Mister Tom, aka Thomas Hanslowe, was raised in New Jersey. Born into a musical family, he began playing the violin at age 10 and guitar at 12. He first began playing in groups in the sixth grade, when he agreed to play bass for a punk band his school friends wanted to start. Since then he has performed and recorded with the Ashes, the Old Glorys, Nascent, and on Shane-Michael Vidaurri and Alec Hanslowe’s solo albums. Tom currently resides in Los Angeles where he is finishing up a graduate program in musicology.
How did the band form?
I started this solo project when I was living around Boston around 2015. I hadn’t been playing much music since moving away from my bandmates for a grad school a few years back, but after jamming with some people at my friend (and excellent photographer) Mark Jaworski’s wedding, I was feeling more confident about my singing and songwriting and decided to start trying to play acoustic stuff on my own. The name Mister Tom came from teaching music lessons. I had some pretty young piano students who used to call me Mister Tom so I decided it would make for a decent stage name.
What are your previous musical projects? How'd you first get into music?
The previous musical projects I’m most proud of are my work with the Ashes and the Old Glorys. It was really fun playing with fabulous songwriters and good friends like Shane-Michael Vidaurri and Melissa Jackson, and I feel like I learned a lot from them. I was also in both of those bands with my brother Alec, which was a real treat. The first band I joined was a punk band called Bad Haircut. It was very much a suburb punk band started by middle schoolers—very Green Day inspired—but I think playing with those guys in the basement was what really made me fall in love with music.
First concert that you ever went to?
I’m lucky enough to come from a family of musicians, so I got exposed to a lot of classical music at a young age. I remember being a little kid going into New York to see my aunt sing opera at the Met, which left a big impression on me. My first rock concert Tom Petty on the lawn at the PNC Bank Arts Center with my family. It was a ton of fun because he was a staple in my house when I was growing up. I went to my first local show with Eric Mauro, the guitarist from my punk band. It was fun, but I don’t remember it particularly well. We were younger than most of the people there and one of our friends kept reminding me to call it a show instead of a concert.
Can you explain what your writing process is like?
I think the most important thing for me in terms of songwriting is making sure I write or record little ideas, even if they don’t seem like much at the time. If I think of a line that strikes me or if I noodle out something that catches my ear on the guitar, I try to be disciplined about writing it down or making a little recording on my phone. I find it very helpful to have this little pool of half-formed ideas I can draw from when I sit down and try to write.
What other artists or songs inspire your music?
It’s probably not the most original or exciting answer but the Beatles are a huge influence on my music and songwriting. Sgt. Pepper was one of the first rock albums that really clicked with me and I’ve been a bit obsessive about them ever since. Other than that I still listen to a lot of punk rock, and even though most of my tunes are acoustic nowadays I still think that influence shines through. In songs like “Dana Katherine Scully” by Tacocat and “Teenage Lobotomy” by the Ramones there’s this combination of humor and a pop sensibility with a punk edge, which I find very appealing. I also really appreciate songs like “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads and “Human Fly” by the Cramps, where the songs aren’t just jokes but at the same time there’s this dark sense of humor lurking in the background.
What's the live experience like and your philosophy on playing live? Do you think the music live should be identical to the recorded version or should it be its own thing?
Honestly I haven’t been playing as much as I hoped I would since I moved to Los Angeles. For the most part I like recording with collaborators and working with a rock band when I can, whereas live I tend to do everything acoustic, so naturally there’s a lot that needs to be adapted or left out. It doesn’t necessarily leave a ton of room for improvising, but I enjoy the challenge of trying to make everything work for just voice and acoustic guitar.
What has your touring experience been, best shows?
I have not done a tour as Mister Tom, but I did go on a short tour with the Old Glorys about ten years ago. It was only about a week and a half, but it was still very thrilling getting to go on the road with a band. We didn’t have a huge following outside of Jersey City so we didn’t exactly draw huge crowds, but I have enormously fond memories of busking with Shane around the French Quarter in New Orleans. We were both deep into old New Orleans jazz and R&B and we were so energized to be in that city that we must have played through every single song we knew that morning.
What's up next for the band?
I plan on continuing to write and record more music as Mister Tom. I would love to record another album like this most recent one, where the focus is mostly on guitar, voice, and fiddle. I like the more stripped-down sound. I’ve also been jamming with some friends in LA, including the excellent guitarist and singer-songwriter Alan Rigoletto who produced the most recent album. We’ve been doing more punk-sounding arrangements of some of my newer songs and I would love to do an EP or something with those guys if we can find the time.