A little over a year ago, before I personally joined Gay-Nerds, I was lucky enough one lazy Sunday afternoon to attend a free concert being put on by this guy who was doing a tour for Marriage Equality. His name was Tom Goss and although I’d never heard of him before, I figured he was pretty cute (I’m a sucker for cute guys) and besides, the concert was free. I didn’t have anything to lose.
It ended up being a really smart choice. The music I heard was fun, inspiring, personal, and profound. I was so impressed by Tom Goss that I not only grabbed the opportunity to chat him up after the show, but I literally bought one of everything that he was selling. That was a very wise choice, as each of his albums have integrated their way into my regular playlist. There are songs for every occasion and he’s a frequent choice when I’m looking for something to listen to.
So when I heard that Tom was launching a new tour to promote his new album, Turn It Around, I jumped at the chance to ask him for an interview for Gay-Nerds. Here’s hoping that you can discover this rising star as well and get as much out of his music as I do!
GN: What’s a little bit of your personal story that brought you to this point in your life?
Tom: Well, I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which was fun, and then I went to school in Missouri. I went to school to wrestle, but I ended up getting a degree in education. After that, I moved out to Washington DC to train to become a Catholic priest. And, uh, that didn’t work out either (laughs). But the whole time, I was kinda doing music as a side project, you know, so that when I left Seminary, it was kind of the perfect opportunity to decide ‘What am I gonna do?’ I really just wanted to record an album and that was kinda my dream. That’s when I did my first album, Naked Without, in 2006. Of course, that album alone wasn’t good enough and then I had to perform and then do this and this and it all started building on itself to the point where this is what I do now. I get to write music and perform and share my stories and hear other people’s stories and it’s great.
GN: How long have you been writing songs?
Tom: I started writing songs almost immediately after I got my guitar, which was… I got it for a high school graduation present. But I think the more pertinent question is when did I start writing songs that were recordable. (laughs) Because I wrote really horrible songs for years upon years upon years. Probably about sometime midway through Seminary, I started writing songs that I think I felt were good enough for people to hear. So I’d probably say around 2005, which was a good 5 or 6 years of writing really horrendous songs, before any of the songs were worth listening to.
GN: What is the creative process like for you?
Tom: For me, it’s very subconscious, it’s very fluid. I write songs very quickly. I’ll be playing the guitar, playing the piano, and something in a chord structure or a movement will move me and I’ll potentially just start singing. I never really know what’s going to come out of my mouth until it comes out of my mouth. Sometimes I don’t even understand what it is that I’m singing about until I finish the song. It’s a very interesting way for me to, I guess, understand my own subconscious, what my true feelings are about things. I say things when I write that I would never dare to say when I’m not writing. I’m too guarded to do so.
GN: What kind of messages do you try to impart with your songs and your tour? I remember last year, you went on a tour for Marriage Equality…
Tom: Well, I write a lot about love and I think that 2010 turned out to be a pretty political year for me and people tend to look to me these days for a political message. It’s funny, because I don’t consider myself very political. I like to write about things that move me. I have the most amazing husband, I’m in the most amazing relationship, and it uplifts me and it warms me all the time and so, in turn, that’s what’s moving me and that’s what I’m writing about. Sadly, the fact that I’m in love with a man and that these songs are about a man makes that political. I spent a lot of time trying to shy away from that. These days, I just embrace it and these days, I just try to be honest and true to what the songs are about and if that resonates with people, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you know, what can I do about that?
GN: How do you feel that being gay has influenced your music?
Tom: I’m not sure that being gay has. Maybe I’m being naïve in that answer, but I’d like to think that if I was straight and this madly in love with a woman, that I’d be writing the same stuff. I think that being alienated or somehow segmented from society as a whole makes you view the world differently in a way. I’d say that would be how my sexuality has affected my music the most because I perceive the world differently than if I was straight.
GN: Do you have any gay role models personally?
Tom: That’s a tough question! I don’t think so. I don’t think that I have any role models, per se, but I have a lot of gay men and women that inspire me on a daily basis. I think that one of the great things that I’m doing, I mean, we’re sitting here in Oil City, Pennsylvania, right now, and I’m here with a group of what a lot of people would call “alternative lifestyle” folks and… I live in a city where it’s very easy to be gay. I think it’s the people in this room that are really doing the hardest work and to me that’s inspiring, especially when I see long term relationships and people not really budging on who they are in a place where it’s not easy to do that. I’d say that would be my inspiration.
GN: I think you could be considered a gay role model yourself. What do you feel is important for you to show?
Tom: Yeah. I think that over the past years, people have look to me for that, and I always just try to put out a really positive message. That was one of the hard things about putting out the Marriage Equality EP in 2010. There was a lot of anger in that, a lot of negative feelings, which is why I wrote the You Don’t Question Love song, because I really want people to know that even when I’m angry, it’s because I see the greatest good, I see what we can be. I see what I have and I know that I’m very lucky and very happy and I know that people everywhere should be able to have that. That’s why I always want to focus on the positive.
GN: So our website is called Gay-Nerds.com. We’d like to know what you think the nerdiest quality that you have is.
Tom: (laughs) I play a lot of video games! But my Wii broke, which really sucks, so these days I’m really just playing a lot of Tetris on Facebook. (laughs) But on my Wii, I beat Zelda and I play a lot of Mario Kart. I played Metroid, but Metroid was a little too intense for me, I gotta be honest. But the new Mario Bros and the Mario Galaxy games are amazing. So those would be the games that- I said Mario Kart already, right? And of course, bowling, but we’ve all bowled like a kajillion times. Yeah, I would really say that I’m more dorky than nerdy but when it comes down to it, yeah, I’d say it’s the video games that makes me nerdy.
GN: Did you grow up playing video games?
Tom: Yeah of course!
GN: What were your favorites?
Tom: Well, it depends on what system we’re talking about! I had a Nintendo while growing up and I always loved the Tecmo Baseball. I played a lot of that and Excite Bike, that was a lot of fun! (laughs) And, of course, Mario 3. Then I got a Sega Genesis and I played a lot of the Sonic the Hedgehog games. There was this World Cup Soccer game that I used to play all the time… yeah, there were some fun games.
GN: Cool! On a different note, if you could cover any one album in its entirety, what would that be?
Tom: And I had the skills to cover the album? Mmm, that’s interesting. Would I be able to keep these skills? Oh, God, that’s so tough. I think, for me, when it comes to complete albums, the albums that I think are really a living, breathing entity as compared to a collection of songs, I think of Before These Crowded Streets by The Dave Matthews Band, which is just this phenomenal, cohesive, eclectic collection of a way that only they can do it. I think of David Grey’s Life in Slow Motion, which is this breath-taking…. Really, the whole thing is fresh… I mean, I would steal the musicality of the Dave Matthews album, I would steal the writing sense of the David Grey album, and I would steal the voice of Jeff Buckley. I would steal his voice because it’s just… fucking unreal. But yeah, I love music, there’s a lot of music that I love. Oh- and The Counting Crows, they put together really great albums too! I love albums. Sure, I love songs, everybody loves songs, but I love albums that really say something and those albums, I think, really hit those artists at a peak in their writing and their music and everything and when they sat down to make these albums, they sat down to make an album. They didn’t sit down just to record songs.
GN: Okay. In the same sort of vein, if you could go on tour with any one current performing artist, who would it be?
Tom: Hmm. It would probably be David Grey or Jason Mraz, I would say. That’s a tough question. They’re amazing. I could pick any number of artists. But I think Jason Mraz, these days, he’s writing and performing at another level. He’s clever and he seems like such an exuberant sort of character. He also writes in a really fun way. He writes in a way that’s not heavy. This is really what I kind of wanted to get back to on my new album, to get back to writing stuff that’s really fun and would bring people joy. Not to say that it doesn’t have a message, because it definitely has a message, but it’s just kind of that thing that you pop on in the car in the summertime when you’re riding down the street with your windows down, you know? So yeah, Jason Mraz and David Grey, one of my idols.
GN: So what do you think is an example of some of the worst music to be produced?
Tom: Ha! You know, honestly, I’m not one to judge. I think that there’s music that I’m not into and there’s other people who are into it. I get asked these kind of questions like, ‘Do you like American Idol?’ and stuff like that, and you know, I think that people hate on people because they’re jealous of people who are talented. I think that, even when you look at something like Friday by Rebecca Black, I think that there’s talent behind that. I think that the song may be silly, but when you look at the structure of the song and the movement of the song, it’s done in a way that we in popular culture long to hear. I like all types of music and I’m not gonna hate on any type of music because it’s still talent, just in a different way and I respect the whole broad spectrum of talent, even if it’s not my particular cup of tea.
GN: Okay. Just to wrap it up-
Tom: Oh, wait, I’ll tell you what I hate.
GN: What’s that?
Tom: The thing that I hate in music is people, especially people who are really talented, who don’t use their platform in what I think is the appropriate way. You said it yourself, you think that I’m a gay role model, and I think that’s probably true and I also think that I’m very low on the totem pole. So there’s these people who are very high on the totem pole and all they talk about is, you know, obtaining money or having sex with people, or something like that. In the grand scheme of things, it’s irrelevant, but that’s the only thing that, to me, I feel like the industry as a whole sometimes doesn’t understand the power that it has to create a positive change.
GN: That’s actually a perfect setup for my last question. We haven’t heard much about it recently, but we had the string of gay suicides a while back and while there are a lot of good things happening for LGBT people, it’s still a very tough world for us. As you know, our website is Gay-Nerds.com, so we not only have the difficulty of being gay, but we have the sort of social stigma for being nerds as well. Do you have any advice to gay nerds everywhere?
Tom: Oh, I love your website, by the way. It’s so much fun! And you know what I love about nerds, and like I said, I think I’m probably more of a dork than a nerd-
GN: We’re all in the same family.
Tom: I know, right? And I think the thing that I love about that too, is like, you know, fuck it, right? I mean, we’re not gonna be cool, so who cares? It gives you kinda carte blanche to be who you are, to have fun with it, and if you’re into whatever you’re into… just be really into it. I think the thing that I like the most about people in general is their enthusiasm about stuff which I’m not particularly enthusiastic about because it gives me an opportunity to learn things and have insight into what really drives people. I think that’s a beautiful thing. So if you’re a nerd that’s really into computers, or something like that, then, yeah, go! Dive as deep as you want to and don’t be ashamed of that! Don’t hide that fact at parties. Yeah, you know, someone might not want to hear it, but I tell you what, I’m probably, there’s a person like me sitting around the corner that knows nothing about computers that would be really interested in learning something! Like, whatever, who cares? So you’re a nerd? Just really embrace that and be enthusiastic about it.
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Tags: Back To Love, dave matthews band, david grey, gay musician, gay rights, gay-nerds, industry, Interview, jason mraz, lesbian nerds, love songs, mario bros, marriage equality, Music, new songs, Nintendo, songwriting, tecmo baseball, Tom Goss, Turn It Around, upcoming artists, wii