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Bandless Abandon

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Tom Neely of Bandless Abandon from 2012

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

I started playing guitar 25 years ago, when I was 13, and started my first band about a year later. Very early on I switched to playing bass and singing in a band setting. Initially I made the switch because the fella I started my first band with also played guitar but he had an electric, and was just plain better than I was, so switching to bass was a logical step. As far as singing went, I was the only one who was willing to give it a shot. I was terrible but determined. I didn't take guitar lessons like most folks I knew. Instead I learned to play by writing music and each song got a little more complicated and I got a little better at playing. (The singing however stayed crappy for another twelve years or so.) To be honest, I thought guitar lessons were silly which is kind of funny because I've been making a living teaching music lessons (mainly guitar) for going on fifteen years. I talked my way into a music theory class my senior year in high school and was a music major in college, taking all the classical and jazz theory classes I could and effectively becoming a musical nerd. When I was still in college I joined my first professional band, a blues band called “The True Blue Rhythm and Blues Review" which was life changing. Suddenly, music was my job which was kind of at odds with the message I got on a daily basis in college that someday, when you have a degree in hand, you might be able to get a job in music. After True Blue, I joined and left a series of bands in various styles until I became a dad in 2003 when my focus shifted to writing and recording (and being a dad.) Bandless Abandon was born out of my love for complicated, notey music and knowing how to use recording software and being avid songwriter. Deciding to write, perform and record the EP myself came from a couple decades of recordings that I would've done a little different if I had been the one in charge, so to speak. It also finally allowed me to show what I could do as a guitar player.


If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

When I was still trying to teach full time, I worked at Starbucks for a decade or so. If I wasn't playing music I get the feeling I'd still be working there. Or perhaps I'd be teaching something other than music because I really do love to teach.


How did the name of “Bandless Abandon” originate?

Since I was in no position to put together a five piece prog rock band when I started recording the first Bandless Abandon EP a few years ago, when it came time to give it a name I though Bandless..."something" would fit since I was effectively bandless, recording my first EP Trent Reznor style, not that my little EP compares to Pretty Hate Machine. From there, bastardizing the phase Reckless Abandon seemed the next logical step.


Who would you see as your musical influences?

While I was writing and recording this EP I put my self on a strict Dream Theater diet. As far as diets go, it was pretty cool since they've always been one of my favorite bands.


What's ahead for you?

For Bandless Abandon, I've started writing another EP in which I will try to push the boundaries of accessible complexity further. For me, I've put together an as of yet nameless trio that plays a mix of jazz and blues.


I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

I would like to think of Bandless Abandon's music as non alienating progressive rock or excessively melodic pop rock.


Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

That's a tough one. If Bandless Abandon were a real band, then I'd love to play with Dream Theater or the Killers.


Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

I think allowing folks to hear music for free is fine but the line needs to be drawn there. Downloading for free is bad for musicians and songwriters.


In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

Sure, why not? Bootlegging shows has always been around. Those recordings will never take the place of studio recordings. Most folks these days seem to be taking videos of concerts they go to and putting them up on youtube. I think that's a fine thing because it gets people excited to go see live music and once again, isn't a replacement.


If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

Hmmm...I guess my nemesis would be cast of “Glee.” They just have a way of sucking the soul out of the songs they perform.


If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

How about Gary Allan on vocals, Keith Urban on guitar, Bruce Hornsby on piano, Nathan East on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums? That would be one weird band but they’re each one of my favorites who don't just play one kind of music. I suppose based on my vocalist and guitar choice that it's now evident that I'm a country music fan. Don't hold it against me.


If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

I've thought about this from time to time. I would book Chris Smither to open, second would be The Aquabats, third Gary Allan and headlining would be Dream Theater (surprise). Man,that would be one fine show with a really wacky bunch of fans in the audience.


What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

Oddly enough, I've been listening to the same bands I listed in the last two questions: Gary Allan, Chris Smither, The Aquabats, Dream Theater, Keith Urban, and Bruce Horsby. The Avett Brothers too, brillaint band. The last CD I bought was Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros, this amazing band from Iceland.


Have you read any good books lately?

Yes. I just read Memoirs Of A Monster Hunter by Josh Gates (the “Destination Truth” guy) and it was great. I'm in the middle of Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. It's a phenomenal account of the author and a group of fellow travelers as they go on a grand tour of Europe.


What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

The last concert I saw for fun was seeing Evolution, a Journey cover band at a local high school. They did a show to raise money for the music program. Super nice guys and a good show.


Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

My answer used to be Poison, who I saw a bunch of times a few years ago. Awesome band live but these days, as I'm teaching Taylor Swift a lot to my students, her music is starting to grow on me. I really like that she writes her own music, especially in a genre known for the artists not writing their own tunes.


What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

I was at Yoshi's, a bay area jazz club, and the band played a song I wrote (did I mention I write jazz music?) and after the song was done, the band introduced me and asked me to stand up. When I did, I knocked my chair over and spilled an entire table's drinks in their laps in the process. A close second would be every second of the entire four years I spent with a 60s style rock band I played with in the 90s.


If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Ringo Starr, Maya Angelo, and Walt Disney


What would be on the menu?

Southern food: Fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes and biscuits.


Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Initially with Bandless Abandon, I was trying to downplay the fact that it's not a band in hopes that people would buy more CDs and be more into it. But these days I think that's kind of silly. The music on that EP was written, performed, recorded and mixed by one person - me. And that's something I'm proud of. It's more like being an author, I suppose, like my wife. And an author would never try to convince people that their book was written by five people when it wasn't. Should extraordinary events come to pass and an actual Bandless Abandon band need to be formed, that would be great. As for now I'm okay with a guitar, a microphone and my laptop for company. Thank you so much for listening.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at
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