The Walcotts’ Tom Cusimano Opens Up About The Songs of “Let The Devil Win” [INTERVIEW] BC Artist Profile: The Walcotts
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Tom Cusimano is a founding member of the band The Walcotts. Having earned solid praise from critics for their style of American Rock and Roll that effortlessly melds roots music, soul, blues and country, they are currently on a West Coast tour to get the word out about the release of their debut album, “Let The Devil Win”, which will be released September 16th. We plan on catching their set at Kaaboo at Del Mar on the 18th and were able to chat with Tom for a bit about his band and some of the songs on “Let The Devil Win” .
(This interview was edited for publication purposes.)
DKL: For those uninitiated with The Walcotts, how would you describe your band?
TOM: That’s a tough question. I would describe us as a large rock and roll band with horns, a couple singers, a pedal steel, keys, violins … somewhere between The Band, Little Feat, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and all of the stuff that we grew up with and love, but hopefully not redundant. There’s obviously no touching those great artists … and we’re just heavily influenced by rock and roll, soul, R&B, you name it … and it kind of distills itself into a rock and roll band sound.
DKL: I listened to the album a couple of times and I can definitely feel the music that you mentioned you were inspired by. You’re releasing your album on the Friday … the 16th … that Kaaboo starts. Congrats on that, by the way.
DKL: So, who are the core member of The Walcotts?
TOM: Myself; Laura, who is a vocalist and who is kind of a new addition to the crew; Devin, who’ve I’ve been playing with for a couple of years predating The Walcotts, and Jim, on drums, who I’ve been playing with for the past 13 years. At the core, it’s the four of the us. And then there’s a bit of a revolving door when we play live or when we’re in the studio. We try to tour as large as possible so that we can stay as true to the sound as we can… but logistically speaking, having 9 people always available is pretty horrifying to fathom […] It could change as time moves on.
DKL: For the Kaaboo gig, how big will your band be?
TOM: For the west coast tour, we’re going the full, as my mom would say, kit and caboodle. Two Horns. Keys. Pedal Steel. Bass …. We’re going to have all 9 players on stage […] We may have to strip it down when we head out east cause it gets a little pricy, but for the west coast tour, you’ll be able to hear us the way we’re meant to sound live.
DKL: So let’s talk about the album, “Let The Devil Win” and some of the songs you guys wrote. Personally, I’m a fan of “Let Me Take You Home Tonight”, “Helping Hand” and “Instead”, which was my favorite. Lyrically, “Instead” really resonated with me, and it made wonder about how that song evolved during the songwriting process.
TOM: You know … you actually picked a couple very interesting ones. “Helping Hand” and “Instead” … “Instead” was the first thing ever written that became part of The Walcotts catalog. I wrote that one a long time ago, before the The Walcotts came around. I sold my entire CD collection to buy a National Guitar. I’m big fan of Mark Knoffler and he plays a National and he does a lot of finger picking, and I inherently starting doing that and I came up with that verse progression … that little walk down … and I just started humming over it and everything just came organically. I actually wrote the lyrics to the chorus before anything else. I then brought it to a gal I was writing with, Emily, because I thought it would make for a nice duet, and she came up with the first two lines, which I thought were perfect and led me to write the rest of the lyrics based on the a sense of my being in a weird place in my life where I had just “failed”, so to speak, with a band and I turned 30, and I was just trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. Something had changed. I wasn’t sure what it was, but something had changed in my outlook, in how I approached everything … and that’s where the song came from. It was as introspective and self-lubricating a song that I could have written. We were making plans to go into the studio for the very first time, before we even had a name, and “Instead” was a song that I definitely wanted to record, and we recorded it second. I feel really close to that song … more than the other songs.
DKL: Those are often the best songs. When personal moments of introspection are embodied in song. Those songs often resonate the most with people who are listening.
TOM: Well, thank you very much. We don’t play that one live very often because it is a long song, but I love that song. To be quite honest, if I have that CD in my car, I go back and listen to “Instead” because it helps me reconnect to the present by remembering the past, and remembering why I’m working so hard in the first place.
DKL: So, why don’t we go from talking about “Instead”, which is more down-tempo, to another more up-tempo song that I enjoyed. How about “Coalinga”?
TOM: Well … “Instead” is the “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” song and “Coalinga” is the “I think I know what I’m doing with my life and then everything blew up in my face” song.
TOM: I’m 35 and I wrote that song when I was 22. It’s the only song I wrote with my old band that’s survived to make it on The Walcotts playlist. It’s gone through a lot of sonic changes, I’ve done it as an acoustic duo, a four piece, five piece… but I think it’s perfect played as a nine piece. And it kills live with the fiddle solo at the end. The story of the song is factual.
DKL: [Still laughing] That’s what I thought!
TOM: I was 22, and my temp job had just ended. My dad was laid off from his job in New York and had been unemployed for 14 months, so my parents were going through some hard times. My dad flew to Santa Rosa for a job interview, and I decided to drive to catch up with him. I had just had a car accident, so I ended up buying a cheap car, an old mid 90s Range Rover … really cheap … for obvious reasons now … and I drove up to Santa Rosa to have dinner with my dad then drive him to the airport to catch his flight back to New York. We have a nice dinner. We have a nice talk. I dropped him off at the airport, and then start my drive back to L.A.. I’m literally 200 miles from San Francisco and 200 miles from Los Angeles, driving into a town called Coalinga. As I’m pulling up to this town … it’s like a cartoon … all of the dials in my dashboard start spinning, and all the lights pop on, and it’s 2 in the morning.
DKL: [Still laughing]
TOM: I was freaking out! I pull off into Coalinga and when I park my car, smoke starts coming out from under the hood, and the sound of water splashing can be heard as well […]. I check into a seedy motel, and head to the town’s mechanic as soon as I wake and he was like, “Why do you have this car? You are too young for a car like this. This is a car for a guy with money who can do upkeep,” and all I could say was, “I got it for cheap. I thought I was getting a good deal! I thought it was a good idea because I needed a big car,” and he was like, “No, it was a terrible idea, but everything will be okay.”
DKL: [Still laughing]
TOM: It took two days of the mechanic trying to fix the car, importing parts to repair it and I had to get the car towed back to Los Angeles, and the bridge of the that song is basically the mechanic telling me to, “Slow down, man, and get a grip on your life. You’re too young for something like this and you need to figure out what you’re doing, and why you’re doing these things.” I literally wrote that song, while I was stuck there in that motel for those two days.”
DKL: [Trying to talk though chuckles] Well, it’s a great song.
TOM: And here’s the crazy part. We haven’t released it yet, but we made a video for that song and we went to Coalinga to do it. We went to this car shop right off the exit. Now, mind you the shop that I had taken my car to back then was no longer there, and I tell guy working there what we were in town for, who was super nice, and I asked him about the old auto shop that I had taken my clunker to … AND IT WAS THE SAME GUY! I can’t recall his name … and I feel terrible about that … but it felt like my life had kind of come full circle. And that’s “Coalinga”. It’s a very true story about when times were tough for me.
DKL: [No longer laughing] Well, it makes for a great story … and a great song. And knowing the story of that song brings me to my final question. The album itself feels like a personal narrative. Like a biography. Is it?
TOM: There are definitely songs on the album that are biographical, and you touched on three of them, “Instead”, “Coalinga”, which are based on my life, and “Helping Hand”, which is based on something that Devin went through. But songs like “Let The Devil Win”, “Should’ve Been Me” and “Hanging Tree” are character driven songs that were created by a thought of influence, and meant to be “good feeling” songs.
We chit chat a little more about some of the musical influences I think I hear in his band’s music when Tom opens up about the last song the album.
TOM: The last song on the album, “Curious and Kind”, is all about my son. He’s 18 months old now. When we were at the recording studio at Muscle Shoals, we literally had nothing written and we started jamming. And when my wife was pregnant … you know, people always ask, “What do you want, a boy or a girl?” and a lot of people answer, “Happy and healthy.” You always want your kid to be happy and healthy, and when he was born, he was. Then my wife told me that all she wanted was for him to be was “curious and kind,” and that’s where that song comes from […].
DKL: Really looking forward to catching your set at Kaaboo. Until then, do you have any parting words?
TOM: We’re going to try to bring it at Kaaboo. Hopefully, people will get turned on to our debut album. It’s a culmination of writing songs, touring up and down the coast, going to Nashville, recording at Muscle Shoals […] It’s a broad kind of rock and roll record, and I think that people who dig rock and roll will dig the record … AND the live show!