Tom Ugly is blowing critics out of the water with his boppy garage style. Last year saw him, with band in tow, win the Triple J Unearthed High competition under their original band name, [is] and things just seem to be getting better for the Sydney locals.
Though still finishing his HSC, Tom took time to talk to us about big calls from critics, the fear of finding your new album on torrent sites, and the fear of not finding your new album on torrent sites.
Music Feeds: So first up, I’ve gotta ask the obvious: You’re still at school aren’t you? How do you balance school and touring?
Tom Ugly: It’s pretty good, just a matter of finding time to squeeze everything in. It’s hectic but there’s still time to do all your stuff and finish it all, try to get it to the best performance level.
MF: The new EP dropped recently. Have you been keeping an eye on the sales?
TU: The EP came out Aug 21st. We just got the ARIA rank for it today. The physical release was ranked 23rd. We’re next to like Beyonce and stuff.
MF: So you’re keen to see it all unfolding?
TU: I don’t discover it myself, I get told everything. I don’t go out of my way to find it out because it’s kind of stressful. It’s not totally stressful but it’s not worth thinking about when you’ve gotta do your HSC and your tours to think about. Winning the Unearthed High competition was kinda like getting a good UAI.
MF: So has your new found fame affected you at high school?
TU: Nah, not really. My school is a performing arts school so there’s lots of musicians there. I guess respect has risen but the way they interact with me hasn’t changed.
MF: When did you change the name from [is]?
TU: We changed to Tom Ugly in November or October last year. It was a big scary thing because it was only two months after winning the competition. We were afraid people wouldn’t recognise the change, or be pissed off about the change. But it went pretty smoothly I think. I wasn’t sick of the name but I think we outgrew the name. We came up with the name in year 7 and it was sort of a joke name. We changed it because most of the industry people were suggesting we change it, because of Google searches and stuff like that. People would try to search and wouldn’t be able to find us. The brackets we put around it didn’t help people with databases either. Tom Ugly you can search.
MF: You teamed up with Billabong to do your releases rather than choosing a label. What prompted you to do that?
TU: They were originally asking us to use our music for videos and stuff. It was around the same time that we were thinking about getting a label and I guess the whole prospect of a label was in the back of our minds. So they eventually said ‘how bout we do a video clip with you as well’. So they wanted to do this and this and we thought how bout this and this, it sort of evolved into what it is. They’re basically doing what a label does but they’re cooler guys and there’s not as many restrictions.
MF: It seems like that’s the way a lot of bands are going lately, avoiding the majors and going for commercial sponsorship.
TU: I think it’s because of the digital thing, because everything’s so downloadable. I checked online and Tom Ugly’s album is up there on torrents now. I checked at first, it wasn’t there and I was sort of happy and sort of not happy, then today I saw it and there were quite a few, and I had the same sort of feeling. I think it’s cool, I reckon it’s cool if people download it. I think I’m going to try to release music for free, just songs and stuff, for as long as possible, gain a fanbase before the actual album comes out, take advantage of the Internet and then do a lot of tours next year.
When you asked about balancing music and school, I think the worst aspect of that is not taking advantage of doing as many live performances as possible.
MF: Are the other members of the band in high school as well?
TU: Yeah, originally it was totally school friends. The bass player is still the same, but she’s now finished school. The others are just from elsewhere, not through school.
MF: Does it take long for the rest of the band to learn the songs? Do they put their own spin on the songs?
TU: They definitely put their own spin on them, cos they’re trying to make it work with their own style. Now that the EP is out we’re doing stuff that we can jam with, making it specifically for the live performance. I’m trying little things for fun, things with production and tweaking that develop into a song.
MF: Do you think you’ll always be the writer or will the rest of the band get in on it?
TU: I think it’s just whatever works with whatever song. I don’t have any objections to doing things with other people and they don’t have objections when I write a song totally. It’s just what sounds good. I reckon there’s definitely going to be songs that they’ve written, and parts of songs they’ve written.
MF: There’s a real buzz about you guys at the moment. The SMH referred to you as the next Silverchair. What do you think of comments like that?
TU: I think it’s kind of cool, I like hearing stuff like that. Somebody said we’re Australia’s answer to Beck and Radiohead. That’s a big call and it’s not necessarily true but it’s still cool to hear. It’s not like it puts any pressure on us. There’s no real expectations, we just try to enjoy it and do what we do.
MF: So what’s coming up next?
TU: I think touring is what will be most effective next year, just making up for lost opportunities due to the HSC. That would be the best thing, and that’s when you promote yourself most anyway.
Tom Ugly still has a couple of dates left on the EP launch tour, but keep an eye out for summer festival appearances soon. The debut self-titled EP is out now. Find it on