EMURG’s Unsung Heroes Series: Thomas Francis O’Brien V
Fans sometimes forget that it’s not only the main star that makes the music on and off stage truly come alive. There are many unheard and unrecognized artists that deserve more credit than what they actually receive. Continuing in our Unsung Heroes series, EMURG steps into the shoes of Thomas Francis O’Brien V and reveals why he is among one of many prominent musicians who is making an impact in the music industry today!
EMURG: For those of you who are not familiar with you, do mind providing our audience with a little background into the life of Thomas Francis O’Brien V?
Thomas: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and started early with music (after exploring many different sports to no avail and no interest). I grew up listening to a wide variety of music; Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks, and the Beach Boys. I sang in school musicals and I began piano lessons purely to appease my mother so I would be able to start playing snare drum in school instead of trumpet. I got an acoustic guitar from my aunt for my 8th birthday, though it sat in my closet for a few more years. High school came and so did Nu Metal and my musical journey took an exciting turn down the hard-rock road. I began playing drums with friends and started my first band (A NEW SHADE) in high school as an alternative to drugs and alcohol. When my father started complaining about the volume of my drums I had to find other musical outlets, so I pulled out the guitar and started strumming which I believe has given me a much better understanding of how drums work with in a song and with the other instruments and not over top of them. I got my first gig as session drummer in high school playing for a Merle Haggard/Christian/Classic Rock cover band (haha) and that’s when I started to get serious about music, drums in particular. Bought my first drum set (after borrowing kits from band mates brothers) instead of a car and never looked back).
I moved down to Charleston, SC with my band A NEW SHADE, though we have since disbanded I continued on with my musical career. I started playing bass with a few Charleston original acts then finally landed a gig playing drums and singing with several bands.
Under the mentoring of famous stage manager (Kings of Leon, U2, Foreigner, STYX, Def Leppard, Aerosmith etc.) and musician (Rocko and the Devils, and Survivor) Rocko Reedy, I went to school and got a degree in Film as a backup per agreement with Rocko. I then opened the full-service production/recording studio, Monarch Studios.
After playing with a few bands as my only source of income for a few years (a dream of mine to be a career musician) I finally landed a spot on the kit with Trick Knee, an established original band. We hooked up with guitarist/producer Alan Price (Shinedown, Call Me No One, and Souls Harbor) and began work on our newest album “Island” which we released this past fall.
Through Monarch Studios I have produced and recorded many Charleston bands and am striving to become a staple in the east coast music scene.
EMURG: Your band, “Trick Knee”, is one of the best kept secrets in the independent music scene of today. It’s been ten years since the release of your debut album, “Seven Days of Heaven”, but what has been the experience for you?
Thomas: I am relatively new to the band having only played with them for about 2 and a half years. I have tons of respect and had heard of them for years before playing with them. I got the gig by a referral from local guitarist Jason Gosine playing covers with Matt of Trick Knee for no more than a burger and a Coke just for the opportunity to play with them. And now I have recorded a professional album with them, they have opened many doors for me. They’re are incredible song writers, fantastic musicians, and wonderful people, I love them like brothers and am so privileged to be on this journey with them. I have been lucky enough to direct and record two live music videos for us as well as design the bands new look for our new record. They embrace my outlets, both musical and film and incorporate them into the band seamlessly and with open arms. I can’t wait to see where we go next.
EMURG: It’s also noted that another participant on EMURG’s Unsung Heroes Series, Alan Price, has been an intricate part in the band’s majestic sound. What was it like working with Alan and what did he bring to the fold with Trick Knee’s recordings?
Thomas: I was lucky enough to start performing with him last year with Souls Harbor and thats when Alan started working with us. I looked up to Alan long before this record with his work with Quench, Shinedown, Call Me No One, etc., and it was a honor for me to get to work with him on this album. He became almost obsessed with Trick Knee and immersed himself into our music and sound. He took an un-invasive approach to our album and acted more like a 4th member than a tyrannical or overbearing producer which is exactly what we were looking for. He took our songs to places we would have never imagined in the best way. He understood exactly what we were going for and pulled it off flawlessly. He has an understanding of tension and release that really let the songs breath and my ears are constantly perked up when he speaks to take in any knowledge he might be letting go of.
EMURG: Nearly all your songs are unique and rich sounding, especially Stretched, Hits You, and One Way Street. Where does Trick Knee develop its inspiration from when writing songs?
Thomas: Thank you very much, we try to write off the beaten path and try to stray away from the expected or obvious. We all have a wide range of inspirations though we agree on a few key points. The Fray is a large part of our musical inspiration. We love their sound and how they can write driving, moving, and loud, songs without electric guitar being the leading instrument. We pull inspiration from life events, both good and bad, and relationships both good and bad. Personally, Collective Soul is a huge influence to me and I find myself referring to them for inspiration in almost any type of musical project I encounter. Though I’m influenced by a wide array of bands like Lamb Of God, Periphery, At The Gates, Dr. Dre, Ben Rector, Depeche Mode, Rammstein, Jason Aldean, and Eric Church just to name a few. I try to have an open mind musically though I can be super finicky. Ultimately Trick Knee pulls inspiration from our overall love of music. One song even draws inspiration from Lord of The Rings (something we all have a love for… Ok an addiction to haha) but hey, Led Zeplin did it, why can’t we?
EMURG: What would say is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent musician?
Thomas: Being able to do what I love is an exciting and rewarding part of it. It makes it worth the long nights and time away from friends and family. It has been a dream of mine as it is for so many and I am lucky enough to be one of the privileged few that can say that ‘I am a professional musician’. Equally as rewarding is inspiring people. Having someone come up to me after a show and tell me that musically or any other way I have influenced them or inspired them is the most rewarding feeling and the reason I got into music in the first place.
EMURG: Who inspired you to become the musician you are today?
Thomas: My uncle Mark (whom Monarch Studios is named after and tragically passed away a few years ago) was a large influence in my life musically and personally. He gave me a lot of sound advice and was there for me and my band and was our roadie and personally drove our gear to every show against our requests. It was an incredible gesture and a symbol of his enthusiasm for us and how much he believed in us. Rocko Reedy also had large hand in my early musical career. He had a lot of faith in me and saw my potential when I couldn’t. He taught me a lot of invaluable things about the music industry and song writing and introduced me to famous industry professionals and took me and my band places I wouldn’t ever dreamed of going. My aunt Kathy (wife to Mark) gave me my first CD’s (Collective Soul – selftitled, and No Doubt – Tragic Kingdom) and my first guitar as well as let my bands practice in her basement when we had nowhere else to practice. They planted seeds in my brain that are still growing today. Alan Price has always been a guy I look up to musically and professionally and he is definitely a source of inspiration for me as well. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with him over the years. My best friend since 4th grade Tyler Eisenhart was the reason I started playing drums and the reason I did it sober. We were looking for something to do while our other friends were out drinking and smoking and voila, music.
EMURG: The title, “independent musician”, seems to be very prevalent in the music industry with many artists these days. What do you consider are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?
Thomas: Musicians are starting to straying away from the record labels with the advent of social media and the ease and affordability of being able to get your music out there. Though independent musicians are up against giants like UMG, Sony, and Warner that have money and connections and power that smaller labels or artists don’t have access too without signing a less than fair contract giving up their music. The up side is that you keep all the royalties and your music. Though it can mean more work on your part but artists like Macklemore who are totally independent have made it work without signing the big contract.
EMURG: Not only does your resume include being a multi-talented musician, but you are the owner of Monarch Studios. Can you enlighten us about your studio and what made you strike out on your own with your own studio?
Thomas: I would love to. When I was growing up, my friends and I recorded on a very simple DAW (what used to be Cool Edit Pro) and we did so frequently. What musician wouldn’t want to own their own studio?! Haha so it was a natural progression I suppose. I have a knack for knowledge and immerse myself in anything I start to take interest in, so naturally I started to get hungry and learn as much as I could about engineering. I had another passion in high school which I eventually went and got a degree and several certificates for and currently teach a college class in: Film. So the two started to coalesce and build a symbiotic relationship with and within my mind. To preface this a little more, I moved to SC with 3 goals in mind; graduate college – something teachers told me I would never do, become a professional musician, and open a full service production facility. I am proud to say I have achieved all 3 of those goals. Monarch Studios is one of the only, if not the only, full service production facility in the Charleston area. That means we can see a band from a media aspect, from start to finish. Record their album, shoot a “making-of” video, shoot their music video, build their web page, design their merch., do their photography, design their album/logo, and all at a reasonable price and the highest quality. I work with industry professionals so my clients get the highest quality product and I personally oversee every project as it comes out as well as (more often than not) produce, engineer, mix, and master each project. I love what I do there and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It’s been a dream of mine since I can remember. We’re also involved in the commercial media world and write and license music as well as graphic animation and special effects for commercial clients and film. I have had the privilege to work with many local and nation musicians such as Favor The Heart and American Idol runner-up Elise Testone and former Animals As Leaders drummer Navene Koperweis.
EMURG: What are your current views concerning the music industry?
Thomas: I always grew up thinking my big break would include a massive record contract in the back of an executives limo and immediately be handed a brand new kit, a bag of cash and a tour with Ozzy and Pantera… This as many musicians have come to find…. Isn’t how it works haha it’s not usually overnight and now a days, labels have started to get more fickle with deals they pitch and accept. From my point of view it seems that labels are just a credit card that have control of your music now more than ever. Of course I haven’t dealt with a label enough to gather a good enough opinion and of course it’s only my humble opinion. It seems that the industry isn’t dying as so many people have claimed but that it is just changing. We live in an exciting time and get to watch the music industry change into a more artist friendly industry. Labels aren’t needed as much anymore since the advent of the internet with social media, the ability to network more, and ease of access with platforms like iTunes. I’m starting my career at the beginning of this industry transformation and I’m very excited to be a part of it. I believe a new brand of label is going to emerge. As we all know, necessity is the mother of invention and right now artists are in need.
EMURG: What is the best piece of advice that you can give to an up and coming musician who wants to make it in the music business?
Thomas: If you’ll bare with me i’d like to touch on a few points actually and try not to sound completely self-righteous…
You wanna be a musician with all your heart? Prove it. I come from a school of tough love so I tend to give it out when it comes to any passion be it art, music, film, sports, whatever. If it’s important to you you’ll find a way. If not you’ll find an excuse. That means; buying a case of beer instead of saving for cymbals, going out instead of practicing, buying a pack of cigarettes instead of a pair of sticks. Just making it easier for the guys that actually want it to be musicians to steal your job haha.
My uncle Mark told me all the time, “You can do ANYTHING you want to, ANYTHING you put your mind to, until someone CONVINCES you that you can’t”. So keep going. It won’t happen over night but it will happen. Weather it happens when you’re 20 or 60, it will happen. Just keep going and always be thirsty for knowledge. It will give you the edge.
I got to meet Jason Bonham backstage at a Foreigner show in ATL a few years ago and he told me to “practice, practice, practice, be humble and to, most importantly, believe in myself, ‘cuz if I truly, truly believe in myself and my abilities then other people will see that and believe in me too”. Then he proceeded to make fun of a few celebrity musicians and that was quite funny too haha.
EMURG: What is next for you concerning your ventures in music?
Thomas: I’m gonna keep pushing and upping my game so to say. Continuing to practice and learn, I just released an album that we are currently pushing with a band that I love, I own an up and coming recording studio that I love working at, and I perform when ever I can with wonderful local artists. I have some instructional videos for studio and live drumming and audio engineering that I’ll be putting out later this year also. Just gonna keep working my hardest.
EMURG: Finally, what is it that you want to contribute and leave behind for music as an independent artist?
Thomas: I want to inspire and make great sounding music. I’m not one for showing off so if all I do is inspire one person to make music or listen to music in a different way, I’ll be fine. It wouldn’t hurt if it sounded really good too…