Tomi, it’s already been two years since we talked about the rlease of a new album. Why did we have to wait so long?
Actually we planned to release “Coming Home” in the spring, but for obvious reasons we had to postpone it a bit. But it’s true that these things take time. The composing & arranging is usually a pretty fast process but after that there are a lot of casting decisions & other stuff. Some songs have been reworked and re-arranged a few times, because I want to set the bar as high as possible. Sometimes they’ve been completely overhauled at the last stage. It’s not even perfectionism, more like “Creative doubt” – Is the song good enough? Is there enough originality? Is the arrangement good for the song? Are the players & singers right? Is the key perfect? And then there’s the mixing & matching…I actually begged & borrowed a lot of great exclusive analog gear and run things through them just to get the sound as good as it can possibly be.
“Coming Home” was definitely worth the wait! After your debut “Walkin’ On Air” already caused a lot of excitement among critics and West Coast Music fans, it seems that you have gone a step further with your new album. The arrangements are even more sophisticated, the quality and joy of playing of all involved can be heard in every note. How did you approach the album? Did you have a specific concept in mind?
Yes. I wanted this to be a bit like those cool Quincy Jones & George Duke albums in the 70’s. You have your “funky” songs, the ballads, a bit of jazz. Everything is so formulated these days and I wanted to shake things a bit. It’s a way to stay motivated. So I used musical & arranging tools which I haven’t used in a while. I like people to find new things even after they’ve listened the record many times. I’m a fan of good food and I like everything to blend together like a good meal. The food, the wine, the dessert. A bit of salt or pepper here and there.
When I’ve read who you could recruit to work on the new album, I was really impressed. Just to name a few of the artists who worked on “Coming Home”: Andreas Aleman, Robbie Buchanan, Ole Børud, Simon Philips, Neil Stubenhaus and Maeva Borzakian. Was it difficult to get all these artists to join the project?
It’s been surprisingly easy. The casting is important and I really like every player who has participated on this album. Many people messaged me and said they’d like to do something, for which I’m so grateful. We had such a great team.
Please tell us a little bit about the recording process. In which period of time were the recordings made? Were there also joint sessions in the studio?
There’s one song (Free Fall) which was composed when I was still a teenager. I had to practise a lot for that one, because I’m a bit of a sloppy player nowadays. But most of the other songs are composed within 6 years. A couple are actually from the sessions for the first album. There are some joint sessions, but sadly that’s nowadays very rare because we had to keep the costs down. I’ve visited many home studios within the last few years though.
Are there any anecdotes you like to remember?
Well, not much actually. It was mostly a smooth ride. Of course when you have 60+ people involved there’s a lot of hard work and everything can and will happen. But for my surprise everyone was just so earnest and humble! I had worked with most of the players & singers before and it felt like the old team was back. We were so lucky!
What particularly thrilled me is that you won no one less than Toto’s Steve Lukather for the song “Coming Home”. How was the collaboration with him?
I didn’t want to have players just because of name dropping. I believe that if you want something to sound like Steve Lukather, you’d better call him. He plays like no one else. It seems so easy and effortless for him, a true master. I also want to thank our friend Scott Gross for helping us to get Luke!
Let’s talk about another song: “Leave It To The Girls”, is a ballad co-written by the legendary Burt Bacharach with Tonio K. Was it a thrill for you to work on this unreleased composition.
That’s just totally insane! Burt Bacharach is an icon, the best! And the chance to have one of Bacharach’s unreleased songs in my album is a dream come true. That just doesn’t happen, but it did! I’m just a huge fan of his!
Randy Goodrum is another source of inspiration for you. He co-wrote and sang “Hearts In Phase”, a delicate, acoustic ballad that closes the album. What distinguishes Goodrum’s work for you?
Randy is just an amazing songwriter AND a cool person. A true professional and such a nice guy. Working with him was easy and effortless. We both love the song that we did. Randy just nailed the lyrics and sung them like only he can.
I am particularly enthusiastic about the fusion instrumentals. In general the album has a very jazzy touch. “Free Fall” is a good example. There are echoes of Pat Metheny, George Duke, Dave Grusin and Weather Report in this song. Is classic jazz fusion an important source of inspiration for you?
I’m happy that you mention those, because I’m quite proud that I still managed to make those! Classical & jazzy/Fusion stuff. All those artists you mentioned are a huge inspiration for me. They were always exploring new sounds, new rhythms & new chord voicings. You never knew what was coming next and I loved that! I think Frank Zappa should be mentioned too. Yeah, that’s the kind of music I did when I was in my teens. I practised all the time and wrote transcriptions of that music. I spent all the time after school for that…I went to libraries and borrowed sheet music. Those were crazy times, but it paid off. But of course, in this project I wanted to have simple songs too. It’s important to have a balance.
Let’s talk a little more about the songwriting process. On “Coming Home” you have written many songs with other songwriters such as Michael Haddad, Cecily Gardner, Jackie Kavan and Frank Ådahl. What appeals to you about this artistic team play?
The fact that I can’t sing & write lyrics! I always need someone else for that. And I’m so grateful that we got the BEST people. I couldn’t have done anything without them. Everyone of those are just the best in their field. And everything has been smooth & nice. And yeah, it is a team work. They always make everything sound better than I could ever imagine.
You recorded in your career numerous records, commercials, film scores, trailers and jingles, produced pop as well as hard rock albums. What do you love about West Coast music? What inspires you about this genre?
The fact that I can use more musical tools than in some other genres. I can use some chords & arranging that I would never use in a typical pop project. I think that I can challenge myself much more than usually. I remember Quincy saying that great music has both the feeling & intelligence. You are mostly forced to go with the former but Contante & Sonante has allowed me to go further. I have a very broad taste in music and I always find great things in almost every genre.
Tomi, in the press announcement your music is compared to the greats of the scene from Boz Scaggs to Al Jarreau to Steely Dan. I listened to the album and immediately realised that it was a Tomi Malm album. How would you describe your signature sound? What distinguishes a typical Tomi Malm song?
I’ve been told many times that I do have a “sound” although I don’t recognise it myself. I think it’s the greatest compliment that a musician can have. Every great musician has his own sound… Hendrix, Bonham, The Edge, Joni Mitchell, Clapton, Michael McDonald, Landau, Luke, Foz, Robbie Buchanan, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Coltrane….the list is endless. You can recognise every one of them from one note.
You don’t have to be technically a virtuoso but you must have personality. It’s easy to copy someone, but it’s much harder to develop your own musical voice. I always try to make songs my own, add something personal. I don’t know if I always succeed, but it’s very important to develop your sound further and not stick to the formula. I can’t describe my signature sound though, usually other people describe it better than me.
Are you currently planning special online offers for your fans, e.g. online shows?
I’d love to but I’m not really a good singer so I would need singers. And latency is still a big issue for live stuff remotely. But I did a couple of cover versions in the spring just for fun.
Are there already plans for new projects? What’s next Tomi Malm?
I will be forever grateful to Gabriel Raya/Contante & Sonante for the opportunity to make these two records. It’s been one hell of a ride so far! “Coming Home” is essentially a double album. So there’s not much spare material. I usually write only when there’s a clear goal. So there are no plans at the moment. But I’m pretty busy these days. There are some classical works which I’m composing and some media music, but those probably won’t get released officially. Also I’m guesting on some projects which will come out probably next year or so. I’m also a big astronomy/science nerd and I’ll probably spend a lot of time in winter staring at the sky with my telescope. But I like making music so never say never!
Tomi, thank you very much for the interview!
Thank you Thomas, it’s been a pleasure!