Cars & Trains Singer/Songwriter Tom Filepp

Tom Filepp is one brave soul.  

That's what I thought the first time I saw him perform.  All alone on a stark, blank stage in New Hampshire (or was it Maine?), musical gadgets and gizmos blinking and syncing all around him.

Me? I can barely get my guitar in tune and my amp to work, much less fiddle around with different pedals or stompboxes.  That's why I don't use 'em.  I keep things simple and concentrate on my touch.  But I'm just a guitar slinger.  

What does Tom sling?

Tom -- the unbelievably sweet, kind, skinny, bearded, Crossfitting, vegan -- slings, conjures, cajoles sounds both acoustic and electronic.  He dumps a suitcase of pedals and wires at his feet and in no time flat, makes a classy salad out of disparate sometimes earthy, sometimes esoteric ingredients -- laptop, guitar, mic, pedals, mini-keyboards, bells, whistles, and more.

Being on tour with him was a gift.  Night after night, watching him build scaffolds of music from loops and live songs, I started to hear large scale sound installations in major museums around the world created by him.

Maybe that's where he's headed.  Maybe not.  Either way, tinker on, my old-souled friend.

(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

photo credit   Drew McIntyre

photo credit Drew McIntyre

 1.Tell me a story about / describe to me your lowest musical moment, when you were at rock bottom, the most frustrated, the most discouraged.
Well, I think it was probably when I was trying to release my first record, "Rusty String." I had some serious interest from one well established indie electronic label, but then they just kind of dropped off and left me in the lurch. It was pretty disappointing and I had to end up self-releasing. It did relatively well to the point where if I had the right resources, I'm sure at the time it would have been great, well received release that would have set an excellent foundation for future records, but because the label flaked without warning I felt it pulled the rug out from under my feet. 

2. What change or changes did you make?  How did you get out of that place?  What made a difference?
Actually, because of this whole situation I ended up linking up with the rapper/folk musician Ceschi Ramos. He had some relatively similar frustrations. We ended up collaborating on a lot of groundwork of what would become our labels Fake Four and Circle Into Square. We basically said to each other "we can do this ourselves," "we can do it better." We didn't want to rely on other people to release our music anymore. So out of our respective snags we were able to make something bigger and beautiful, a sizable family of musicians and friends. 

3.  Tell me about your most meaningful or your biggest musical triumph?  It can be very personal or very public.  How did it come about?
I really think that's just when I play a show and there's one of more people audibly singing along with a song that I'm playing. It doesn't matter if there are five or fifty or 500 people in the audience, that's a big triumph for me. The first few times I went to Europe and folks were singing my songs along with me--it was just a great connection and I love it every time. Aside from that, just getting to tour with all these great folks in the extended Fake Four family is a huge thing for me. It means a lot. 

4.  Tell me how / if being a musician has made you a better person?  
I think it really just reinforced the idea of community for me, the ideal of mutual aid and helping each other, supporting each other. I feel like that may have instilled a stronger sense of needing to be better connected and active in my community at home, and be more active in social justice issues. I feel like I could do a lot more, but being active in the music community really made that feeling stronger. 

5.  To whom would you like to ask ANY of the above questions to -- living or dead?  Why would you want to ask them?  What do you think their answer to your question would be (as succinctly as you can state it)?
I'm not sure why this is coming to mind, but I guess even though it's not necessarily music this still all sort of applies--I'd love to have sat down with George Carlin on any of the above, or just in general. No idea what he'd say, so I'm just going to fade to a clip of Rufus in Bill & Ted's saying "Be excellent to each other."

6. Do you have a musical challenge you'd like to issue to my readers?  Some small / do-able practice they could try for 1, 7, 14, 21 days?  Something that you worked on that made a difference to you as a musician, songwriter, person?
If you're doing most of your sketching/writing on a computer, walk away. Find some other way to write that's out of your comfort zone. Hell, try seven different approaches for seven different days. If you usually write on the guitar, write on keys. Write with percussion first. Do beat-box tracks and sing over them. Do anything that makes you uncomfortable in your writing practice. That's kind of how my new True Deceiver project came to be, doing everything outside my comfort zone. It's a great way to find your limitations, and potentially push them further.