[…continued from last post]
We rejoin our look at the life and times of Tommy Frenzy today with the Post-Tuff darts years. We begin with his band Big Spender occupying the first few years, and then move out to the present.
AFTER THE WHIRLWIND
TF: I don’t know if you know this, but I started a band called Big Spender.
PPM: Big Spender…yeah, I saw that you got a track [“Hit The Beach”] on the “Spring Break” soundtrack.
T: So I actually had “Here Comes Trouble” from the Tuff Darts…we re-recorded that for “Spring Break” and then we did “Hit The Beach,” which was pretty successful for us [being] without a record label.
P: Oh yeah.
T: I’m still making money off that from the movie yeah. I’ve re-released that song about a year ago and it’s making the routes through Spotify over in Europe right now and if you haven’t heard that, that’s a that’s a great song. The keyboard player is a guy named Steve Saslow who went on to become an Emmy Award keyboard Player for television. He is now the musical director for Jose Feliciano! That’s really a great cut if you haven’t heard it.
P: Oh, actually I have heard it.
T: Okay, cool. I think you were mentioning something about Harley Fine.
P: Yeah Harley Fine. How you knew Harley Fine and worked with him on occasion that’s why I thought it all sort of folded into the Steve’s Theme Park album since he was basically going through his Rolodex and getting all these people.
T: Unfortunately, Harley and I left our friendship in the past a long time ago. I was very surprised when I got a copy of the “Steve’s Theme Park” album, and I’m like, “oh there’s Harley Fine again.” The arguments with him started with him when he was in Tommy Frenzy’s Hard Drive. The first incarnation of that band and he took it upon himself to call that Tuff Darts and tell everybody. If you if you look at anything on YouTube it always says Harley Fine 10 Ton Truckers and Tuff Darts. And most of the time it says Tuff Darts first and then 10 Ton Truckers. We parted company a long time ago and it seems like I’m giving you a lot… like I didn’t like that guy, I didn’t like that guy, but more often than not in the music business, you’re going to run into people you don’t like.
P: Well, you’re dealing with “musicians,” like you say.
T: That’s half the problem right there.
SOLO WITH THE BRAKES OFF
P: Yeah, the musicians are their own breed for sure. Suzy says that you’re incredibly prolific and I can go on your channel on iTunes and I can see single after single after single. You’re just keeping the stuff out there as you record it. It looks like you’re recording at a furious pace.
T: Well, I’m retired now, living in Florida and you know there are a lot of people who say, “when I retire, I’m still going to work.” Well, I never had any plans to do anything. So I figured out a plan here, and the plan is to position myself as a garage band kind of situation. With the band, if you if you listen to the “You Yeah You” record, there’s really not a lot of production there. There’s the three of us doing the basic tracks and then I added a couple of guitars, and I added all the vocals and all the backgrounds. But you know we’re not doing anything fancy there. We’re keeping it “garage band.” And I like the way that works, so I record on this laptop that I’m sitting at right here. I have guitars all over the walls and keyboards over here [points].
My mother was a church organist, so I play keyboards fairly well. If you could play guitar you could play bass, not necessarily that well, but I figured out how to use some good recording software, and after that then I uploaded it to a company called Landr, and with a membership to there it cost me $7.99 to master a track. You have to ask some questions and it’s all artificial intelligence.
P: Oh really?
T: And you upload the song and they figure out what kind of song it is. If I want to record a song and make it sound or master it like an AC/DC CD I can actually upload that and the artificial intelligence will figure out what makes that tick and then try and make me sound as much like that as it can. But you know there’s 100 reasons why I should not try and sound like that because I never will [laughs]. But I know you’ve probably heard a lot of songs and you’ll hear a lot of them that are not produced that well, and there’s some times that I rush. I make my own deadlines.
Since 2020 I think I’ve done somewhere around 28 singles. I try and do it at least once a month if I can. And there’s a plan behind that too. The biggest question is how do you make it as a musician nowadays? Well, you don’t go after a record label because I don’t want to have to be forced to tour. I don’t want to have to change things. I don’t want producers. I mentioned Todd Rundgren before and that’s something else that I ran into with Harley Fine. He said, “I’ll mix this song for you,” and then it comes back to me and he said, “I didn’t like the guitar, so I wiped it out and I played new guitar… and you didn’t have the right background vocals so I sang.” And I get mad when people screw with my dreams.
I mentioned that I’m a huge Todd Rundgren fan and Todd Rundgren in an article once said the reason he produces himself is because nobody else knows what’s inside his head, saw some of my productions are very bleak and you know they don’t really stand up, but in my mind I’m just a garage band. I’m not trying to make a lot of money. I’m not trying to get a hit single that’s going to set me up for the rest of my life. I just like writing. I like writing it at a fury pace. I like mixing everything. I like putting it through and then hearing that mastering rather than waiting two days for a mastering company to get back to you. I’ve got it back in like three to four minutes, and then after that I upload it.
I’m actually using distrokid now I was using CD Baby but distrokid is so much cheaper and I drop it into distrokid and within 48 hours I’m getting emails saying you’re now live on Spotify… you’re live on iTunes,, and over a two week period I show up on 38 streaming and buying sites… download sites. Now the master plan is, like I said, I don’t have to have a hit single… I would love a hit single, yeah… don’t get me wrong, but I could I could get one song that’s gonna give me a big income, or I could get a shitload of songs that all make me five and ten bucks a month, and right now I think I’ve got like 72 songs on there. And I’m on track this year to do at least one song a month, depending on how the year goes. I’m getting ASCAP royalties and distrokid sends me checks. I’m still getting checks from all the CD Baby stuff that I put out.
Okay, so one of the ways I drive people to hear my music is I found other pages on Facebook like a CBGBs friends page that has 7000 viewers or members. I found one called GarageBand Music Only. And they have, like, 70 000 members, so I every time I release a song, I put it on my two pages and Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff, then I go to these other pages and these 10 pages combined give me the possibility of putting my song in front of 240,000 people.
T: So, I send it out that way, and I send them all a link to YouTube, because half the time people my age or my age group, they don’t know what Spotify is. They don’t use iTunes, but YouTube is trustworthy. They know it’s free, and they know how to get there, and they trust it, so I put it on a YouTube link out to 240 000 people and I watch over a three or four day period that I’ll come up with 70…80… 90 hits and views. And if it’s one of my better songs… I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s the favorite song that I’ve written in years called “The Devil’s Running Late?”
P: Oh yeah, I was just listening to that last night.
T: I just love that song, it was so much fun to do, and that’s one of the ones that went up and I got like 1700 hits on that, and believe it or not, 1700 hits gets you somewhere in between ten and twenty dollars and if I’m making that from all across the board I think I’ve set up a way to actually make some extra money. It’s nothing that’s going to pay my mortgage, but it’s going to help me buy another guitar or take my wife out to dinner.
P: Exactly. It’s mad money.
T: I didn’t figure this out by asking anybody It took me a year and a half to figure out what the plan is there and every time I release a song I do it that way. And now I’ve realized that all my music is being put on TikTok, so I put up a page on TikTok and I sing along to my own songs starting to build some momentum there. I got a little Russian girl who was the first one that I saw on TikTok. So that was the first person I started following and she does all these baby faces, but I realized that she clicks through and finds songs. I just got to get a couple of those guys…
T: “You Yeah You,” or “Don’t Play Shy,” and slide that in there and you know some of these people have mad followings! They may have like 23-24 million people and it’s really nice getting in front of 240,000 people but I want that same kind of percentage response to be moved over to 24 million people. Whereas a million people might want to use it or 500,000 might and then all of a sudden, we’re stepping into much bigger money.
I haven’t found anybody that says, “this is the way you should market in the digital age,” and when you go on Twitter, the first thing when they find out you’re a musician is like every morning I’ve got a hundred people saying, “I can help you get on a Spotify list and give me a link to one of your songs and I’ll show you,” and then I let them run with it and when they private message me and say, “okay I could do that but I need you to give me 50 bucks.” But anybody that’s given me a free sample hasn’t done anything anyway. I just don’t think anybody’s really figured out the right way to do that. If they they have, I don’t know.
P: It’s strange because the music industry is in such a weird gray area right now. I don’t understand it. I grew up loving music and sometimes I don’t even recognize the music industry anymore… such as it is. You know, I’m just old and set in my ways, and I still buy records. I still buy CDs. I don’t even stream music because the idea of having an infinite number of songs available at the click of a button or just talking to a speaker is almost deadening to me. I can’t deal with that. I use the curation of music… the purchase of it. That filters my intention so I have to focus on what I’m focusing on and so it’s a completely different experience. I just can’t relate to it in that way, but it is in a crazy wild west period and now you’ve got AI coming into it as you’ve already using for the mixing, which I didn’t even know you could do mixing with AI.
T: Landr was the first one I found and I think there are two or three other ones now.
ROCKING WITH AI FOR FUN AND PROPHET
T: And now I’m doing my own artwork. Have you heard of Midjourney?
P: No, not yet, but I’m sure I will.
T: There’s that company called Midjourney and there’s a second one called DALL-E2.
P: Oh yeah, I know DALL-E2. That that one I know, yeah.
T: Have you tried that out?
P: No, I haven’t tried any of that stuff out. I don’t trust it [laughs].
T: Midjourney is the best one. I’ll send you a copy of something that I did in Midjourney that I’m using for music going out in the future, but it’s all in the prompt. You tell the AI computer what you what you have in your mind, and they try and figure it out. Of course, you’ve now seen over the last two years I use the barracuda bones and Tommy Frenzy and once I get something marketable, I just ram it down everybody’s throats. I mean when I just said it you shook your head.
P: Yeah, it’s a great logo. It’s a very effective logo.
T: So, I’ve decided I’ve got to do better than this. I gotta step it up this year, so I went in and I said imagine a barracuda skeleton with Ray-Ban sunglasses on, swimming under the water… make it evil looking and make it threatening, and then put it in 8k and use photorealism. I’ve got the creepiest looking fish wearing Ray-Bans underwater that will just scare the crap out of you, and it’s the next generation of my barracuda bones.
It’s really just amazing stuff and once again you’re in a chat when you’re doing that, and after you put it in, you have about 60 seconds and they put up four copies… all different of what they think I’m talking about. And if you like one of them you click on that and say refresh and they will give you four new ones that look similar to that and they might have differently colored sunglasses. They might have fangs coming out of the ears… it just creeps me out to the point where I can’t put it down. I’m about to put money in because you get you get a certain amount of free credits every month, and that that lasts me about an hour [laughs]. I’ve done some pretty cool stuff that I’m going to use on there. I’m going to continue to do that.
ROCKING IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
P: Suzy did send me a copy of the CD, so I’ve been listening to that for about six weeks now and it’s a fantastic sounding record. You talk about it not being produced. I think of it as a record that’s ideally produced, in the sense of that it doesn’t sound anything but real. It’s got a tough tone. You’re a great guitar player and you’ve got a kick-ass rhythm section, so all have to do is sit back and let it ride. That was recorded in a studio [The Alpaca Ranch] in Altamonte Springs?
T: I think it’s in between Altamonte and Longwood. It’s on a lake somewhere. it was a studio that the guy built in a house. They either bought a rented a house, gutted it and just built a huge studio. The control room was in the back of the house with no windows at all and he just put video cameras all around the house and could tell everybody what’s going on from there. And he has some great equipment in there, but he shut down and moved to Chicago about almost a year ago.
P: Oh, okay. I didn’t know he had moved on. A friend of mine used to run a studio in Longwood back in the 90s, right before the computers took over everything so it was old school still and it’s just interesting to see these studios still popping up in Orlando.
We used to go out to clubs four… five nights a week. That’s how I met my wife. She’d be going to see the same bands that I was going to see. We’d go and see The Hate Bombs and finally one night, her much more talkative friends came over to introduce ourselves because we’d seen each other countless times, and then one thing led to another, and a year or more later we’re married. it’s incredible. The Hate Bombs were the garage rock band that kicked off that phase in Orlando back in the early 90s. They were a good band.
T: The guys that are left are The Tremolords in the last couple of years.
P: Yeah, and I see you’ve played places like Will’s Pub, which is still there that’s amazing.
T: Will’s Pub was the first club we played when we got down here and then… just had some bad experiences there. Like the the sound guy there got a little controlling and on a night that there were five bands, one of them was a national touring band, and we were thrown in at the last minute as a warm-up band… which that’s fine. I’m old. I don’t like staying up late. I don’t like being around too many crowded people, and so I was happy with that, but when we got there we realized that the sound guy had put the main band set up, and then put the next band in front of them, so actually Roger and I had a foot and a half at the edge of the stage. Suzy couldn’t use her own drums because there was no room left! So she had to use Tony from Roger’s band [Swift Knuckle Solution] drums.
I have video of this… we started the first song and I give the cue by pulling my guitar down so nobody knows that I’m really giving a cue. I’m talking over here when I do this and we all hit something and I didn’t notice it, but when Suzy saw me go down she hit the cymbals. And Tony keeps his cymbals locked… it won’t do this! So she hit the cymbals and the sticks went flying, and she’s like, “I don’t have my other sticks!” And Roger and I are hitting these chords and looking at her and she’s like, “I don’t know what to do!” We’ve had some fun times.
P: Well, it sounds like they’re still doing things like they used to do in Orlando. We’d go to see a band at nine o’clock and the opening act would be set and by the time you got to the door and paid the door they’ve shoveled in another two opening acts. They just added them to add them to increase their they’re take at the bar and by the time you see the headliner, they’ve got about 45 minutes to play before it’s closing time at 2:00 a.m.
T: Was Lou’s there.
P: Lou’s? No, no Lou’s is a new name for me.
T: That’s basically just a storefront and he puts a bunch of coolers and beer in there. You’re just standing on the floor with the crowd and they have a pool table but when there’s a band playing they move it and stand it up against the wall. And very loud. It’s very crowded because it’s very small, but that’s a cool place. And our home base right now is the Shovelhead Lounge over in Longwood. And I don’t know what it used to be like, but now they have a four foot high stage and you could put eight… ten people up there easily.
P: I think I’ve heard of that, although that wasn’t there when I left Orlando.
“You Yeah You” is a great record, but are you even going to make albums anymore? Or are you going to release a steady stream of singles. I mean, what’s the point of an album anymore in the modern era?
T: Well, the only time you could really get away with making an album… making a CD, is if you can sell it. Now you’re not going to sell it online because people just don’t… unless you’re a really big band. The only place you’re going to sell at the point of sale is going to be at a gig.
P: Right. Merch table.
T: And we released that disc the first week of 2020 yeah and then everything got locked down and you know I still have a pile of them here and I had to deal with Violent Breed Records, that’s Roger’s record label with his nephew Lance White. And the deal was they pay for the CDs and I sell them online through streaming and downloads and they get to sell the CDs and I couldn’t put put everything online for two months right up front so that we would have gigs and they would have a chance to get their money back since they paid for the the actual CD itself. And thanks to the pandemic and the way the world was, I don’t think they got all their money back. And like I said, I still have a handful over here, but I’m still getting downloads and streams online so yeah, of course it’s chugging along with all the other songs I have.
And when I said it wasn’t produced that well, I didn’t mean to say that. It wasn’t overly produced like as I mentioned, I could put organ…I could put horns… I could put keyboards on it. Which is why we don’t play a lot of the songs that I release. Because I make them sound like a seven piece band and we are a three-piece band. Most of the songs I put out and survive live with one guitar player you need at least two guitar players maybe three, so that’s why we we kept it, like you said, real.
That’s really what the band sounds like. We didn’t do the drums and then the bass and then the guitar. We did drums, bass, and guitars as basic track and kind of just put some icing over the cake, you know, rather than adding a whole bunch of other instruments and other people playing. I didn’t mean to say it was not produced well. It was produced well. It was just produced sparsely.
P: It was produced tightly. I mean, it sounds really good. It sounds like Cheap Trick on steroids, which is a good sound, you know
T: That’s a good line. I will accept that, thank you.
P: I also like the pacing on it because it’s mostly sardonic songs about women problems, but you managed to end it on a slightly hopeful note there at the end, which is a good way to wrap up, of course. And then you pulled off the ultimate bonus track… oh my god!
T: When when you said the bonus track was rocking or whatever you said in one of your e-mails, I closed the e-mail and went, “what is he talking about?” Sometimes I forgot I even did it. I just got the minimum release form signed and paid the the royalties for that, just to make sure, but you know a lot of people don’t even know it’s there, and some people who even bought the CD don’t know it’s there.
P: Well it doesn’t tell you it’s there until it’s on. That’s the beauty of it. So you’re doing that entire arrangement?
T: No. I think I bought, probably on Amazon, a Frank Sinatra karaoke track.
T: And I specifically chose that one because you could use it for anything you want and you don’t have to pay any royalty.
P: Yeah, royalty-free – wow.
T: Once you sing the song, the lyrics, and the melody, then you have to then you have to pay.
P: Mechanical royalty and songwriting royalty. Sure, for every copy you make you pay the standard royalty but so that was just a karaoke track you were singing to?
T: I did it for my wife for Christmas and she loved it and played it for some friends at cocktail parties, so I’m like…I gotta use this for something. There I have a nice little spot right at the end.
P: I also have to say congratulations. This is not a really a question… this is a statement. Congratulations for doing the only version of “Lay Lady Lay” that doesn’t suck!
T: [Laughs] Thank you. That was stuck in the back of my mind for 25 years, because I love that song. I loved anything that Bob Dylan’s ever written. I just don’t like hearing Bob Dylan singing. So yeah, in my mind, that would fit in perfectly at CBGBs, and Max’s, Mudd club and all those places. I just didn’t have the drive to pull it off back then.
There are a couple of things that I missed back then. Mike Rosenblatt from Sire Records and I were goofing around one day. We were at Max’s or somewhere and drinking and I started singing along to “Cá Plan Pour Moi” and I was singing along with it going “ooou-e la bibliotheque… Da da da da da da da da!” You know, like first year French. And he’s going, “Tommy! That would be so great! You got to get that out.” I’m like, “yeah, okay.” And then I never did anything with it, and six months later he said, “why didn’t you ever do that? I would have picked that up. You would have made so much money.” I’m like, “well I see you should have presented it that way! Maybe I would have.” Most of my life, I’m really not that driven.
A lot of people in life make plans. When I first got married, my wife said, “now we have to sit down and make our plan.” I said, “no, Frenzys don’t do that.” And she goes, “you never make plans? And I said, “no… being a Frenzy is being able to recognize an opportunity and opportunities are everywhere and you have to recognize that opportunity and do something with it and something will come back. It’s like you just have got to put it out to the universe,
I’m a firm believer in that and that’s what keeps me going through life and she said, “all right, we’ll give it a try,” And every year on our anniversary, I always goof around and say, “so do you want to make a plan?” And she’s like, “we’re doing just fine the way we are.”
P: We only made a plan once. We made a plan to move to Asheville in two years and we basically stuck to it and since then it’s just been a refinement of that.
T: That’s what I would say is more of a short-term plan. Doing a short-term plan like that is your way of putting it out to the universe. You want to say it out loud, The universe hears and one way or another you’re going to end up there. That’s how I ended up in Florida.
P: So, you’re in Orlando or Altamonte Springs or Longwood?
T: I’m in Lake Mary.
P: Oh, Lake Mary? I worked in Lake Mary from ’89 to ’99.
T: Were you ever on radio?
P: Actually I was on radio in high school. In my high school we had a high school radio station: WGAG-FM, the worst call letters in the universe.
P: It stood for it stood for our school colors – green and gold. I went to high school at Oak Ridge High School and back before Reagan destroyed low power FM in 1980, we had a 10 watt radio station.
P: And there’s two schools in town with a radio station. You had the rich kids in Winter Park High School with a radio station, but they did not go get to go on air live. No, they had to record their shows in advance.
P: We got to go on live. So this is how I met a lot of my friends who are still my closest friends to this day [chasinvictoria] I met him at the radio station.
T: I asked because you have such a radio friendly voice.
P: Well, it’s not like I haven’t been trying all my life. You know you learn to speak from the diaphragm at an early at age and you just do it. And my wife is always saying, “can you speak stop speaking so loud?” I say, “I’m speaking from the diaphragm, I can’t help it,” Of course back then my voice was still changing, so it was kind of wasted on the airwaves.
T: [laughs] Diaphragm or not.
P: Plus, I was always a fan of voice over talent. I love Firesign Theatre. Those guys like that so yeah, I was a music geek, but I was also a voice over geek you know give me Ernie Anderson… [imitates Anderson’s gravelly, yet sleazy voice] “Star Trek… The Next Generation!” It’s just that I idolize some voice over talent the way some people idolize bands. It’s true. But no, I haven’t actually been on the radio since I used to help my friend chasinvictoria who I met at the station [in high school]. He was doing his Chas’ Crusty Old Wave Show on WPRK-FM [Rollins College] through the community radio there and sometimes I’d jump on the air. it was always fun. We’d tag team and do shows in high school and then a dozen years later I was helping him out at WPRK-FM. I’d just bring a crate of records over when I’d hear him on the air just jump on the station and go on the mic with him, so those were fun times.
T: Cool. So how did you hook up with Steve Peer?
P: He approached me because he liked something I had written on Post-Punk Monk about the “Bill Nelson’s Red Noise” album he did the tour for. I’d written a review of that and he came across it online and really liked it, so then he got in touch with me through that. And one thing led to another. Then he put out the album and sent me a copy of that, and that’s what led, of course to you. Because like I said, I knew the name Tuff Darts but I never heard Tuff Darts until actually last month. I finally heard the album, but all of a sudden it’s Tommy Frenzy…Tommy Frenzy! Turn around …it’s Tommy Frenzy!
P: It’s a Tommy Frenzy frenzy!
T: Wake up in the morning…Tommy Frenzy! [laughs]
P: Exactly. [ED. NOTE: In the last month I have woken up with especially “Don’t Play Shy” in my permanent cranial soundtrack!]
T: So here’s another one that we missed. There’s a guy named Dave U-Haul that was in The Rattlers with Mickey Leigh, who’s Joey Ramone’s brother.
P: Right, right.
T: And about five or six years ago, he decided he was going to put out a record and call in all his favors. And he hunted me down from an old friend in Connecticut who called someone in New York said, “do you have Tommy’s number?” And he asked me if I would come up to New York. I was on my way up for the summer anyway; Hartford for the summer. And he put out a band called The Walter MIDI Group, but it’s m-i-d-i!
T: And you’ve got Arnold Hex. You’ve got Ivan Julian. You’ve got a whole bunch of heavy hitters that he pulled in there and I’m sending five of the ten songs on there. So if you get a chance, listen to some of the Walter MIDI Group.
P: Okay, The Walter MIDI Group. I’ve not heard of that one yet, but I was familiar with Mickey Leigh and The Rattlers so I will check that out.
So that’s interesting that Roger approached you [about playing]. That’s pretty cool.
T: It was very cool. He’s been like a brother ever since.
P: Yeah, we liked Roger because we’d seen him in a band called November Charlie. In fact, I made a CD of November Charlie. I should send you a copy because he was in the band with his… I’ve just found out through Suzy that it was his Godfather, Mick Fazz. Do you know Mick?
P: Oh you should. Mick is a quite a guy. I’ll tell you what, I will email you later and get your address and I will send you a copy of the Basements/November Charlie CD with Roger on the November Charlie material, So it’s a split CD of about six or eight tracks each. Mick gave us the tapes and The Basements is an all-bass band. It’s like they saw Spinal Tap on Saturday live, and said that’s not so funny… let’s let’s do that for real!
P: But Mick is a hilarious guy so I think you might find it interesting and it’s where we first got wind of Roger back in the 90s.
T: He’s a great guy and hooked me up with Suzy who’s a great drummer and a great girl.
Tommy Frenzy is the real thing. What you see and hear is what you get. A gent who’s made plenty of room in his life for Rock music and now he’s off the daily grind and keeping the pace up with no one to answer to. He’s got plenty of music in him and sooner or later, it’ll get out to reach your ears if you point them in his direction. His new single is “Tighten Up Or Bounce” and it just came out a week ago, so hit it, Morty!