New Jersey native and latest PEV feature Lou Tambone makes his albums the way they used to be made – a method he calls “true 70’s style”. Lou says “When I decided it was time to go out on my own I knew I had to start writing some new material. I cranked out two albums in under two years... I did this so I'd have a nice bunch of songs to choose from when playing live. I also did this so I could get a lot of these songs out of my head and off the paper.”
And playing live is something Tambone excels at – booking more and more shows as we speak. Those albums he references? The first is called “Damaged Goods”. The second? It’s titled “Workin’ Progress”. The sound comes from the same roots for both records – Lou says “I'm not 100% sure I even have a specific sound anymore. I guess that's the whole thing I enjoy about genre-smashing. People don't know what to make of you. They hear rock, country, blues, funk, R&B, jazz, ska and whatever else I feel like writing. At the end of the day, I guess I'm just a rock guy who enjoys playing more than rock. I don't want to have just one sound.” So there you have it – the roots are all over the place. Sample some songs for yourself. There’s much more to read, so keep going for the answers to the XXQ’s.
XXQs: Lou Tambone
PensEyeView.com (PEV): You said “I don't like being in a box. I try to write songs that cross genres so as not to be too boring.” So, with that, how would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others?
Lou Tambone (LT): I think my sound is really just defined by my equipment and my abilities at this point. I'm not 100% sure I even have a specific sound anymore. I guess that's the whole thing I enjoy about genre-smashing. People don't know what to make of you. They hear rock, country, blues, funk, R&B, jazz, ska and whatever else I feel like writing. At the end of the day, I guess I'm just a rock guy who enjoys playing more than rock. I don't want to have just one sound.
PEV: Hailing from northern New Jersey, what kind of music where you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?
LT: That would be a list far too huge to write. I was born in 1970 - the year the Beatles disbanded. Growing up, I'd sit in front of the radio for hours just listening. Music was so good back in the 70's. Elton John, Wings, Led Zeppelin - all constantly on the radio. I'd also have to credit my mother for keeping stuff around like Stevie Wonder and Motown records. I was also one of those little kids who listened to Kiss and the nuns at school thought we were going to grow up to be evil. Hell, I'd listen to anything when I was a kid from Fleetwood Mac to Barry Manilow to Donna Summer. I soaked it all in. I think it was the 80's when I started to get a little more picky about music and what I listened to. I was into plain old rock like Bryan Adams but also into new funk like Prince. The Police were a must for me. Oddly enough, I started to head backward into the progressive stuff from the 70's then as well. Genesis and Yes - things like that. I worked in record stores back then so I was exposed to a lot of music I normally might not have been able to hear on the radio like The Replacements or Juliana Hatfield. I was all over the map, musically and I think that helped define who I am now and the way I write. A wide variety of influences will result in a wide variety of material.
PEV: What was it like for you when you first started out?
LT: I played in original, local bands when I was in my teens. When I felt like I could hold my own on drums, I fell into some hard rock bands. I was already helping to write the material, though. Coming up with lyrics was especially easy and I had pages and pages of lyrics to pick from. I still have folders of papers from those days that I've never touched because they're horribly cliche but once in a while I dip into them and find a phrase or something that seems cool.
Between bands I was mostly moonlighting with this guy or that guy but then fell into a large band called The Many which soon morphed into a power trio called The Automatics. That band was pretty defining for me and we had a lot of fun. I wrote a few songs during that period but only one was performed with the band. It was around this time I started playing more guitar, making more demos, and starting to think about how in the next project I'd be out front and not behind the drums. They were good days, the early ones. Footloose and fancy free, you'd say. I was always on the move.
PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?
LT: There's this song called "Mall Girl" that I wrote back in the 90's. It was the only one that The Automatics played of mine and it was a total show-stopper. People really liked it. I thought, "Wow - here's a fun tune everyone likes and remembers. I must have done something right." So we played it every gig and I'm still playing it today. That song was my watershed moment, really. I recorded the first demo by myself, at home, playing all the instruments. That's pretty much how I record today as well. I proved with that song that I could write something, record it all, sing all the parts, and then present it as a finished product. This was before we all had computer recording. This was on a 4 track in my house, bounces and all. Great fun. After that, I knew I'd be able to record songs myself and with the advent of computer recording years later, it got a hell of a lot easier.
PEV: With that, what can fans expect from a Lou Tambone performance?
LT: Fun. Laughs. Food fights. All kidding aside, if I'm having fun up there, hopefully that will translate well and the crowd will have fun. If they're having fun, I'm right there with them. I react to positive energy and if they're clapping along and singing, I'll run right out there in the crowd with them. I love audience participation. The best kind is when it happens naturally. If I don't have to tell people to clap their hands to a beat and they do anyway, that's the stuff right there. If I see people in the audience that I don't know rocking back and forth, grooving and singing, then that's all I need. I can be a little unpredictable. I might jump on a table or run outside with the guitar still on. It really depends on how I feel at that moment. Mostly though, when you come you're going to hear some fun songs that you can't hear anywhere else.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage or in front of a camera, to perform?
LT: I usually size up the crowd when I get up there. I try to gauge their reactions and see if they're going to be into it or if I'm gonna have to try and win them over. The songs are usually fun and diverse enough that people like them so I rely on that and my personality to get by. I don't get nervous or anything like that. I actually enjoy being up there and the thoughts in my mind are always positive ones. Tune up, count off, have some fun.
PEV: Any preshow rituals before you take the stage or do you just wing it?
LT: Not a one. I certainly don't wing the gigs, though. We're usually quite well rehearsed so I just feel confident enough knowing we really did well at the last practice. The gig is just another run through of the set, but with people watching. What happens in the meantime is up to them. Yell at me, I'll yell back! The closest thing I come to a ritual is maybe listening to some positive music on the way to the show. Usually it's Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" which to me is one of the most positive and inspiring songs you can find. It puts me in a good mood and it's fun to sing along to.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?
LT: Ideas come to me at odd times. About 3/4 of the songs from my last two records were written while doing something completely unrelated to music. The thing I've learned over the years is to never say, "Oh, I'll remember that." When inspiration hits, you have to go with it and more importantly, write it down. I usually just open a text file on the computer and write. Sometimes I'll get through a whole song's worth of lyrics, other times it's just a title and a chorus or something. Every song is different. Sometimes other songs can inspire you. Other artists. Films. News events. Anything, really. I'll try to write as much as I can and then get back to it when I'm in music mode. One thing I rarely do, however, is sit down specifically to write. I have done it before but it's not my preferred method of songwriting. I don't just grab a chair and say, "Ok, now I'm going to write a song." It doesn't work that way with me. I need that inspiration. That spark that makes the idea grow as you're writing. Without that, I can still write a song but it's much harder for me. Too much thinking. When it comes naturally, that's the best.
PEV: Tell us about your latest release - what can fans expect from this work?
LT: When I decided it was time to go out on my own I knew I had to start writing some new material. I cranked out two albums in under two years - true 1970's style. I did this so I'd have a nice bunch of songs to choose from when playing live. I also did this so I could get a lot of these songs out of my head and off the paper. They tend to call to me until they're recorded. They don't leave me alone, either! The last release is called Workin' Progress. It's really just a continuation of the debut called Damaged Goods. Like I said, I was just cranking out songs and at some point decided that I had enough for one record. I called it Damaged Goodsand kept moving on. The rest all went onto Workin' Progress. That one contains 10 songs that range from funk ("Welcome to the Party"), R&B/Jazz ("Something New"), country ("Secrets"), ska-rock ("Talk Too Much"), traditional rock ("My Own Private Babylon", "La La La La La La La", "One More Round", "Monday") a ballad ("There You Are") and there's even an instrumental in there called "Space Reggae" which is lots of fun.
PEV: Do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block and if so, how do you get over that?
LT: Actually, I get the opposite. I have lots of songs in a backlog that I have to get to and new ones pop into my head all the time so I usually don't have a shortage of ideas. Sometimes when I'm trying to take a song that's in my brain and record it, I'll run into issues trying to make it sound the way I hear it in my head. What I do in those cases is take a step back and work on something else. Then when I return to it, I feel a little more refreshed and can make some progress.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Lou Tambone?
LT: I'm sort of out of touch with modern music and popular bands. I hardly ever listen to the radio. I just can't relate to much of anything that's on there. I don't like listening to annoying DJs who think we're interested in their personal lives. I don't pay for satellite radio either. It's odd, right? A musician that doesn't listen to the radio. Surprise!
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?
LT: I'm still waiting for that moment to come, actually.
PEV: What one word best describes Lou Tambone?
LT: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Or honest. You pick.
PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?
LT: I mostly play locally (NY/NJ) but I certainly would be up for playing other places. My family keeps me close to home these days.
PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
LT: I'm up for playing anywhere but I'd love to hit another country some time. I think Italy would be great. England or Scotland would be fun as well. In the US, I think I'd love to try playing somewhere in California. As long as I can work it out, I'll play anywhere.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?
LT: It's funny because there was a time between bands where I took time out to start a family and didn't do much musically. That lasted about 15 years and in that time many of my wife's family members never even knew I could play an instrument. Once I started playing again, we had a BBQ in my backyard and I had a cover band I was playing in at the time get up for a few sets. Many of the people there were in shock seeing me sing and play guitar. They had no idea. So that was pretty fun. The hometown is always a blast. Lots of people come down because it's not far for them to travel. You get more people singing along and enjoying the show just because it's you and you're one of them. It's always a good time.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
LT: I'm actually quite addicted to my xbox. I have always loved video games. I was there to see the genesis of it all from pong to atari to playstation and xbox. I also remember when stand-up arcade games replaced pinball machines in local hangouts. So I've always had this weird attachment to gaming. Some of the story lines in today's video games are much more interesting than the films you see in theaters.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
LT: If you haven't heard my friend Brian Fitzpatrick, you should check him out. It's a nice blend of rock, folk, and other styles that a lot of people seem to enjoy. He's a great guy and a good songwriter.
PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?
LT: Due to family obligations, I can't really afford to make music my full time career but man, wouldn't that be nice! Perhaps one day...
PEV: So, what is next for Lou Tambone?
LT: I'm booking shows but between gigs, I'm about to start work on a new concept piece with a Western theme. I don't want to say too much about it because with the way I work, I could get pulled off in another direction and do something else. Right now, though, this album of all new original material which tells a story set in the civil war era is next on my list of things to do. If I can pull this off, it'll be a big achievement. Wish me luck!