An Interview With The Multi-Instrumentalist Musician, TOM ROSSI Better Known As LIGHTS +BRIDGES!
Posted On 11 May 2018
LIGHTS AND BRIDGES is what happens when a composer of global, border-dissolving tones and beats decides to condense his symphonic visions into intimate, yet still epic slices of song, lyric and sound. It’s the evocative collision of voice and acoustic guitar stripped to its melodic essence. It’s the lush whisper of breathtaking harmony and atmosphere. It’s echoes of icons like CSN, Simon & Garfunkel, and Nick Drake. It’s a conversation with contemporaries like Bon Iver, José González, and Eliot Smith.
It’s the poetic designation that singer-songwriter Tom Rossi has taken on to imagine a new musical landscape, the kind of collection of song and texture you want to envelope yourself in at hushed dusk or midnight. Rossi’s best known for beautiful, groove laden, wordless world music records like Salma Har, featured on tastemaker programs like BBC/PRI’s The World, NPR’s Echoes and Talk of the Nation. So LIGHTS AND BRIDGES becomes at once an avenue for reinvention, a return to roots, and a distillation.
Rossi’s a fluent multi-instrumentalist in everything from ceremonial Ghanaian hand drums to African kora. He’s a therapeutic musician, who’s dedicated years to the art of performing for those in the most vulnerable condition of hospice care. It’s both intriguing and rewarding to hear these unusual skills and influences filter through the lens of more conventional instrumentation and song structure on instant classics like Superball (a collab with poet, Rich Ferguson) and Outside The Wall.
LIGHTS AND BRIDGES doesn’t demand attention. It’s the kind of subtle musical spell one has to lean into to truly receive. Producer Guy Erez creates immersive arrangements that magnetize via their purity and restraint. With release set for XXXX, and the song Lemonade featured in new indie cinema favorite, Gala & Godfrey, LIGHTS AND BRIDGES is already wooing the attention of creators and appreciators alike. This breathtaking four-song debut only promises many more to come.
Learn more about LIGHTS AND BRIDGES in the following All Access interview:
So what is one song that you are loving right now?
“I Need Love” by Fischerspooner.
How has 2018 been treating you all so far?
Very well. We’ve gained a lot of new fans quickly and the songs are getting out there. “Lemonade” is featured in the new indie film, Gala & Godfrey and our “Outside The Wall” video (shot exclusively on iPhones) was selected for the 2018 iPhone Film Festival.
What is one musical goal that you have for this year?
A new 4-5 song EP with live shows.
What did it feel like releasing your debut self-titled EP? Did anything surprise you about the overall process of putting it all together?
It felt great to launch this project from simmering in the ethereal realm of desire and unconscious brooding. It’s been a long time coming to fully sink into this minimalist foundation of guitar, vocal and song.
The only surprise that comes to mind is how much more inspiring it is to work in collaboration. My co-producer, Guy Erez, was incredibly helpful to get this project done and done with a light-hearted spirit and a good balance of hard work and playfulness.
Tom, I understand that you are a fluent multi-instrumentalist in everything from ceremonial Ghanaian hand drums to African kora. How did this all happen? Where did you learn these unique instruments and what made you decide to first pick them up?
Currently, it’s 9 kinds of instruments and 10 kinds of drums.
The instruments are guitar, piano, bass, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, kora, kalimba, m’bira. Drums are djembe, dunun, kpanlogo, conga, bata, cajon, kutiro, surdu, frame drum and darbuka.
My first instrument was a $22 sunburst acoustic guitar from Sears catalog. I was inspired by my 4th grade classmate, Jensen, who could play “Stairway”. In my hormonal, heavy Rock years, the Sears sunburst came to a glorious end in a sincere Rock & Roll smashing ritual, replaced by a vintage Fender Telecaster and a Pevey Classic tube amp.
In college, after evolving from electric guitar (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin) to acoustic fingerstyle (Leo Kottke, Jorma Kaukonen), world music became a heavy influence (Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Ravi Shankar). I then picked up the bamboo flute, sitar, clarinet, kalimba and any hand drum I could find.
Going deeper into percussion, I dropped out of college and moved to West Africa for seven months. I attended vodun ceremonies in Togo and studied Kpanlogo drums & songs with master drummer Mustapha Tetty Addy in Ghana.
Later I would live in Brazil and Cuba for a few months playing and learning, as well.
Absorbing African sensibility from the source was a huge musical shift for me, especially the local Ewe vodun. To witness so much energy generated with 4 drums, a bell, 2 shakers and a few neighborhood people singing, was incredible. A rock concert was never the same.
Back in New York, I lived at my uncle’s dance studio learning more African, Brazilian, Cuban and Haitian drum styles.
I started on Kora (teachers Keba Cissoko, Yakuba Sissoko) at some point back in NY after attending Berklee College in Boston for composition, with clarinet as my principal instrument. I modified the kora with 5 extra bass strings, to have 26 strings instead of 21. I found the traditional arrangement beautiful, but musically limiting for my needs.
Music therapy has always greatly interested me personally. How did you get into it all? I would love to know how you have seen it first-hand help sick people?
I went to a healing art school in NY (IM School of Healing Arts) in the mid 90’s, where I was asked by a schoolmate to play music for her lover dying of throat cancer. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life to play and sing for this man, who was hooked up to tubes and an oxygen mask. To see how deeply he enjoyed himself, despite his condition and discomfort, was incredibly moving.
It felt like I was in the universe for sure on that day doing something meaningful. Soon after I looked up a local hospice company in the phone book and they were very receptive to what I was offering.
My approach, when I’m with a patient, is to let their particular state tell me how and what I need to play. If they’re breathing short and a in lot of pain, I’ll fade in like sonic morphine with an improvised atmosphere of long dulcet tones and harmonies. If they are alert but need energy, I break into some old jazz or folk songs that they recall from childhood.
In my 15 years of music therapy, many times I’ve put patients, in a lot of pain and anxiety, into deep relaxed sleep in just a few minutes. Many times I’ve livened up a room of 80-90 year olds, some of them out of their wheelchairs dancing with giant smiles.
Where do you think you are happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere? Where are you most excited to play at on your forthcoming tours?
I’m happiest being creative in the studio, though there’s nothing like playing live connecting with the audience, whether solo or with a band. My goal is both.
Since I just moved to LA, I’m getting to know what’s happening here. I’m looking forward to playing at Hotel Café’s front room. Nice vibe.
This culture of alternate venues and house concert communities seems bigger out here and really interesting to me.
How important do you think social media has been to this band? Do all you help to maintain all your sites or is one of you more into it all? Or do you rely on your PR/management team to handle it all?
Social media has been good so far. We’ve gained almost 13,000 fans on Facebook since launch 6 months ago, which is great and very helpful to get things started.
I do all social & online media management. We rely on PR companies to keep the vibe flowing outward to blogs and online tastemakers for now.
Who would you love to work with in the future? Who are some of your favorite artists right now? What do you think would be a dream collaboration for this group?
I’d love to work with Inara George. I love her voice and music sensibility. My favorite artist right now is Fischerspooner. Their new record Sir, produced by Michael Stipe, is gorgeous, inventive, and personal yet epic. The dream collab would be with David Crosby, Jónsi (Sigur Rós) and Lisa Hannigan, produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead)
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs? What do you hope they take away from one of your shows?
The message I hope to convey is peace. Not a static, conclusive kind of peace, or a phony ‘hippie’ kind, but one that comes from moving through the ache and madness of living to a deeper state of understanding.
When I love a song, it’s because I can feel the artist’s life filter through their voice and music in such a way that I feel comforted by it. Or inspired. Or it’s a great idea, perfectly executed. Or a total escape into another world.
Much gratitude for any of those takeaways.
For my shows, if the audience is moved to feel deeper, whatever it is, I’m happy.