The warm, blinding glare of a spotlight, crooned intimacies of the recesses of one’s mind, and the vibrations of guitar chords beneath one’s fingertips are the musical performer’s cross to bear. There’s no doubt that it takes a special, brazen human-being to allow themselves to be so vulnerable. One such unabashed stage-inhabiter, Tom Rhodes, will showcase his long-standing familiarity with the performance biz at Goat and Compass this Tuesday, March 18th, as he debuts his new album “With or Without.”
Music was indoctrinated in the artist at a young age through the Texas church in which he grew up. Rhodes began his ventures in songwriting at 14 in the Washington D.C. area. The Americana musician still finds inspiration from the same muses today. His craft fulfills a desire to share the things he’s learned through his experiences. Even in his early teens, Rhodes had such a keen insight into life that his songs were performed by bands composed of people twice his age.
“I look at writing as the end result of living—so [I draw inspiration from] life, all of it, the process of living and dying, the winding dark roads that we are forced to continue down,” Rhodes details through metaphor. “I guess in a sense writing songs feels a bit like that. We are all on this pitch black trail through the woods, [and] every time I find a danger on the path I am yelling to anyone around me who can hear to watch out. I’m trying to do my bit to help anyone I can through the woods of life.”
At the age of 16, Rhodes began using his craft as a means to make money. Never afraid to get his hands dirty, he had been working ever since he could get a permit from school. However, the young musician had no idea that one could make money playing music.
“It was something that I just did, and one day after a show a man handed me a pile of sweaty twenty dollar bills—[it] blew my mind,” Rhodes reports.
Though he remained in school, he began playing shows up and down the east coast. If one were to review his report cards, they could pinpoint exactly which semester he became a “professional” musician. He often showed up late on those early mornings after late-night shows, but his passion for music drove him to continue the juggling act. Once out of high school, Rhodes began playing at clubs and bars. The novice performer quickly had to shed his naiveté and transition into adulthood.
Throughout his early years as a performer, Rhodes worked in the industry as a session musician. He continued to craft his own tunes, but rarely received the opportunity to play them live. Rhodes used this opportunity to educate himself on making his own music. In 2003 Rhodes made his way to the land of opportunity—New York City.
“I was actually kind of pushed into the pool when it came to playing and recording my own stuff,” Rhodes explains. “I found myself alone in New York with no work and no way to promote myself, so I made a record of five of my songs to get gigs around town.”
This self-titled demo did pretty well, so he recorded five more songs and generated his first record. The self-disciplined and determined melody-maker largely owes his career to the simple act of “doing.” There was no grand scheme or method to his work–he just cultivated his career one project and one obstacle at a time. Entering the New York arena at the same time as the blossoming of the independent music scene, his time in the big apple even resulted in his involvement with the Whiskey Breath songwriting collective.
In an industry climate where recording artists find themselves increasingly confined to boxes, Rhodes strives to create an open, honest type of music. Drawing from a plethora of inspiration, his tunes have evolved over the years. His range has touched on everything from reggae to rock and everything in-between.
In 2006 Rhodes moved to Wilmington, North Carolina and recorded “No Apologies.” The Americana, alternative country album’s diversified sound finds cohesion through the distinctive voice that emerges in each of Rhodes’ recordings. The title track features forefront-taking bass and percussion accentuated by his gruff, snarling voice. Lyrics like, “You’re no longer ground breaking you’re just mildly amusing/And you shock me to grab me but in the long run you’re losing/When you’re shock wears off, the money’s gonna fall away I’ve got no apologies,” allude to the lessons Rhodes has learned of his years in the business. The song “Tonight” exhibits the same rock-vibe paired with more subdued vocals, while “Breathe” boasts a reggae fusion that whisks listeners away to a Caribbean mind-set. Each song however encompasses an abandonment of a devil-may-care sentiment.
“I was trying out everything to see what would get my point across the best. If you listen to “No Apologies,” you’ll hear that it’s all over the map because of that searching,” Rhodes states.
His search for a definitive sound has spanned over several more recordings, licensing deals with CBS, WGN, and a host of independent films (including the locally shot “Hermit” and “Altered”), and another album entitled “Better Son” in 2011. As well, Rhodes made a cross-country move to San Francisco with his wife a few years ago.
Upon his return to Wilmington, Rhodes will debut songs from his newest album “With or Without.” The album culminates in the palate for which Rhodes has been searching. “Deep in the middle of this thing there is a truth that to me is universal, timeless, and undeniable,” Rhodes states. “My dream is that enough people can hear ‘With or Without’ to make that truth become a topic of conversation that occurs without me being at the middle of it.”
The album offers a vast array of tracks. “Dying is Easy” takes on a soulful feel with high-energy vocals, while “My Dull Razor” draws from reggae. Diversification always has a place in Rhodes’ records. The song “California” exudes a more reserved folk-vibe. Wilmingtonians can familiarize themselves with the debuted music collection at his show this Tuesday.
As always, his performance will be intimate with all veiling forces to his interiority drawn back. “I sing with my eyes closed most of the time, because I’m in my own space that has nothing to do with what is around me visually–the external will only serve as a distraction.”
Those wishing to gaze into the artist’s soul can head over to Goat and Compass for the free release party for “With or Without.” The album is available for download on Tom Rhodes’ band camp page.DETAILS
Tom Rhodes “With or Without” Release Party
Tuesday, March 18th, 9:30 pm
Goat and Compass
710 N 4th St.