Tomás Tomás Breaks Out of the Suburbs with “Half Nelson”
Thomas Fattorusso used to be the typical American teen: he joined his high school football team, attended the usual suburban house parties and worked a summer job at his town’s local mall. However, after a friend introduced him to music production, Thomas realized that he’d merely been going through the motions.
After a period of artistic uncertainty and evolution, Thomas emerged as Tomás Tomás: a rising vocalist, producer and songwriter hailing from the small town of Monroe-Woodbury in Orange County, New York. Drawing from broad spectrum of influences ranging from Duran Duran to Timbaland, Tomás began his career as a producer for local artists in the Upstate area. He decided to pursue his passion and begin songwriting full-time after a couple of aimless years spent slacking in community college and working in local retail.
His debut single, “Lavender,” caught the ear of Indie Shuffle & Milk, after which he released a series of tracks in the lead-up to his first EP: the slow-dance synth-pop ballad “Pennies of Dime” and “Touch & Go,” which features a symphony of swelling synths accompanied by uniquely pensive musings. Tomás’ tracks navigate a fine line: at surface level, they typify the sonic exuberance of nu-disco or bedroom-pop, but they are underlaid with sober, introspective lyrics addressing memories both tangible and entirely imagined.
His latest single, “Half Nelson,” exemplifies this dichotomy, with airy instrumentation intertwining between wistful recollections of the people and places he yearns to both remember and forget. Ahead of his forthcoming debut EP, Tomás is exclusively premiering his new single today via TIDAL.
You’re from Orange County — the one in Upstate New York, not the one in California from the TV show. What was it like growing up there?
I’m from a really small town in Orange County called Monroe-Woodbury — the only things people care about up there are sports or whether or not you’re going to college. Stuff like that. It’s made up of a lot of people who were born there, which makes it kind of like a dream town in a way –– nothing ‘real’ goes on there. Nothing happens there.
It’s definitely in the sticks, but I wouldn’t say that it’s hick. Everything’s spread out and you can’t walk anywhere, but it’s a town where everybody knows everybody and is super conservative.
What did you listen to growing up in that environment?
My parents got divorced when I was six, but before they separated I remember only ever having listened to ‘80s music. Stuff like Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears. Some ‘90s sprinkled in, but very little modern stuff.
When my parents divorced, my mom stayed put and my dad moved to Washington Heights in Manhattan. I have a very vivid memory of driving through the city with my dad listening to ‘I Get Money’ by 50 Cent. I’m not sure what changed, he must’ve been influenced by stuff, but once they got divorced it became a really mixed bag of everything, musically speaking. A lot of rap, more modern stuff, practically anything besides country.
I still lived with my mom, but every other weekend I’d come down and spend the weekend with him. It was great then, and looking back it kind of prepared me for the life I live here now.
Was there a music scene in Monroe-Woodbury?
Not really. I mean, there is one, but nobody gives it any validity. Like I said, it’s a very conservative town, so anybody who does anything but going according to plan –– going to college, getting a job — you’re seen as a fuckup
Given that sentiment, was there pressure to not pursue music?
Yeah, I went to community college for two years, just trying to please my parents. All my friends were going to college. And I didn’t even start making music until after high school, so I was always that kid who never really knew what he was going to do. Everyone else had a plan, and I didn’t. I got to the point where I graduated, barely, and still had no idea what to do, so figured I’d try community college.
How did you get started making music?
I started making music my freshman year of college. The thing that really did it for me was A$AP Rocky’s Live. Love. A$AP album –– that really changed music in my eyes. The combination of the Clams Casino productions with Rocky’s effortless flows remains some of the best music I’ve ever heard.
I remember hitting up my friend and fellow artist Elijah Banksy, asking him ‘What do I need to do to get into this?’ He introduced me to Logic and FL Studio, and I gradually started off making beats.
But, as I progressed, I wanted to put out an actual song, so I released ‘Lavender’ in my second year and it was really well-received. And that made me think, ‘OK, this is actually what I need to be doing for the rest of my life. There’s no point going to school, because it’s going to distract me from this.’
You mentioned shifting your focus from production to writing solo work — what was behind this?
Right before creating ‘Lavender,’ I’d produced an entire EP for Elijah, which was a really important thing for me to do — making one cohesive project. But I remember once we finished Elijah sat me down and was like, ‘It’s great that you’re doing this stuff with me, but you need to focus more on yourself.’ It was great to learn everything I did about music and production from him, but it also made me realize I didn’t want to be someone’s producer any more. I wanted to put out my own solo work.
I was never the sort of kid who wrote poems or anything like that, maybe the occasional creative writing story for school. But, yeah, English was the only class I consistently got A’s in, and songwriting’s obviously a different skill than plain English, but I kind of look at writing a song the same way as writing an essay. You have your intro and then you want to build up toward something, and then there’s a follow-up action, and finally the resolution. But writing growing up was always something that came to me naturally — although I didn’t enjoy it until I started songwriting.
To what extent is your songwriting a reflection of your past/lived experiences vs. real-life memories?
I’m usually writing about a very specific instance. It might be inspired by a movie or a conversation, but it’s a tangible reminder of something that happened and that I experienced. Like, I remember ‘Pennies of Dime’ came about as the result of a situation I kept obsessing about. Same with ‘Lavender’ and ‘Touch & Go.’ If I’m going through something, I’m going to write a song to explain it to myself in a way. But it’s not something that I actively have to think about; I just get this urge where I need to sit down and write a song. If I ignore that urge, I simply can’t go on with my day. Things don’t work.
On the flipside, there are some days where I don’t feel like I have to make music. You can’t force it, you know? Sometimes when I’m writing, the right things come to my head, usually deriving from this one instance I’m fixated on. But sometimes not.
You’re crafting a well-curated image as an affable, approachable ‘class clown’ kind of individual. Does this reflect your personality in real life?
It’s really just a natural thing. Just being the truest version of myself. What can I say, I love to run humor! I guess I definitely am that friend who you can sit down and have a good time with, the typical happy-go-lucky guy that you want around. But when you get into my music, you see this other side of me, the stuff I internalize. Being funny is definitely a part of who I am, but there’s other stuff happening too.
High school really sucked; I was just trying my best to fit in. But as I got older I started hanging out with these friends who told me to just be myself, to not care about what other people think about me. And it really is just so much better like that. Growing up I didn’t even realize what I was doing, I never sat myself down and said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re not even being yourself. You’re just trying to fit in in the easiest way possible.’
I was just going through the motions without asking myself if I was even happy — and in my town those motions were joining the football team, going to shitty house parties, going to the same college as everyone else. But, weirdly, after everyone left for college, that pressure disappeared and I figured out who my true friends really are.
I don’t want to say I didn’t have a good time growing up with my friends in high school, because I did. But I think that once they all left and I was really on my own, I was able to focus on self-growth instead of just going with the flow. And this helped me come to realizations like, ‘OK, wow, I really want to make music,’ or, ‘OK, wow, I don’t give a fuck about how these people think I dress.’
It freed me in so many ways, made me realize there’s really no borders to what you can do artistically and personally. Like, I don’t care about what’s feminine or masculine, or if you get judged or not; it’s not important. And after I figured this out, I was just like ‘What the fuck was I doing all these years?’
Your artist name, Tomás Tomás, is pretty at odds with your Italian and Czechoslovakian heritage. Where did that come from?
My mom actually used to call me Tomás growing up, I’m not sure why. But one day my homie and I were discussing and he said, ‘It’s gotta be Tomás Tomás.’ I guess it’s kind of an homage to Duran Duran, all that old ‘80s stuff I used to be surrounded by. I wasn’t 100% sure about going all in on Tomás Tomás until I put out ‘Lavender,’ but releasing that track was kind of the thing that made the decision for me.
Talk to me about ‘Half Nelson.’ What’s the inspiration behind the track?
The track’s about change and not wanting to let go. I was actually inspired by my move to Fort Lee from Monroe-Woodbury; when I moved everything was different, I didn’t know anyone, and I was just alone making music. I think part of the hook sums it up perfectly: ‘And now the rain reminds me of home.’
It’s explaining how when I moved to Fort Lee the only thing that brought me comfort was opening my window and hearing that familiar sound. But there is this weird split, because home is also this boring, super-conservative place that I don’t really relate to. I guess it’s kind of split; the first verse is me wishing I had someone to guide me, and the second verse is me realizing that while I don’t need that, there are still memories and people from back home holding me back… strangling me.
The title was also partly inspired by the movie Half Nelson with Ryan Gosling. Obviously the subject matter is very different, I’m not a drug-addicted math teacher, but his whole life has gone to shit. There are so many things pulling him back that he can’t seem to get past, and at the time I moved that’s exactly how I felt. I didn’t relate to the character so much as I related to the themes; it’s stuff that everyone goes through.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m working on a project as we speak; it’s gonna be an EP, 4–5 songs, and it’s gonna focus on… Well, actually I’m going to keep that to myself for now (laughs). I just don’t like to rush things out; I love paying attention to every minute detail in the mix and the master. Every detail has to be perfect for me, the writing has to be perfect.
It’s as I said, when I feel inspired, I can sit down and work, but when I’m not it doesn’t happen. But I’m really excited to get this project out there and off my chest. I think it demonstrates how much my writing style has developed. It’s addressing a bunch of stuff and is ultimately closure for me; closure for a time in my life that I’m happy to have experienced, but also am ready to get it out there and live new experiences.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone visiting Orange County?
(Laughs) Go check out the Woodbury Commons I guess? It’s like a really big mall; they do great discounts (laughs). Yeah, I worked there as a seasonal employee once and they didn’t ask me to return so… But it’s literally the nexus of the Monroe-Woodbury universe; it’s outdoors and it’s not so bad on a nice day.
But on a real note, try not to upset anybody. Everyone’s a hunter; people are carrying weapons more often than you’d think. So, I’d keep to yourself, and don’t upset the locals!
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