Tom Heyman – Beyond the Blazes
A couple years ago, Tom Heyman packed up his Philadelphia home and headed out to San Francisco, leaving behind a twelve-year legacy of writing songs and playing guitar for the alcohol-fueled, honky-tonkin’ rock band Go To Blazes. The move has proven to be productive; he has already been involved with a couple of happening groups (Map Of Wyoming and Court And Spark) and has put together a band of his own. In October, he released his solo debut, Boarding House Rules, on Interstate Records.
Before their split, Go To Blazes released a half-dozen albums and developed a sizable following in Europe and the United States. Their red-eyed and rowdy gigs at Maggie’s Bar in Philadelphia are legendary. But the band called it quits after returning from a long European tour promoting what became their final album, Waiting Around For The Crash. While they were out supporting the record, their U.S. label, East Side Digital, was going out of business; the combination of losing their label, along with their desires to explore other interests, led to the break.
Heyman took the opportunity to move to San Francisco. Not long after arriving he put together a band, started to gig and then did some recording. “Man, the whole thing has happened so fast,” he says. “After moving I met up with bassist Rob Douglas through an old friend of mine, and I had known Todd [Preuss], the drummer, for years. We all just started playing and beating the songs into shape, and I said ‘You know, I’m just going to go record.'”
Heyman booked some studio time and hired Chris Von Sneidern to do the recording. “I knew Chris would work fast and make things sound good,” he says. Working on a limited budget, they put down 11 tracks in eight hours. Later they took the tapes over to Von Sneidern’s home studio to put on the final touches. Stephanie Finch and Dieselhed’s Virgil Shaw came in to add some backing vocals, and Chuck Prophet laid down some guitar.
“I knew that Chuck could bring something cool to ‘Born To Bleed’,” Heyman says of a rockin’ track written by Bruce Langfeld, “and Chris thought that Virgil’s high tenor voice would sound good singing along with me.” The accompaniment works well, but it’s Heyman’s own voice that really shines on Boarding House Rules. His warm, smooth drawl has a friendly way of luring you into each tune.
Once you’re brought into Heyman’s world it’s hard to leave, but traveling there is not always a happy trip. Most of the songs lie on the darker side of life, but Heyman has a way of adding a pop sensibility to lighten the air. You can find yourself grooving along with a smile on your face and then realize he’s relating a story of a lonely wife sending her son, once again, to the bar to bring his drunken father back home. When I ask him if the songs are a reflection of his own life, he replies, “Like so many things, none of them are really true, but they’re based on people I know or who are close to me.”
Heyman started out calling his band Triple Shiner, but he soon decided to go with his own name. “It’s me, it’s what it is, so I figured quit hiding behind it,” he explains. “Having a band name gives you the luxury to do other things and not be pinned down by the singer-songwriter kind of thing, but I figured, what the hell, that’s what I am.”
Still, Boarding House Rules is a singer-songwriter album in the same way a Kris Kristofferson or Billy Joe Shaver album is. The songs cover a lot of ground, and the band doesn’t hesitate to turn it loose now and then. In fact, Heyman lets the album end with a long, loose jam that teeters on the edge of Southern rock.
Though many of the tunes suggest influences from Nashville and Texas songwriters of the ’70s, Heyman says, “The influence is less than you might think; my tastes are pretty eclectic. To me it doesn’t sound any more like a ’70s country record than it does a Humble Pie record.”
Looking at his band, it’s not hard to see what sparks such diversity. Preuss’ drumming experience comes from playing with Helios Creed and A Subtle Plague along with various free-jazz and improv bands. Douglas, who comes from a background of soul, R&B and country, spent several years in the Austin-based Naughty Ones, which featured ex-members of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Evan Johns & the H-Bombs.
Fronting a band is a new endeavor for Heyman, but he seems to be relishing in the moment. He’s been getting out and playing shows, trying to promote his album, because, in his words, “This is what I wanted, and now it’s time to act.”