1. You're from Canada, correct? How long have you been living in New York City and what made you move? I’m from beautiful British Columbia, Canada, yes. Vancouver. It’s a wonderful, magical place. New York is another wonderful place, just in a different way. I’ve been based here for about 6 months, but have done lots of traveling in that time. I moved here because it’s a great hub for culture, music and art of all kinds, and it’s an exciting place.
2. I'm told you are family friends with Sarah McLachlan? Explain the connection and just how deep it is? Has she been a guiding force in the formation of your career? Sarah is a family friend, yes. She gave me my first electric guitar, an Epiphone hollow-body. Getting to see her in action a few times while growing up, backstage on tour, at rehearsals etc., definitely played a big role in my insight into the music industry and my desire to pursue music seriously. Also, when I was 13 and playing punk rock shows in basement house parties, that guitar was considered pretty cool by all my friends, so it probably helped me with lots of other things that it wasn’t meant to.
3. What was the biggest challenge in crafting the Right and Wrong of Everything EP? To that point, did you have any goals in mind when writing the EP? Such as, make it more personal, make it more accessible, sing in a higher register? <laughter>. Sing in a higher register, I like that. The reason I sing in such a high register is because it’s easiest for me to get power there I guess. It sounds best in my head that way. I realize that anything done too much can be done to a fault, so I should try to sing lower on the next one, but the tunes just seem to come out that way. I’ve tried to get around it before, but usually it’s best the way it first comes out.
I didn’t view the EP as a unit. I approach songs as separate entities. I’ve never really done the “I’m going to write a record” thing. I’d love to some day, definitely. But that would be a different pursuit to me, in a way. I’d have to have some really strong songs to base it around, and then there would be a lot more experimentation. In this day and age though it feels hard to get to that point unless you’ve got the cash and the time. Recording for me has always been “we have no money, we’re renting this sweet place out and we need to make every single second count, so let’s rehearse super hard and then get in there and get it done.” There has never really been time to chill, smoke a joint, and come up with trippy ideas. But it’s definitely something I’d like to be able to do. It’s a dream really.
For me it’s always about trying to write good songs that can stand on their own, and then once I have enough good ones to record, I can lump some that fit together onto an “album” or a “release”. I guess that’s part of living in the era of songs as opposed to the era of albums now though.
And all songs, to satisfy me enough to show them to anyone, have to be catchy in some way, and possess some deep personal aspect to them, so that is always what I’m trying to do.
4. Discuss the development of the song "Diamond?" When did you start writing it, did it change at all? Did you know when you were writing it was "that," song, in essence a song that would really speak volumes and maybe knock on some doors? I wrote the chorus a few years ago. I even played it live a few times with a totally different verse. I even tried recording it, come to think of it. But it didn’t work. So I put it on the shelf. But when I wrote the chorus, I knew it was a strong chorus. I knew people would like it and I loved playing it and singing it. It is one of the songs that feels the best. When something feels super good, then you can kind of guess that others might think it’s good too.
I finished it in Boston a few months ago. It was a struggle. I had been trying on and off all that year, while at Berklee, and it just never came. And then finally, slowly but surely, chords kinda worked. Lyrics were painful though, and finally once I had something I cared enough to write about, something I was feeling strongly at the moment, I finished it. We had the time booked to record the EP before it was even done though, and I knew I wanted to finish it for the record, so I put the extra effort in.
5. Same question for "My Voice is Gone." My Voice is Gone was a beautiful godsend. It hit me one time when I was walking with a friend, the chorus that is. Then the next day I was talking to him on the phone and he said “Man, that song idea you were singing last night was really great,” and I had been thinking that too, so I knew I had to finish it. It went through a few incarnations in the verses, but came together pretty easily and very quickly.
Again, as far as people’s reception of it, you can never know those things, but you can kind of tell which songs might be more tantalizing upon first listen. I could kind of tell this was one of these, but all I knew was that I liked it and wanted to record it. Once you do that, and once you’re playing it live, the rest is kind of out of your control.
6. What's your favorite part about gigging in New York City? The very cool venues and the good sound quality. Because there is so much of it and so much nightlife here, the quality has to be good for the places to survive. So it’s nice to work with people who know what they’re doing, and to play at very cool, funky clubs.
7. What has been the highlight of 2010 for you musically? Both live and in the studio? Live, it had to be playing the side stage at Jones Beach Amphiteatre at the John Mayer and Sting concerts. That, and playing for two weeks in St.Barth at this great music festival. Those were both pretty amazing live experiences.
In the studio, we got to record a track at Avatar in New York, which is an incredible studio. I’m very honored to have been able to record there. So many legends have walked through those halls and played in those rooms. It’s mind blowing to me that we got to work there, really. It was tons of fun and we got some great sounds and a great track out of it.
8. You're stranded on a desert island. What five discs are you bringing with you? In no particular order:
Grace – Jeff Buckley, Live at Massey Hall – Neil Young, Abbey Road – The Beatles, Songs for the Deaf – Queens of the Stone Age, and The Bends – Radiohead.
But in all actuality I’d just bring my ipod and a charger. Although if I brought the records I could use the covers as plates.
9. Best live set you've seen so far this year, was......? Probably Jamie Lidell at Bowery Ballroom. Didn’t know his tunes before hand or anything about him. My manager invited me and I really loved it. Great show.
10. Is there a random fact about you, your fans would be surprised to know? I.e. You have six fingers; you once climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro; you're Amish. My second toes are much longer than my big toes, so much so that it almost looks like I have an extra knuckle on them. They are very finger-esque and I have become talented at using them for various handy dandies.
11. What's in store for 2011 for Tom Howie and the Tom Howie band? Lots more live shows. We’re hoping to play a lot. We’re going to be back down in St.Barths doing a bigger and better festival. We’ll lay some more songs down. Basically just keeping on doing what we’re doing. Working hard and having fun.
12. What should fans expect from a Tom Howie live set? Well, they are all quite different. Depends if we’re playing acoustic or electric. We play regularly as a three piece and I play electric, but we sometimes play with an extra guitar player and a keyboard player, which really varies the sound. Whatever lends itself best to the songs though.
We like to take the songs to a more powerful place, more rhythmic and rockier live than they are on the recordings. Although its fun to strip down and play them as they were originally written, just on acoustic guitar sometimes too. We like to switch it up to keep things fresh.
13. What CDs have been grabbing your ears as of late? I’ve been loving the Them Crooked Vultures album. “At Dawn” by My Morning Jacket. “Clear Spot” by Captain Beefheart. I tend to keep my sights narrow and get obsessed and then switch out, so those are the three that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Plus the 5 I mentioned in the stranded on a desert island question. Those are always playing in my head and on my speakers.
BONUS QUESTION: What three things do you miss most about Canada? My family, snowboarding, and free health care.