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Not Your Average Schoolkid: Tom Ugly

There are the normal kids in high school who are content simply dreaming about what they’re going to be ‘when they grow up’, but then of course there are those who, despite their tender years, are already running fast down the career path. Irritating, maybe, but admirable? Indeed.

As the country’s cesspool for potential young and upcomers, Triple J’s Unearthed competition has turned our attention to many talented young guns over the years, most recently in 2008 with the one Tom Ugly, formerly known as [is].

Currently in the midst of completing his final year exams (don’t worry, we feel old and unaccomplished, too), the band’s frontman, sole songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (read: musically endowed) Tom Parisi has been juggling music and study for the past two years, and, despite the obvious limitations, appears to have done a pretty damn good job of it.
While you would expect his impending freedom from the school grind would bring a sense of relief, Tom admits that the change will take some getting used to.

“It’s been kind of hard trying to make everything fit, but I’ve gotten pretty used to it. It’s weird knowing that once school’s over I’m going to be able to devote 100 per cent of my time on Tom Ugly,” he says.
“A lot of songs were written when I was studying because I didn’t want to be doing it, so in a sense there may be some kind of loss – but it’ll be a good thing overall.”

Often described as indie electronic or simply dumped in the hugely unhelpful ‘alternative’ file, Tom says the band’s melting pot of different sounds and genres clearly isn’t the easiest to describe.

“A lot of songs are different to each other – they vary depending on what I want to be doing on each one,” he says.
“There’s a taste of everything in my influences but to put it briefly, I’d say it’s a fusion between electronic and rock music.”

Only released this past August, Tom Ugly’s debut EP has already gotten off to a cracking start, debuting at number 23 on the ARIA Physical Singles Charts, number three on the AIR 100 per cent Indie Single Charts and number 13 on the AIR Indie Label Single Chart.

While Tom was hard-pressed to pick a favourite track, he says he leans to Bad with Love, namely because of the way listeners identify with the track. Considering my first thought after hearing the chorus was ‘cripes, there goes my life story’ (pre-current love interest of course), I don’t doubt there have been plenty of others who’ve had similar reactions.
Given the fact Tom is a) male and b) still in school, songs like Bad With Love reflect a level of maturity that may surprise the cynics (myself included). While personal experience is obviously a strong driving force behind the lyrics, Tom says his writing is essentially a small collection of experience and observation that usually doesn’t come together until the end.

“Most songs I write are as personal, if not more so, as Bad with Love, but at the same time a lot of lyrics are based on an accumulation of lines that I record as time goes on,” he says.

photo by Britt Reed

Many musicians his age (or any age, for that matter) struggle to translate a recorded sound into the live format, but Tom says the past year of touring has taught him plenty about the balancing act between the two.

“It’s kind of like having split personalities,” he says.
“When I’m writing and recording, it’s just sitting down and enjoying cups of tea, but when I go out and play it’s this big rush that’s almost addictive. It’s weird because they go hand in hand but they’re so different.”

“Playing to crowds is almost like having an ongoing relationship with one person – but it feels like I’m getting to know that person better.”

On the future live front, Tom says fans should expect the unexpected, with the planned addition of some new tracks into a much more drum-orientated show (played by the man himself, of course).

“As soon as exams are over, I’m going to go through a big remodelling phase and reconstruct the live set. The songs on the EP will stay, but we’ll play a lot of new songs as well,” he says.
“I’m still figuring out what I’m going to do with the drums, but it’s definitely going to be a much bigger part of the show.”

Tom Ugly is playing with The Fumes at the Gaelic Theatre this Friday, November 6.

Tickets are $17 and can be booked here.

words: Jacqueline Flint


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