Q&A with TOMMYANDMARY
Earlier this year we spoke with the rock-duo TOMMYANDMARY; a Brixton and Belaruse mixture that promises all the filth and the fury. Things have changed a little since we last spoke; the outfit are now looking forward to releasing a new album, and they have just been featured on Peaky Blinders.
We had the repeat pleasure of chatting to the pair about their new music and show, kissing strangers on the tube as well as their biggest musical secret…
SO… WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE BUSKING OVER OTHER TYPES OF PERFORMANCE?
Tommy: I think it was an organic step because we started selling our album on the street […] because we were so passionate about what we were doing. We were literally finding different ways of trying to get people to listen to our music. Mary even got dressed as a panda this one time and we were just going around Bank…
DID PEOPLE RUN AWAY FROM YOU?
Tommy: No! It was the opposite. They were more running away from us when Mary wasn’t being a panda.
We were trying to sell our album and what the feedback we were getting was that “why would be buy something we’ve never heard”? And I was like “fair point”. And then we saw this guy called Cam Cole – and he was busking with a drummer at the time and it was just a duo and I was like “how the fuck did they get permission for this? This is amazing!” and it sounded amazing as well. And I thought “Mary, maybe we should try busking” because people were saying they hadn’t heard us – so [that way] we could put our album down there and sell it that way.
She was a bit hestitant at the time whether or not to do that ‘cos she was like “I basically just quit my job and now I’m going to go busking”. But we were freezing our arses off trying to sell three copies a day I think. That was our target to make the bills and stuff.
Then we just tried busking this one time and I didn’t have a microphone speaker or anything. Mary had this huge drum kit… I had this one little VOX DA-5 guitar amplifier. And we tried doing it and we had to do it in a tunnel. Not having a microphone [meant] we thought maybe the acoustics would be better for vocals. But it turned out the drums just got really loud more than anything.
People were like “what the fuck is this? This is so loud” and we attracted quite a large audience a few times.
Mary: Yeah it was crazy especially as we were singing without a microphone.
Tommy: Yeah I was shouting pretty much!
That was pretty much the reason why we chose busking over anything else because we kind of had to. We were thinking of a way that people could hear us and listen to us and also potentially purchase our album – to spread our music to a larger audience.
I SUPPOSE BUSKING IS A VERY PSYCHOLOGICAL THING – WHEN ONE PERSON STOPS AND LISTENS, THEN SOMEONE ELSE DOES. THEN ANOTHER PERSON. THEN ONE PERSON GETS THEIR PHONE OUT, THEN ANOTHER…
Tommy: The amounts of times it’s been like – it takes one or two people to stand there and watch you and then before you know it, you’ve got forty, fifty people watching you in one go. It’s like when people clap – when one person claps all of a sudden everyone else claps everyone wants to join in.
Mary: Just to let you know we don’t busk anymore…
Mary: Yeah we stopped six months ago.
Tommy: Basically, we’re trying to invest more money into it as well.. because it’s really really hard not having the funding and not having the time to rehearse in the studio with new material. When we were busking, we were just playing the same songs and then we get into the studio when we could afford it. Then we would go and play those songs [in public] and we’re trying to basically not play the songs that we wanna release.
And just giving people the opportunity to hear it fresh as opposed to hearing one song one day and hearing another another day and then before you know it they’ve already heard the whole album and we’re releasing it after they’ve heard everything. So we wanna surprise people a little more more.
Mary: Yeah it happened last year. We played and everyone knew the lyrics… so it wasn’t really a “release”.
Tommy: This time we wanna sort of save up to just do more things. Potentially maybe go abroad – to New York, check out the scene there. Maybe try Manchester…
I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO MANCHESTER. HAVE YOU BEEN?
Tommy: No, but I’ve heard so many good things about it.
I have loads of friends that are still busking, that do that, that gather up their money and go somewhere – different country – they busk there. But [personally] it’s such a huge risk with all the equipment we have when we have to travel with it. If Mary was just playing drums it would be a lot easier, if I was just playing guitar we could go separate.
Not separate! But it would be easier to travel somewhere. But with us, busking was a starting point; a way of building our confidence, getting better at playing our instruments and writing material; seeing where we stand in the world, seeing what we can do. We know what we can do and can excel rehearsing in the studio; [now] surprising people with new material, just seeing how far we can go with different countries in different venues.
IT SOUNDS LIKE BUSKING, IN A WAY, IS A SHORT-TERM SOLUTION? IT HELPS YOU FOR A LITTLE WHILE THEN AFTER A POINT IT’S LIKE ‘THIS ISN’T GOING TO WORK FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS’…
Tommy: I would still suggest that if you’re a band and you really wanna make your mark in the world, I think busking teaches you a lot about – not just music – but people. And what works well is people were saying our music is punk rock. I don’t particularly want to set a label to it but apparently it is… just knowing that [is useful], ‘cos we didn’t know what artists we’re like, and most artists don’t.
I THINK THE THING WITH MUSIC IS, IS THAT PEOPLE PUT LABELS ON IT TO UNDERSTAND IT BETTER. IF YOU’RE TRYING TO SELL MUSIC TO SOMEONE ESPECIALLY.
Mary: We were recently compared to – it was something I really liked – the guy said we sound like a mix of Nirvana and the White Stripes. In that perspective [of comparing artists] it does make a little bit more sense [to do that] than saying anything else.
Tommy: I think based on the same topic: I was constantly trying to find my own voice like I was trying different things. I was like “is that me? Is that my voice?” or is it someone else’s voice cos you listen to so much music and it’s just kinda like… you’re brainwashed and you’re sounding like someone else. So to be able to sing how you speak, is like, so hard. And that’s basically what I think every artist is trying to do. Is trying to sound like themselves.
BUT IF SOMETHING SOUNDS GOOD THEN PEOPLE ARE GOING TO COPY IT?
Tommy: I didn’t even want it to sound good. I wanted it to sound like me […] Even if it sounded shit I just wanted it to sound how I sound. Because I feel like I’m not being honest with myself. That’s short-term as well. What happens when one day you’ve forgotten what you sound like and you start sounding like yourself. Then what? So I would rather sound like me so I can never go wrong.
Mary: But also if we are to be introduced to a person or an audience, who haven’t ever heard us… and they say well ‘these guys… sound like… Joy Divison, the Clash, Sex Pistols and everything’ that would give them an idea, as opposed to nothing. So if they are into rock music…
I THINK THE BETTER WAY OF FORMING IT WOULD BE RATHER THAN “YOU SOUND LIKE…”, IT SHOULD BE “IF YOU LISTEN TO SO AND SO YOU WILL ENJOY THEM”. I DON’T THINK IT’S FAIR FOR PEOPLE TO SAY THEY’RE A COPY OF SOMEONE ELSE.
Tommy: I think if you have a voice like Ian Curtis, guitars like Blink 182, and then drums like…. Keith Moon [laughs] there’s still… you’re still creating different sounds in a band put together. That’s pretty cool, [but I see] see that as: you’re trying to reproduce something that’s been produced already. And it’s almost as though you’re covering yourself.
There’s also a different way of singing that sets the mood. Like if you’re singing a love song to someone special you’re not gonna shout…
…SOME PEOPLE MIGHT OUT OF PASSION…
Tommy: “I LOVE YOU YOU FUCKING BITCH’ [laughs]
I’VE NEVER HEARD A SONG LIKE THAT. MAYBE YOU SHOULD ON YOUR NEXT ALBUM. JUST TAKE SAMPLES OF THIS INTERVIEW AND STITCH THEM TOGETHER.
Tommy: After this interview, I’m just gonna spend the whole journey on the tube, thinking about everything we’ve said. I’m gonna miss my stop like fifteen times…
Mary: Well it terminates in Brixton. You can’t miss it!
Tommy: “Tommy’s been on the tube for a week”
THE TRAIN DRIVER COMES ALONG: “He’s. Still. Here”
Tommy: Someone took his phone, his Oyster card…
I ALWAYS FEEL SORRY FOR PEOPLE ON THE TUBE WHO FALL ASLEEP. I’M ALWAYS THE KIND OF PERSON WHO WILL GO UP TO THEM AND BE LIKE “THIS IS YOUR STOP”
Tommy: You should give them a kiss.
GREAT IDEA. AND GET ARRESTED AS WELL…
Tommy: [kissing gesture] “Wake up honey!” That would really freak them out. Just dress up like Blanche Dubois from Tennessee Williams, all in white.
THEN THAT WOULD BE REALLY PRE-MEDITATED. I’D HAVE TO DRESS UP, SIT THERE WAITING FOR PEOPLE TO FALL ASLEEP AND THEN BE LIKE “NOW I’M GOING TO WAKE UP THEM UP WITH A KISS!”
Tommy: It’ll be like where are you Laura? You haven’t been at work for the last week.
YEAH I JUST REALLY LOVE THE VICTORIA LINE… SPEAKING OF WHICH… LIVING IN BRIXTON: ARE YOU PART OF THE NORTH OR SOUTH LONDON “MASSIVE”?
Tommy: Part of the West Side! [laughs] To be honest, what I do on Planet Earth, let alone a specific part of London, I’m always trying to think of the universe and what the fuck I’m doing here. How can I help out people that think too much…
Mary: Like about North and South London… [laughs]
Tommy: I’ll wake up and think “what the fuck am I doing here?” And then I realise it’s been half an hour and I’m still vaping, drinking my first coffee that’s gone cold. So I don’t really know where I’m from. I have no clue…
Mary: Well you’ve never lived in North have you? So you can easily say South…
Tommy: It’s weird isn’t it? […] I’ve never really thought [about it]. You got to South East London and it’s a different vibe – remember when we played a show in Camden that one time? It was so weird for me. It was like… the energy… its just completely different to the energy to more central London.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE MUSIC SCENE IN LONDON? DO YOU THINK IT’S BETTER HERE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE?
Tommy: I think, yeah, there are loads of […] platforms where there’s “this” promotion company, “that” promotion company; this person’s trying to do this for this kind of music…
When you play a show, you are amongst other bands. I think musicians just need to make friends and just go on their own journey and just try and find ways of supporting music that they like as opposed to just making music like a business… bringing people together to this set platform, to show to who?
The people that I come to watch… [others] might come to see it ‘cos they kinda know what they’re gonna get but at the same time that’s not really pushing yourself as an artist because you’re…
Tommy: Yeah, to a certain style… whenever I’m about to write something new with Mary, I always think of David Bowie. He just sounds like himself and he’s just done so many different types of music and he’s never really… I don’t think he ever really thought to himself “ok I’m gonna write this style of music”. I think he just wanted to write a story.
BOWIE WAS JUST IN HIS OWN POCKET. AND ALL OF HIS CHARACTERS ARE REALLY COOL. I CAN’T THINK OF MANY OTHER PEOPLE THAT HAVE DONE THAT.
Tommy: Me either.
I think we’re just too afraid – the new generation. We just want something done, and that’s it. Or we want something to be a certain style and then that’s it. And we’re too proud to show ourselves. We’re too scared of what people might think. It’s not the point of art. You should be afraid and you show it because you’re… it might actually show someone that someone else feels that way.
There’s been loads of times where we’ve been busking. Times where I was like “shit why the fuck am I even doing this”? We’re both putting so much energy in, we’re being ourselves, we’re showing people that we’re not afraid of showing how we feel. And you just get a few people who are laughing at you with their phones and for me, I’m very sensitive, so when I see stuff like that it really puts me down. It’s kinda hard for musicians nowadays to show themselves.
AND I THINK NOW, WHEN PEOPLE BUY ALBUMS THEY HAVE CERTAIN EXPECTATIONS. SAY FOR EXAMPLE, THE NEW KILLERS ALBUM. PEOPLE WANT IT TO SOUND LIKE THE KILLERS.
Tommy: I don’t want it to sound like The Killers!
ME EITHER! I LOVE HEARING AN ALBUM AND BEING LIKE ‘WOW THEY’RE DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT – THIS IS REALLY COOL’
Tommy: To be fair, I listen to the Killers new stuff, and I’m not gonna say it’s bad – it’s good but I just feel like some people just give up on music. Like artists… when people just write songs for the sake of writing songs. Why do we do that? We don’t have to do it. You can take a day off work , you can take a day off writing. Be yourself, maybe that will show something more honest.
SO, YOU OBVIOUSLY BOTH HAD JOBS BEFORE YOU WENT INTO FULL-TIME MUSIC. DID YOU FIND IT PARTICULARLY SACRIFICIAL?
Mary: Yeah it was scary, really scary to give up on stability; […] something that at the time we didn’t know how it was going to work. If it was legal at all. We didn’t know any of the rules, we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know where to go, the set-up […] we didn’t know the regulations from the council, we didn’t know if [busking] was possible at all. It was something completely new and obviously we had bills to pay.
The whole thing was a drastic change for both me and Tommy but at the same time it was fun. And that slowly but surely got a point where we were really comfortable and we figured out how it worked. We made friends with the council, with other buskers.
We gained a lot of following and after three, four years of doing it we really achieved a lot. And everything that we achieved with you guys, Underground, WS Studios, our second sponsor. We’ve got Peaky Blinders; Gary Wallis produced our second and third album; everything that we have at the moment came from busking. And obviously us as musicians… so it’s thanks to that and thanks to Tommy’s determination that we are here and because of busking. He pushed that.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE IF YOU DIDN’T BUSK?
Tommy: Probably killed myself. I was in a really dark state of mind back then. I was just hating my job so much and Mary had not been in retail in London for that long. But I’d been doing it for a very long time and it just got to the point where I was like “what the fuck am I doing here? I’ve got a degree of acting under my belt and I can’t even do that ‘cos I don’t really know anyone in the acting industry to do something.”
I couldn’t find a way of actually forming. I was just really miserable and I didn’t want Mary to feel miserable and so I thought maybe we should just take a chance cos if I don’t take a chance in my life and Mary doesn’t take a chance in her life we won’t know what we’ve missed out on.
DID YOU DO MUSIC BEFORE YOU MET? OR DID IT COME ABOUT AFTERWARDS?
Tommy: I’d gone travelling and stuff and I’d kind of been practicing how to play guitar ‘cos after my first band split up I was kind of gagging to get back on stage and just didn’t know how to play, didn’t know how to sing. […] I formed this band of like eight people like Arcade Fire meets something ridiculous.
I met Mary, and we didn’t have a job or anything so I had to get [her] on board and she was really shy at the time as she was from Belaruse – being from London was really new for her. Such a determined individual. She was an angel in the sky like I was like: “this is what I need in my life” so…
AND YOUR MUSIC IS QUITE ANGRY?
Tommy: Is it angry?
Mary: Not anymore! Well you haven’t heard the songs from the new album. They won’t be as angry.
BUT I WAS GOING TO ASK – DO YOU HAVE A GENERAL DISTASTE TOWARDS AUTHORITY OR IS THERE CERTAIN SITUATIONS THAT HAVE JUST RILED YOU UP?
Tommy: I’ve never really had anyone to tell me what to do with my life. So having someone telling me what to do with my life is something that I really have to learn to take sometimes.
But it’s also that I keep hearing people saying stuff and not actually saying it out loud cos they’re too afraid of saying something. And I’m just like constantly surrounded by these people all the time that just won’t say what they think because they’re too afraid of saying it because they might lose their job or minght lose their relationship. Everyone is just trying to be dishonest all the time and it drives me insane.
So obviously with a song like ‘My Manager’s a Prick’ – easy example – I don’t think every manager is a prick. I currently – where I’m working at at the moment – I have the most amazing manager I’ve ever had in my life.
[…] It’s not really the authority thing. I don’t have a problem with authority. I think people go on powertrips way too much and they forget logical explanations for situations or they forget how to be empathetic.
I was watching this film the other day that was about this guy who was making experiments with people to see if they would help someone or they would follow the rules and regulations of what they had to do. […] At the end, the guy who actually set the experiment dies in hospital from a heart attack ‘cos his wife had to fill out these papers before he could be seen.
So… all these different rules are just causing so much pain to people without any reason – all you have to do is open your eyes and see we’re all human beings at the end of the day. So why do we have to be cunts to each other just because we’re higher up the rank.
[…] I was thinking about this: we are all the same. It’s just we’ve gone through a different journey. The emotions stay the same in the way we feel about things, but the way we interpret things changes. We are all essentially the same.
SO CAN YOU TELL ME ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH GARY WALLIS?
Mary: Gary is amazing. He’s got a really big heart and he’s a man of his word.
We met him at a party – we got invited by a guy, a really successful businessman, drives a Lambourghini around [laughs]. He saw us busking and he invited us to one of his private parties – in the ME hotel in Covent Garden. That’s where we met Gary and other awesome people and that’s where Gary and Tommy had a chat about music and whatever.
And Gary said “fuck it! I wanna record” and a year later I think – the 1st January – we went to Infinity Cove studios. That’s outside of London; all the trains were cancelled that day. It was disastrous.
Tommy: It was fucking hilarious.
Mary: We had to take a bus to Croydon, then tram to East Croydon and then we got caught. There was six of us and it was two tram stops and a shit ton of equipment and I was like “I’m not paying for two stops”. And then we had to take a train and then a train/rail replacement bus or something. And then we had to get a massive mini bus to get six people and shit ton of equipment on board. And we had to be there by twelve.
We managed to get there on time and everything.
And then we had to record it all – the whole album – well eight songs, whilst being filmed. And we only had three takes for every song. And having been through everything travel-wise, and with twenty cameras […] we had to record the album under so much pressure. It was insane but it was amazing. Gary organised everything. He produced and mastered the album – it took him five days…
Tommy: …he works really quick.
ONE OF YOUR BEST MOMENTS SO FAR HAS TO BE THE FACT THAT YOU WERE FEATURED ON PEAKY BLINDERS. CAN YOU TELL ME HOW/WHY/WHO/WHEN?
Mary: Antony [Genn].
Tommy: Antony saw us busking outside of H&M – outside of Bond Street.
He saw us like a year ago and he was like “I love you guys, you just are so tight. I want really want to record you!”. So I was like “we’ve already recorded – and that was with Gary Wallis – but I was like I promise I will definitely call you when we’ve got a new album”. ‘Cos there was something about this guy: “this guy is cool”.
Mary: And he had big hair!
Tommy: He turned out to be really cool. He recorded Joe Strummer!
So I called him four/five months later like “hey Anthony I don’t know if you remember me – just so you know I haven’t forgotten about you and I really wanna record some new stuff”. He said “well I’m working on a TV project at the moment called Peaky Blinders. Send me some demos and maybe I can put one of those songs in the film”. So we sent him ‘Lost’.
Mary: Yeah we sent him ‘Feelings’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Erased’.
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE WHICH ONES TO SEND HIM?
Mary: We just sent him the new ones – that we had on our iPhones recorded from the rehearsal studios.
Tommy: But it was you [Mary] who said we should send him something diverse – like not the same kind of moods.
DID YOU RECORD ‘LOST’ WITH THIS IN MIND OR DID YOU ALREADY HAVE IT?
Mary: We already had it. I actually hated the song so much.
AND DO YOU LIKE IT NOW?
Mary: I’m ok with it now. It’s really hard to play. I hated it. I remember the second time we wrote it and [Tommy] played it to me and I was like “Oh my god it sounds like something… Tommy this song exists!” He was like “no I can’t find it I swear to God.” It’s just so weird. I was just so against it; I was just like “Please! No!” and then Tommy just kind of pushed it and I was like “okay so now Tommy is happy” and it turns out to be our best track so far!
I KEEP NOTICING ITS PLAYS GOING UP BY 1000 REGULARLY…
Mary: Yeah like a day. It’s due to the fact that we’re on the Peaky Blinders playlist on Spotify.
I look at it like: “WHY AREN’T ALL OF OUR OTHER SONGS LIKE THAT!”
WHAT KIND OF SCENE IS IT ON?
Mary: It’s a scene when they’re ready to start the strike. They’re getting their armour, ammunition and then walking and they give up their peaky blinders – their hats.
IT’S LIKE HAVING YOUR OWN MUSIC VIDEO WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT! [LAUGHS]
Mary: [laughs] I know!
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT?
Tommy: Our next show…
Mary: We are going to release our album – it’s important! Nobody knows about it yet so you’re the first to know at Underground to present it!
The 24th March is the official release of our album ‘Feelings’. It will be released in Brixton Windmill with some other acts – who we haven’t picked yet. It will be available on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer…
IS IT GOING TO SOUND ANY DIFFERENT?
Mary: It will sound really different from our previous albums. It will be varied because you know: ‘Feelings’. Happy, sad, frustrated, really angry. It will be very varied. At the moment [there’s] twelve [tracks]. We’ll pick, ‘cos you [Tommy] write so many. We need to pick the ones that will be on ‘Feelings’. If we want something else, we’ll just make a deluxe version.
And we want to release ‘Lost’ on vinyl. It’ll be really exciting as we’ve never done that before.
Another thing to say is that our friend Chris (ccoward_ on Instagram) will be doing the artwork for the album.
[…] And today we got a comment [on Youtube]. We haven’t released the official video for ‘Lost’ – we are doing the video at the moment. But at the same time we put the track on Youtube as it’s everywhere else; and we put it up with the artwork because at the moment the top search is ‘TOMMYANDMARY Lost’ and we didn’t have anything.
In the morning, we got a comment from some guy saying @can I please have “guitars for it” and I was like “oh shit Tommy! We need to do something about it” so what we’re planning on doing is filming Tommy showing his mate Johnny how to play it.
Nobody asks for drums I’m so upset!
Also, a couple of days ago we got tagged by this guy from Jakarta playing ‘Lost’!
Tommy: He was playing it better than I was like and I was like “I wrote it!”
Mary: We have people from all around the world because of busking. We’ve got people from New York, Brazil, Jakarta, Asia, Australia. Literally all around the world. People messaging us, waiting for us to come to their country and play a show.
YOU NEED TO GO TO MANCHESTER! AND BRIGHTON…
Tommy: Ah didn’t like Brighton when I went there! We tried busking there; it was like everyone there was too high to concentrate.
YOU PROBABLY WENT ON THE WRONG DAY…
Tommy: [laughs] yeah it was a Sunday.
Mary: It was really hot with loads of people chilling on the beach and we were playing punk rock. It didn’t really work… we got a little crowd and photographers, but that was it.
Tommy: In my younger teens, I remember going to a place called Cowley Club and it was like a venue that was set in a library that would become a venue at night-time. They would put covers over the books and everything and it would be this punk hardcore venue. I remember playing there and there was quite a big hardcore scene at the time [in Brighton], but that was like twelve years ago. Showing my age there!
Mary: Tommy is there anything else? Actually, we can tell you our secret…. no-one knows about it…
We can’t stand rehearsals. Every time we go to a rehearsal studio, for three hours at a time, sometimes we get there like half an hour afterwards because its really fucking intense.
Tommy: Mary hates it!
Mary: I can’t stand rehearsing. I can’t stand rehearsing with Tommy. On my own I’m fine. So, it’s a big thing that nobody knows. Rehearsal time for us is really really weird.
Tommy: You [Mary] get really stressed out, especially when you haven’t written anything for the tracks. Me, obviously when I’m writing, I’m in my own time. I can be myself and write. Mary needs the same thing, she needs to be by herself, listen to it and write something. So when I’m in the room and she’s going through a little writing process, she HATES it.
I CAN IMAGINE. IN THE NICEST WAY POSSIBLE – YOU MUST GET SICK OF BEING CLOSE?
Mary: Yeah its hard being a couple and a band. You can’t get out of it because you are it.
Tommy: I’m pretty chill. I don’t like arguments, I don’t like anger. I fucking hate it. I hate getting out of control – I hate that shit. I’m still learning how to deal with someone very angry.
AT LEAST YOU HAVE A GOOD OUTLET FOR IT. SOME PEOPLE JUST HOLD IT IN WHEREAS YOU HAVE MUSIC. IT’S A GOOD WAY TO LET IT OUT…
Tommy: Definitely. It’s really good.
Check out their website HERE.