Jersey native Tom Sless sings of his ‘California Dream’

Tom Sless interview

TOM SLESS

Singer-songwriter Tom Sless lives on the West Coast, but was born in New Jersey and spent the early years of his life there. “I was born in Somers Point, grew up for a little bit in Ventnor, then we moved to Linwood on the mainland when I was 2 years old,” he says. “I lived there until around 2000, when my parents, siblings and I moved to Baltimore.”

Sless has just released his debut album, California Dream, and although he has left the Garden State, the Garden State has not left him. He cites the coastlines of both states and creative commonality as the reasons.

“I moved to California right after college, which is something I touch upon in the title track of the album,” he said. “I made the decision to move because I’d always connected with L.A., specifically. Something about the beach … having grown up on the beach and down the Shore, and the idea of there being this creative opportunity kind of all collected in this part of the country … that really appealed to me. I didn’t necessarily have a network in music or anything like that. It was more like if I could put myself in the position where I can be surrounded by creatives and musicians and those types of people, that I would figure it out along the way. So I moved right after college and that was about six years ago.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, California and New York were the places many people went to try to “make it big.” But in the current music climate, many have shifted their focus to Nashville. Why buck trends and go to Los Angeles?

“I’m starting to make some more frequent trips over to Nashville,” Sless says, “and I still think that out here in L.A., there’s so much of energy that it’s easy to come by like-minded people and people that can help you and just build your network, especially with how interconnected with tech that everyone is. Everyone has a contact or a friend in Nashville that I run into in L.A., so it’s kind of nice in that respect.”

Sless wasn’t always a full-time musician. Like many others, he enjoyed performing “on the side.” But then one day, that all changed. California Dream is the result of that change. As Sless explains, it took some intestinal fortitude to give up security, and then tenacity and some networking to get to this point.

The cover of Tom Sless’ album, “California Dream.”

He says the Americana/folk/rock album was “kind of born out of this journey of deciding to pursue music full-time, and quit what was at the time a career working in business and public accounting. I … decided that I wanted to put all of my faith into my songwriting and my performing. So I started writing songs more religiously around two years ago — really trying to hone the craft. These songs on the album have their genesis around late 2018, and then we hopped in the studio in July of 2019. So over the course of about nine months (I was) writing it, going through the experience of attending music school, being unemployed, working part-time Uber driving, picking up odd jobs here and there while making the main focus the music, songwriting and performing while building my network here.

“We recorded it in a studio called Company L.A. in Glendale. The reason that it appealed to us was that it has a really great live room and some really nice traditional vintage sounds that we could get there: a lot of great amps, a great Slingerland drum kit straight from the ’70s, which is hard to come by these days, and it gave us that nice booming, raw tone which we were trying to go for. And there was also the ability to record to tape there. So we pressed every song to tape and then brought it back into the Pro Tools rig, which gave us some of that nice warmth, some of that glue to bring the tracks together, similar to how you would’ve done it 30 or 40 years ago when recording. We really wanted it to have a live feel, a band feel … have that kind of old school, vintage feel while bringing the production value up to modern standards in that way. It was a great experience.”

Most artists feel a strong connection to their material and projects; some even state that their songs are their children. When asked if they have a favorite song of their own, many will say “all of them.” However, Sless is different and his outlook is refreshingly honest.

“From a marketing perspective,” he said, “there are two songs that we’re putting more energy into as far as singles go: ‘Taking Me Back’ is track two and ‘Gimme the Breeze,’ which is track seven. On a personal level, the title track ‘California Dream’ ties a lot together for me and was actually the last song that I wrote for the album. I knew that I wanted to call the album California Dream, but I didn’t have that eighth song. So I sat down and said to myself, ‘I have to write this song,’ and I touched on the experience of deciding to move to L.A. and that decision coincided with the loss of my cousin who passed away the next day after I decided that I was going to move across the country. And from writing that experience down on paper for the first time, having not really tried to tackle that duality in that moment … it unlocked that song for me. The way the arrangement came out with the brass fanfare and the power that it brings, building from a soft opening to a much larger finish … that song stands out to me in that respect.”

The album was released on March 27, and Sless plans an April 8 debut of an interactive web series on his Instagram page, instagram.com/tomsless, in lieu of a tour, due to the current pandemic.

“What I decided to do is capitalize on the fact that we’re all inside and there’s a lot of people doing streaming series, but the motive behind my series actually came two-fold with the title being ‘Melodies and Remedies.’

“The ‘Melodies’ is referring to performing a song each week from the album live on the stream and talking about the inspiration, the musicality, the production and the story, but the ‘Remedies’ side is the part that I’m most excited about.

“When I was going through and writing these songs. I was writing from experiences that were happening in that very moment. For instance, ‘Too Much on My Mind,’ which is the final track on the album: grappling with not having a job, going to school, trying to make ends meet, figuring out how to be a full-time musician all at once. That gave me so much to think about and try to work through on a daily basis, and I almost started to write these songs to help me through those moments because they were the most honest feelings that I was having. I have too much on my mind and I’m trying to work it through and have it all make sense.

“So with this web series, I’m excited to share the perspective of what strategies and habits and practices that I’ve adopted that started while writing these songs that have helped me continue to grow and move forward through both good and bad times, and struggles that I have with the pursuit of this dream. I’m excited to be bringing on guests each week to not only speak to the musical side of the song, as they were involved in it, but also to share more strategies like that and include whoever is viewing it to participate and lend any kind of perspective.

“Now more than ever, I think, a lot of people are struggling with anxiety and are unsure, as well as just overall unease with how things are shaking out. And not just artists or musicians, either: Everyone is really going through something different right now, and I thought that it would be a great opportunity to lend my hand out to anyone who may be seeking an additional perspective.”

Once the dust has settled and the world returns to whatever the new normal will be, what will be his plan going forward, and why?

“I want to continue pushing on, creating every day and finding new ways to reach people,” he says.”What’s most important to me, as far as why I’m pursuing music, is to connect and share my perspective and connect with other people’s perspectives, and have us all learn from each other, and I hope that my music can be a vehicle for that. So as much as that’s possible here in L.A., I’m definitely looking forward to getting out more once this has all passed over, and getting … to Nashville, New York, Texas as well, Austin, Dallas … so that I can continue to expand and continue to meet other people who can lend their expertise and create with me.”

For more bout Sless, visit tomsless.com.

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