THERE is no doubting Ali Tommis is a busy man right now…
what with the video for Leave It All Behind fresh in the ether – it was released on Sunday. He talks about the E.P. of the same name and the kind of music he grew up listening to. I ask him about his E.P. and what it was like recording it; why it has a piano-driven feel and the sort of events that compelled its best moments. He discusses his musical progression and how he transformed from a hopeful young artist to someone who is gaining a lot of attention.
Tommis looks ahead to tour dates and reflects on the time that has passed – and recommends a musical name worth keeping our eyes out for.
Hi, Ali. How are you? How has your week been?
Got rained on a lot but it was good to get a great magazine feature this week - and a lovely blog review. Also, have been getting things ready for the Leave It All Behind video premiere this Sunday (17th September).
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Ali. I’m twenty-five and I write my own music, sing - and plonk away on a piano. Apparently, I began playing the piano when I was three but, to be honest, I don’t remember.
Can you tell me about the upcoming E.P., Leave It All Behind? What stories and events inspired the songs?
I think it was more my situation that inspired the songs rather than particular events or stories. I wanted to be a musician at seventeen but went to university and did a degree in Business - as a ‘back-up plan.’ When I graduated at twenty-one, I was like ‘ok; now, music.’ I was naïve about how difficult that would be. I love music and I love writing and making music - and trying to forge a career out of it has been the hardest thing I have ever attempted to do.
I think Leave It All Behind is about finding the strength to leave your old life in order to strive to live a life of your dreams - and the struggle of doing that.
There is an accompanying video shot in Portmeirion. It is home to Festival No. 6 and was where Supergrass filmed (the video for) Alright. What was it like filming there?
An incredible place to film and I never expected them to say ‘yes’ when I asked! Huge thanks to the location manager Meurig Jones who, not only allowed us to roll around on pedal go-karts, but escorted myself, my mates and the film crew around all day on a golf-buggy…absolute star! Incidentally, the golf-buggy has a guest starring role at the end of the video.
Joshua Leo Dorfman directed it and he and his film crew were really in tune with my ideas - and a great bunch of lads. The final edit that Josh produced is amazing and really shows the passion he has for filmmaking.
Also, two of my best mates from uni, Ed and Jamie, made the mammoth journey from Aylesbury (in England) to appear as the people chasing me in the video. I was really humbled by so many people coming together to help me make this video - and am still filled with such enormous gratitude to everyone that helped!
Is there a track on the E.P. that especially resonated and means a lot to you?
Ooh…that’s tricky. They all mean a lot to me and my favourites change all the time...
At the moment, I would say the ones that resonate the most are Leave It All Behind and The Fear.
Leave It All Behind as it really captures the moment I’m in now: a real drive to make music my career; but also something that many twenty-somethings can hopefully relate to: as in the line “Wearing a brand new look to see the same old view, guess you miss what you never even knew.”
The Fear (too) as it is a song about battling self-doubt and fear - something we all face and that, as a musician, I have faced a lot. Someone told me the other day that the song really resonated with them so that meant a lot to me - as I always want to make music that connects with people.
It is piano-driven and relies on a huge musicality and sense of feel. How early did music come to you and what compelled you to start performing?
Well. My dad is a guitarist and my mum a pianist - so I was born into a very musical household. I was always doodling on the piano at a young age - though a real interest and passion for music didn’t begin to develop till I was about fifteen when I found an old Crossroads: Best of Bon Jovi album - and discovered I could play the piano parts.
Do you remember the artists you grew up listening to and heard around the house?
I remember my parents listening to things like Sting and Chris Rea - Sting is amazing.
My own taste began with the Best of Bon Jovi album when I was fifteen: I realised that’s probably the least-cool band going. Those choruses were so big and unapologetically anthemic that it was just exciting. I was thinking ‘what is this’? The fact that my dad didn’t like them made me listen to them more: good old teenage rebellion. That evolved into Coldplay, OneRepublic; Thirty Seconds to Mars, John Mayer and Stevie Wonder.
I played their songs on the piano and really became obsessed with how songs were made; what chord progressions were being used; what key was the song in; what was the highest note the vocalist was singing.
I became such a music nerd (and haven’t stopped).
You began songwriting aged seventeen. Eight years on; how do you think your music has changed and evolved?
I think when I started songwriting, I hadn’t developed my own style - so I was imitating the people I was listening to a lot more. Now, I like to think that, hopefully, it’s more me that you’re hearing rather than somebody else.
How does music drive and move you as a person? What does it mean to you, personally?
It’s hard not to sound like an X Factor contestant here...
It’s what I feel the most at home doing. I feel, when I’m writing and playing music, I’m being true to myself. I think nothing has the power to move people like music doe: it’s the most powerful medium in the world. I don’t know what I’d do without it (Hopefully, that wasn’t too cheesy).
What tour dates do you have coming up?
I’d love to say I had a sell-out tour coming soon but, at the moment, I’m playing local venues around the North Wales area. Hopefully, this E.P. can be a catalyst for playing bigger venues - and going further afield for gigs.
Your fanbase is growing and show you a lot of love. Is it important having that support and how does it affect you?
It’s the fuel to keep going. In music, there are no guarantees no matter how much work you put into something. It is daunting. So, when one of my songs gets played on the radio - or when people say they can’t stop listening to one of my songs - or that a song struck a chord with them...
It inspires me to keep working.
How does the rest of 2017 look? How will you be spending the next few months?
I’m looking forward to releasing the video on the 17th - and the E.P. on the 22nd. I’ve had great feedback so far so off the back of the release. I hope to start gigging further afield and really getting this music out there as much as possible.
Towards the end of this year, I’ll be working on new material (as well).
IN THIS PHOTO: Quarterlights/PHOTO CREDIT: Natasha Barrett
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
There’s this new band from London area called Quarterlights that’s fronted by my friend, Ollie Clark.
He’s a phenomenal musician and plays pretty much every instrument going. For Quarterlights, he plays the keys and sings. Their songs are fantastic and they’ve got a new video out for their track Why Don’t You Like Me? Catch it here.
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
I have to say that James Bay’s 2015-album, Chaos and the Calm has to be one my favourites
Such a classic, authentic sound - and phenomenal songwriting. His voice and guitar-playing are next-level - so definitely that’s got to be up there.
John Mayer: Where the Light Is (is) such a fantastic live album
His guitar-playing is, in my opinion, the best of his generation. He does three sets - acoustic, trio and full-band - that are all amazing. I lived off that album in university!
Finally; I’d say the 2009 album, This is War, by Thirty Seconds to Mars
Insane vocals and choruses. I remember seeing them at the Big Weekend in 2010 and thinking that they wouldn’t be able to play the songs well live - because of the vocal difficulty. I was very, very wrong! (The fact that they were being sued $30 million by EMI at the time makes it all the more impressive).
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Not sure I’m in the best position to answer that question but I’d say just keep working and believing in your music!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
It’s gotta be Closer to the Edge by Thirty Seconds to Mars
That drumming and those crazy vocals! Never gets old! Thanks for having me!
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