TOMI may have just released her second EP, but she has been writing and playing music for the vast majority of her life, since she was a child. Earlier this year the Brooklyn-based songstress released What Kind Of Love on RCA Records, the follow-up to 2017’s debut EP, Used To. Her latest collection is a blend of uplifting guitar pop and shimmering keys that would have made her the perfect opening act for the Purple Rain Tour. TOMI recently did a run of dates supporting Amy Shark, but she’s about to kick off a short run of headlining dates, beginning this Monday, July 9th, at Johnny Brenda’s. I recently got a chance to chat with TOMI about all of this and here’s what she had to tell me…
Izzy: I know you’ve been making music for about a decade and a half now. What have been some of the personal highlights of your musical career so far? It seems like a lot of really big things have been happening recently.
TOMI: It’s been a wild ride! I’ve been playing in various, mostly grunge, bands since I was thirteen. The journey to get to my second EP has been full of twists and turns and ups and downs. One of my recent highlights was going on my first tour across the states, supporting Electric Guest. It’s been a dream of mine to see the world by way of playing shows and finally playing these songs in front of people really hit home for me.
Izzy: Have you had any particular favorite reactions to your music?
TOMI: I love hearing from fans and hearing their stories – music has a unique ability to connect people and especially those whose paths wouldn’t otherwise cross. During our last tour, I was behind our merch table after the show, and a fan walked up and explained he had finished rehab a few days prior and was feeling overwhelmed being back in reality. He told me he had been looking online earlier that day for something to do to get his mind off of using; he came to the show on a whim and said he completely forgot about his cravings. That really stuck in my heart the rest of tour.
Izzy: And is there anything that you think is important for fans and potential fans to know about your process of creating music, or your aim as an artist… Or is it all in the music?
TOMI: My process for writing music has changed over the years. I used to only write on acoustic guitar, then I began to write lyrics first and music second, but when I started this new chapter of music I found myself switching between keys and electric guitar and freestyling the melody/lyrics. Freestyling has allowed me to stop overthinking so much and to really get to my subconscious. Every time I listen to a song I listen to the lyrics first. There’s so much music out there right now and so much to say and so much that has been said. It’s important, more now than ever, to be as honest and open as possible. I write when I feel something I can’t quite nail down; music gives unexplainable emotions a voice to be understood and to be acknowledged.
Izzy: What would you consider to be your most significant influences?
TOMI: Honestly, anything/anyone you can bang your head to then dance and cry to. I almost always have headphones on – I love getting lost in someone else’s world, especially walking around New York. It’s so fun to create your own personal soundtrack. With that said, I love big stadium music: Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Beyonce, Arcade Fire, the list is endless. It’s so important to keep listening and keep discovering new music. I go down the rabbit hole more often than I should admit.
Izzy: For that matter, do you have any significant influences that you think might surprise people?
TOMI: Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. I’m not sure if that comes as a total surprise, but I became obsessed with their music and live performances and never looked back. Both of these women have the ability to ooze soul every time they open their mouths. The live performances are even better than the records. I’ve always been in awe of any artist who can outperform their recordings. I guess a bigger surprise would be The freaking Spice Girls and their endless girl power.
Izzy: This is definitely a personal question, but I saw that you “follow” Le Tigre on Twitter, who are one of my favorite bands of all-time (Not to brag, but I was actually at the first show they ever played with a DVD player, haha.) Do you have any tracks of theirs that you particularly love or are particularly important to you? I’m torn between “My My Metrocard” and “Much Finer” for my favorite Le Tigre track.
TOMI: Yes, yes! I bow down to Le Tigre!! Such a powerhouse. My favorite song is “Much Finer” and “Cry For Everything Bad That’s Ever Happened” actually… that entire album is killer!
Izzy: In addition to your music, I really dig your music videos, especially “Carry You.” What is it that inspires the visual elements of your work?
TOMI: When I’m writing the music, it stems from a visual place. I started producing music when I wrote “Carry You.” Production opened up an entirely new universe of sounds and colors. I could actually bring texture and depth into the songs without changing the lyrics. I love when sounds transport you just as much as the lyrics and melody do. Music videos are another way of enhancing a song and bringing the colors of the sounds into a more tangible space.
Izzy: You’re kicking off a short batch of dates right here at Johnny Brenda’s. What can be expected of the live show? No pressure or anything, but I’ve heard really, really good things about your live performances.
TOMI: I’m so excited to play Johnny Brenda’s! I’ve been playing with my drummer for the last nine years and my band for four years – they are my best friends and we have a blast playing these songs live. The live show is really about letting the music come to life and connecting with you all! These songs were written to be performed live so the stage is really where they get to shine.
Izzy: On that note, are there any live performers that you find to be especially inspiring, that you might draw inspiration from, or even just enjoy to a profound degree?
TOMI: Where do I begin?! Obviously, David Bowie is a genius beyond words. I love St. Vincent, guitar goddess. I love Prince and Whitney Houston and Jimi Hendrix and damn… all the greats!!
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? What’s in the works for the second half of 2018?
TOMI: I’m writing like crazy! I’ve been on tour for a few weeks – my mind goes to some crazy places on the road which, luckily, inspires me to write a ton. It’s been a wild year and I’m eager to get all of it down on record. I’m planning on splitting my time in the windowless studio and on the open road… Hopefully I’ll see you out there!