Edward Burnett chats to Chicago based band Tough Ombres about their origins, how their Christmas went and their shows during the pandemic which have been held with social distancing over in the United States!
RNRR: Hi Tough Ombres! How are you guys doing? Would you mind introducing what you do and where you are from to our readers who may be unfamiliar with your work?
TO: Hi! We have been called “The New Alternative“ with a full spectrum of sound. Our back grounds are diverse in R&B, thrash-metal, blues and hard-rock. Lead singer, bass and drummer (Jeff, Nikki, Dave) are from Chicago. Guitarist (Tony) is from New York. We started this band to have no walls around our music. We pride ourself in giving our audience a high octane show with diverse music that leaves everyone entertained and musically pleased. We will be releasing 7 EP’s throughout early 2021. We are currently in studio wrapping up production on our new songs. Thanks for having us on!
RNRR: Nice to meet you! So how did all of you meet? Is there some crazy, cross-state origin story with Tony being from New York or was it the simple case of you were all close friends?
TO: In our opinion, it’s a cool story. Lead singer Jeff and myself Nikki went to high school together. Jeff was in R&B bands and Chicago House Music bands. I was in the rock/metal scene. Jeff would sing at house parties and I always thought he had a killer voice. Moving a couple years later, Tony and I are playing in a thrash-metal band. Tony was living in Chicago for only a year or two and he took the call to be a drummer not a guitarist for thrash band. Tony played the drums and then after playing drums he went to guitar just for fun. The minute he started playing guitar, both myself and our rhythm guitarist could not believe what we were hearing. Tony was unbelievable as a guitarist, he was fired as our dummer and became our lead guitarist that same day. Two years with the changes of constant lead singers and drummers killed the spirit of the band. Tony and myself quit the band to start families and careers. Fast forward 10 years later I run into Jeff at a local establishment. We start talking about high school days and that we both were playing in bands after and missed the natural energy of playing a show in front of fans and making music. I tell him that I would be starting a band soon and would let him tryout. Forward a year later I take an advert from a drummer looking to start up a band. This is where I met Dave (Drummer). He was such a powerful drummer at our first rehearsal so I was not going to lose him. So, I called Tony (Guitarist) up and said that I found a drummer and drove 50 miles to pick up Tony to bring him to practice. It was fantastic! Tony, Dave and myself came from all the same musical backgrounds. I then called Jeff (Singer) and gave him 3 cover songs to play. He came in and nailed it! We were so impressed that he had a fantastic voice. I called him the next day to join the band. And the rest is history.
RNRR: Sounds like a great story to me! So let’s take it forward to the present. What are you guys doing now, have you restarted live shows yet after the pandemic? In addition to that question, how has the pandemic affected you as a band? What difficulties arises because of this worldwide Covid situation?
TO: We are finishing up 7 EP’s to be released in early 2021. It has been difficult with the pandemic but we are marching on. We have been playing shows. Any way we can help out local venues and establishments, we have. A lot of shows have had late cancellations and rescheduling but the shows that we have played have been great! Even with social distancing, the energy from our fans at shows has been spectacular. When playing during the pandemic whether at a venue or local establishment it is sometimes surreal knowing that this may be the last show that they have for a while. So every show we are trying to outdo the last. The band has definitely gotten closer thanks to the pandemic. We decided early that we were going to continue playing shows and continue writing. It was scary at the beginning because we were looked at as being crazy, but it was the right decision for the band. It has definitely opened up doors for us.
RNRR: I’d also like to enquire about the band’s inspiration. What previous musical acts were each member’s heroes? Were there certain musical figures which inspired each of you to try and go professional in the music world? Are there famous bands that your own style has been influenced by?
TO: Jeff’s inspirations would be Same Cooke or Donny Hathaway whereas Boys 2 Men, Color Me Badd and Silk pushed him to the R&B direction.
Tony’s inspirations would have to be Jimmy Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen. Kiss, Metallica and Van Halen all pushed him towards the direction of playing. Dave inspirations are Stewart Copland and Vinnie Paul with Pantera and The Police has inspired his playing. My (Nikki) own inspirations are Rex Brown, Michael Anthony and Steve Harris. Kiss, Iron Maiden, Van Halen and Slipknot made me want to go professional.
RNRR: So now we are in January, how was the band’s Christmas? Could you celebrate it together or was it more of a family affair for each of you? Does Christmas mean a lot to each of you in particular?
TO: Christmas was fantastic. As a band we always have our Christmas Band Party a week before and it takes us a week to recover (laughs)! That is always one of our funnest times of the year. We will have a practice with our closest friends. They call out songs that they would like to hear (original or cover) and we will play it for them. After, we will go to the local establishment and just have a blast. Christmas does mean a lot for us because 3 out of the 4 members have families with children. So we try to show our families even in a band you are always humble and thankful for what you have. That it is not about getting but giving to others. Especially this year, just a phone call to a grandparent or a call to a family member that you can not see makes all the difference.
RNRR: A beautiful message there for sure. Now that 2021 has arrived, what do the band have in store for the year? Where would you guys like to be in regards to career progression come next December?
TO: 2021 has arrived and we are excited. We will be releasing those 7 singles this year. The first 3 to be released this month (February). We will be filming our first video in March. Then we will be hitting the road in late March in the Midwest and Southeast (show dates TBA). Then we will be back into the studio November to start recording for 2022. We would like to have our original music getting attention globally. With fans being able to enjoy our live music again in venues all over. We are looking forward to a savage year!
RNRR: Are you aiming for all 7 singles to be of the same genre or are you wanting to experiment on a couple too? Have you got any collaborations lined up to feature alongside the guys in any of the upcoming singles?
TO: We do have a mixture of genre for the 7 singles to come out. Songs will go from R&B, blues, rock, heavy-metal and a little pop-country. That is one of the funnest things about creating music, you play what feels and sound right for the song. As we are in the process of releasing new music we are always writing. There has been talks with a DJ in the Chicagoland area to collaborate with. Coming from Chicago, house music and hip-house music was huge and had an undeniable influence on us. We have a song that we are creating that will need a DJ’s touch. It will be wild, infusing two different genres to create a sound that we grew up with. We also love to play out live with a brass section (when they are available). There are talks of a show this spring where we will do a 6 song Motown cover set before we get into our blistering set. This year will definitely be fun!
RNRR: So talking of changing genres and experimenting, as well as us now being in a new year, now seems a good time to ask the following question. What music have you guys been listening to in 2020 that caught your ears with its inventiveness? Any bands or solo artists you’ve really dug?
TO: To be honest, when we are making music, musical inspiration comes in on the production side but not the creative side. This is the first band I have been in where we do not have walls to stop a direction. Once the song has an identity, we start to mould it to a genre that feels correct. For music inspiration, that comes in later. For an example, we were trying to figure out cool harmonies for a section on one of our songs that will be released this year. We started to listen to old Beach Boys albums for those key elements on what Brian Wilson did. It gave us the knowledge to try different harmonies. Similarly, on another song we were looking for an acoustic sound and could only describe it on a Waylon Jennings album. So yes, music inspiration did feature on upcoming songs.
RNRR: Staying on the topic of media but moving away from music itself, are you guys big film watchers in your spare time? Do you have any firm favourite movies?
TO: Jeff and Dave are ‘Avengers’, ‘Black Panther’ and anything with Marvel or DC comic related fans. ‘John Wick’, ‘Halloween’ (2018), ‘Cobra Kai’, ‘Stranger Things’ are also firm favourites.
RNRR: Do you feel that film is just as an important media medium as music in conveying emotion and life messages or do you regard music as still the main source of creative influence in entertainment culture?
TO: I do feel that film is just as important. Movies with a smaller budget seem to have more of a creative aspect to me. Soundtracks on movies and tv shows have been excellent. There has been such a diversity of new artists and old. I feel that movies and new shows have been an enormous outlet to showcase different genres of music and introducing music to a new generation.
RNRR: Well that leaves me with just one last question to ask you. Every Spotlight we do, we always pose the problem of being stranded on a desert island to our guests with the option of only choosing one album to listen to for the rest of their lives. Tough Ombres, what are you picking and more crucially, why?
TO: What a great question! I think as individuals in the band, there would be different albums picked. For Tough Ombres as a band, I would say Alice In Chains’ ‘Dirt’. The songs on this album kind of brought all of us together when we first started. It was one of the first bands we had Jeff audition to. Still to this day, if we cover any song on that album it always gets a great reaction from the crowd. If we were stuck on an island we all could dig the album until we are picked up or left as bones!
RNRR: Some great choices there and perfect reasoning too! Thanks for coming onto Spotlight guys, it’s been a pleasure.
If you'd like to find out more about Tough Ombres or keep up to date with their new releases throughout the year, the links to all their socials can be found below via the icons: