Monday, October 22, 2007

SMILING UP, AN INTERVIEW W/ TOMMY LOMBARDOZZI

With his band's last show coming in a week's time, we sat down (at our own separate computers!) with artist/musician and all around funny guy, Tommy Lombardozzi, to get his thoughts on living life as a freelance artist, a struggling musician, and a Brooklyn Original.

You have an upcoming show with your band The Motherjumpers that has been deemed the band's final show. Why is the band breaking up? Or are you guys just going on hiatus?

No, it's not a hiatus. We're breaking up. "Why" is a little hard to answer. I can't talk for anyone else. But I feel it's not off-base for me to chalk up this break-up to the fact that this band, given all the members' personal situations, has gone as far as it's gonna go. It's disappointing, but, what can ya do? I feel we should have and could have done more, gotten farther along in our musical "careers", but it is what it is. It was fun, now let's move on!


How did the band come together in the first place? What made this band different from other bands?

What made us different, I think, is a high standard when it comes to songwriting. I feel, and I think the other guys do too, that we have/had the best material around. Good, quality songs. That's hard to find. I couldn't say we were overly original, or reinventing the rock'n'roll wheel, but we definitely had a sound that was distinctly US.

As far as how The Motherjumpers formed; all of us guys have been playing together for years, just jamming or whatever. Obviously my brother Michael and I have been playing together since we both picked up guitars (remember Nugget?). But the condensed history of THIS particular band is: I was recording a CD with Paul (Weiss) as my engineer. He'd learn my stuff and we'd occasionally play together at each other's houses. This was in 2001-2003. I started doing an open mic every week at the Baggot Inn during the Spring/Summer of 2003. Eventually I convinced all the other members to come and play, too. Then we'd share the stage, covering songs, or Paul would get up and play my songs with me (or songs we'd written together). It was fun. It was a cool weekly community of friends playin' music. By the end of the year, I started booking shows, and asked the (soon-to-be) MJs to help me out here and there; "Christian, would you sing on this?", "Michael, wanna play bass on this song?", etc. By the beginning of 2004, we were doing half-and-half shows: half me, solo, and then half as "The Motherjumpers". It sounded good and we enjoyed it, so, when we had enough material, we became a proper band. I think our first show just as The Motherjumpers was in March 2004.

(Whew! That was alot! Did I say "condensed"?!)

Yep! It's OK, we'll let it slide. For those that don't know, or didn't realize it yet, you are quite the personality. Do you prefer playing in a band or being a solo artist? And does playing in a band change that personality on stage?

Playing in a band, it's easier to blend in and feel part of a "gang". You don't have to be the one to always engage the crowd or carry the show. It's a nice feeling to be a part of that ensemble, when you all have the same goals and agenda. I'll miss it.

But being a solo artist allows me to make my own mistakes, and make my own rules. I can play any show I want, any venue I want, and no one can disagree or say "I don't want to do that.". It's freeing. But, there are cons: like, it's limiting as far as the sound I'm putting forth (there's just so much one can do with a voice and guitar. Don't get me wrong, that combination can make for a great show, but, sometimes as an artist you want to branch out... and when you're alone, it's a bit more difficult).

Another con is that I'm not really disciplined when it comes to rehearsal. When you're in a band, you at LEAST have a once-a-week rehearsal session. Alone, I tend to be lazy. Heh. And it sometimes shows in my performances. But that's going to change this time out.

Oh, and as far as the personality... I think mine changes with my mood... or the amount of booze I've consumed before I hit the stage (which is really rare. I barely ever drink BEFORE a show, just after. But last Sunday at the Monk was a different story.) Sometimes I'm loud and jokey, sometimes I'm quiet and serious. It depends on my mood, the crowd, how comfortable I am. Come to a show, folks, and see which Tommy will be there that night! Wooooha!

How do you prepare yourself for a solo show vs. a show with the band?

Again, it's alot less pressure with a band. It's not all on you. Also, the volume of the band behind me allows me to let loose a little more, get my voice out there better, AND do my little dance moves on the stage. Haha. A solo acoustic show has a different energy. The Motherjumpers were VERY loose. We didn't rehearse everything to death, and usually this made for better shows. Our last few shows had very little rehearsals, and they were among our best. I think that's just because we'd been playing together so long. It just becomes natural. It's fun. Playing live, for me, was the best fun I'd have in The MJs. We'd kick ass and rock socks off! I really couldn't describe how I prepare for a solo show. Because I don't. Haha.

The music landscape has changed quite a bit in the last few years with the advent of My Space, Ipods, Music Downloads, etc. Have you felt that all of these advances have helped you as a musician to get out there?

Not really. The only real change, I feel, is that it's at people's fingertips whenever they want it. Wanna hear a Motherjumpers' song, just go to our page. But, I don't think it's helped us get people to shows, or get our music past our friends. People in California don't know who the Motherjumpers are. Maybe I'm just doing it wrong, or, I don't have the word of mouth or the people talking about us enough to build a buzz. I really don't know. But I feel the best way to be heard is to play shows, meet people, give out CDs, etc. Get involved! For as much as the Internet is said to be a great tool to spread your music around, it's also a detriment... because there's just SO MUCH out there, that eventually people stop paying attention to it all. Bands' Friend Requests don't even get listened to half the time, much less accepted. It's a flooding. And when it comes down to it, the buzz starts with live shows, not digital downloads.

Switching gears now, you are also a freelance artist. Can you tell us what you do professionally?

I draw pictures. Haha.

Really, I do. I never wanted to be an artist professionally... I thought I'd lose my love for it if I did... but a few years ago, I took a job that my friend passed on due to his schedule. And as I'm sitting there drawing for a large amount of money, I thought "Wow, this is great! I'm getting PAID to do this?!?" So from then on in I've pursued freelance illustration jobs. I like it alot. It's usually good money, it's fun, and I get to set my own hours. Fantastic! F gettin' up early! But, it's not always steady. There's the rub. Right now I'm working on some things. The money's OK, but I'm looking to get something steadier in the creative field. It's tough. Fun jobs are the hardest to get! But I'm not gonna stop trying.

One job that sounds like it was fun was working on MTV's Fantastic Four promotion! What was that like? Were you ever a fan of the comic book? If so did that change the experience for you?

The thing with that was that I worked really hard on that job, did many drawings, and eventually they wound up deciding to just use photos from the movie instead of drawings! Haha. I still got paid though, and it was fun.

I was a big fan of the comics, and that helped me capture the characters. I wanted really badly to "get it right", and I felt I did. (Though the MTV people didn't really know shit about the FF.) I was supposed to go to the filming of the show, but didn't last minute. I just wanted to meet Michael Chiklis... and that sweet piece, Jessica Alba! Yum! But alas, I wound up having something else to do that day.

What kind of works do you like to do personally? And how do you view the professional work vs. the personal?

I've been lucky enough to get jobs where I still work in "my" style while delivering to the client what he or she wants. I wouldn't take a job I couldn't pull off, skill-wise.

Personally, I like to be really loose, really free form. Childlike, you could say. I feel that stuff turns out to be the favorite work of mine; the stuff that I haven't thought about or stressed over too much. The natural stuff. I also like drawing the comic booky stuff because it's what I did as a kid... but now I do it better.

Where do you see your artistic work going? Would you like the professional and personal work to intertwine in the future?

I just want to do MORE work. Challenging stuff, varied stuff. I'd like to build up a bigger portfolio and a bigger resume. I'd also like to make some dough doin' it!
Eventually I'd like to be known for a certain style, which I would also be sought out for. Once you've gotten a bit of a name, it's easier to pick and choose and go for a specific style. But at this point, I feel I have to present my work in as many styles and moods as possible, so a possible client can see what I'm capable of, to know if I can pull off what they need me to pull off.

Is their any conflict between your art and music? Or do they complement each other?

No conflict at all. I draw, I paint, I take pictures... I write and play music, I write, I'm into film making... I have many different creative outlets, and they all support each other. It makes me who I am, I guess. The worst thing is, all these things that interest me and I love to do, are hard things to make a living doing! Haha! I'm confident in my skills, in quite a few of these endeavors, so I know I'd be great at 'em given the chance.

Which of the two talents manifested themselves first and how do you think your life would be different had the other come first?

I was drawing since I was a kid. In the early 90s, I was heavily into comic books and comic art. It's what I wanted to do, for sure. (That and be a film director/writer.) At 15 I even met with Paul Levitz, the publisher at DC Comics, about my art. He looked at my stuff and told me what needed work, what was good, etc. But then at 16, I started playing guitar and never looked back. This was for two reasons: 1- in the mid-90s, the comic book industry became a fuckin' disgrace, creatively. (You comic guys will know what I mean!) I just lost interest, and, I knew my skills weren't up to it. And 2- drawing comics seemed lonely and solitary, while playing music was interactive and fun! It goes back to that "gang" feeling I mentioned in question three. I had met some people, my brother included, who wanted to ALSO play music... and it was a cool thing to share with others, that feeling. I also felt that songwriting was a more immediate, more satisfying way for me to be expressive. I couldn't really express myself drawing Spider-Man. So, I don't think it would have mattered which came first. The music is my true true love. If I was offered a choice to get paid making music or get paid drawing, I'd choose music. It's dearer to me, and, I feel it's something I do alot better than others... whereas with art I feel I am competent and talented, but not exceptional.

What is the perception of your talents from the people (friends, family) you grew up with and how have those perceptions helped shape you? Or have they at all?

They haven't done much, really. I don't really let what others say effect what I do or what I want to do, for better or worse. I know my mom was disappointed when I kinda stopped drawing to pursue music, because she felt I was a better artist. Alot of older people thought that, I guess just because they didn't really "get" the music we were making as kids and even now. It's a generational thing, I guess. But, everyone's always been supportive or both pursuits. And I appreciate that. Even though I still get the "it's not realistic to try and be a successful musician" crap. Maybe not, but, it's what I love and what I'll continue to pursue. I'd rather fail trying than not try at all, or give up. Fuck that. Even with the art. I'm sure it'd be easier for me to become an electrician or a carpenter or garbageman, true, but I feel I have a bankable talent, one that can't be taught or bought, and I love it... so, I'm gonna keep at it until it pays off for me. I'd REALLY feel like a failure and a loser if I didn't. Everyone else's judgments don't really mean shit to me.

How about your environment? How did growing up in Brooklyn affect both your art and music? How does living in Brooklyn affect your work now?

Lemme preface my answer by saying I really love Brooklyn, specifically the Bensonhurst/Gravesend/Coney Island/Dyker Heights/Bay Ridge area. It's a world unto itself and has so much to offer as far as diversity, a sense of community, a sense of history, and great food! Haha.

The biggest way I feel growing up here as influenced my work is that it has allowed me to not take myself too seriously. Also gives you a sense of humor. I guess, and this may sound douchey, I kind of have this middle-class background, a blue-collar background, that makes you look at the world in a more lighthearted way. A more "common" way. So I don't over think things and I try and find humor in all situations, and, I look at myself as just some Brooklyn guy who is lucky enough to have these talents. It grounds me and doesn't make me feel I'm better than anyone or set apart from anyone. And that attitude definitely has an effect on what I produce artistically. It may look or sound tongue-in-cheek, or aggressive, or even just plain funny, but underneath there's usually something more. Not always, but usually. Haha.

To elaborate further, I think it's a matter of attitude and composure. Being from Bensonhurst, you can kind of spot phonies and posers and the like, I feel. Like, this big Williamsburg movement going on now; I don't consider these people Brooklynites... because 90% of 'em aren't from Brooklyn!!! Same with the "New Yorkers" in Manhattan. So I think (that I personally, anyway) come from a more grounded, pure place. A no nonsense, no bullshit place. And I think... I HOPE... that comes through in my work.

Well said! Lastly, what does the next year hold for Tommy Lombardozzi?

Good things, I hope. I'll be doing some recording soon, and I want to play more shows in 2008; maybe get on some college circuits, college radio, etc. Just wanna get out there and have people enjoy what I'm doin'. I just made a new MySpace page to showcase my art and (solo) music (join up, folks! And spread the word!), and I'll be updating my art site soon. There are a few other projects in the works, some film stuff and what not, but it will all be revealed when the time is right... so I'll keep ya posted. I just wanna keep creatively busy and fulfilled, and hopefully take as many people along for the ride as possible. Stick around, folks!

And hey everyone, spread the word of BROOKLYN ORIGINAL! Do the right thing.

Thanks, Tommy!

Check out Tommy's new My Space featuring a combo of his art and solo music: http://www.myspace.com/tommylombardozzi

The MotherJumpers play their final show November 1st @ Don Hill's in NYC.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

Interesting read. As someone who knows Mr. Lombardozzi I can verify all his statements! It's all true folks...
Talented man this is......