This travelin’ man known as Tom Rhodes has been singing in smoky bars for 15 years and has played all over the United States and Europe. This is one hard-working musician who has put in the time and delivers the goods through his real genuine & honest approach to “American Music”. Tom’s musical style holds many layers with Americana at the core as it draws you right in and connects with you. His latest labor of love ‘With or Without’ is the new album from Tom Rhodes that is his best work yet! 100% self-financed and completely in control of his destiny, Tom Rhodes is one determined & dedicated artist to watch out for.
J Rae: So I see that you’ve put out 4 albums since 2004 with your latest release titled ‘With or Without’ and wanted to ask how all four records differ in overall sound, style and texture?
Tom Rhodes: Each record is a bit of a snap shot for me, and as life moves and changes the songs and recording styles change. In the past I haven’t had a singular sound, not just from album to album, but there has been a change from song to song. As I’ve continued to put out music I have actually gotten closer and closer to my roots. If you listen to the albums in chronological order you’ll hear a young guy growing into a man.
J Rae: How do you feel about the new record ‘With or Without’ and what kind of response has it been getting thus far?
Tom Rhodes: “With or Without” is the best piece of art that I have ever made. It’s the first album that ended up exactly like I wanted it, so I am still in love with it as a record. The response has been fantastic. To record 13 songs live over four nights with no safety net is a scary proposition, but it’s as real and honest as it can possibly be. That’s all I can ask from myself, is to be honest and real with myself and with others.
J Rae: I noticed that you’ve moved around a lot over the years from Texas & Washington D.C. to NYC and Wilmington, NC. And now I see that you, your wife and your dog Barkley live in San Francisco so have to ask why make the jump so many times in your life and what brought you guys to the Bay Area? No plans of moving again anytime soon or are you staying put for awhile?
Tom Rhodes: I’ve always had the traveling bug, life is short and there is so much to see. We moved from NC to San Francisco because we could, and we might not ever have that chance again. There are tipping points in your life where you either let the concrete harden around your heels or you step out and try something else. San Francisco is the heart of imagination in America right now. From the tech industry, to the creative arts, to the graffiti on the street, SF is at the top of the heap. If you want to see where you stand, and push yourself in life you have to surround yourself with the best. That’s why we moved. We don’t have any plans of moving, the Bay Area ticks off so many of the boxes for what we look for in a place to live that it’s hard to beat… the only thing that could chase us out is the insane cost of living.
J Rae: When previewing your tracks on ‘With or Without’ I pick up on a heavy Country and Folk influence but I also hear so many other elements like: Alternative, Rock, Pop and even a little Soul. You’re obviously not pigeon-holed to one style or genre which is excellent but if you could sum up what kind of artist you are what would you say? And what type of audience do you normally attract?
Tom Rhodes: I had a hard time with this question for a long time, but I think that I can say Americana. I play American music. My audience is pretty diverse because of that.
J Rae: You sing with a real raspy tone that is very raw & real to me as your voice seems to have some real grit to it. Where does this feeling & energy come from when you’re singing and what emotion does it draw up for you?
Tom Rhodes: My voice is the result of singing in smoky bars for 15 years… I actually wish that it was cleaner, but it is what it is. It’s hard to say where the energy I sing with comes from… I just sing. The emotion makes the noise, not the other way around.
J Rae: I have to say when previewing your album ‘With or Without on iTunes I particularly loved the fact that the acoustic guitar has a serious presence on the record. I’m a huge fan of singer/songwriters having their loyal guitar as a major part of the song and this is definitely evident on ‘With or Without’. Is the guitar just as important as the mic when performing to the point where you can’t play without it?
Tom Rhodes: I much prefer to play and sing together, but it’s just a matter of habit. We recorded this album live, so there was no separating the voice and the guitar really. The mic that you sing in picks up the guitar and the mic for the guitar picks up the vocals. That forward mix of the acoustic is because that’s how it sounds when I perform. “Dying is Easy” I performed on Rhodes piano, singing and playing at the same time, so the whole album has that same feel.
J Rae: A singer/songwriter, his or her guitar and a simple melody is a beautiful thing to hear when done right and wondering how you usually come up with sweet melodies on your guitar? And do you have to be in a certain setting or mood or is it just completely spontaneous when the magic happens?
Tom Rhodes: I generally write my chordal structure and melodies together moments before the lyrics are added. Sometimes it’s spontaneous, sometimes it’s methodical, but as far as mood or setting, all I need is a few hours of isolated time, which sometimes is very rare indeed.
J Rae: What’s the process when writing lyrics to a song and how do you know when it’s complete and feels right?
Tom Rhodes: I write very quickly and follow my gut, then I take the songs that I like and I play them at the worst shows I can find. Loud talkative bars are best, because if they go over well there I know that I have something strong on my hands. I hone the lyrics by playing the song over and over until it falls done, then if I can get the money together I take it into the studio, or I’ll record it at home and put it on the shelf until I can.
J Rae: I have to say that your dog Barkley has a pretty cool name but I’m dyin’ to know if you named him after the incomparable Charles Barkley, which would be even cooler if you did!
Tom Rhodes: No, we just love the name Barkley for a dog, and whenever people meet him they see that it’s a perfect fit. With that said Charles Barkley was a beast on the boards, and one of the best forwards of all time.
J Rae: I read online that you’ve played tons of live shows all over the United States and Europe and wanted to ask which particular venue/show stands out as a special moment for you and one experience that you won’t soon forget?
Tom Rhodes: Playing a show in Zug, Switzerland (a country that I had never been to previously) to 200 people singing along with my songs was pretty mind blowing and unforgettable. There have been some very special moments in the last year as well.
J Rae: Is there a difference between the way Americans and Europeans perceive your music or has the response been basically universal?
Tom Rhodes: When people hear the music the response is very similar everywhere I go, but over all I find that Europeans don’t talk at shows as much, and tend to be more music centric at shows. I don’t really have too much of a problem at most of my shows at venues in the US, but I see it a lot when I go out to see other bands. It’s part of a self-centered thing that many Americans have going on recently.
J Rae: I saw that you have hundreds of unreleased songs at your disposal and so why are you holding out on us man? And what’s in store for 2015?
Tom Rhodes: It is really only economics that is holding me back. Making albums is an expensive business, and so far in my career it’s been all self-financed. That means that if I want to record a record I have to find $10-$15k over what it takes to pay my bills to record it. That takes me a few years to build up most of the time, so that’s the gap in records. If I had my dream I would just record new material all the time and release it constantly. I love working in the studio.
By Jimmy Rae (email@example.com)