Courtesy of Tommy Halloran's Guerrilla Swing
By Jonas Weir
Tommy Halloran might be the hardest-working man in show business—or at least the St. Louis area.
“I think that if I have had any success as a musician, it’s because I just work so much,” Tommy says. “
That’s my whole approach: brute force.” While brute force describes Tommy’s concert schedule aptly, it’s not quite appropriate for his music. His voice wavers between a Randy Newman-like baritone, a surprisingly high falsetto, and the occasional jazz scat. His songs are ballads in the jazz tradition. And the Guerrilla Swing’s instrumentation ranges from klezmer to mid-tempo swing. It’s generally affable music that doesn’t always need to be the center of attention, and it’s often not.
Tommy has built his career on playing regular gigs, and many of those gigs are at restaurants during lunch and dinner. Some shows are in a club setting, but Tommy Halloran’s Guerrilla Swing has become known for playing at restaurants. In fact, the band first garnered attention for playing Sunday morning brunch at Ferring Jazz Bistro, a well-respected jazz venue.
“It’s not a glamorous thing at all,” Tommy says of working during meals. “I’m often in the corner, just playing background music.”
Despite the sobering realities of working as a career musician, perform- ing is one of Tommy’s true passions, and it’s something he says he had to do. About eight years ago, his second child and first son, Django, was born, and, as crazy as it might sound, Tommy quit his desk job to pursue music.
“I decided I needed to do what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. “What kind of father would I be if I were to demonstrate anything less?”
Being a professional musician didn’t work out at first, though, so Tommy began walking dogs as an additional source of income. However, he was on his way toward playing music full time—a journey that began when he was just a teenager.
“As an act of teenage rebellion, I started playing guitar and got into a band,” he says, “but I began taking it pretty seriously very quickly.” When he started playing music, Tommy says he listened to “alternative skateboard music.”
He liked punk rock, i.e. the Dead Milkmen; rap, i.e. the Beastie Boys; and ska, i.e. the Specials, which is still his favorite band. However, his tastes broadened in his twenties to include jazz and other music, and the songs he began writing were a far cry from the Beastie Boys or the Dead Milkmen. Since then, he has continued to outgrow teenage angst and rowdy punk rock, but he hasn’t outgrown some things.
At age thirty-eight, Tommy goes to Tower Grove Park nearly every day to skateboard, often with his two children, Django and Liley. He also still judges music on how good it is to skateboard to, and he even uses his time skating as a creative outlet.
“I tend to write when I’m skating,” he says. “It’s good for the writing process to be out and moving around.”
Although Tommy’s skateboarding days are not behind him, the days of walking dogs and working a desk job are. He hasn’t had another job in almost five years, and Tommy Halloran’s Guerrilla Swing has established itself as a mainstay on the St. Louis scene. To that end, the ragtag collective of musicians is more ambitious than ever. They’re working on two albums, one live and one studio, and still keeping their rigorous schedule.
“It’s just the hustle,” Tommy says. “It’s always a hustle.”
For more information, find Tommy Halloran’s Guerrilla Swing on Facebook or reverbnation.com/tommyhalloran. To purchase the band’s music, find the band’s debut album, Under the Catalpa Trees, on cdbaby.com.