Interview: TOMI Talks Inspiration from Janis Joplin to Spice Girls

We chatted with NYC’s rising singer TOMI ahead of her show tonight at The Echo! Get to know her and who and what inspires her below.

Where are you from?
I grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut. I’ve lived in Brooklyn since dropping out of Berklee College of Music in 2011.

What is your first musical memory that made you wanna pursue a career with music?
I was 12 years old sitting at the edge of my twin bed and playing the five chords I knew on guitar. I started freestyling “black and blue, needing you” and wrote my first song. As emo as the song was, I still remember it like it happened an hour ago. It changed me forever. (I’d also like to give credit to the first live show I ever saw when I was seven: the Spice Girls. This also changed me forever).

You have an interesting style, what inspires the way you dress and how much does your overall style spill into your sound?
I love kimonos and clean simple outfits, with a little splash of 80s glam. I’ve never been a “dress girl”; I prefer a more androgynous vibe, I love women’s suits. A year after I moved to Brooklyn my entire wardrobe turned black, so I try to orbit around the black hole, which, now that I think about it, is similar to how I write music: I orbit around the black hole. I write a lot about dark, intense feelings, things I could never otherwise say out loud, but the instrumentation has an 80s rock vibe to keep everything afloat.

Which musicians do you consider to have the most impact in you?
Janis Joplin and Nina Simone are voices I melt to; I completely surrender to their worlds. As far as bands, Radiohead is one of the (maybe the only?!) bands that I feel is ever-changing, they don’t chase trends, they create them. I also am a huge fan girl of Annie Clark (St Vincent). She has completely reimagined the guitar and created her own insane world, her music is so visually stimulating.

In your latest video, it shows you playing a bedazzled guitar in the spotlight, is this the same energy you bring to your live shows?
Yes! I wanted to make a video that captured the energy of my live show. Although, during a live show I don’t have the luxury of a lightbulb microphone. When I write I always imagine the song being played live — how will it translate on stage? What is the feeling I want to come across? The live show is really important to me, this is the moment the songs come to life and I can express them fully without the constraints of a studio.

What was your favorite track to record off the new EP?
I recorded “Every Morning I Feel Like Running Away” live with my band at producer Mike Crossey’s studio, and it was a dream come true. We’ve been playing live as a group for years but this was our first record together, and because of that, the energy in the room was so on. “Think About It” is also close to my heart because the vocal is the first take I sang while writing the song. I was holding an SM58 microphone crouched on the floor with all the lights out in producer Seton Daunt’s studio in London. That was the one that made the record.

What musicians are you listening to the most and why?
I’m currently on tour and I’m listening to a lot of Cardi B and Weyes Blood… which I guess means I wanna get fucked up and think a lot?  If I need an energy boost Cardi’s a great pre-show pick-me-up, and if I need a post-show warm hug and cup of tea, Weyes Blood is there with open arms. I saw Weyes Blood perform in a church in Greenpoint last year. It was the perfect venue, haunting and all-encompassing. Her performance was as pure as her recordings.

What are your plans for the rest of the year post-ep?
I want to play all day every day. I recorded this EP with the intention of playing it live. I love touring with my band, it adds such a different dynamic when these songs come to life, and especially in front of people who have never heard the songs live before, that’s the moment everything aligns. My goal after this EP is to tour a much as possible and to write as much as possible while on the road. I got a lot of out my system while writing this EP so I’m using this time to soak more up, ask more questions and dig a little deeper… and probably take some mushrooms.