“Here’s the thing—I love performing, but what people don’t realize is that I really love writing songs.”
Tommy London sets down his glass of wine, pauses for a moment, and continues, “That’s one of people’s largest misconceptions about me, that I’m ‘Tommy Rockstar’ who loves to perform. I really just love sitting down and writing music.”
Admittedly, it is a bit strange to contextualize London outside of his stage presence as the lead singer of The Dirty Pearls. His performances are fueled by a red blooded energy, resulting in a larger than life presence reminiscent of arena rock gods and a wardrobe full of rock n’ roll staples that could give Scott Weiland’s a serious run for its money.
Drinking wine in an oversized leather booth at the East Village Italian restaurant/rocker hangout, Three of Cups, Tommy London looks every bit the part of “rocker off duty.” Although, instead of his stage uniform of leather jackets and reflective aviators, he’s wearing a well-worn t-shirt from Handsome Dick Manitoba’s eponymous bar on Avenue B, classic denim and a baseball cap.
There’s a lazy breeze wafting through an open window overlooking first avenue, while pop standards from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s play over the speakers, drowning out the sounds of the city. There’s something so relaxed about the restaurant’s atmosphere that it feels for a moment as if it’s almost a world apart from its location. However, this evening is anything but relaxing for Tommy London.
It’s the night before the Pearls’ first NYC gig after a nearly eight month long performing hiatus. Normally a principal billing at local shows, the band has been unusually quiet this year. Over the past few months the band not only welcomed their new guitar player, Matt Hogan, but also experienced an onset of creative inspiration— “We’ve spent the whole year writing new material,” London explains, “Matt’s super talented and has been turning out song, after song.”
Songwriting aside, London has kept busy during his “off year.” Between opening for Lady Gaga in front of a crowd of five-thousand at the SXSW festival in Austin, and making multiple appearances in The New York Post’s world famous Page Six column, London has received international press than many local musicians can only dream about.
Although these accolades may prove accomplishment enough to many, London sees them as merely a small part of a bigger journey. Underneath his cool constitution and bad boy stoicism, resides a tireless work ethic and an insatiable desire for success. “Tommy’s driven,” explains the band’s drummer Marty E, “he has cool ideas that set the bar high, and he finds a way to make them come into fruition.”
It’s a bit peculiar to equate the leader of a no holds barred, gritty rock band to a poster child for self-discipline, but it’s no coincidence that world renowned radio personality Rich Russo declared The Dirty Pearls “the hardest working band on the rock scene.” The force propelling Tommy’s relentless drive? His upbringing.
“My father raised me where you don’t call out sick…you work.” London further continues, “In all the jobs I’ve had, quite honestly, I’ve probably called out of work 3 times. My work ethic has always been you DO—you go, go, go.” It was also his father who instilled within him his love of rock n’ roll. “When I was sick and stayed home from school, I would sneak into my dad’s closet full of records and play them when no one was home,” London laughs. It was then that he discovered artists that would later influence his musical style, such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Dion DiMucci. London muses, “I almost felt like [the records] were sacred. Like I was doing something guilty by playing them. I knew [my parents] wouldn’t care—my dad would even be proud.”
Consequently, when London made the decision to drop out of college and actively pursue his music career, it was Tommy’s father who was most confident in his decision. London explains, “I knew what I wanted out of life, school couldn’t teach me.” Instead of playing it the safe way with the security of a degree, he packed his bags and moved back to where he was born—New York City.
Now, London’s focus is not only on his personal career, but also giving back to the city’s rock scene. Throughout the past year he has hosted and organized events such as “The $5 Rock Show” at Arlene’s Grocery, and most recently his “Barnstorming the Bowery” event featuring seven local bands, each playing 20 minute sets. These events are a “place to check out new music and meet other music enthusiasts.” As London puts it, “People are coming early and staying late, instead of just arriving when their friends play and leaving right after.”
For London, the overarching mission is to “build the rock community into an actual rock scene again.” It’s no easy feat being a rocker in a time when hip hop and electronica rule the airwaves. “For the first time in history, rock is the underdog.” He elaborates: “In these days, ‘rock n’ roll’ is more of a term describing an attitude or style rather than a genre of music.”
However, London isn’t worried about the future of rock n’ roll. “They always say everything that’s old becomes new again.” London speculates, “Rock will have its return. It only takes one song to change it all.” As for the future of the Pearls, the answer is simple: their music will not be affected by passing fads. In London’s own words, “I just write what’s deep inside my heart and soul. You have to be true to yourself and who you are in order to shine.”
That truth is 100% unwavering, unapologetic rock n’ roll at its very best.
by Christine Buzan