Photo courtesy of Tommy Wallach.
Living in New York, one starts to experience “the hustle” rather quickly. Although that sounds like the opening to a Sex and the City episode, it still holds true for those juggling different careers. While we all know that most can’t sustain a life of music all by itself, many supplement their art with yet another—probably more lucrative—creative output.
Tommy Wallach of Brooklyn, NY is among those living the double life—and two incredibly interesting lives, at that. We’ll be talking about his music here, but in the meantime, he’s making a name for himself as an author of young adult fiction.
A native Seattleite with a background in musical theater, he’s been able to multitask these passions quite effectively though putting one or the other on the back burner at times. Right now though, with his album I Meant It To Be Sweet having dropped this month, he’s able to focus on his playing. That is until his latest novel We All Looked Up is published in March of next year and he might have to put his songs in storage for a bit. BTR was able to speak with Wallach as he was unwinding at his favorite writer-friendly coffee shop, The Loom in Bushwick.
At the beginning of our talk, Tommy Wallach revealed some aspects of his personality that he believes to have shaped who he is as a performer and writer. He sees himself as “introverted” and an “inward looker” when discussing why he likes to do yoga. He points to a desire for most people, even the most social, to “recharge alone” which he relishes in as he “lives alone,” “spends a lot of [his] time alone,” and is an only child. Despite his introversion, he believes to have the “only child” desire to seek attention.
He says, “I imagine I wouldn’t be playing music and writing books if I wasn’t attention-seeking on some level.”
Wallach’s early days as a musician were spent in Seattle playing classical piano, though, and not playing anything remotely similar to pop music when he was young. He graduated from that form and moved on to musical theater where he saw some early success. One show he performed in ran for “more than 100 performances” when he was just in middle school. He realized that he didn’t like theater as a “career” at this age, and his realization came to be what he likes about playing music.
“Playing music has a lot of theatrical elements so I still get to scratch that itch by doing those things. A lot of what you do in theater is take orders—you take orders from the director and the choreographer and the words are all there for you. There’s certainly room to be creative and I don’t think I was ever a great actor by any stretch of the imagination. I think I was okay, but at the same time I was more interested in doing things where I had more control over what the expression was,” says Wallach.
Wallach had just as much luck in the beginning of his professional writing career, contributing to the online literary publication McSweeney’s, originally edited by Dave Eggers, specifically in the issue where They Might Be Giants wrote a song for every story featured in the edition. That said, Tommy was no fan of their contribution to his work, saying the song was a “terrible 20-second instrumental song by They Might Be Giants that is technically ascribed to my short story.”
Yet due to his early success, Wallach assumed that writing would always be this easy to succeed at which, as his 10-year bad luck streak showed, was not the case. It turned out he was just incredibly fortunate.
Wallach’s debut novel We All Looked Up is an apocalyptic coming-of-age story about an impending asteroid set to hit Earth, and though this novel has taken up most of his time that he would use to tour or practice guitar, he’s now getting into his other passion again—albeit juggling the two.
“I have a day job so it’s been a lot of juggling. To be honest, the music has been on the back burner for quite a long time and I’m trying now to not make it that. To some extent the success of the book has allowed that to be possible. The fact that the book is happening now has allowed me to not have to focus quite so much on that because other people are handling it. Now I’m ready to push the music in a more serious way,” says Wallach.
Tommy Wallach’s new album is his way of redeeming himself with his music career, and starting fresh. He released both an EP and an LP when he was in his college days under Decca Records, but he considers I Meant It To Be Sweet his debut.
He says there are a few songs on this new LP that “harken back” to some of his older work when he was aping Ben Folds Five (if you don’t believe me, check back to his first LP on Spotify. The first song is called “Goddamn Little Slut”). He says he’s been working on this album, technically, for 10 years, but only started getting “serious” and recording new songs two years ago. One song on his Decca EP was entirely in French, so it was a question of what curveballs Wallach would be throwing us on I Meant It To Be Sweet.
“The thing that I’m worst at, I think, as a musician is being coherent. I really like writing songs that are in very different genres and styles. I Meant It To Be Sweet has a song on it that’s basically gypsy jazz; just one, and then it goes away forever. I got a real gypsy jazz guitarist to play on it and solo on it so things jump around a lot. I was always really worried about that on a certain level because the artists that I like the best are usually coherent and you can recognize their style from a million miles away. But I just realized that at a certain point it’s just what I do and I can’t really help it,” Wallach explains.
All of this seems to come with the territory of reinventing your sound from a previous past. Tommy Wallach is better off not going for the consistency and coherence of the tried and true masters of yesteryear, he’s just doing what he does.
Keep your ears open to the new sound with Tommy Wallach by clicking here.
Check out Tommy Wallach’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.