Musician Tommy Kessler joined me for a Coffee Break to chat about his career to date. Tommy is a guitarist with the iconic band Blondie. Blondie are currently touring Australia with Cyndi Lauper.
This tour of Australia and New Zealand is one to savour as Blondie will be co-headlining with Cyndi Lauper. Are you looking forward to returning to Australia?
I always enjoy coming to Australia. The trip is long to get here but I find it’s a very easy place to adjust to quickly. The fans here are always very receptive to us being here as well and I feed off of that energy on stage.
How did you become the guitarist for Blondie?
Matt (keyboards) called me one day and asked if I was interested in auditioning for the band. My name came up to him through a couple of mutual friends and Matt had been recommended to me as a sub for “Rock Of Ages” (Broadway).
Are you able go into further details about the upcoming album “Pollinator” which will be Blondie’s eleventh studio album?
I think this album is a good example of how the band sounds currently and I’m very excited as well as proud of it. We had a great time recording it and taking the songs and making them Blondie songs as a band. I hope fans who have might not been fans of the last couple albums will give this one a shot with fresh ears. It’s well worth it.
What was it like to perform in “Rock of Ages” on Broadway as a member in the rock band Arsenal?
“Rock Of Ages” was such a fun time and experience that I am so happy to have had. I never really expected to do a Broadway show, let alone one that would make a 6 year run. Joel Hoekstra called me one day and asked me to be his sub for Guitar 1 and weeks later I was doing Guitar 2 with Joel on Guitar 1. You learn a lot when you are in a controlled environment like that where you do the same show 8 times a week for 6 years.
Does it sound surreal when people mention that you have performed more than 1000 times on Broadway musical with “Rock of Ages“?
Anytime you look back and think about performing in a show that many times it does feel surreal. I’m not sure I’ll ever play that many shows with anyone in my lifetime. The numbers add up when it’s 8 shows a week for 6 years.
Are you able to tell me about “I Love the ‘90s” show?
Absolutely. It’s what I am currently doing every Friday at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC. The band is called “The Fresh Kids Of Bel-Air” and I would say it’s nothing short of the best 90’s themed party you could ever see. We play 2 hours straight of all the hits you’d want from the 90’s. Backstreet Boys to Green Day and Kris Kross, it’s all in our set. Before we have a DJ warming everyone up and then keeping the party going after.
Why did you decide to play guitar as your mother Linda, is a classically trained pianist?
The main reason I decided to play guitar in the beginning was how successful she already was by the time she was my age. I didn’t want to have to live up to that. Once I picked up the guitar, it wasn’t long before I was very happy with my decision but I do still enjoy writing a lot on the piano.
Who were your musical influences growing up?
My first concert was Van Halen and then shortly after that my big influence was Randy Rhoads. I pull from a lot of different influences. The right hand technique of James Hetfield and the riffs of Dimebag Darrell. I always liked the lead playing of Eddie Van Halen, Slash and Randy Rhoads. I could go on forever but those are the 5 names that show up a lot in conversation and I see in my own playing.
Can you tell me about your involvement with the Blue Man Group?
I joined Blue Man Group about 10 years ago. It was my first real name thing that I had done when I moved to NYC. I was so excited and proud when I was brought into the band for the show in NYC. I do shows there when I’m in NYC as a sub for all of the string instruments.
Do you get time to sleep Tommy, as you’re also a songwriter and producer. What other projects have you been associated with?
I can always find time to sleep, just sometimes not for a full night! I spent a lot of years writing in my studio with my good friend Carlo Colasacco and he’s gone onto being a very successful songwriter. It was during that time that I learned a lot about writing, recording and mixing. We did everything on our own through trial and error in my studio that was being slowly built during the 6 years of “Rock Of Ages”. I’ve mixed a handful of records for Joel Hoekstra. My first experience at producing and writing an entire album with a band was with “Telling On Trixie”. That was another huge learning experience and pre “Rock Of Ages”. I music direct as well and am currently working with Liz Asaro on putting her shows together for her new album.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
My biggest piece of advice is to play with as many people as you can. Half of making a living in music is just who you know and if people enjoy you being around. You have to be able to play your instrument but you don’t need to practice 100% of the time. I think a good balance between playing and business is best.
Tommy, we are both fans of Wheels & Dollbaby. How did you discover this Australian fashion label?
I met Melanie through the band. Melanie and Mark have been friends with the band prior to me being in it and I met them the first time I came to Australia. I loved Mark’s pants and Melanie offered to make me a pair using a pair of my jeans. I think her eye for fashion is great and am always pushing her to release more stuff for men…. so I can wear it!
Do you have any hobbies?
I used to race cars when I was younger so I love cars and enjoy driving them. I have been fortunate enough to be trusted with some really beautiful cars due to also being able to drive them instead of just look at them. I also collect old video games like the NES, SNES, Sega and N64. I usually end up with new games every time we go out and when I get home, I clean them and play them in my spare time.
What is your favourite food?
It’s usually Mexican food with a close second to Indian.
Do you have a favourite movie?
One of my all times favourites is Pulp Fiction.
What is your idea of a good holiday?
With my schedule? Sleeping in a comfortable bed in the middle of nowhere.
What is the last album you listened to?
Ariana Grande “Dangerous Woman”.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what items would you take with you?
A chicken, a rooster and an acoustic guitar.
Is there anything which you don’t you leave home without?
Anytime we go on tour I usually bring some sort of video game system and a game or two to play through. Right now it’s a Nintendo DS Lite with Final Fantasy III.
What’s next for Tommy Kessler?
I’m in the process of forming my own Tequila Brand. We are going through all the trade marking process right now but keep an eye out for that within the next year!
For more about Tommy Kessler, visit his official website, or you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or You Tube.
Images kindly supplied by Tommy Kessler.