Tom Moran has today released his new album titled ‘Roommate of a Friend of Mine’. That subtle feeling of Americana is alive and well with a new breath of fresh air courtesy of Tom. That certain feeling of comfort and home from an America that is quickly feeling forgotten in all of us, that feeling of harmony and unity and a kindred fellowship that unites us not in politics, but in kindness. This is the overall feeling I get when I listen to Tom Moran.
The music is varied, yet, there is an overall sense of the artist who has found his sound and is taking it with him and you along with that. This may actually be what I call an ‘anti-album’ in today’s #indie music scene. There is no autotune. There is no electronic backbeat. This is acoustic and old school with modern flair. This is looking back to the future.
Of the myriad New York City references that have etched a permanent place in pop culture lore, New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down might be the one that singer/songwriter Tom Moran relates to the most. It’s not that he actually feels that way himself, mind you, but he understands how you might be tired of New York-based artists presenting their world as if it’s the center of the known universe. As much as Moran, a native to the area, can marvel at the legacy of music and film that’s immortalized the Big Apple, when he sings about the city inhaling him whole or, say, being stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, he’s just a person trying to get home. And in the rare instances where any famous landmarks appear on his full-length debut Roommate of a Friend of Mine, Moran strips away the glow of coolness that so often enshrouds them, making space for the kind of quiet introspection we rarely associate with the metropolitan grind.
Kicking off with the gentle strum of a track, appropriately enough, titled “Hermit”—it doesn’t take long before Roommate of a Friend of Mine makes it abundantly clear that Moran doesn’t need you to imagine yourself walking the same streets that he has. He doesn’t need you to transport your imagination to neighborhoods that have been famously sung about, rapped about, or served as settings for iconic movie sequences. This is an album that instead points you very much back down to earth, and what Moran prefers is that his songs find their way to wherever you happen to be, to hit you where you live in every sense of the term. After all, one can feel out of place—and learn how to find one’s place—anywhere. And it’s between those two poles of experience that a lifetime’s worth of highly relatable, almost beautifully mundane, interactions unfolds across the ten slice-of-life turns of rippling folk-pop the album showcases.
No matter where you are, you can most certainly identify with the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. And when Moran sings “I was dreaming in the day / I was absent out in space” on the upbeat, Americana-tinged choogle of “Stay,” he gives us a peek into his past, as well as the makeup of his spirit. All throughout school growing up, Moran’s attention was like a caged bird that would escape by taking flight into the clouds of creative reveries. “My big problem,” he explains, “was staring out the window and not paying attention or doing the assignments because I was too busy drawing in my notebook.” So acute was the feeling of confinement that, on more than one occasion in second grade, Moran ran away from school.
Music, on the other hand, brought with it a solace and a sense of belonging that other social settings didn’t, first via the choir at his mother’s church and then courtesy of the Beatles during a life-changing ride in the backseat of his parents’ car en route to a family function in New Jersey as a pre-teen. When the song “Help” came on the radio, Moran had already been familiar with his mother’s Beatles records. But the song clicked in a way that nearly jolted him into an out-of-body experience. And, as fate would have it, when Moran arrived at the family function, an older cousin offered to show him his acoustic guitar. There on the wall hung a Beatles poster. Moran understood that pop music and the guitar were now his travel partners on the path.
The path led to forming a cover band in 7th grade that went through several mutations as he and his then-bandmates—Ray Marte and Nick Lee, now the anchors of the critically lauded progressive metal outfit Moon Tooth—developed a taste for originals by the time 8th grade came around. While the music continued to evolve from pop-punk to grunge to metal, Moran developed a profound, family-like bond with Lee and Marte that continues to this day, with the now in-demand Marte producing Roommate of a Friend of Mine at his Westfall Recording studio on Long Island.
“As those guys got further and further into metal,” Moran recalls, “it generated a lot of creative tension. We would be writing these really heavy songs, and I’d be thinking, ‘Well, how can I slip some Beatles-y melodic qualities into this music?’ It was an awesome challenge for me, and it made me a much better musician than I would’ve been otherwise. I learned so much from those guys and from them pushing me as a musician. I grew up as an artist and a person with them. And I loved screaming and smashing things and going crazy, but eventually the tension got so tight that it broke.”
After a final gig where he had something akin to an anxiety attack, Moran knew he had to explore other sounds. A two-year stint as part of a singer/songwriter trio that was being courted by legendary producer Phil Ramone proved equally fruitful, both as a vehicle for artistic growth and as another bonding experience. “I loved Phil Ramone,” says Moran. “He was so encouraging and genuine and kind.” But then Ramone died. “We were all living in an apartment together when we found out, and I think we broke up that same day.” Not one to take these kinds of relationships lightly, Moran looks at those former bandmates in a familial light as well.
Naturally, Moran increasingly found himself writing songs on his own—even playing all of the instruments himself—with Marte guiding along. Roommate of a Friend of Mine took shape over the solitude of 2020-21. And just as Moran was coming into his own as a creative force in his own right, his father passed away, infusing the music with a heightened depth of feeling.
Here, Moran comes from the extraordinary circumstance of his father having made a miracle comeback from a fatal disease 27 years prior. “He technically died and came back to life a total of 13 times,” Moran explains. “So the idea of him dying suddenly had become deeply rooted. He was always in and out of the hospital, and I was always nervous and on-guard. Now I’m trying to adjust to a new lifestyle where I don’t have to worry all the time. This music is helping with that.”
“I’m a very hopeful person,” he adds with a chuckle. “I’ve trained myself to look for the silver lining.”
Featured image by Stephanie Augello.