With or Without
In February of 2014, Sonic Zen Records recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered Tom Rhodes.
Tom Rhodes walked in with his guitar, sat down in front of a couple mics I had set up, and recorded 34 song demos for me in less than 4 hours. In the following weeks, we pulled together a perfect band of committed musicians with big hearts and crazy talents. That’s all we needed.
We made this album backwards. Rather than start with the drums and build up from there, adding layers piece-by-piece, we decided that if it didn’t happen live in the studio, we weren’t going to add it later. We’d put the whole band in the room and let ‘er rip -- in front of a live audience, no less.
Before you hear Tom Rhodes’s voice, you feel it - like a left jab to the jaw. Raspy and soulful, like Ray LaMontagne or a young Van Morrison, but with a soaring intensity that recalls Jackson Browne. Your eyes adjust. You regain your bearings. A familiar feeling washes over you: Have I heard this before? Then, a split-second later, comes the power-punch: the words - direct, poetic, timeless, true.
Like a good boxer, Tom Rhodes mastered this one-two technique through years of training. The 36-year-old Oakland, California-based songwriter has spent more than a decade honing his honest, heartfelt brand of Americana, and learning to craft songs whose truth matches his passion as a performer. In that time, he has performed all over the US and Europe, released four albums, and even appeared on season 9 of The Voice in 2015.
Rhodes points to his last album, the critically-acclaimed With Or Without - recorded in front of a live audience at a recording studio in San Francisco in 2014 - as a creative breakthrough: “That’s where it started for me. The big turn was, ‘Stop writing about what you feel. Start writing about what you know.’”
While writing the songs for With Or Without, Rhodes felt himself evolving from a dime-a-dozen navel-gazer into a thoughtful, world-wise songwriter with a deeper message to convey. “I realized that you can do more with music than talk about yourself. You can do more with music than express a feeling. You can express a piece of information with feeling and get the same emotional response, but you’re actually doing something to spread good ideas and help people out there.”
The songs on With Or Without struck a chord with listeners and critics. The San Francisco Bay Guardian said that the album feels “like you've been snuck into something secret and awesome.” No Depression called With Or Without “an Americana gem of an album.” The Americana Music Show said of the album, “The hooks are clever, the rhythms feel good, and the lyrics are infectious... But it's the good-natured everyman attitude I like best about his music.”
As Rhodes puts it, “To me, singing songs is about passionately connecting with the thing I’m talking about, and if you’re singing about something that you actually believe in it’s really easy to get there.”