10 Questions with Tommy Link
-written by Nat Richmond
Walk me through your self-discovery with your Musical gifts
Singing and story-telling were the things that drew me into being a musician. My mother had me take piano lessons at a young age, and while I'm grateful for that education now, playing an instrument didn't speak to me at the time. I liked musicals and I liked song-writers who incorporated story-telling into their music (Bob Dylan and Billy Joel were some of the first I latched onto). Auditioning and the idea of being in musicals felt too intimidating for me, and once I started taking guitar lessons at 16, I enjoyed getting to a level of ability playing and singing from the comfort of my room before I was ready to start performing in front of others.
What is your favorite instrument to play, and why?
The guitar (mostly because it's the only instrument I'm any good at!). I'm romanced by the piano, and at some point I would like to make the time to return to it. But for a singer-songwriter, a guitar is everything you need. Portable, versatile, and you can sing while you play it.
What artists have been an inspiration for you?
Starting out playing guitar, I was drawn to a lot of singer songwriters from the 60s and 70s. Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Carole King, Paul Simon, Jim Croce and many others of the like. Once I turned 21 and started playing the bars in Erie, it was near mind blowing to discover I was in a community of amazing musicians. Claire Stuczynski, Doug Phillips, Matt Boland, Dom DeCecco, Tom Hitt, Matt Texter and Tony Kellogg were only a handful of people here in Erie I learned from just by watching them play. In looking for more modern influences in music, Regina Spektor and Michael Kiwanuka have been two major inspirations for me in recent years.
What has been your hardest song to write thus far?
On my 2021 album 'Grow', I released a song called "The Badge". It references the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The relationship I have kept between my art and my convictions (political and otherwise) has always been nuanced. I am inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and felt moved to write a song to express my sadness and anger regarding murders at the hands of law enforcement, but I held concerns in creating art regarding the suffering of a community I am not part of. While it might feel natural to write a song about an event that is big enough to change the world, it was still very hard to find what felt like the appropriate and respectful way to create something about these people whose lives were taken from them so unjustly. I still may not be fully sure that I did it right, but it's important to me that I wrote and recorded that song and that the world knows it's part of who I am.
What creatively inspires you to stretch beyond your comfort zone?
Watching bands perform beyond what I can do as a solo acoustic performer. I've been performing exclusively as a solo act since 2017. Seeing the different ways groups interact and perform really gets me to start thinking about what I want to create next. Smaller groups (2, 3, 4 piece bands) help me visualize how to make the most of dynamics, while bigger groups have given me an appreciation of choreography and horn sections.
How do you feel like you impact the Music culture here in Erie?
Recently, I would say it's by playing A LOT of music! It was a very busy summer, and I'm very grateful for Erie and the great scene we have in the tri state area. I always like to find who's releasing new music in the area and share it where I can. I don't have the biggest online presence, but just like having a lot of ones in your tip jar, if enough people do the little things, they can go a long way! I'm interested in finding more ways for people to share their original music in Erie. I hosted a songwriter night in Edinboro for a few summers (2016 was the last one, I can't believe that was already 6 years ago!), and I have been musing about starting something like that again, especially if it were possible to make something that was more of a performance venue event as opposed to a background bar show. It's all about finding the right place.
What is your most important goal as an artist?
I'm focusing on having a set of songs that I really feel like I have mastery of. Playing a lot of 3 hour shows, I've ended up with a pretty wide repertoire, and while I wouldn't play anything if I thought I didn't play it well, I do worry about a "quantity over quality" scenario. It's important to me as a songwriter when the times come to play a set that's an hour or less, I'll be confident to say "these songs are the ones that define me as a performer and an artist".
Name any artist that you’d love to collaborate with and why
As mentioned earlier in the questions, I'm sort of scoping the market currently. I'm still formulating what kind of instruments I'd be looking for, but I'm very interested in finding some people to work with on getting some bigger shows next year and to work on recording with. Drummers, guitarists, strings players, horn players... I don't know what I want to do yet, but the gears are turning. I also recently collaborated on music video with Brooke Surgener. We did a cover of Jim Croce's "Operator" together. And if we're wishing on stars, my dream would be to write a song with Regina Spektor. I idolize her song writing.
Do you have any upcoming musical projects that we should know about?
I plan on getting back to the studio to start recording now that my performing schedule is slowing with the change of the seasons. I'm bad at deadlines, so anybody reading this, please, hold me to it! Say "Hey Tommy, read that interview where you said you're working on releasing some new music! When's it coming??" I also have a collection of original Christmas music I released in 2019 that I'm thinking about expanding on. I'm a bit of a cheeseball when it comes to the holiday season.
Any final thoughts?
Thank you so much for all you do! Erie Arts and Culture has been such a gateway for giving the music scene in Erie so many opportunities to shine, and giving the community so many great events to enjoy! I am continually honored to be a part of it!