Monday, May 7, 2012

Four months into the year, songwriter is meeting the challenge

Thought I'd repost this article from the Kingston Whig-Standard about the Song A Week Challenge here for folks following the blog. Thanks again to Tori Stafford for asking me to do the interview, and for doing such a great job writing the article.

Four months into the year, songwriter is meeting the challenge

By Tori Stafford
Posted 2 days ago

Where to check out Tom Savage this month:
 Friday, May 11: The Tom Savage Trio at Brandees, 8 p.m.
 Saturday, May 12: The Royal Tavern (as part of HomeGrown Music Festival), 8 p.m.
 Friday, May 18: Acoustic Grill in Picton, 7 p.m.
 Friday, May 25: The RCHA Club, 8 p.m.
 Saturday, May 26: The Toucan, 9 p.m.

Few people make a New Year’s resolution that lasts beyond the the month of January, and fewer still keep their resolution long enough for it to make any difference in their lives.
But for local musician and songwriter Tom Savage it was a New Year’s resolution that began what has now lasted 17 weeks — something few people, let alone musicians, would ever attempt to do.
And it all started as a joke.
Having played the night before, Savage arose on Jan. 1, 2012, “a little groggy” and announced his resolution.

“I said, ‘I’m going to write a song a day for the year,’ ” Savage recalled.
“And my resolution will be broken by tomorrow!”
His friend and fellow musician, Ross Neilsen of New Brunswick, suggested Savage would likely be able to tackle a song a week.

“I said, ‘Umm … all right, I think I could maybe do one a week,’ ” he said, hesitating even in recollection.

“I said, ‘I’ll think about that.’ ”

Savage smiles, recalling how it all began. After all, forced writing is a difficult challenge for any musician. And Savage is one of those musicians that normally writes a song over time, allowing it to steep and grow before putting pen to paper or pick to strings.

But, from that joke over coffee with his friends and family, the 2012 Song A Week Challenge was born.
Now, with 17 songs under his belt from the challenge, Savage said it was a resolution that is certainly broadening his musical horizons.

Born and raised in Westport, Savage is the son of two musicians, and the third generation of a family of piano teachers.

“My dad was touring around when I was little, too, for a little bit,” Savage said, noting that his father stuck to the folky, “Gordon Lightfoot-esque” tunes of the early ’70s.
“So definitely I had musical instruments around. And I sort of just latched onto that. That’s all I did in high school, basically,” said Savage.

“I’d play, like, six hours a day. I’d go into the music room at lunch hour, or on my spare, and then I’d come home, get something to eat, go in my room and play until I went to bed.”
That early training prepared Savage with the talent that would become his livelihood.

Savage is best known around town for a few things. His solo work is a folk-country-rock fusion that seeps of Bob Dylan-like lyrics with strong and catchy melodies that come back to you year after year.
He also heads up the Tom Savage Trio, whose sound he describes as “dirt road rock and roll,” and recently started up the Aldous Huxters, a side project with brothers Kevin and Pete Bowers. This band, he said, is an outlet for musical creativity that doesn‘t fit with any of his other work.

“I guess it’s more indy-folk-rock sound,” Savage said of the Aldous Huxters.

“ I had this pile of tunes and it’s just good to be able to play them now.”

Savage began playing for audiences at 18 years old. He’s recorded five albums, the last of which was in 2009. The only time he’s taken much of a break from playing was while he was “a stay-at-home-dad guy” when his son and daughter were still in diapers.

Now 10 and almost 7, his children, Zach and Bella, have caught the hereditary bug. Both have expressed desires to become musicians, Savage said.

“They say they want to be musicians, and I’m like, ‘No, you don’t,’ ” said Savage, laughing and leaning back in his chair. After all, Savage knows all too well the trials and tribulations of being a full-time musician.

“But, if they ever did, they’d be going in with their eyes open.”

It’s not surprising that Savage’s children ended up with the music bug. Not only does the music gene run in his family, Savage’s wife, Vanessa Longul, is a classically trained flutist who can seriously rock a jazz flute solo.

In fact, when the family was on the East Coast last year, Savage had what he refers to as the Savage Family Band, consisting of himself, Vanessa, his father and the two kids.

“Bella had the shakers. She sang back-up vocals, too. They do like five or six songs, but I think it was last spring that I told Zach, ‘If you learn some songs, I’ll pay you for the gig. I’ll pay you $20 if you play a set with me,’ ” Savage said, a modest-yet-proud father.
“And he did it.”

Savage’s son even learned the Hendrix classic All Along the Watchtower, which the pair played in the key of C. This way, Savage said, he could teach his son how to fake solo on the white keys of the piano.

“I gave him a little secret there, telling him, ‘You can’t play a wrong note if you stay on those white keys. We’re in the key of C. Just go for it!’ So he did.”

And when Savage isn’t playing around the city — he plays solo and with the trio often, and has a steady open mic night gig at The Rose and Crown on Wednesday nights — he tours the country, coast to coast.

In the last year, he has toured in Alberta five or six times, he said. The audiences there really appreciate his country-folk-rock sound, and the gigs pay well, too.

He also goes to the East Coast about once a year. Again, the grassroots sound he’s mastered is easily swallowed in the eastern provinces, and he likes to meet up with his musician friends out there as well.
But the 2012 Song A Week Challenge has expanded his repertoire, he said. Though he sticks with the genre he knows best for the most part, he doesn’t want the project to go stale and sound too similar, he said.

Through the weeks, he’s dabbled in blue grass, straight-up blues, and even tackled a barbershop-style tune in the most recent week.

And, apart from challenging him musically and lyrically on a weekly basis, the project has also drummed up some interest online, Savage said.

“People are interested. They seem to think it’s a cool idea,” Savage said, again with the modesty that allows him to be talented yet down to earth.

“I’m getting hits on the blog and stuff, so people are checking it out.”

Will he make it through the whole year?

“I think I can. I have friends, or, I guess fans, who have said that I can’t stop now. Even if it sucks, they say I have to post something every week!”

He is also about to go into the studio to record his sixth album of original songs, a couple of which were born from the Song A Week Challenge.
It’s projects like the Challenge, Savage said, that allow him to continue growing and developing as a musician — a career choice that isn’t always easy to live with.

“I don’t know if it has anything to do with Kingston. I think just being a musician in general is difficult … It’s extremely hard to make a living … I try not to think about it,” Savage said with a hearty laugh.

“When I was in my 20s, I’d tell people I was a musician and they’d say, ‘What else do you do?’
“Then, as I’ve become older, I tell people I’m a musician and they say, ‘Well, how do you do that?’
“Obviously I’ve been doing it a while, but you have to love it. You can’t be in it for the money.
“If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’ … I couldn’t do it.”

To find out more about Savage and the 2012 Song A Week Challenge, check out his blog where he posts each song at
You can also follow Savage on Twitter under the handle @TomSavageTrio, or on Facebook at

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