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Art & Life with Tom Sless

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tom Sless.

Tom, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
When reflecting on my story of how I came to be a singer-songwriter based in LA, I realized my path thus far closely mirrors steps I have taken before when I have been writing a song. Bear with me as I give you a little more background on the song-writing process and draw the parallels between the two journeys.

For me, the song writing process always starts with a spark of inspiration. This could be anything from an epiphany of a catchy chorus line, a great melody, or even just a concept that pops into my head and flows out like water onto the pages of my notebook or the recording tracks in Logic. Then, after that first burst of inspiration, I often tend to hit a wall. Any singer-songwriter’s worst enemy: writer’s block. Sometimes the wall is nothing but a small hurdle; other times, it can seem like it extends to the heavens. The most challenging thing about being a songwriter is busting through that wall and letting my creativity completely drain out of my head and onto the page. Once I break down that barrier, I am able to finish the lyrics and melodies and then put them both together to create a raw track of the song. The final step in my song-writing process is the final production, perfecting the arrangement of each instrument, always placing an extra emphasis on the beat. The beat is the most important part. The beat is what hooks the listener from the beginning. Without the beat, the song loses its direction, it loses its purpose, and it loses its potential.

Well, my story kind of unfolds just like that — like the creation of a song.

It all started ten years ago when I wrote my first song. I remember that hot and humid summer morning at my grand mom’s house in South Jersey. I woke up with a captivating idea for some chords in my head. I quickly picked up my guitar and started playing them as I heard them in my head. More new chord progressions and words came to my mind as I looked out the window toward the Jersey Shore. This was my first time openly expressing myself musically and the unfamiliarity of the songwriting world filled me with uncertainty, curiosity, and passion. The thrill and my intuition quickly led me to create three full verses, a catchy chorus, and some playful harmonies to back it all up. I had my first song at the age of fifteen.

This spark lasted a few years. When I began my junior year of high school, I had a close friend at school that was also into songwriting. So, for a few years, the two of us fed off each other’s energy in weekly jam sessions, bringing our most recent songs to the table and trying them out. By the time I had graduated high school, I had written seven songs in about two years and it felt like this momentum would never stop.

But that’s where the writer’s block hit.

College. Upon leaving home, I fully embraced college life. I joined a fraternity, had more friends than I had at any time before in my life, and never had a dull moment. Music fell to the wayside. It was difficult to find those sparks of inspiration like before. I was rarely alone, with days turning into weeks without practicing guitar or singing. In the back of my head, I knew that I hadn’t really given up on the guitar, or songwriting, or music, but at the time, I didn’t really see a way to get back to my previous rhythm. I turned to alcohol, I turned to drugs, anything to get those highs that writing music gave me. It was too hard for me to shut off my mind to all the new external stimuli that I had now before me. At any given time, someone I knew was getting ready to knock back a few beers, or a bowl of weed, and do whatever the hell came to mind.

I didn’t wallow during those days; I was having the time of my life! Looking back, the experiences I had provided me with a lot of perspective that led me to where I am today. But it did take me a few years to get out of that time, back to a place where music returned to being a big part of my life.

That time was my decision to move to Los Angeles.

I was graduating in the Spring and I knew that I needed to get back to doing music. Somehow, I needed to put myself in a situation that would be wholly conducive to that. Not shying away from the spectacular, and having always been fond of the city, I decided that if I wanted to write music, why not put myself in the center of the entertainment world: LA. I asked the company who had offered me a post-grad job in DC if I could transfer to work in their LA office. At their suggestion, I made a last-minute visit to the city to explore for the first time independently. I met with a person from the office there, took a tour around the area, and I was instantly sold on the city. As fate would have it, as soon as that meeting ended, my HR rep from the east coast gave me a call and told me that I had to make a decision right then and there on the phone. I thought for about 5 seconds, and then, I made the call. I was going to live in Los Angeles.

I’ll never forget that day. August 19th. That night, my cousin Shaun had passed away in his sleep. He was only 23 years old. I found out from 3,000 miles away very early the next morning and was quickly on a rescheduled flight back to the east coast. Those next few days were filled with the most complex emotions I had ever felt. I was grieving; weary; in shock. But not just 36 hours earlier I had made the most invigorating decision of my entire life – I was across the country to start a new life and pursue music in the city of angels. The only thing I knew to do with to cope with all of those emotions was write.

And so, I wrote.

I started keeping a note pad with me for the first time, so that I could write down ideas whenever they came to me and put together the raw track that was my life. I didn’t shy away from playing guitar or piano, I didn’t get embarrassed by my songs when showing them in to others when I returned to school. It wasn’t that I finally determined that music was crucial to my existence, but rather I convinced myself that if I didn’t have music, then I was no longer me. I leveraged my fear of not fulfilling my full potential against itself; I determined that the only way I could not reach that point would be to let outside or inside pressures set up road blocks in my way. Getting to move to LA was just the beginning of a new era in my life; the foundation upon which I hoped to build greatness. The kick drum that set the beat for my path. The beat that set my direction. The beat that gave me purpose. The beat that keeps me moving towards my potential.

So, in that way, my story has unfolded just like a song being written. But a song is just one track on an album, and I’m just getting started.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I make music. I write lyrics, compose melodies, and combine them all into playable songs that I share with my friends, family, and anyone around who will listen. The message or inspiration I try to communicate or tap into is different with each song. Some songs are about love, love for your significant other, love for your family, love for the world. Some songs are about less indulgent topics like enjoying life in LA or living a carefree lifestyle. No matter what the songs are about, however, what I would hope people take away from listening to my music is just to have fun. I like to perform for others because it is fun for me. I love being on a stage, interacting with a crowd, sharing my gift of songwriting and singing and playing guitar with them. I hope that anyone listening has the same amount of fun as I do, if not more. Music is the universal escape. It is accessible, it permeates our existence, and it is instantly relatable. The most direct example is just “tapping your foot”. Everyone on Earth can tap their foot along to a song, involuntarily most times. I think that bringing out that shared experience in those in the crowd helps bring us all closer together. We can break down boundaries between ourselves through the simple joy of great music, and that’s where I feel like I fit into this world, is to provide that binding energy that can help us feel just a little bit more connected to each other for a short amount of time before we all go back to doing our own thing. Having the ability to conceive such a powerful force is something I cherish and deeply respect.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
In my short time on Earth I would say I’ve learned two things that I think are worth sharing with not just other artists, but really with anyone. The first one would be to treat every single day as an opportunity to continue to learn about the world, about other people, and about yourself. Life is amazing! There is so much to discover, so many people to meet, so many experiences to find and feel for the first time. Go out and find them! The second piece of advice also falls into the category of something I wish I learned earlier, and that would be if you have any project or passion or path you want to go down, just start it. Don’t waste time weighing the pros and cons or creating a backup plan – that will come with time. The more you wait, the more you’ll wish you started earlier.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I have begun to feature my compositions on my Instagram, YouTube Channel, and Facebook page. I like to engage with all of my followers on all three pages and keep them up to date with what has been going on in my life, both in music as well as any interesting personal details. I think in today’s world; the expression of art is more than just the music in your earphones; people today are a whole lot more interested in the person behind the music than I think they were in years past. And because of that, in order to draw people in and convince them to care about your art, you need them to first care about you. For me, the best way I try to do that is to just be my authentic self in any interaction, whether its meeting in person, or even just interacting through social media. So, I would say the best way to support me is to of course follow me on those platforms, but also to give a listen, leave a comment, or come to a live show and we can talk about our favorite records or who the Clippers just beat that night.

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