I’m Corey O’Shaughnessy with Jewel 92, and I’m joined by the Community Cruiser—powered by Brantford Toyota—at Sue Fest, the fundraising show for The Heart and Stroke Foundation! Right now, I have the pleasure of sitting down with Juno award-winning artist Tomi Swick of The Strummers Union!
Corey: So, Tomi, first off: thank you for joining us.
Tomi: My pleasure.
Corey: So, to my understanding, you’re a Hamilton native, so, how does it feel playing so close to home? – You’re even rocking the shirt; right on.
Tomi: Yeah, I’m a Hamilton Boy. I love it. Yeah, I play with Brantford every once in a while, I was actually just out in Cayuga last night but I’m out this way quite often nowadays and it’s nice, it feels like an extension of where I’m from. It’s a bit different, but it feels like home still.
Corey: Have you personally been effected by heart and stroke disease?
Tomi: No, I’m much more cancer in my family, but one of my best friends had a stroke a little while ago, a really bad one: a musician from Hamilton and he’s come back quite a ways from it, so I mean thanks to the science and thanks to the donations, and the push to find cures, and find ways of dealing with it, ya know, my friends alive.
Corey: Right on, nice. I understand the Strummers Union and Tomi Swick are 2 different entities right? So how did the Strummers Union come to be?
Tomi: I’ll tell ya straight up how it happened. So I had an agent and so, it’s like if you’re doing festivals as an original artist, so I was an original artist, I’ll go by my own name, Tomi Swick, but I was doing gigs and ya know, it’s a hustle all the time trying to make a living doing this, so when I would do festivals we would get certain rates through my agent, but then we’d do bar gigs or parties and stuff like that, and I had to separate the two entities. There’s lots of bands, I can’t think of their names: guys from like I Mother Earth and Finger Eleven, bar bands like The Carpet Frogs for instance, they’re a band made up of guys who play with Burton Cummings, Dave Wilcox, and all these different guys, so I kind of followed their lead where I could still play and do regular gigs, but then I can still keep my name as my original stuff. So that’s why I separated the two, and we’re more of a party-band.
Corey: Nice! It’s funny that you actually bring up some of those big names because I’ve also heard that you’ve toured with, and written for, some pretty notable groups such as, according to my research: The Barenaked Ladies, The Goo Goo Dolls, Tom Cochrane, Sam Roberts, just to name a few. What was it like working with them?
Tomi: I didn’t write for them, I toured with all those guys. I wrote with Julian Lennon, John Lennon’s son, and I’ve written for a couple other artists, commercials, and movies, stuff like that, but I was mostly touring and playing with those guys and it was amazing. As a kid growing up with music, I was a jock who played guitar, I never thought I’d be a musician for my real life and when I became that, and then I got these opportunities to play and tour with these people, it blew my head off! It was crazy! I was hanging out with Matt Good and his band last week, I’m playing with 54-40, I’m playing with Sam again soon, like it’s a pretty cool thing, you’ve gotta pinch yourself sometimes. And I’m fans of all of them so…
Corey: To say the least, now I know you have a pretty lengthy wrapsheet of awards you’ve won and been nominated for, including your 2007 Juno Award for Best New Artist. How did that impact your musical career?
Tomi: Well it’s crazy because: it’s funny, that award is called the “Kiss of Death”. So I won that award and the very next day I lost my voice. So what happened is, The Juno’s are a funny thing, any of those kind of awards: The SOCAN Awards and all that stuff, they’re good because they bring up your profile as they say, ya get more money, more gigs, cooler gigs, whatever, but it’s also a lot of pressure as well. I lost my voice literally the day after I won that Juno and that was the beginning, I toured for a year after that, it got worse and worse, and then I lost my voice for two years, so winning that Juno was great, but it was the start of a rough patch for me. I was proud though, I never thought I would win anything like that in my life.
Corey: Can you go through your journey from coming back from losing your voice and all that?
Tomi: Yahh so like I said, I lost my voice that night and then I saw doctor’s back and forth, and I still toured, but I kept getting worse and worse, and I had two polyps and a cyst on my vocal chords, so I ended up having surgery on my voice and then I couldn’t sing for almost 3 years I was kinda out. And then my career, everything halts then, and I was still always writing and then I did another record with Warner, I got to go to England and work with guys who worked with Richard Ashcroft from The Verve, Paul McCartney, all these great bands, so I got to do that record and that record came out and it just wasn’t, I wasn’t in the right spot so I left Warner Brothers and now I’m with Slaight Music and I’ve done a record called “The Yukon Motel” last year, and I’m working on a new one now, so it’s had its ups and downs like everyone else has but, I’m still working and it’s nice to still be working.
Corey: Awesome! Actually, speaking of your albums, how has your sound changed between those albums and how have you grown as an artist?
Tomi: Quite a lot I’d say because when I first got signed to Warner Brothers, I was a big Jeff Buckley fan, and Paul Simon, James Taylor, but I was a big Jeff Buckley fan and Radiohead fan, so I was much more into the Brit kind of sound, but I still did a lot of the roots kind of thing, but they wanted me for pop. So when I got signed to Warner, they wanted me to be a John Mayer, what an Ed Sheeran became, what Scott Helman is now for them, and the first record is far more pop-produced, and the second is kind of somewhere in the middle, and the third one I produced myself and my drummer and it’s way more roots rock. It’s way more Tom Petty, Neil Young, The Band, that’s where I fit more so the progression has gone more from pop, acoustic singer, which I was to a degree, but I was much more rock then, but they didn’t want that. Now I’ve progressed to where I feel I fit better where my voice is a lot more gruff. I feel it suites me better; this is the kind of music I’m doing.
Corey: Now, if listeners, who unfortunately couldn’t be here at Suefest today, if they want to hear you live, where can they hear you next?
Tomi: We’re playing all over the place. The Strummers Union, if you see that, we’re a party band. But if it’s just Tomi Swick, I’ll be doing original stuff, and we play all over. Like, we’re doing the Lakeshore Mardi Gras in Etobicoke with 54.40; we’re doing Festival of Friends in Hamilton on the third. There’s gigs all over the place, I mean we’re just always doing whatever festivals come our way. Whatever they give us – we’re hoping to get Boots & Hearts this year, but we’ll see. We did the last few years, but we’re around. We play the Hamilton area, in Toronto, Burlington, Brantford, so we’re around here quite often.
Corey: Awesome! Tomi, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and chat! I look forward to hearing you on stage.
Tomi: My absolute pleasure, guys; thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Corey: I’m Corey O’Shaughnessy hanging out with Juno Award-winning artist Tomi Swick and getting ready to check out all of the fun things going on today at Sue Fest with Jewel 92!