Tommy Conwell speaks out on allowing musical growth, while attempting to keep ego under control
By Jay Friel
Giving into the pressure applied by the big record companies to change your music in order to make it more marketable to a larger fraction of the record-buying public.
Whenever a local act signs with a major record label and then puts out the first album with altered songs, local “rock purists” cry foul. They claim the artist is “selling out,” compromising his or her music in order to make more money and satisfy the “fat cat” record executives up in the penthouse.
When Philadelphia-area acts like Robert Hazard and John Eddie released new versions of old songs, this accusation followed in a hurry.
But are these claims valid or even fair. Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers’ Columbia debut “Rumble,” contains five older songs that have been re-worked. Now whether or not you prefer the older or the newer versions the questions remains; why were the changes made?
Was it pressure from Columbia to make the Rumblers music more mainstream?
“Believe it or not no,” answers Conwell firmly, “they didn’t say anything, not a word.”
Although Conwell doesn’t necessarily agree that other artists were definitely forced to change their music, he insists that the Rumblers were not, and in addition, that their case was different.
“We were lucky, we had 13 record companies asking us to sign with them. So we were able to say to them all, “Well, if we come to your label you’re going to let us do whatever we want, right?”
“That was part of our deal,” he continues, “and that was really nice. I never talked to anyone from the record company except when we were going around deciding who we wanted to be with.
“The songs from the last album that we put on the new record are changed. (But) I’m real happy with them. And a lot of people ask, “Why do you change things?” The answer to that is because I want to. That’s growth. Why keep doing something the exact same way?
“The reason you change something is to try and make it better. If you re-do it in the same way, there’d be no point to it.”
Variations in the music are not the only changes a big record company contract can cause. What about the personalities and attitudes of the artists? Sudden pressures and mushrooming popularity can turn even the nicest people into egotistical, spoiled “stars.”
Is Conwell worried about such a fate, and how does he plan to deal with the inevitable pressures?
“People are you can treat you so differently,” Conwell says cautiously. “It’s really hard. I always keep in mind that we’re not really that famous yet. But it can be hard at times because so much of it is on you, on the individual.
“’How secure am I with myself?’ Because if I’m really secure with myself, other people aren’t going to bug you. But you know you have good days and bad days. And on those days I know how to protect my privacy so that I’m comfortable. But I always try to keep in mind that I don’t want to do it at someone else’s expense if I can help it. Just try and be considerate.
“It’s like if there’s a kid that wants to meet you, or something, you just try and remember what is was like when I was a kid and I wanted to meet someone. It can be a big deal.
“Of course some people can really push it. Some people can ask too much of you. It’s just a day-to-day thing. You have to be as normal as possible, even when some people don’t treat you normally.
“And the scary thing is that sometimes you get so used to being treated differently, that you’ll go someplace and people will treat you normally and you’ll be the weird one. And that’s when it hurts, when you can’t even interact in normal social situations.
“I haven’t experienced that too often. But hey, I’m in show business and it’s a ‘funny’ business. I have to know when to put my out and when to back off. Because I have to be comfortable, too.
“I can’t please the world. You just can’t please everybody, and if you try to please everybody, you’re really nothing but a sap.”
Rumbler Tour In the Works
Promotional trip will be first step
By Jay Friel
The required step after releasing a national album is to tour – bring the act out to the people to encourage record sales and increased interest in the band.
For Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, this step is even more important and necessary, because playing live is what this band is all about. The thinking being – if the record itself doesn’t sell the fans on the band, a live Rumblers’ concert will.
With that in mind, Tommy Conwell tried to look into his rock ‘n’ roll crystal ball to see what awaits his band.
“I think in September we’re going to go around the states on a promotional tour,” Conwell says with a look in his eye suggesting he considers this step to be a highlight of the whole record-release process.
“This tour would be a lot of meeting people and doing shows. And that’ll be just by ourselves. It’ll probably be 10-12 cities, just meeting the major markets. And who knows, maybe we’ll do the same thing in Europe or something to that effect. And then, God willing, we’ll do some kind of extensive tour. “I’m really psyched to get on the ‘bus.’
I’m just really psyched to go on tour. To me, that’s a real dream come true. They say that it gets to be a real burden and you can’t wait to come home, and that’s probably true, but just going out is going to be a real mind blower.”