I was pretty excited when Tom Gates first fell into my life. He entered as a facebook name, writing Christina about working with her, and has had to slap me around to not give up on myself a few times since then, he also shares the same sense of wanderlust that I do.
Tom spent many years managing one of my favorite bands of all time, Brand New (insert: he has inside scoop I want) and then took a year off to travel around the world, and eat dog. Yes, he ate dog. You'll have to read the book. "Wayward" is an adorable little collection that can be read on a flight, or a weekend. It made me long for adventure, and it made me want to be brave. I think that is all we can ask for from the best books, a little pat on the back that says "keep going" or "you can do that too." The book had a throughline of acceptance and adversity. I'm really proud of Tom, now back to the scoop on Brand New. (and Fun. oh ...and a little gal named CP.)
You started your career as the manager for one of my favorite bands of all time Brand New, What is your favorite Brand New song and why?
It’s an unreleased demo called “DVD Song”, which was a placeholder title. It was written in the batch before "Devil & God" and never leaked, like many of the other demos did. It was recorded in a living room. Jesse would just keep playing the chorus during the Deja tours, taunting me because he knew that I love a big hulking hook. I listen to it every once in a while and just grin ear to ear that nobody has ever heard it but Sapone, the band and me. Fans would stone cold faint. It’s a smash.
Why leave the uber magical world of managing famous bands (something everyone wishes they could do) to go travel and write?
I had always wanted to take a year to travel. I got so wrapped up in the music world that a decade went by with that dream still in the back of my head. I looked around and saw that I was, in fact, getting old. If I was ever going to do it, it needed to happen soon. It was incredibly difficult to walk away from, especially because Nate, Andrew & Jack had just formed Fun. and were making that first album. I knew I was doing this great thing for myself but I kind of felt like I was abandoning all of my kids, all of the bands. Big lesson:Everyone’s going to be fine.
The other thing is that for so many years I had promoted other artists’ work. I knew that I had at least one book in me and wanted to go through the experience of creating something myself. Now when I have to do a phone interview at 5am I want to hang myself. I have a lot more empathy for what artists have to do to promote their stuff.
What lessons did you learn on your journey that you now implement in your life now that you have returned to managing huge musical acts?
My life has a lot more levity now, after the trip. Anyone who travels will tell you that one of its greatest gifts is perspective. Being trapped on a desolate island in Fiji (it happened) – that’s a problem. Realizing you’re out of ketchup after you’ve just made a burger, not a big deal. I’ve been in places where wells ran dry, I have been on a 15 hour train ride through India, I’ve been completely lost in third world countries, I’ve ridden in the back of pickup trucks with livestock…the bad days aren’t really that overwhelming now.
As someone who also self-published? What are the positives and negatives about self publishing? I think many bloggers and Buzznet user's dream up excellent ideas for books, what would be your advice to them?
You really need to commit to an incredible amount of work if you self-publish. I’m a one-man sweatshop that operates out of my kitchen table. If you think it’s about one day’s worth of promotion, or one week’s worth of attention, you’re wrong. Book sales can spike and fall in an hour. Your heart will just about blow out of your chest with excitement one day, and then next day you’ll falter when you see a big goose-egg in your sales report.
Most important, I think, is to work your ass off to make the book feel like it’s been edited and isn’t rinky dink. Have every person you know comb through it and pick it apart. If it feels self-published, you’re doomed.
I always think of this book as my first EP, in music terms. I wouldn’t do this book any other way. It’s my little statement and mine to champion. I can’t imagine the cover art would have been done by anyone other than Sam Means. It’s 100% my thing. I love the little wins, when a bookstore takes in ten copies and I have to find a way to sell them. It reminds me of all of the hard work my musician friends have done for all of these years.
One night I was dancing around my bedroom while my friend Christina sang, and the next morning we woke to a facebook message from you- inquiring about Christina. That still seems bizarre. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians in order to attract the attention of a top manager?
Don’t wait around. Christina was busting her ass waitressing and was recording music when I met her, and putting it out there on Youtube. She was storming down this path and was going to get her break no matter what. She pushed it all to happen, I was just there to pull at the right moment and then listen to you two scream like maniacs when it all got going.
Also, you’d be surprised at how many unsolicited emails I reply to. I listen to music that people send me, videos that young directors send me, photographers looking for a break, I always have. It’s pretty easy to track me down, the hard part is gathering up the nads to write the email. I’ve ended up working with some great people through some rather loose connections. Don’t be afraid to cold call. We aren’t all robots, but I will tell you if I think what you’re doing is terrible, so beware!
Favorite book you have ever read?
I think that the book that influenced me earliest and hardest was A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. My favorite thing that has ever been writtenis a short story by Dave Eggers called After I was Thrown In The River and Before I Drowned.
The one that carried me through as a writer was Stephen King’s On Writing, a must for anyone who wants to write anything.
Favorite song you have ever heard?
If you’re going to push me into it, it would probably be “God Loves Everyone” by Ron Sexsmith.
What places have you yet to travel that you haven't yet?
I get physically anxious thinking about this, the way some people get nervous before a sporting event. There is so much world out there and I feel like I have way too many places to see. I would honestly go anywhere, any time, barring countries where people want to chop my head off or hang me. I have been daydreaming about Bhutan a lot lately. They only allow a certain number of tourists a year, and once in the country you pay them a daily amount and they take care of you. You actually can’t even book your own travel inside the country. I love the idea of handing myself over to someone else like that.
Reading your book made me feel incredibly small and like I haven't even lived yet. Was your intention to set fire to asense of wanderlust in your readers?
Not at all. The book for me was more to report back about what I took from the trip. I really never thought about readers when writing it, which is probably why it’s a naughty read in a couple of parts. My writer heroes do it selfishly, and I guess I’m a selfish writer too.
I am a big fan of being open and honest, sometimes to my own determent. We you at all worried about publishing sure a raw, honest book, and then returning to the business world?
Terrified. I certainly didn’t want Aunt Becky to ever hear about what happened in that club in Argentina, or what happened on that Island in Fiji, or that I ate dog. I grew more brave as some of these pieces were published online, and people seemed to get what I was doing.
The breakthrough came when I blogged a story called "On Drowning", which is about a band that I managed called The Format breaking up the same day I’d found a dead boy in a pool. There was never going to be a moment where I put it out there more, and the response really encouraged me to follow my own path. It also helped me reckon with it all.
Would you choose to become a writer or stay on the road?!
You guys can follow Tom, send your unsolicited emails and purchase his book WAYWARD here.