By Nicholas Jason Lopez
The loss of multiple friends within the span of a single year made Thom Kilroy realize just how fragile life is and with that, he left his day job as a contractor in the hustle-and-bustle of Los Angeles and switched out for more tropical pastures, as he settled into the kind of life he really wanted – in Kaua’i, Hawaii.
Kilroy began his musical endeavor from scratch with new software and then traveled to Europe and Australia, where he performed wherever possible and over the course of six months, put together what would become known as an 11-track project called ‘Fly,’ which he ended up recording in New York City with the help of producer Arthur Pingrey (Sia, Norah Jones).
Highlighted by singles like “Grateful,””Everyday” and the namesake track, ‘Fly’ represents Kilroy’s newest music in nearly eight years, as he expressed that it was all about “letting go” of situations ultimately out of our control, such as relationship breakups and sudden deaths of close friends, a callback to what gave him his artistic awakening in the first place.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Kilroy about ‘Fly’ and more.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?
Thom Kilroy – Focusing more on the business and social media side of music in preparation for the release of my new album was my biggest challenge. Creating and playing music and sharing it with others is the part I enjoy most and that comes most naturally to me. It’s the reason I’ve chosen this career. Social media is bittersweet for me, in that it’s necessary and has its perks and enjoyable side, but it can also be a black hole of distraction, mental chatter and confusion. If left unchecked, it tends to lower my emotional state, so that and the mischievous little “monkey mind” that likes to dance in my head and dish up doubts, fears, worries and basically anything else that doesn’t serve me. I try to keep both in their cages!
Music Bugle – What was your goal for the namesake single “Fly”?
Thom Kilroy – I can’t really say I had a goal for “Fly” other than trying to write the best, most honest song about a topic that can be a bit touchy. To me, “Fly” deals with the most unpleasant emotions of loss, pain and even death. I wanted to honor those feelings and not water them down, but somehow still capture the beauty in the tough, heart-wrenching experiences in life that everyone inevitably encounters at some point if they are around long enough. I also wanted the song to come from a place of empowerment, not of being a victim. To say, “Yeah, this happened and I’m not in denial of it and I’m suffering, but I’ll get through it and still wish the best for everyone involved. I’ll not just survive, but I’ll thrive and grow and become a better person from it.”
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Thom Kilroy – When COVID-19 hit, I was in Australia playing music and loving being part of a thriving acoustic original music scene. I had been there about five months and was really feeling like I had “found my tribe” in a bunch of original artists who were furthering their careers grassroots-style busking, gigging and growing their fan bases. I felt like I was in heaven and really excited about the path that lay before me, that is, until Hawaiian Airlines called to say the last flight out of the country was leaving in two days and I needed to be on it, since Australia was closing its borders. I packed up and regrettably flew home to Hawaii very confused as the pandemic started to unfold. It clipped my wings like so many other people, but I tried to make the best of it. The pandemic gave me clarity on what’s important to me, what I missed and what I didn’t miss. I had it better than most being by the ocean, so I pretty much focused on learning to foil surf, finishing writing my album and building a guitar pedal board to add some new sonic colors to “paint” with. Another blessing later in the pandemic was I had the time and opportunity to spend a few months in Manhattan recording my album with producer Arthur Pingrey. I doubt that would have been possible for both of us to have so much focused time together pre-Covid.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Los Angeles to someone who has never been there before?
Thom Kilroy – The “City of Angels” – and Devil’s I suppose and everything in between! Having been born and raised there, I would imagine my impression of LA may be different than someone who is just visiting or new to the city. It really depends on what part of the city you are talking about. Los Angeles to me represents everything one can imagine, which can be a great or terrible thing. It’s the city that doesn’t end. It just keeps sprawling along over miles and miles. The glamorous image of LA is definitely just a very small part of the whole pie. Like anywhere, it’s kind of what you make it to be. It’s all there for the taking, so I think it comes down to what each person chooses to focus on and participate in. LA definitely has the ability to “chew you up and spit you out,” especially in the movie and entertainment business. There is no shortage of “plastic,” fake, externally-focused people who live there, but there are also so many amazing people from every walk of life. I’m not a lover or hater of LA. Like other cities, I think it’s what you make of it and where you put your focus that will become your experience.
Music Bugle – What would you say has been your hardest obstacle to overcome?
Thom Kilroy – Besides the usual suspects – breakups, deaths and loss-related things, my biggest obstacle has been dealing with the negative voices in my head. The doubts, fears and thoughts that try to sabotage my going forward in living my dreams. I work hard on continually trying to input the opposite thoughts and cultivating more self-love and acceptance. Self-esteem, or lack there of, is an amazingly powerful thing!
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your new album?
Thom Kilroy – It was a surreal experience in many ways. I had been writing the songs for some time while traveling and busking throughout Europe. I continued writing while in Australia and was considering recording there with a producer that had been helping some other artist friends I know. Then, when Covid hit and I flew home, it was like time stopped – all the music, performing, writing, dreaming, planning – it all just stopped. I felt paralyzed in many ways, as everything became unknown. I was grateful to be in a beautiful place at home in Hawaii, considering what many other people were going through, but I started feeling depressed and confused. Fast forward to later in the pandemic and I reached out to producer Arthur Pingrey – known for his work with Sia, Sting, Norah Jones, Ben Harper, etc.. Everything just started to flow. Within a couple days of our first phone meeting, I was on a plane to Manhattan. The city had a “ghost town” feel because of Covid, but it gave me even more focus since there was nothing going on entertainment-wise to distract me. Arthur is a pro, so the project flowed smoothly, regardless of how much I kicked and screamed and panicked along the way! (Laughs) We got lots of work done. I just stayed on the emotional rollercoaster and rode the inner ups and downs of the creative process and all the judgements that go along with it. Arthur taught me a lot and encourged me to not be afraid of “failing” forward, of taking risks and pushing my own boundaries. Arthur is an angel and he always kept the wheels on the track and knew just how hard to push to keep it right at the creative edge. He’s so talented in all realms music, songwriting and producing that it blows my mind. Once we had all 11 songs pretty much finished, Arthur arranged for monster drummer Dylan Wissing – who has worked with Alicia Keys, John Legend, Drake, Eminem, Jay Z, etc. – to live drum on all the tracks. Hearing Dylan add his magic to my songs while looking at so many Platinum and Gold records on the wall was a special moment for me and the cherry on top of an amazing experience. I’m really proud of the album we’ve created and grateful to work with such a fantastic team.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Thom Kilroy – To be honest, I’ve been so busy working on my album and now the releases that I’ve barely had time to listen to any music! I did get a chance to hear artist Mae Krell for the first time. I really enjoyed Mae’s songs and voice. I also listened to an artist/friend I met while playing in Australia named Felipe Baldomir, from Uruguay. I really like his sound, songs and message.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Thom Kilroy – Probably “Fly” or “Shine.” “Fly” because it deals with loss and heartbreak and I started writing it in “real time” as the tears and gut-wrenching emotions were kicking in full-force. I was at the kitchen table with guitar and journal just totally breaking down. I’d sing a line, write it down and bawl like a baby, then move on and repeat the cycle. In editing it later, keeping the song feeling balanced – not too heavy and not too watered-down – was the main challenge. “Shine” was hard, because I’m an empathetic person and I was writing it from the perspective of witnessing and trying to encourage someone going through their own dark and painful times. That one still gets me a lot when I perform it, because it’s hard for me not to feel others’ pain. I’m working on becoming a better actor and leaving it “all on the stage.”
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Thom Kilroy – That’s the only easy question – the ocean! I love, love, love the ocean and surfing. Now, I’m foil surfing, which is like surfing in a video game where everything is more surreal – faster, bigger, smoother with far fewer limits! Time in the ocean and really any nature, brings me peace and grounds me, helps me see things in perspective again, more in balance.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Thom Kilroy – Not sure if it’s an official quote, but I’ll make it one -“You’re gonna die!” (Laughs) However, I really do rely on that truth to let myself off the hook of the “You should” or “You’re crazy” or “How will that work out?” or “There’s no security in that” … the endless doubts and questions and innate tendency to favor predictability and security over feeling alive, passionate and excited. A couple of other favorites are – “Feel the fear and do it anyway” and “It’s only too late if you don’t start now.” Those have all lived in my toolbox for a while. It really is never too late to begin living our dreams – unless we keep denying the never-ending invitation of the present moment to do something differently, to start now!
*Photo Credit – Sebastian Romero*