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February 22, 2010 | by  | in Arts Features Music |
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Tommy Ill

Music

I first heard Tommy Ill—aka Tom Young—at a Wellington mini-festival called Party for the People in 2006. With the help of hype-man and ally Buck Beauchamp, now a member of local alt/rap group The Crackhouse 5, Tommy Ill pretty much destroyed my preconceptions of what New Zealand hip hop was supposed to be.

This dude was tall, affable, awkward, dressed in skinny jeans and white. He was also playing to a crowd of indie kids during the height of the nu-rave fad—when, you know, wearing ironic fluoro was cool—and was able to win them over with his easily relatable blend of tongue-in-cheek humour, hook-laden choruses and slice-of-life party storytelling. “They call me op-shop Kanye” is a typical line from his first single, ‘Bill Cosby’.

Fast-forward four years and I’m standing on the balcony of Buck’s flat with Tom, sipping at our 100-proof whiskeys (recently purchased at ratio of $1 per standard drink thanks to a successful expedition to a Petone liquor store having a liquidation sale) while his friends in The Crackhouse 5 lay down a new track inside.

When I asked him to fill me in on his pre-2006 back-story Tom was happy to oblige. He candidly recounts how he had gotten hooked on the Beastie Boys at the age of 12 after hearing them when a classmate commandeered a high-school stereo. Soon Tom was writing his own raps, and by his late teens he was playing impromptu shows at the Wainouimata Rugby League Club. This part of his career didn’t last long though.

“[In the end] I was put off doing shows by the amount of violence at the club. There were rap battles and they usually ended with people going: my gang is better than your gang, and then getting stabbed.”

Clearly it was time for a change, so Tom relocated to central Wellington and formed a band called the Special Olympians. The band would eventually evolve into local indie stalwarts Holiday With Friends. Although Tom’s tenure with the Olympians was brief, his friendship with HWF eventually led to a run of opening slots that would introduce
him to the Wellington indie crowd.

Building on these early foundations, Tom has since been able to establish himself as a viable fixture in New Zealand’s independent music landscape, releasing three well-received EPs in the process: Toast & Tea Kettles, Matchsticks and last year’s excellent Come Home Mr Ill.

We spent the rest of our conversation discussing Come Home Mr Ill, and in particular, its closing track ‘Best Damn Evening’, in which Tom describes an entertaining series of events from what the song’s chorus refers to as “The party of the year / The event of the season”.

Although the lyrics weren’t based on any one night in particular, Tom has retrospectively ascribed ‘Best Damn Evening’ status to a recent house party he played at hosted by Baly Gaudin. Gaudin occasionally moonlights as Tom’s hype man, and was responsible for designing the cover art for Come Home Mr Ill.

Gaudin’s house party featured an improbable set from none other than Baltimore’s indie-dance guru Dan Deacon. Serendipitously, Brian Hainsworth—of Crackhouse 5 fame—was on hand to document the event, and Tom is hopeful that “as long as Brian wakes up on time” the footage can be used to make a music video for ‘Best Damn Evening’.

Many of the lyrics on Come Home Mr Ill refer directly to the nocturnal activities of Tom and his self-described “rabble of friends”. I was particularly amused to learn that the song ‘Lunch Meat’ was inspired in part by a cocktail—the ominously titled ‘Luncheon Fellatio’—invented by another of Tom’s pals.

Following this revelation, our conversation turns to a recent review of Come Home Mr Ill in the Dom Post, in which parts of Tom’s EP were compared to Kid Rock.

In an attempt to avoid future attempts on the part of music reviewers to pigeonhole his music, Tom informed me that he has been listening to “a lot of ‘80s electro-based soul music”. He lets slip that he is also planning on sampling some for his debut full-length album, which he hopes to release later this year. The plan is to write six or seven new songs to go alongside reworked versions of tracks from Matchsticks and Come Home Mr Ill. Tom’s intention is that the album will function as an effective introductory document to his aesthetic, and is hopeful that it will be able reach a wider audience than his EPs. So will his status as an outsider artist change in 2010 then? Who knows? But for now you can catch him (and not pay to get in) at Mount Street bar next Tuesday night.

Playing for FREE at Orientation
Mount Street Bar,
5pm Tuesday 2nd March
(with Old Grey Wolf)

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  1. Kim Wheatley says:

    In case you were curious here are Dutchy’s directions for making a Luncheon Fellatio. http://boselektatatatatataah.blogspot.com/search/label/Luncheon%20Fellatio

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