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Celebrating Conscious Community
Tommy Anton
Longer-term, I'll keep creating music that celebrates conscious community and sustainable stewardship of the planet. I respect what Neil Young is up to these days. He's burning bio-diesel in all the trucks and buses on his current Greendale tour. I think that is so right-on. - Tommy Anton
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] Tommy Anton
Tommy Anton

Tommy Anton's musical career has taken him on a journey both musically and geographically. Growing up in Austin, Texas, he became a well-known figure on the local scene. His travels took him across the mid-west, spending time in California and in the pacific northwest city of Olympia, Washington. In recent years, he has settled in the Asbury Park, New Jersey area, becoming a regular in rooms along the Jersey shore, as well as in New York City.

His music has taken a similar path. His interest in making music started off with a desire to play the drums, but he was given a guitar as a gift for his ninth birthday. While he learned the guitar, he maintained his interest in the drums and eventually bought his own kit. By the time he was establishing himself in Austin, he was considered a premiere drummer, and had started singing as well.

While he continues to play drums on a regular basis, his guitar playing has reasserted itself, as Anton has delved more into songwriting and performing his own solo material. Four of his original tracks can be heard on Anton's debut EP, showcasing his modern folk/pop sound.

Now a consistently-performing figure on the New Jersey and New York scenes, Anton continues to develop both his playing and his voice by not only showcasing his own work, but regularly sitting in with numerous other musicians. It's not unusual to see Anton unexpectedly jumping on stage to add his drumming talents to one or more of the evening's performances. In fact, Anton has performed with as many as five artists in one night at the legendary Stone Pony.

Chorus and Verse interviewed Anton about that evening, as well as his EP and his recording plans moving forward. For someone who talks about having a nomadic existence, Anton has settled into his current home quite nicely, and his fans and musical collaborators surely won't mind if he decides to stick around for a while.

Your bio indicates that you’re believed to hold the record for playing with the most bands in one night at the Stone Pony rock club in Asbury Park, New Jersey. What’s the story behind that statement? When did that evening take place, and who were the bands that you performed with?

Yeah, I’m also a hand drummer and am often invited to play my ashiko with other artists and acts. When that was written it was referring to April 2, 2003, when I was set up on stage to play with Melissa Chill, who is a fantastic singer and performer, for her Pony debut, and then with a duo version of the Josh Zandman Trio, of which I was a member, and then the Terry Little Project wanted me to stay on stage and drum for their set, so I did. I was singing with all these acts as well. Then, a true jam band of five or six excellent players who had never played together before, joined me onstage, and we threw down three extended numbers. Everyone really got off on it, musically speaking. So, that’s four bands on that night at the Pony.

Since then, I exceeded my record and played with five acts there on November 22, 2003. That was at the Light of Day benefit headlined by Springsteen and Michael J. Fox jamming with Joe Grushecky and the House Rockers. That night, I did sets with Rob Dye, Melissa Chill, Mimi Cross, Bobby Strange and Charlie McIntosh. There’s a photo collage of that night on the wall at the Pony. It was a blast.

Speaking of Asbury Park, you’re currently based there, after growing up in Austin, Texas, and traveling around the world over the years. How does the Asbury Park music scene stand up against other places where you’ve lived, especially in Austin? Why did you make a decision to settle in Asbury, and do you view the area as home now, or just another stop on the journey?

The Asbury Park scene is cool; much smaller than Austin’s, but almost as vibrant. I’ve been gigging mostly at the Saint, the Pony and Harry’s Roadhouse, but also at some art galleries and coffee houses like the Daily Grind in Ocean Grove and Coffee Blue in Belmar. It’s very supportive of independent artists here and WBJB [radio station of Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, NJ] is one of the best radio stations in North America when it comes to interesting diversity. Plus, if you release a cool song as an indie local artist they’ll definitely get behind it.

Jeff Raspe and Leo Zachary have really helped me spread the message of who I am and what I’m up to. I left Austin several years ago to explore living on the West Coast, playing in bands in Seattle and then northern California and Santa Cruz. Then, I hooked up with a touring theater company as the music director and spent two years traveling through the western states doing up to eight shows per week on the festival and theater circuit. Let me just say that the romance of living on a tour bus wears off after about six weeks. (Laughs.) Not complaining, just saying.

Anyway, after a couple of fantastic years of that, I was living on an island in the Puget Sound near Olympia, WA. I was house sitting this beautiful place for some friends while they were abroad and was considering my next move. I knew I wanted to get into the solo singer/songwriter mode, but just wasn’t sure where to base myself. Then, one day, I was surfing the net and discovered an astrologer’s site that specialized in astrolocation. That’s where you give him your birth chart info and a phone interview about your goals and he does his calculations and recommends the most auspicious geographical zone for you. This really intrigued me, so I got a consultation from him and he told me that the best place in North America for me was a fifty-mile wide strip along the Atlantic coast, starting just south of New York City, going down to Virginia Beach, VA. So I decided to try it out and loaded up my van and drove solo cross-country. Along the way, various signs and intuitions led me to the Jersey Shore. I knew no one in Jersey, had never been here before and had heard very little about it.

Within literally ten minutes of arriving, I had a weekly residency at Be Green Organic Juice Bar in Belmar and, later that night, was invited to be a houseguest for as long as needed with a family in Oceanport. And cool things keep happening. I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect or if the astrologer really is that dialed in, but this spot has truly embraced me, and I’ll be staying for a while, though I’ll be doing plenty of touring.

Sticking with Asbury, in December you participated in the first Writers In The Raw event, the new singer/songwriters-in-the-round shows that are produced there. What were your impressions of the evening, and how did you enjoy participating in the debut show? What do you see as the future of the concept, and would you like to be involved again in the future?

I really enjoyed it. The Roadhouse [Harry's Roadhouse, in Asbury Park, NJ] had an especially good vibe that night. It was an honor to be asked to play the first one. Gordon [Brown] and Barry [Dorsey] are doing a great job getting the word out and delivering a night of exceptional entertainment. It may grow into something like Austin City Limits, depending on how successful they are in airing the video that they’re taping. After I came off stage, Gordon pulled me aside and told me that he’d be having me back. I look forward to it.

Where else have you been performing these days, and which venues have you become most at home in? Having traveled so much, are you content to build a strong local presence and stay put for a while, or do you anticipate expanding into a wider touring area at some point?

As previously mentioned, I’ve been playing at The Saint, The Stone Pony, Harry’s Roadhouse and some local coffee houses. Also, the Clearwater Festival and recently at the Seventh Annual Brookdale Guitar Show. Up in New York City, I’ve done gigs at The Bitter End, The Living Room and The Elbow Room. I play once a month at The Java Joint in Toms River, and that’s been fun. I’ve done shows on Long Beach Island and in Trenton and New Brunswick, too. The Philly area is starting to happen for me lately " The Point in Bryn Mawr, Three Bean in Haddonfield, as well as The Living Room in Cherry Hill. A west coast festival tour is in the works for this August.

Your self-titled EP has been getting radio airplay, as well as good press reviews. When and how were the four tracks recorded, and what have you been doing to promote the demo and getting it out to radio stations and other media and industry outlets? Have you found that the EP has been well received and could lead to greater opportunities for you?

Although the songs were recorded over about a fifteen-month period, there were only four or five recording sessions, in three-day marathons that were squeezed in around my engineer’s insanely-busy schedule. Jim Watts also engineered the Grammy-winning Red Dirt Girl album by Emmylou Harris.

When he could fit me in, I traveled to wherever he happened to be and we’d book time in a studio and work for three days straight. It was exhausting. We started at a New Orleans studio called The Temple of Becoming. Our next sessions were in Kingston, New York, at Maison Bleu. We did final tracking at Arlynn Studios in Austin, TX. Willie Nelson owns that studio and it’s also where Sublime recorded their multi-platinum album. That accounts for three of the tracks. A fourth track, “I Come Alive,” was recorded entirely in Iselin, NJ, at Full Time Dreamer Studio. Ken Lewis engineered on that one. Ken has engineered and mixed on over twenty-three gold and platinum albums, including Mary J. Blige, David Byrne and the recent Kayne West debut.

I’ve been selling my EP at gigs and am really just now releasing it in terms of people being able to buy it online through my website (www.tommyanton.com). I’m being played on seven or eight FM radio stations and four or five internet webcast programs. These are from personally meeting the DJs or program directors and handing them a copy or from email requests because they heard me live or got word of mouth from someone. I’m just now getting the whole “promo” thing together and recently began working with a manager. The EP is definitely helping me get noticed through the radio play and reviews. I am very happy with how it turned out and have recently returned to the studio to begin the next project: an eleven-song CD.

The EP boasts of a couple of excellent guest musicians. Talk about how you know Leigh Foxx and Pat Mastelotto and how they came to be involved in the recording. Do you like working with guest musicians as projects arise, or would you like to develop a full-time backing band to work with?

Pat Mastelotto plays drum kit on my EP. I’m doing all the hand drumming. He lives in Austin and luckily was available on the day we wanted to cut drum tracks. Jim called him at his house and let him know what we needed and Pat came over to the studio that afternoon. He was only hired for an hour’s work, but he enjoyed the songs so much that he hung out with us for three hours, offering to double track his parts and add other cool ideas. He was great to work with, such a talent.

And Leigh Foxx is an awesome musician. I met him here in New Jersey, and we’ve become friends. He’s on the road a lot with Blondie. They still tour on a global scale, and I’ve taken care of his cats for him while he tours. He came to the studio in Iselin with me and did the bass part to “I Come Alive” in one take. We’re both pretty happy with how it turned out. For now, I’m happy with guest musicians, although, as the economics in my career shift, I’d love to have a dedicated three or four piece band.

What are your plans to follow-up the EP with a full studio recording, and do you have any ideas when such a project might develop and be released?

I’ve begun recording the new full length. I hope to release it by December 2004.

You made your mark on the Austin scene as a drummer, but now perform more in singer/songwriter mode with a guitar. Do you see this as an evolution of your music, or does the guitar present you with a greater opportunity to write and perform? When you record, do you like to handle both drums and guitar parts, in addition to the vocals, on multiple tracks?

My music is evolving fairly rapidly this year, both as a drummer and as a singer/songwriter. Guitar and voice is so flexible in terms of rhythm and melody, and I dedicate hours every day to playing my Gibson. I’m more of a natural when it comes to hand drumming. I’ve begun to blend the two together in my live shows. I now have a Roland Handsonic, which is an electric hand drum. I can play a groove on it and then loop it. This frees me to pick up the guitar and add that to the performance. It goes over big with the audience.

In recording, I’ll let the song tell me what to do. Sometimes it’s as simple as one voice and one acoustic guitar. Other times, it’s four tracks of guitar, two tracks of keys, three percussion tracks, bass guitar, drum kit and four or five vocal harmonies. I’ll do whatever I can play well. But if there’s someone else around that can lay it down better, then I’m all for that.

During many of your recent shows, you’re being accompanied on keyboard and backing vocals by Abby Cahn, who also handles your management. How long have you been working with Abby, and how does she complement your music? What are the advantages of having your management handled by someone who’s also a performer and knows what it’s like to be on stage?

I’ve played with Abby for a year, now. She was in Jabberpony until they broke up. We met at an open mic in Red Bank. Playing with Abby has refined me as a guitarist and a singer. She listens very well. She has studied piano since she was five years old. She knows when not to play a note, which is just as important as knowing when to play one. As my manager, she’s an answer to my prayers. Having developed Jabberpony over eight years gives her the perspective that recognizes and trusts the process of developing the sounds as well as the audience.

I think that, ultimately, having a manager off-stage is preferable, though, because you need someone who can watch the show and suggest ways to fine-tune what’s going on. Being in the show doesn’t allow you to notice all the subtle nuances of, for example, when you might be starting to lose some of the audience due to awkward set pacing or unconscious body language. But, musically, Abby is so valuable that we chose to work around that by videotaping every performance, then watching it later, noting what adjustments are needed. That’s worked pretty well.

You’ve been involved with other projects in addition to your solo work, such as gigs with the Josh Zandman Trio. Are you doing anything with Josh or any other side projects these days, and are you still open to collaborative projects, or do you prefer to focus on your own music these days?

Playing with Josh and Jpat still happens occasionally, as my schedule permits. When it does, we’re simply billed as “The Trio " featuring Tommy Anton, Josh Zandman and Jpat.” We have an instant chemistry that I really enjoy. Josh is a talented songwriter and Jpat is a multi-talented singer/mandolinist/guitarist. And when he busts out his harmonica, the energy just explodes. I’m doing studio and stage work with others, too. April Smith, Bobby Strange and Melissa Chill have all had me show up for their projects recently. But my music is top priority for me.

What’s in the cards for you over the next few months, and what do you hope will be some of your accomplishments for 2004? How do you see your career progressing long-term, and where would you have to be to consider yourself successful?

I’m recording the new CD and doing a few shows a week through July, then touring the west coast during August. My attitude is that everything I desire or require is available to me in this moment. And letting go of any belief that blocks my trust in that is the name of the game for me.

Longer-term, I’ll keep creating music that celebrates conscious community and sustainable stewardship of the planet. I respect what Neil Young is up to these days. He’s burning bio-diesel in all the trucks and buses on his current Greendale tour. I think that is so right-on. We’re voting every time we spend. I’ll consider myself successful if I eat organically grown food every meal for the rest of my life.

[ Website: www.tommyanton.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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