It seems appropriate to chat with singer-songwriter Tom Gossin as encore wraps up the final week of honoring 2017’s Best Of winners. Gossin, one part of country group Gloriana, was voted Best Local Musician back in 2003.
“I remember winning that award [and] thinking I totally made it,” Gossin says. “I was official. I had spent so much time in Wilmington, trying to make my presence known and . . . that was when things started to really pick up.”
Gossin played solo and with bands around town—genres of rock and Americana influenced his sound. He recollects sleeping on couches more times than not, without having a dollar to his name. In essence, it was a time of getting by and trying to pay off fresh college debt from UNCW’s music program. Yet, Gossin longed to return “home,” even years after moving to Nashville a decade ago.
And soon he will be.
Gossin and his family will plant roots in Wilmington come summer. He doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon, either. It’s a return that comes full circle, continuing his love affair with Wilmington. And it’s been a roughly two-decade journey in the making.
Gossin came from somewhat humble beginnings in Utica, New York, not far from the Canadian border. His dad was a truck driver and mother, a stay-at-home mom. Both encouraged their son’s musical aspirations from age 5.
“I was one of those kids at a really young age [who] knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he tells. “I took music lessons my whole life—thanks to my parents, who made me stick with it, even when I wasn’t into taking piano lessons.”
Gossin started his first band by middle school and there was no question music was in his future. Around the same time, long snowy winters he grew to know were soon replaced with dreams of beachside living. A neighborhood friend had returned from a hiatus in ILM.
“One day I was walking through school, and there he is in board shorts, tank top and flip-flops,” Gossin recalls. “I just remember him being like, ‘Bro, there’s this place called Wilmington and it’s like the promised land.’”
Fast forward through high school and touring college campuses: Gossin moved to the Port City to become a Seahawk in 1998. He hit local stages immediately. Using an old tape deck his dad gifted him, Gossin made acoustic demos playing guitar. He would peddle his tapes up and down Front Street to every dive bar and restaurant that would hear him—even offering to play for free. “I just wanted to get a gig,” he explains.
After a while, he felt he could bargain his talents for a meal—maybe even a small check and tips. Before he knew it, he was making a living. He also was living in a town whose film community was at its height, thanks to ongoing productions of “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” taking up shop at Screen Gems. He made quick friends with “One Tree Hill” actor Paul Johansson (who played Dan Scott). Johansson took interest in Gossin’s career path.
“[One day] he took out his phone and literally dialed up his buddy in L.A.,” Gossin remembers—“a music manager. [Johansson] told him he found his next superstar. And just handed me the phone.”
A series of breaks—along with letdowns, such as filming a failing pilot VH1 reality show documenting “the struggle” of making it in the music biz—became the way of Gossin’s path. It all spurred his move to Nashville. Gloriana was born, with Gossin on guitar and vocals, alongside his brother, Mike, sharing the stage on guitar and vocals. Once set up in Music City, they added vocalist Rachel Reinert.
Early on, the trio met producer Matt Serletic, who worked with Matchbox Twenty and Santana. He suggested they venture into the country genre. Though Gossin wasn’t too familiar with contemporary popular country at the time—he liked classic country, like Johnny Cash, and the alternative sounds of Ryan Adams—they rolled with it. Gloriana even picked up a fourth member, Cheyenne Kimball (mandolin, vocals)t. Before even releasing their self-titled debut album, Taylor Swift called on them to join her on the “Fearless” tour in 2009.
“We were in a van in a parking lot of a chicken-wing restaurant and the very next day we’re playing for 20,000 people a night, to sold-out crowds, being personally introduced by Taylor Swift,” Gossin says with a laugh. “The 10 years following are just a giant blur of world touring.”
From meeting musical idols like Stevie Wonder and winning an American Music Award for Breakthrough Artist in 2009, to having a beer with Joe Biden, and releasing three albums, Gossin describes it all in reverie. Yet, it became a life of surprisingly very little music. In fact, after countless photo-ops and back-to-back interviews between show after show, the few hours live onstage were the only ones dedicated to actual playing. Not to mention the evolution of audiences. While the crowds may have grown, to Gossin, they also felt more detached with the rise of smartphones.
“I was longing for the days of playing The Whiskey when there would be 40 people there, but all 40 people really wanted to be there and hear the music,” Gossin says. “It meant something to them, rather than just getting a picture.”
Gloriana stopped touring in January 2016, and Gossin signed on with Warner Chappell Music to continue writing songs for other artists. However, the musician once again will be connecting with local audiences he misses so much, as he’s already booking performances around town. He will be doing a solo acoustic show at Tavern Law on April 7 at 7 p.m., playing a mix of originals and covers of his favorite tunes. It’s a playlist somewhat reflective of what he’s been into for the past 10 years, like The Avett Brothers and Fleet Foxes, among others.
“I love guys like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson who are finally blowing up,” he says. “As of two or three years ago, [Simpson] was bagging my groceries and now he’s winning GRAMMYs! There are many of those guys who never make it, and they have great music that nobody gets to hear. That’s a big part of my cover selection.”
Beatles fans will be able to see Gossin and his brother, Mike, along with Christian Cardamome and Jeff Coleman, play their full tribute band, The Dung Beatles, at The Whiskey on July 15.
Hopefully, by that time, his Wilmington home will be complete, which will include a small recording studio. It’s a dream of Gossin’s: taking his experience and skills as an award-winning songwriter to help up-and-coming local musicians get to the next level.
“Whether cutting an affordable demo, helping out with songwriting or even music lessons,” he lists, “I just want to pass the torch a little bit.”