Featured image by CJ Harvey
Brooklyn-based musician, Tom D’Agustino, has just debuted his EP, ‘Homeschool: Book 1’, produced by David Greenbaum (Beck, Cage The Elephant). Previously known as the lead singer of rock band Active Bird Community, D’Agustino now presents his music through the rebranded name: Homeschool. D’Agustino has changed gears towards creating even more striking acoustic landscapes and neoteric music videos. Through his 4-track EP that doubles as a physical multi-media book, he’s established himself as a memorable artist.
I caught up with Tom D’Agustino to discuss his reclassified music debut under the name Homeschool, his support systems, as well as the fine art of collaboration.
As a fan of your former band, Active Bird Community (ABC), it’s great to hear new music from you. What are you most excited about regarding your EP, ‘Homeschool: Book 1’?
That’s awesome! Since we announced the new change, it’s been great to see the love and memories that so many people have had with ABC. I think it really showed us that that project was/is meaningful and has given me the confidence to throw all of myself into this new project. I have a lot to be excited about regarding Homeschool: Book I but the biggest thing is the physical books that are accompanying the digital release of the music. There are unbelievable features from renowned visual artists, scans of my journal entries from the past few years, poems, behind-the-scenes photos, and just a bunch of crazy stuff all gathered together. Being able to give a physical, visual companion to this music is something I am very grateful and excited for.
Tell us about the moment that made you want to start a solo project.
I don’t think there was a moment when I decided I wanted ABC to be over and I wanted to do something on my own. Also, the idea of it being a “solo” project is pretty funny to me. That’s because more people have contributed to this record than every ABC record combined. This new music was crowdfunded and supported by hundreds of people, multiple producers got to play around with the tracks, we’ve had numerous featured artists and remixers. So, to me, what’s beautiful about this new project is that it can be and include anyone. It’s not just 4 people making a specific kind of music anymore, but it’s something that will continue to grow and evolve with every new release. At least that’s the hope!
Releasing a debut single called “Satisfied” in the middle of a global pandemic is unexpected. Can you elaborate on the making of this song?
The irony of the first two singles being called “Satisfied” and “Smartest Man” during a pandemic and on the heels of an election dominated by lies and stupidity (to say the absolute least), is not lost on me. To be honest, I think it would have been misguided and tone-deaf to do that if the meanings behind these songs actually reflected the song titles in a literal way. Luckily, they don’t. In other words, “Satisfied” is largely about feeling unsatisfied with life and the expectations of others, the ways in which we struggle to hold our anger and trauma, and the consternation and pain that often results. While “Smartest Man” questions what it means to be a decent person, what someone’s actions truly mean in the world, while acknowledging with pride that those who would love me the most would know how little I know… If that makes sense. My songwriting tends to do this, now that I think of it. There’s a lot of double meanings, binaries, and paradoxes being played with, even in the textures and tones of the music itself.
How do you go about trying to stay inspired or motivated?
I am very privileged to have a rock-solid support system of friends and family, most of which are creatives themselves. I am inspired to push myself, to explore new ideas, and reach certain milestones because I have so many beautiful examples of people I know doing the same. Now, motivation can be really difficult. I can’t really motivate myself because a lot of times when I try, I fall short of whatever standards I previously imposed on my creative process, and then I get upset. To me, being motivated feels more like being compelled, like there’s a part of me that won’t leave me alone until I make something. A lot of times I wait too long to make stuff so I’ll HAVE to make stuff, I will no longer have a choice, and then it all pours out. That’s usually how I like it. Oh, and painting helps too because the experience is so immediate that you can’t help but feel creative and then all these other gears start turning.
What are the essential qualities you look for in a musician you want to collaborate with?
I never really boiled it down to essential qualities but I think a big one is humility. Someone who appreciates making things so much that they don’t really care about the outcome, they just want to have a genuine creative experience and be humbled by it. Now, I myself struggle with this and many other things which is probably why I gravitate toward certain artists who have a better handle on it. Also, I love collaborating with artists whose process I am fundamentally baffled by. Bartees Strange, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Arlissa, Overcoats, Samia – these artists and more have such a distinctive style and performance of their work that when it touches my own, everything becomes fertile, all these doors fly open, making stuff feels easy and endless.
Your music video for “Satisfied” was an impressive cross between fantasy and familiarity. Could you share some background as to how you came up with that video’s narrative?
This video was really fun to make and I owe a lot to Director Matt Hixon who basically took a simple concept and ran with it. My partner and I had been painting old furniture to use when we moved into a new apartment and I had this image of opening drawers into other places and how on like a pseudo-philosophical level, we kind of do open drawers to other places whenever we’re scrambling for what to wear, etc. We open a drawer to figure out who we want to become on some level. Anyway, Matt took that concept and actually made it interesting by fleshing out a relationship and a world that my character could interact with and I think in a lot of ways it ended up being a narrative about how we come to know and accept change.
Can we expect more music videos from ‘Homeschool: Book 1’?
Well, so far there are two out there in the world and I think they are more than enough to get a glimpse of what Homeschool might be like, but I would love to keep making more videos. You would have to ask my boss, Zach Slater – he handles all the like, “am I allowed to do this,” kind of stuff.
And most importantly: if you had one musical superpower, what would it be?
Anyone that can play the piano well and sing at the same time might as well be immortal to me because it’s just mind-blowing to see. I am not a very technically sound musician or singer in general, so when I see someone aimlessly float to a piano mid-song and start playing and singing like it’s nothing, it is just nuts.
You can stream ‘Homeschool: Book 1’ here.