with anyone from that band anymore?

Nope - that was it.

So when you were signed to Warners, you were essentially signed on your own?

Then I put together a band - this band has been with me for the duration.

I was wondering if this is the same band (with Andrew, Karl, Ron and Davide), that played on the cd, or did you have studio musicians?.

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These are the guys that play on the cd. There was another drummer originally, but we parted ways. I've known these guys for a couple of years.

That's good then, so you already have a feel whether or not you gel.

Well, this is... as a band... our eighth gig together.

Really? Your eighth? You're justing getting started.

Yep, we're bottom floor. We're getting in at ground zero. I don't think you'll be disappointed though. We're a smokin' band.

Where have you been playing of late - where have you come from?

We were in Calgary, then Edmonton, and then we're here tonight. We fly home to play Blue Mountain and we have all these gigs.

What's the reception been like?

Great. It's weird, I think a lot of people know the songs, but the name recognition wasn't there. We're pushing that aspect now. The reception has been great. There haven't been a ton of people at the gigs but it changes. Back in Hamilton and Toronto it is packed, but the further West we go, and after you hit Alberta and all that man-rock, after Alberta it becomes a bit softer. The last girl I spoke with said, "Going from where you were to where you are now..." and I said, 'I don't know where I am now'. I have a record deal, a label pushing the record, a great band, great friends, and a lot of support, but I have no idea if people know who I am. I have people joke around and say, "Hey rock star" and I am like, 'Huh, who me'?

You need to tell them to let you know when that happens.

Yeah, I need them to tell me when I am a rock star. Well, actually it's an adult contemporary star.

Hmm, an adult contemporary star? People might think you are in movies.

Yes, but what kind of movies? (laughs)

Exactly, that may not be a good association. I also wanted to ask you about your video for 'Everything is Alright'. I didn't associate your name at first with what I call, 'The Mannequin Video'.

Yep, Sears catalogue on acid.

Okay, so what was the premise behind that?

Well, I not a very visual, artistic guy so when the producers came to me and said, "What do you want to do, Tomi?" I had no idea. So we sent out the song to all these publishing houses, record companies and we got back a ton of ideas - most of which I hated. Guy meets girl and sees her beautiful green eyes... I'd say, "What the hell is this?" And I said no to everything.

You said no to a bad Michael Bolton video?

Yep. I said, 'No way'. Then I really liked an animated one, but it was a little out there. The label didn't think it was a good idea for the first video. They need people to just know who I am. Then we came out with this video which started off as... well... Sean Michael Turrell, who directs Billy Talent's video, wanted it to start off as an Ed Sullivan style show, with mannequins. I really liked that idea. We were to be singing that 'Everything is Alright', but it's not because of all these mannequins. I think with location and time, it ended up being the video that it is - us singing atop a house in suburbia, a surreal world, with the mannequins doing weird shit.

I remember watching and thinking - hey they've got bondage, what the...?

I said I didn't care at all if it wasn't lyrically correct. Make it something that will break the ice for my first video.

Hopefully you'll get some woman's groups outraged, or receive complaints.

But it was two guys in bondage.

It was? I missed that one. Great, more controversy. You want complaints because then everyone will want to see the video. Two guys? Hmm, well you would know - you were there.

No, I was actually on the roof looking down so we didn't see much. I think everyone will watch it and just think it is weird. It was a blast to shoot.

I wanted to ask you, in your own personal realm, which of the following deaths had an impact, if any, on you: John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, Michael Hutchance, Joe Strummer, and Dimebag Daryl. I know that Kurt Cobain's death had an impact on up and coming bands with the way they partied and toured afterwards. Excess wasn't as cool as it once seemed.

Definitely Jeff Buckley... I'd say Jeff Buckley because he went out swimming. I've partied, but I'm not a hard core drug user. Before Buckley died... well people are going to do whatever they do and you only get one chance to live and if you are going to kill yourself doing heroin, that sucks. Especially if you are a really talented person. It's tragic for anyone, but...

It's a waste.

Yes, it's a waste. I pray that it never happens to me. Jeff Buckley went out saying, 'I got a Whole lot of love'. It's tragic that he drowned, but he didn't put a gun to his head or shit like that. You know, I wasn't the beat up teenager in school, I was the captain of the football team and I didn't have those thoughts. I have a hard time identifying with guys who say, 'Oh I can't take it - I'm too famous..'

Are you saying you don't have any emotional baggage?

Oh, I've got a hell of a lot of baggage. Especially when you've got a crazy family like mine. But, I'm not going to be upset about it. I've been around guys that actually hate their life. Now, I don't hate my life, but there are things I don't like. I don't like being on camera because I am really shy, but I like doing interviews because we just talk. These guys who become so 'precious' and 'secluded' well, you know what man? If you are going to go and blow your head off, you're an idiot. I think Kurt Cobain is an idiot for killing himself.

Yes, I do too. A very misguided idiot

I was a big fan of his and that was really shitty. And then the whole Michael Hutchance thing. And it's sad about John Lennon because he didn't want to die. As for people who want to die - well I have no respect for suicide. I've been around people who've not pulled through, and it really makes me pissed. That whole situation fucked with my head for a long time. I have no respect for that - you can't take it, so you're going to kill yourself and screw up everyone who's left.

I wanted to ask you about the other members in the band and the type of music they like.

We are an extremely eclectic band in our musical tastes. I don't listen to heavy metal. I don't like 80s metal.

Oh come on, you just don't like the big hair.

Hey, I've got big hair myself. Ron is 37 Davide is 33 and Andrew, Karl, and I are 26. We are Beatles fans, Paul Simon fans, Radiohead fans, Soundgarden... You know what I mean? We're not into man-rock like Creed.

Come on, what about Van Halen? You gotta love Eddie Van Halen.

I think Eddie Van Halen ruined rock guitar.

(Interviewer bursts out laughing)

He's what we call a wanker. Listen, if you're that good, and you don't know when not to play, that's terrible. Look at me! Look at me! (Tomi imitates an Eddie Van Halen riff) I think good music is all about space and atmosphere. Some people just don't know when to shut up.

Well consider their front man.

Laughs - sorry I didn't mean to diss them.

I don't care, I don't know them.

Andrew and I have gotten a lot of people angry for saying that Van Halen was part of the demise of rock guitar.

I think that's funny - I'm going to quote you on that one.

Yeah, go ahead.

Final question, which is your favourite Beatle song (or album if that's easier)?

It's so hard. I have two songs. I love 'I Will', and 'Happiness is a Warm Gun'. 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' was a brilliant idea. It's a total mix and match. That was the start of that type of music, and it's timeless. And then there was that medley on the one side of Abbey Road.

That was one of my favourite albums.

We love that stuff. In fact we are going to do a Paul Simon cover.

Great - which one?

Graceland. We have just practised it. In Edmonton, during rehearsal, we thought let's just do this, and we did.

It's a fairly difficult piece.

Yeah, but we've got great musicians.

Okay, I'm going to let you go, to rest your throat, drink honey or whatever it is you should be doing.

Okay, thanks. It was a pleasure meeting you.

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To purchase Stalled out in a Doorway go to the first link

For Tomi's Official website go to second link.

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