TOMI JBL Emerging Interview: "Late Bloomer is about being empowered”

In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, L.A-based producer and songwriter TOMI (real name Pam Autuori) explains why she’s a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, reveals the musical influences that have shaped her sound, and teases what fans can expect from her new album, Late Bloomer, which will be released in 2023.

Writing music for the most of her life, New Yorker TOMI’s music is characterised by ferocious guitar and resounding vocals – an unfettered, urgent, and emotionally affecting sound that was forged from a ruthless determination to sing, play, and do things her own way, even in the face of life’s obstacles.

For TOMI, music has been a sanctuary since coming out as a lesbian at age 12, and she fights to protect the LGBTQ+ community through her music. Her latest single, Open Road is a song about coming out, facing the truest parts of your identity and sharing that vulnerability with others, and TOMI will be donating a % of revenue from the single to nonprofits supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

TOMI recently visited Harman’s L.A. experience centre to experience a full tour of the multi purpose space, and perform two of her tracks:

Is New York where you grew up?

I was born in Connecticut but I lived in New York for a long time. I like to consider myself a New Yorker. Now I’m in L.A, I have had to learn to slow down and to be patient when I'm getting coffee! Now I just meditate in line [laughs].

What kind of venues were you playing in New York?

I played shows probably three times a week. I was living in Brooklyn so I played all the old punk bars like The Trash Bar, Spike Hill – every dingy, drunk bar, I was playing!

I wanted to put it out because it felt like a really big part of my story.

When did you decide it was time to move to L.A.?

I was walking in the winter and this cold wind slapped me in the face, and it was my boiling point [laughs]. I was like, “I have to get out of here”. I just wanted to have quiet. I wanted to have a little house. 

I saw my friends who moved out here and they were like, “I have a house and I pay less rent than you”. So that was a big selling point, and I like being in nature – it’s really helpful to let your mind relax. I love New York though. I love the energy. I love the conversations there.

What is your songwriting process like?

My best songs come from writing lyrics – I do a lot of free writing. Then I'll sit and play a couple of chords on my guitar and read that page of words and just pull things out. From there I'll finesse the song and create the story that I am trying to tell. 

I usually don't go into it with an idea – it forms on its own as I figure out what I'm feeling and what I'm trying to say. It's very rare that I go in like, “I'm gonna write a song about this today”. It's more about capturing a feeling that I'm experiencing in real time.

Social media is my frenemy. I love the fact that I can talk to anybody, anywhere.

What were some of your early musical influences?

I grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen – I’m an East Coast girl – and there was a lot of pop music when I was a teenager. As I got older I got really into Brandi Carlile and big female vocals. 

That has been a huge influence – she's done it her own way. She was with a major label and got dropped, but didn't give up and kept going. I really love her story.

Why is it so important for you to be a strong advocate of the LGBTQ+ community?

I love the community here. I'm a big LGBTQ+ community advocate. I have found everybody to be incredibly supportive, there’s a tonne of musicians here. 

Everyone shows up to the gigs and is cheering the whole time. It is a really nice place to be for that support.

As an emerging artist, how do you utilise social media to promote yourself?

Social media is my frenemy. I love the fact that I can talk to anybody, anywhere. I think that's really special. Especially with touring, there's people that I met when I played a show three or four years ago, and I can still DM them and they can check in and see what's going on. I love that aspect of it. 

I find it to be a little complicated because I prefer to see people in real life and to perform in real life. In the pandemic, playing to my phone was really disorienting and it made me go inward, which is why I wrote a folk album. I was like, “And now I will be sad!”

What does your recording process normally look like?

I'm kind of a one-song-at-a-time person. I like to finish the song and move on. My demos usually make it into the final cut. 

I really like using the same vocal that I recorded because it's usually the exact emotion I'm going for, because I'm going through the experience of whatever I'm talking about. Grabbing that when it's fresh is really important to me.

My best songs come from writing lyrics – I do a lot of free writing.

Your EP, Sweet, Sweet Honey was recorded and released during the worldwide lockdown. What was that process like?

I flew home to Connecticut and I was at my parents’ place for three months. I honestly wrote it as a practice of just coming back to my roots of playing guitar and focusing on my lyrics and my storytelling. 

I was never going to release it. It really was just going to be for me. As I started to develop the production of it, I was just like, “This is something I'm really proud of”. It's not about the numbers. It's not about how many people are hearing it; I wanted to put it out because it felt like a really big part of my story.

What can you tell us about your upcoming album Late Bloomer?

I started that process at the beginning of 2020 and then I came back to it. I didn't know at the time if I wanted to release it, but again, it was a very big part of my story. I took a couple of the songs and I actually re-recorded them. 

I kept the vocals andI re-recorded everything else. I wanted to bring it into the realm of what I want to be and who I am and where I'm going – live with my band. It's a piece of the puzzle. It's the whole thing..

What thread is there between your EP and the new album?

The EP is very introverted and lyrical, and this is very in your face and extroverted. It has this duality, which I really enjoy. I think, especially as the album progresses, you can hear where the EP weaves into it. 

Sonically, it starts to feel like the EP does and then there's a nice tie at the end between the two. 

It's about coming into your own voice. It's about being empowered by yourself, having to be your own cheerleader, and being in your 20s. It's about my time in New York. It's about how to find your own voice and to listen to the voice inside of your head that's giving you the right advice – and just to follow that. 

I think that's really hard for a lot of people to do. We go through that process, and hopefully, we come out the other end better for it.

Interview at the Harman L.A. experience centre conducted by Will Hawkins / Photography by Michelle Shiers.