Tom Riddle is a multi talented musician out of Milwaukee that is a backstage pass member of Wisconsin Music Ventures. I had the opportunity to sit down and meet with him in his electrifying record studio, Stories Studios.
Me: Where are you originally from?
Tom: So I was born in Georgia in a military family, so my father, both my mom and dad were in the army. My dad was a command sergeant and we got moved around a lot. I’m from Georgia, Indiana and Florida. I moved to Wisconsin in ’99. After I left Indiana University, I went back home to Florida and said “I hate it here: and was dating a girl from Milwaukee long distance. And I said, “Well, I’ll give Milwaukee a year of my life, see how it is,” and I’ve never left.
Me: How did you hear about Wisconsin Music Ventures?
Tom: I was in a festival tribute act called MixTape with Suzanne Singh. And Suzanne was involved with Constant music Ventures and was sharing posts and information about it. And then I got to know Allison through social media. And I’m a big believer in community, like the rising tide raises all boats. And I really am into anybody who’s trying to do something that’s more of a unification like, “Hey, let’s all get together, let’s all try and do this.” That’s why I like Wisconsin Music Ventures breaking and entering people who are really interested in what we’re actually doing here as opposed to just going to Summerfest or state fair and being wholly disappointed in how many bands are playing Journey at once.
Me: What inspired you to pursue music?
Tom: My mom and dad were both singers. My dad played guitar poorly, but sang country music really well. And my mom was a traditional Mexican folk singer. And so I just grew up in it. I grew up with two people that sang to each other, sang to me. I was singing from the time I was able to walk and I never when I was young, I played piano. My mom made me take it. And I never really saw singing as the thing I would do. I got involved in middle school, started playing saxophone, and did that all the way through high school. That’s what took me to Indiana University to study with Russo and do classical saxophone. Two years into classical saxophone, I said, “No thank you.” It’s a crazy competitive world. Everybody plays saxophone like people you didn’t even know. But it was really my parents. To go all the way back to it, it was my mom and dad who inspired me to do it and I’ve had some pretty crazy good mentors along the way who’ve never let me quit. They push you to your limits for sure. And I appreciate it at every step.
Me: How would you describe your style of music?
Tom: My longest standing group Lithic, which most people here in Milwaukee know me from, was very progressive hard rock. We wanted to be Tool for a few years, realized nobody was going to play eight minute songs on the radio, met some really cool producers from Capitol Records who came and worked with us, shortened our songs so Lithic was very much modern hard rock. But as for what I’m up to now, I’m in a band called Obelus. Obelus is the name for the division symbol. My guitar player is half my age and we both write from very different life perspectives and experiences. Me being an old cis male and her being a young female, we kind of came together with different perspectives and we focused on electro rock. We’re trying to write music that feels like movie trailers. That’s the goal for us is we’re trying to write dramatic pieces that are moving and fun. I was born in the late 70s and there’s a cynicism if you went through the 80s and you experienced it because we were sold big toys and war toys and G.I. Joes and all this stuff and all these cool things. But we dreamt of this, you know, society dreamt of this really pretty future. But we were playing with very violent kinds of things and we just built the violent stuff and never the pretty future. It’s a big story arc about what if they dreamt that God did things on earth too? And how it’s about our own internal conflict with our own power and our own gravity. But it’s about people’s response to that system. Avery loves when I talk about the story, I think it kind of diminishes people’s interest in the band. So I try to keep it minimal, but it’s great. I think we’re looking where we’re going now with Obelus. As wild as it sounds, we’re like A Perfect Circle or Polyphia, because she’s an amazing guitar player with this crazy rhythmic kind of sense, especially with the newer things we’re working on.
Me: What is the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?
Tom: Meaning don’t chase fame, don’t chase the pinnacle of what this thing is supposed to be or can be, but chase the love of it. Chase mastery, you know, I think if my teachers said that you will be the best you if you are in it because that’s what you want to do. You’ll be successful. You’ll have food on the table and you’ll be good. But if you chase anything but that, it’s hollow and it starts to get thin. Yeah, and I can’t even pin down the first time I heard it. But every happy musician I’ve ever met in my life would tell you that they don’t care about fame. And they’ve just really kind of chased being better than them. And so I think to any young musician to chase mastery the world will reward you for mastery. They will not reward you for being cool.
Me: What other things do you like to do outside of music?
Tom: So I have a music degree too, just so that’s not lost. I am a kinesiologist more commonly known as a physical therapist or a clinical massage therapist. I do all of them. I’ve done that as a job since my teen years. It is one of the first trades I learned. I’m a blacksmith. I ran a blacksmithing company with my ex wife for many years here in Wisconsin called Center Forge. I still make horseshoes and tools and do fun stuff with my kids in the garage. Mainly my number one priority outside of my time here in the studio is being a dad because my kids are in high school and they’re almost gone. And so I quit most of my I was in six bands a couple of years ago and I just thin the herd. I’m going to write with Obelus and record with these guys and be home on the weekends. So I was doing 220 shows a year. And while it’s beautiful and I loved it, you know, I missed a lot of summers with my kids and vacations because I was gigging. And so I just decided until they’re settled in their life, I’ve got plenty to do.
Me: What are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming projects or performances?
Tom: Currently with Obelus we are working on a brand new EP. We’re two songs in. We’re also working on a full performance music video which is the actual first EP in its entirety start to finish as a performance piece, meaning there will be a video accompaniment that tells the story that talks and there will be no talking by the band just so we’re working on developing that now because her and I are the only people in the band. We’re working with other musicians to develop this system. I’m also recording and producing a lot of stuff for a lot of people. I’ve got a new record coming out from a guy named Cian Radcliff, that’s going to be really cool, man. My oldest son has his new single, it just went to mastering yesterday, so that’s awesome.