Sometimes singer-songwriters like to take intimate settings with audiences as opportunities to tell stories behind their works. Tobi D’Amore tries to avoid going down origin rabbit holes of his music. He prefers to go in the direction each audience dictates at his shows, instead.
“There are stories that do come out,” he admits. “But as a curmudgeon of a sound guy once told me early in my career, ‘Sing a song, don’t talk a song.’”
Nevertheless, D’Amore is using his current solo tour away from his full band, The Bone Chimes, to interact with audiences. But it remains an experience of fluidity.
“I may take the first little bit to try to get to know the audience to see how people react to what I brought to the table,” he explains. “I start off slow and wait until the audience comes to me. There’s a lot of ‘ in your face’ style of music, in trying to get an audience going, as opposed to what a traditional singer-songwriter is—which is to be a part of the environment they’re in and improve the environment they’re in.”
D’Amore spoke while he was breaking at a Fayetteville rest stop on his way to Covington, Ga. He’ll be shifting gears back toward Wilmington for an intimate solo performance at Ted’s Fun on the River on Nov. 29.
While the singer-songwriter has spent most of his career building an audience with The Bone Chimes—with relative success in New York City—there’s a bit more room to stretch his legs currently as an artist. Aside from the obvious of playing sans band, D’Amore notes key differences and creative freedoms.
“I had all of this music I kind of locked away in a vault that just wasn’t quite what The Bone Chimes were doing,” he explains. “I found when you have a full group behind you—whether it’s a horn section, percussion or even a trio—you can do a lot. But when you’re by yourself, and the more simpler you make things (at least, for me), it generally works out. There’s a better interaction with the crowd; I can take my time to figure things out. Whereas when it’s a group of people, you have to have a game plan.”
Though most of his catalog was recorded with a full band, they still translate well acoustically. The songs began from a his singular point of view, on acoustic guitar in his living room. And transitioning them back from the recording process—with full sounds of horns, percussion, etc.—happened with relative ease. The first song he ever wrote at 20 years old,“New York Street Light,” has rarely been omitted from a setlist. Yet, it dons a new coat in some form or fashion each time.
“There’s a specific line that I keep changing every now and again,” D’Amore details, “as well as a melody line. Even though it’s just a three-chord change, and the theme is about good friends and good beer, I change it to keep it fresh . . . . I feel like letting things be fluid, whether it’s a lyric or melody line, you have to acknowledge it. . . . I still feel strongly these songs are very true to what I like in music, and they have an appeal for acoustic. So I take from every single song I’ve ever written, and every song I’m currently writing.”
D’Amore is recording a new album with The Bone Chimes for their next release and tour. Though there’s no date is set in stone, he is sampling a couple tunes in his solo sets, alongside several others from his catalog, some of which date back to their first EP “!n the Muck” (2013).
The band’s Indie-rock and rhythm sounds are often met with D’Amore’s “twist-of-phrase” songwriter. He gravitates to turning lyrics in music he writes and listens to. “One of the covers I play is ‘Chocolate on My Tongue’ by The Wood Brothers—what a song,” he tells. “They really do turn some things on their ear [with] lyrics like, ‘If I die young / at least I have got some chocolate on my tongue.’”
On an older tune, D’Amore describes getting lost and “falling downtown with this high line” of New York City. “High Line” is accompanied by The Bone Chimes’ upbeat instrumentals and offer a sense of happily falling and getting lost in the scene.
D’Amore was a bartender for years and has since grown accustomed to having scraps of papers filled with notes and lyrics for songs. Since, he’s replaced his scrap papers with notes on his smartphone, but the list continues to grow with hundreds of song parts and pieces going back several years. New songs, like “Oh, Jesus,” bring him back to more beat rhythms and jazzy crossover sounds.
It’s a story of Jesus as a teenager, who found out who and what he actually was, so he decides to sneak out of his bedroom to discover the world is one thing to him but he is another to those around him. The story ideas came from a comedian’s observation about how we never hear about Jesus as a teenager.
“I was like, ‘Well, what if he did find out when he was a teenager and was kind of rebellious?’” D’Amore asks rhetorically. “That’s what he is in my song: He does some things that are very un-Jesus like, but he was a human boy being told these things.”
Though an ever-evolving guitar player, D’Amore didn’t take to the instrument first. In fact, he picked it up more out of necessity. He started playing piano when he was 3 years old and picked up guitar roughly 15 years ago.
“I was in a [program] called ‘Kinder Keys,’” he remembers. “My mom loves that—she loves telling that story. Piano was kind of forced on me, so choosing an instrument was a neat thing for me when I was a little older. . . . [But] I feel like I can always get better as a guitar player and singer and lyricist. Everybody can get better at anything and I’m wary of people who say they’re great at their instrument. All the good musicians I’ve had the pleasure of playing with . . . not one would ever say they’re really great at their instrument—because they don’t need to tell you. They either pick it up or open their mouths, and you know.”