Overlooking the Atlantic ocean as the sun drew in another day on the Folly Pier was a the perfect setup to interview one of Charleston's most admirable and outgoing personas within the musical and philanthropy world. Many who meet him are drawn to his compassionate nature and infectious laughter. From performing with some of Charleston's best musicians to raising awareness to some of the world's most problematic issues, Tommy is at the forefront of humanity and damn good music.
So tell me about what brought you to Charleston and why it is so special to you?
Charleston wasn't special to me at all until my wife introduced the idea of moving [here] as she had a job opportunity to work for H.L. Hunley Submarine. We created this network of people within two to three years. I was a full-time musician and became apart of the community through non-profit organization events, weddings, corporate events, and the local bar scene. Eight and a half years later, it's hard to leave because I am that attached to Charleston now. That's the truth.
How does it incorporate into your music?
One of the reasons why I wanted to come to The States , personally after doing research, I found that there was a lot gospel music going on around here. That was always so out of my element but I always wanted to be in that element. Every time I heard gospel music it was just so overwhelmingly great. I thought it was a good idea to come to Charleston and learn that funk. Besides religious messages, the music of the gospel is so intense. That together with Nashville and the country music scene, old school country, it was absolutely appealing. When I did come over here, I realized that there is a lot of sunshine [which] you become a lot more colorful as an artist and within your music. I was already a reggae player and it overtook my life for a few years but then I started playing with bands that were more metal/rock oriented and a bit more soul from southern rock. The original writing of the music is definitely influenced by the time of day, how hot it is outside, and tackle yourself into certain genres. I've got a track that is an absolute fusion of different styles. It's a major hybrid of ceremony that breaks into a heavy rock operatic chorus, which is a lot darker. It has a different coloring going on. At what time do you write it? Are you sober? Are you stoned? Are you in the studio, is it 5a.m.? Did you just watch a chick flick and feel inspired with writing songs that start with 'I love you'? Or is there a terrorist attack in the world that inspires you to write more conscience minded lyrics?
You're so musically diverse, all across the board. At the same time, it's about your personality and not everyone can adapt so easily to everything at once. You just seem to be the glue that puts puzzle pieces together.
The opposite side of that, especially with original music, people or organizations want to see you fit just one shoe. I'm just not that guy. It does have its struggle because people do like to be in this comfort genre where they can stay. Sting is a great example. He will rock out one song and then [you hear] reggae, jazz, or traditional Irish songs. It kind of revolves around the artist. That's kind of what I'm falling into.
You're not really falling, you're floating.
The verification of something that is good or bad. My wife does not like unfinished work, it has to be done. 99% of the time she is right on the money if the song is going to be terrible or not. Even if I disagree and pursue, she will still address that feeling. She's far more of a metalhead than I am anyway. “Right or Wrong", the song I just mastered, she was the first one to hear it and say 'that's really clever' and she actually dances to it too, which is the super sign.
You're not just glue in the sense of musically speaking, you're glue for the community as well. You're a prime example that you don't have to be famous or rich do something for other people. You've made a huge impact. Deep down, everybody wants to be good but there is lack of time, money, or just simply not wanting to. But you're like screw all that and that's awesome.
Thank you. We need to hear those things a little bit more often sometimes. We are very occupied externally. People do say it but it is not the reason why we do it. The people that say it from the heart is the receiving end of things. Now you're ready to give another year worth of energy to the community [anywhere]. When you do those kinds of things, like setting up the music festival for Liberia or trying to connect cities and countries, just being able to give that time out of your life, which takes lots of energy, that alone gives you the energy back again. It's a never-ending circle until that last breathe by then you give, hopefully it's an exhale. You're grasping that first breathe when you are born and you exhale when you die. And there you go again waiting for round 2 or 300. In my case, my soul is lot younger.
Why do you say that?
It's a certain glow. I'm told by older souls, the elderly (laughter). Maybe it's because I'm playful.
You have a certain charisma that a lot people do not have. People tend to reserve older souls as intuitive.
Yeah, I just dive in and I'm swimming in circles. Whoohoo! Let's go!
I'm trying to get this guy into a university in Liberia at the moment. I went ahead and started a fundraiser, got the money together, and the details ready. I'm just going for it, green light all the way. I spoke to one of the non-profits that I work with and they were like “Tommy, calm down. You gotta take a step back and observe it all. Who are you exactly helping and why? We need this to be more structured". I already had sent the money and he enrolled not long after. It could have well been a situation where the guy has taken all my money and never see him again. If I truly didn't believe in what this kid needed then I wouldn't have done it.
What does music mean to you?
It goes hand-in-hand with the meaning of life. If the question was asked would you rather loose your sight or your hearing, that's not even a question. If you have to ask me that question then you don't know me.
I already know what the answer is because I'm the same way. I'd rather loose my sight because you can get your sight back. The fear of not being able to hear sound, feeling sound. If you loose that then [most of us] have no sense of balance or structure.
Music is very uplifting. You're stuck in time for a minute and then you put on some music and remember that you're alive. Prior to being born my mother was a professional musician and exceptionally good at singing harmonies. She was singing all the time so when I was growing inside of her (that sounds weird), I was already introduced to different kinds of vibrations and melodies. I was always glued to anything to do with music, I was always there. Whenever my mother was doing music, socially, I would get incredibly jealous. I didn't want anyone else to hear her sing, she was MINE. She's that special to me. So that's what music means to me, it was already apart of me before I was even born. My parents didn't want me go into music because it's a back-stabbing industry. The more that they said it, the more I was wanting to go into it to the point where I became it and they stopped. Whenever it becomes more professional there is a certain responsibility that you have to uphold. [Therefore] my favorite shows to do are fundraisers, non-financial bound artistic [events].
Tell [us] about your world background. I just recently found out that you were brought up in Spain. Clearly that has influenced your work significantly.
I was born in Holland and we were traveling in Barcelona at the time I was two. My parents realized that my brother was autistic so we had to go back to Holland. I drowned a few years later and survived that. Then when I was 9 we starting traveling again because my brother was okay. That's why my [production] name is called Bart's Brother and he's awesome. My parents were fed up with the whole bureaucracy in The Netherlands so they sold everything and we traveled by caravan. For about a year, we were on the road and every night was a different spot. Very much like gypsies. They wanted to land in Portugal and raise us there and open up their restaurant. After a year of having been homeschooled, the money ran out and we ended up stranded in Spain. But Spain was more to their liking and social lifestyle. They worked hard on networking and I went to a Spanish school. After 11 years, I moved back to Holland to find my roots. I found them and got stoned everyday. I decided to step out of the drug scene because I had already been in the drug scene in Spain so moving to Holland wasn't the wisest idea at the time. I moved to London for about 3 1/2 years and worked with different types of music orientations and jumped on cruise ships for two years. After that I moved to Scotland because Liisa was living there at the time. I was the sound engineer for the only concert hall in Edinburgh. Then Liisa wanted to see what was going on here in The States and now we are about to go back.
What's the one place that has always resigned with you?
I'm afraid I don't know that yet until I leave here. Right now Dublin, Ireland because I spent too little time there and I'm intrigued. I will always be partly Spanish plus I had a lot of first [experiences] there so it will always be like home. I will always be most biased about being Dutch. Holland and its liberal ways and Edinburgh too. The Scottish are so funny and they don't know that they are so that's the funny part about it. Africa too, as nasty as people make Egypt out to be. Historically, next India, there is nothing like it.
Liberia has recently become my favorite place because of the children and the suffering that has been going through. At this point, The United Nations is pulling out of Liberia because things have settled there after the civil war and ebola crisis. The economy is looking prosperous and there is a lot more international communication. We are having conversations to start building bamboo farms with one of the organizations there. Only bamboo farms that can be grown for construction. A friend of mine in Indonesia grows bamboo and constructs incredible buildings. Stunning. From simple to extraordinary. We are purchasing more land and I'm trying to find [more] reasons to go back to start a company to help those villages to employ themselves and build their own houses. [I want] them to really educate themselves and be sustainable individually.
Is there any place that doesn't resonate with you well?
Wales. Every time I go there I get punched in the face.
I wonder why…
[laughter] I wonder why too. It is just one of those places that no matter what I do, even if I'm quiet I just get slapped in the face. It's like nats when you are sitting in your car while they are outside your window waiting for you. I feel like that when I'm in Wales, no matter if I am in my hotel room. I'm just chilling and I know that there is a Welsh person waiting for me to come out for absolutely no reason. I do have to live with blue eyes, blonde hair, punches to the face, and beer thrown at me. It's a hard life man.
What's next for you musically?
I'm in the middle of setting up a new website (bartsbrother.com). Bart is my brother, that's why, and I don't like seeing all the energy on me. I'm not into The Tommy Gielingh Band or using my name in general. I don't even like seeing it on tv. Anyway I set up a new artist name: Bart's Brother and you can email me at email@example.com. Releasing singles is next. I've been working on about 10 tracks for different causes as well. One is for Libera that we share with the mayor of Charleston, he's on keys for that one. He's extraordinary by the way. He's got two brains going on at the same time and then he will sing on top of it too. But I'm also working on tv and film placements. Then our farewell concert is on the 26th of October at The Windjammer. You're all more than welcome to come.
Is it open stage?
At this point, we have a lot of people already committed to the Ciao For Now event. I really won't know until 2 weeks from now. I do have a vision that it cannot be 200 people at the same time, it will be structured. We have a couple of special guests coming that I cannot reveal yet. It's also a clothes drive for the homeless in Charleston. And it's Joel's birthday!
We are moving to Finland and I'm going to an academy for sound engineering. After that, Liisa and I are going to become Rotary Club International members and match grants that are given here in The States so that we can help kids in Libera.
That's pretty sick dude. Do you have a note that you want to end on? B note? Flat note?
B sharp. Really I wanted to thank you and your time and those readers who haven't fallen asleep. Support Abby if you can. And just want to thank Charleston and all its inhabitants. Ya'll.
Farewell Event/Clothing Drive:
Thursday October 26, 2017
The Windjammer on Isle of Palms
Bart's Brother (official release this week)