It is my distinct pleasure to introduce the world to Tom Meny, a brilliant young singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas. Meny is something special. I favorably compared him to Harry Nilsson – not just once, but twice – in the following interview, and he dodged the issue – deftly! – both times. OK, so he’s humble… can he sing? Can he sing?! Well, he attracted the attention of indie wunderkind Glen Hansard – you know, that amazing singer/songwriter who starred as himself in the autobiographical, and superb, film Once, and fronts the bands The Swell Season and The Frames – before he even recorded an album. And – more importantly, I think – he attracted the attention of The Impaler. (I mean… come on!)
Meny’s debut album, On My Way, is available to order from www.tommeny.com right now. Anyone who can make it to Austin on February 23rd should – no, must – make it a point to attend Meny’s official CD Release Party at One-2-One Bar, 1509 South Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78704. (I’m just sayin’… you really should!)
And now… Timothy ‘The Impaler’ Schwader interviews Tom Meny.
The Impaler: Tom, welcome to The Impaler Speaks! Let’s start with you giving us 5 words or phrases that you feel describe you best.
Tom Meny: Hopeful, determined, ambitious, fortunate, and ridiculously handsome!
The Impaler: Nice! We need to get a little more in-depth than that, don’t we?! You’re from Austin, Texas. You’re a singer/songwriter. You’ve got some skills on the acoustic guitar. Will you break it down for the people and offer a bio that is a bit more fleshed-out?
TM: Sure! Well… I’m actually from the Philippines but I’ve been in Austin most of my life. I think we got here when I was 6-ish… maybe 7. I grew up in South Austin, went to Bowie High School, was a jock… then went to Texas Tech for a little while. I came back to Austin around 1997… and moved to Buda a few years ago. I started playing guitar when I was 10, and got really good as a teenager – during the hair band era. Then, as I got more involved in football, my guitar playing dropped down to the bottom of my priority list. It wasn’t until around 2007 that I really picked the guitar back up and started to play and write. I’m nowhere near as good as I was as a kid!
It really is a long story how all of this came about… but to make a long story short: I was motivated to sing and play, I started uploading cover songs to YouTube, I had a lot of great feedback, and now here we are 4 years later and I have a fully produced, full-length CD.
The Impaler: You’re on the verge of releasing ‘On My Way’, with the official CD release party happening on February 23rd. I’ve got a few specific questions coming, but let’s start with your overview of the album as a whole.
TM: I’m really proud of it. To be honest, it’s much more than I envisioned. Originally, when I decided to record, it was only going to be an acoustic EP. I was going to just play acoustic guitar and sing, maybe add some harmonies and piano. At the time, that’s all the songs really were. I wrote them with a guitar. There was no band, so the songs were kind of two-dimensional. However, after a couple of years in the studio and after getting some funding through Kickstarter, the songs evolved and matured, and we added some instrumentation. I found some of the best musicians in town, and their skills legitimized this album. The CD has 10 songs. I feel like the songs are honest and from the heart – sometimes funny, sometimes hopeful.
The Impaler: I hate categories and genrefication, but both are necessary evils to introduce people to new music via the ‘reference if you like…’ concept. To my ears, influences seem to include Harry Nilsson, a bit of folk, a bit of soul, even a bit of Americana. How do you explain it?
TM: This has been tricky for me…. And I’ve always hated when I’ve read articles or watched interviews and the band or artist says something like we can’t be categorized! Well, now that people have been asking me… I REALLY DON’T KNOW! It’s not me being a douchebag, it’s just tricky. When I started writing these songs, they were just acoustic guitar and me singing. So, naturally, I was calling myself a singer/songwriter. But after adding all the musicians, it’s a little bit more than that. Some people have gone as far as to say that it’s country-ish… some people say adult-contemporary. I think maybe it’s folk-pop! I dunno. If someone has a good answer, please let me know!
The Impaler: I mentioned Harry Nilsson, and I get that mostly from your lyrical approach. I mean, ‘I hate my effin’ job…’ – that’s brilliant. Acerbic and beautiful at the same time, both in terms of the music and the sentiment. What’s the story there?
TM: ‘Job’ came from real life. It doesn’t get any real-er. At the time, I was working a job that was very stressful. The possibility of being laid-off was held over my head for years! So every day I went to work, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my last. On top of that, I was just miserable. I was working overnight for a long time. I was working weekends too. A weird thing happens when you work overnight too long. It’s a chemical thing, but you don’t realize it until it’s too late. The body needs sunlight… and when it’s deprived your brain chemicals get outta whack and you go insane. So, I was tired, maybe a little depressed. I felt like my job wasn’t very rewarding, and I was slowly deteriorating while making other people very rich. I remember sitting at home and just thinking I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job… like a mantra. I think this song took 20 minutes to write. People seem to like this song. I know most people can relate.
The Impaler: You’ve got some great local guests on the record. Jason Seiter plays keyboards with Paul Renna, who is no stranger to The Impaler Speaks. Ray Prim is nothing short of a local legend. April Stephens’ violin parts – particularly on ‘Over You’ – are heartbreakingly beautiful. Gush about your friends, please!
TM: I’m a lucky bastard. It’s as simple as that. Actually, Jason Seiter is more than a guest. Jason and I went to high school together. Originally, he was a hired gun to record on the CD, but I was able to blackmail him into being in the band. His musical input on the songs that are most important to me is simply genius.
Ray Prim somehow found my YouTube video of ‘Job’ on Facebook – probably through a mutual friend. He shared my video, and we started chatting on Facebook. A little later he asked me to open up for his Soulwriter’s Night at Flipnotics. As time went on, he started throwing me in front of his fans more and more… and eventually I was lucky enough to have him sing on several songs on the CD. His vocalist, Mike Robledo, is also on several songs. Mike is the real deal. He is like 90s R&B… Jodeci and D’Angelo… that feel… and his voice and style added an element to my songs that was not predicable. His harmonies on ‘Say When’ are just really phenomenal. Ray then suggested that I let April Stephens, his violinist, see what she could come up with on some of the songs. She played me her ideas and it was a no-brainer. I was lucky enough to have her play on several songs on the CD.
I also had Damon Garcia from Uncle Bruno play some sax on 2 songs, and he really added a new dimension to those songs. Like the icing on the cake.
I also want to mention Kevin Garinger. I was at an open mic a couple years ago waiting for my turn to play. These 2 guys go up to the mic and just start jamming. Then I hear this guy play a harmonica solo and I thought John Popper had snuck in. I see this young guy and he is just blowing everyone away. When they were done, I got his email address and told him that I needed him on my CD. He ended up playing a solo on ‘I’m All In’ and it’s ridiculous.
I wanna mention Tim Casterline, Danny Sanchez, and Daniel David too. They aren’t really guests because they’re in the band now, but they are phenomenal. Tim not only engineered and co-produced, but he also played bass and sang some ‘secret’ harmonies. Danny Sanchez is a very accomplished drummer; he’s a jazz guy and knows everything there is to know about music. Daniel was the last addition to the band. The guitar parts he came up filled all the voids that I felt existed in some of the songs. I didn’t tell him what to play… he just came up with parts that were perfect. It seems like he reads my mind when he comes up with some of these parts.
The Impaler: Let’s jump in the way-back machine for a bit. Where did it all begin? What got you into music?
TM: I’m the youngest of 3 boys. My older brothers were really into music. They were really into R&B and soul. My dad was into jazz and blues too. He had a lot of albums and an old record player. He also had a lot of reel to reel tapes! I remember listening to The Dave Clark Five. He still has that record player and that reel to reel. That’s where it started, I guess. I think when I was around 8 I started to develop my first musical tastes. My first favorite band was Tears For Fears. I remember seeing them in concert when I was 10!
Back then, my neighbor Sal Silva and I would hang out all day together during the summers. Our parents were at work all day and we’d hang out at his house all day watching MTV. I remember we were watching music videos one day and two videos came on – Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer Of 69’ and then Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck’s version of ‘People Get Ready’ – and it was that day that I wanted to learn guitar. So, when we were 10, Sal and I both got old used guitars for Christmas and we started taking lessons.
The Impaler: When did you know you wanted to make music as a full-time profession? Was there a specific moment or more of an evolution over time?
TM: 4 or 5 years ago, when I was working that terrible job, I realized that I needed to go for it. I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, so nobody would be terribly affected if I decided to try and do something that I actually enjoyed. I went out and bought a new guitar, amp, and mic, and I started recording cover songs and uploading them to YouTube. I didn’t quit my job and just take a leap of faith… I was a little more realistic about it. I knew that I needed to continue on with the job while I got back into playing. So, here I am 4 or 5 years later, still working a day job – although it’s a different job now, and I actually like the job and the people I work with – but the dream is still to make music a full-time gig.
The Impaler: I’m not looking for a list, per se, or something where you’ll later regret leaving something out, but I’m interested in some key musical moments in your life – artists, albums, songs, concert experiences that stick out in your mind to this day, that you can return to at any point when you need to find your ‘happy place’.
TM: I don’t remember exactly how many years ago it was, but I remember watching a show on Austin public access television. It was an acoustic song swap with Will Sexton, Johnny Goudie, and Mark Addison. I think that was kind of the spark that got me interested in singer/songwriter stuff.
Way before that, The Buddy Holly Story with Gary Busey was where I first learned what overdubbing was. I was very young when that movie came out, but I must have watched it 50 times. There’s a scene in the movie where a studio engineer shows Buddy Holly how to overdub harmonies during recording. Believe it or not, I was doing my own harmonies when I was probably 12 years old. I would record myself singing a melody on one tape recorder, then I would sing the harmony over that while recording that on a second tape recorder. Now I’d have 2 harmonies, then I’d do it again. The end product would be 4 or 5 harmonies and a tremendous amount of hissssssssssssssss…. But when I look back on that I think it’s pretty cool that I was conscious of harmonies and overdubbing at such a young age. Harmonies are a big part of all of my songs now.
The Impaler: I’m just going to state – for the record, for anyone reading this who is, sadly not aware of this amazing musician – that Johnny Goudie is a superstar. Everyone should listen to something he’s recorded every day, as far as I’m concerned. Now… as for direct influences – and I know I sort-of asked this question earlier, but not really – who would you list?
TM: Most recently, I’d say Glen Hansard (The Swell Season, The Frames), John Mayer, Doyle Bramhall II, and Bob Schneider. I realize these guys are all relatively young, and it’s weird to have influences that are around the same age as you… I’ve found myself having to justify liking certain artists [in the past]… but screw it, I’m not doing that anymore. I like what I like. When I was much younger I would have said Alice in Chains, Journey, Outkast, The Arc Angels, Joe Satriani, Nirvana, Radney Foster, and several others.
The Impaler: At one point, you were involved in a songwriting contest on National Public Radio (NPR) and created quite a buzz on a national level – even garnering praise from Glen Hansard. That’s pretty cool. What can you tell us about that?
TM: Actually, the Glen Hansard thing was before the Mountain Stage NewSong contest. Two separate things. To make a long story short, I recorded a cover version of Glen Hansard’s song ‘High Hope’, and he heard it and started talking about my cover version at his shows. Then he tweeted my video to his fans. I have since met him twice and had the great honor of singing on stage with him at Antone’s during SXSW in 2012. I literally ran into him walking down the street at SXSW, and he pulled me up on stage 30 minutes later….
The Mountain Stage NewSong contest is an annual songwriter contest that gets thousands of entrants from all over the world. Mountain Stage is a show that runs on NPR. Each year they have a contest and the winner gets to record a CD as well as appear on Mountain Stage. Last year I entered the contest and became the Southwest regional winner. So I flew to New York to sing at the finals, which was held at Lincoln Center. It was a phenomenal experience. It was my first time in New York City, and I got to meet some really incredible singer/songwriters. I was really honored to be a part of that.
The Impaler: Fantastic! And then there was your Kickstarter campaign. What was your takeaway from going the crowdfunding route? What would you do differently next time?
TM: I learned about Kickstarter after I had already started recording. At that point, the CD was just going to be an EP – 5 or 6 songs – and way more scaled down. I decided to start a Kickstarter campaign, and then everything changed… for the better. Now I had the means to not only record more songs, but I could now hire some musicians. I am extremely thankful for all the fans, friends, and family that pledged to my campaign. The truth is, there would be no CD if it weren’t for them. As far as what I’d do differently, well… I quickly learned that writing all the parts, as far as the instrumentation, needs to be done before you get into the studio! If not, you’ll quickly run through all of your Kickstarter money, haha!
The Impaler: Now we’ve got ‘On My Way’, and for my money, it is a fantastic record through and through. You co-produced the record with Tim Casterline at Wonderland Studios in Austin. First, can you talk about Casterline a bit? Then, could you just talk about the overall recording experience - maybe share a few fun (or painful!) stories about your time in the studio?
TM: Tim and I went to high school together. We actually were in a band together very briefly when we were young. So when I ran into him several years ago and he mentioned that he was a partner at Wonderland Studios, it was really cool, because now I had someone that I was familiar with who could answer all of my questions about the recording process. When I finally decided to record, Tim/Wonderland was the obvious choice. Overall, I loved the recording experience. It was kind of cool over the last 3 or 4 years to come into the studio, after my day job, and just unwind and create music. It was therapeutic. Most of my sessions consisted of just Tim and I. We would shoot the shit a lot. He has a lot of knowledge of the music business… from a recording engineering perspective as well as from the perspective of a national touring musician.
The Impaler: Recording or playing live. Can you choose a favorite? Tell us your favorite aspects about both.
TM: I definitely prefer playing live to recording. For me, recording wasn’t always easy. My songs were all written on guitar, and I play guitar rhythmically… therefore, when I’m singing and playing, my strumming is kind of like percussion. The problem with that is, when you record a song, you have to play the guitar and sing separately. In a lot of cases I would find that I was playing the guitar parts differently because I wasn’t singing at the same time. We found a lot of tricks over time to remedy this, however. I also prefer playing live because of the immediate feedback… good or bad.
The Impaler: The record is done, the release party is coming up soon. What’s next, in the short-term, specifically the rest of 2013?
TM: Because this is my debut CD and really my first full band, I’ve been putting a lot of things on hold until after this CD release show. There’s been a lot of preparation in getting the band rehearsed and getting me ready to perform with a full band behind me. I know that in February I’ll be playing some acoustic song swaps with Ray Prim and Meggan Carney on Mondays at One-2-One Bar. Other than that, I’m not really scheduling anything until after the CD release.
The Impaler: Any thoughts about the future beyond 2013 at this point?
TM: Well, the goal is to play music full-time. So, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to reach that goal. I dream big. I wanna play music all over the world.
The Impaler: Fantasy time. Your record’s blown up and you get to do a dream tour. Who are you sharing the stage with night after night?
TM: As far as I’m concerned, I have the dream-team of musicians in my band. So, if I’m on a dream tour, I want Tim Casterline, Danny Sanchez, Daniel David, and Jason Seiter on the stage with me.
The Impaler: How about recording… who’s in the studio with you – could be producers, musicians, other singers – in a dream situation?
TM: Same answer! I want Tim engineering and co-producing, and I want my band. I’d love to have Ray, Michael, April, Damon, Curtis, and Kevin come back as well. Also, I’d love to have Meggan Carney come sing some harmonies. I met Meggan through Ray as well. She’s done some of the songwriter swaps with Ray and I, and she is the next big thing. Remember I said that!
The Impaler: Speaking of dreams, when I interview folks I like to get a gut response to the following, if you’ll indulge me: Hopes? Dreams? Fears? Nightmares?
TM: I hope people all over the world can hear the CD. I dream of playing music for a living… and being able to afford to go to Las Vegas anytime I want. I fear some of the changes in the music business….
The Impaler: How about conspiracies? Any good conspiracy theories to share with us?
TM: I feel like there is no actual ‘rib’ meat in the McRib. Whatever it is, it’s goddam delicious.
The Impaler: I can’t thank you enough for your time, Tom, and I wish you nothing but success on the heels of ‘On My Way’ and beyond. The floor is yours… pimp the product, tell a funny story, whatever!
TM: Thanks so much for chatting with me, The Impaler! I had fun going back in time to answer some of these questions. Although it took almost 4 years to make this CD, in reality it took my entire life to write these 10 songs. I’m really proud of the CD. Most of all, I’m really proud of the guys that recorded it with me. I’m so lucky to have Danny, Daniel, Tim, and Jason backing me up. These guys have lifetimes of experience, and really made the CD what it is. The CD is available now for pre-order at http://tommeny.com and it will be available via iTunes, Amazon.com, Google Play, etcetera on February 19, 2013. The CD release show is Saturday, February 23rd at the One-2-One Bar at 1509 South Lamar Boulevard in Austin.
Photos provided by Tom Meny, used for promotional purposes only.