Walking into C-Boys Heart and Soul in the South Congress area of Austin, I am greeted by dim lights and soft music. The place is quiet – it is, after all, early evening on a Monday night. The bartender greets patrons by name. A stage sits at the end of the small room, and it hits me: I am in the live music capital of the world. This is Austin at its purest, at its most bare. After sitting for only a couple minutes, I am met by Tomar Williams, front man of Austin band Tomar and the FCs. We sat down to talk about his music and this incredible city.
The Royal Tour: Let’s start by talking a bit about your music. It’s been described as “soul revival.” What does soul revival mean to you and do you think that’s accurate?
Tomar Williams: Soul revival. I mean, to me, when I look at soul music, it can be all sorts of music. Soul music to me is when you write from your soul. Whether it’s bluegrass, country, rock and roll, funk, it can all be soul music. Soul revival, I think that’s pretty close to being accurate. What we are looking at is to give our rendition of, if we were back in those days, how we would have sounded amongst all the other soul bands that were kicking butt back then. I am not saying we are trying to reinvent soul, or establish a new soul, but just trying to chisel a bit of what we would have sounded like.
TRT: The 2017 version of soul.
TW: Exactly! That, to me, is soul revival.
TRT: You spoke a bit about these greats who have come before. Who are your musical inspirations?
TW: Oh, man. Well first and foremost, if it weren’t for the Jackson Five, I don’t think soul music would have ever come into our house. So I would say the Jackson Five, and then you have Parliament Funkadelic, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Ray Charles, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, I mean the list goes on and on. Stevie Wonder. My dad – he’s a musician as well – would buy all these records and bring them home, and as my older sisters got older, they would start buying all the new stuff like the Bee Gees –
TRT: It’s funny that that is the “new stuff.”
TW: Haha, yeah. And they would buy Elton John, Billy Joel. So we were getting turned on to a lot of stuff. Elton John has mad soul! People don’t realize this, but I look at Elton John as being very soulful. Billy Joel, mad soul. So I grew up on a lot of different stuff in the house. Those influences, they catapulted me into wanting to emulate them, not just in being a musician, but also trying to find my place when it came to writing. When I heard Lionel Richie come out with the Brickhouse album with the Commodores, oh my God, his songwriting, and how he just puts it all together, it intrigued me as a kid back in 1977-8, and still today. To hear such music, and also the lyrics, and how he put it all together, he is such an amazing song writer. So all those names I named, I mean, I can go on and on. Prince, so many. I would be doing someone an injustice by not mentioning him.
TRT: So we will have to add a line stating “and all the rest I forgot to mention.”
TW: Exactly. And all the rest I forgot to name.
TRT: So here we are, starting the second half of 2017. What is coming up for Tomar and the FCs?
TW: Well, to start, July 14-15, we will be playing right here at C-Boys to release our third video, Shine Your Light. We shot it back in February, but we had some editing and stuff to do, and we will be debuting it that weekend. (Editor’s note: if you are in Austin, don’t miss this. Tell Tomar you read this interview and he will treat you like family.) And we have a bunch more stuff coming. We have Viva Ben Fest on July 29. But the one thing we are really looking forward to is coming up in October. We were actually picked to perform at ACL this year.
TRT: For those who don’t know, what is ACL?
TW: ACL is Austin City Limits. It is the monster music festival of, like, anywhere. Let me tell you, when the band got together back in 2015, in our first few practices, I told the fellows, “You know, guys, we are going to be playing ACL.” And they said, “Oh, come on, Tomar.” I said, “Dudes, I give us two years tops.” And here we are.
TRT: Congratulations! That is awesome. That really has to be the pinnacle for an Austin music act.
TW: Oh man. When you are in this city, you know what that means. When you say Austin City Limits, it’s not just geared to the people here in Austin. People fly in from all over the world to attend, so if you’re a part of it, even if you’re on a stage about the size of a shoe box, I don’t give a damn, you know? At least you are included. Your name was actually picked from so many numbers. So that’s an honor.
TRT: We talked a little about it earlier, but why Austin? Why is Austin such a great city for music? With all these other cities out there, why does everyone come here?
TW: It wasn’t like that always. A lot of bands would move out of Austin to make it in the business. Even my brothers and I thought about doing it. I had a little brother, and he moved out to California in ’92, and tried his hand trying to write. I think he landed one jingle on Fresh Prince of Bel Aire, doing the little breaks between scenes. But he moved back, and we started perfecting what we wanted to do as musicians. So to answer your question, I think the reason Austin is where it is today, in terms of live music, is because we stayed steadfast. We did not – how can I say this – we did not change our view or our passion or what we wanted Austin to look like. Rather than trying to look like Nashville, or sound like Chicago or Memphis or New York, we remained Austin. And I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know it means something. If we would have given up on this sound, where there are so many greats, too many to list but these guys who kept that fire burning. Guys like Bob Schneider who is kicking butt right now.
TRT: Do you feel like you are part of a club being mentioned with these guys?
TW: I’m going to tell you right now, I have wife and two kids, and when I go home, I am just a regular dad and husband. I do feel like I am part of something great that is happening, but I think that I still have so much work to do. So I am trying to elevate myself to be a part of something, but I am honored to just even be considered as part of this group. I am just honored to be able to do something I love doing. It’s not about the money, it’s about the love, the craft, and the soul!
TRT: So if someone comes to Austin for the first time, what do you recommend they do to get a feel for the city?
TW: First time you come to Austin, get a hotel that’s central, and then just walk. Just walk the streets, walk the blocks. When you do that, you can soak up the city in a way you can’t when you drive around. You’ve got to walk the pavement. Walk downtown, and walk past these amazing food trucks we have, and you’ll hear the music from across the street or from a little place you walk by, that’s what I recommend. That’s Austin. Feel the city on the soles of your feet, and you will become one with the city. Then you can get a car or Uber or whatever, but walk first. And one of the spots I would say to come to, if you want to catch amazing music on any night, is right here at C-Boys Heart and Soul. They have some guys and young ladies who play here, and they will just humble you! I don’t care where you come from or how good you think you are, come in here on a Tuesday night, I promise you that you’ll sit down and take some notes. And there are so many places, like Antone’s or the Continental Club. Just stop in. Feel the city and hear the city.
TRT: Any hidden gems that are your favorite spots in Austin?
TW: One of my favorite spots is going out to Lake Travis. There are so many waterholes out there, and the lake is so gorgeous right now. Right now, it’s about 95% full – it was down to 35% when we had a drought. When you go there, you feel as though you left Austin, but you’re still in Austin. You almost feel as though you’re in another country when you go out there. It’s so peaceful, so beautiful. It’s such an opposite to the city, with all the music it has to offer, to find a peaceful moment like that. Go boating or windsurfing or just relax by the water. Definitely go there.
TRT: Ok, when you hear the phrase “Keep Austin Weird,” what does that mean to you?
TW: You know, it’s funny. Since I moved here, I have seen some of the weirdest stuff that I haven’t seen anywhere else, so it kind of speaks for itself. But when they say to keep Austin weird, what it means to me is keep it original. Keep our own identity. Do not follow. Austin always does that, stays unique. So when they say that, they mean we don’t want to look like any other city.
TRT: And is that still happening? Or do you feel it’s changing?
TW: Oh yeah, they push that. They have a Keep Austin Weird Fest. If you leave here without a Keep Austin Weird shirt, shame on you. (Editor’s note: oops.) But it’s a slogan, a propaganda piece. It keeps the mindset that when you step into this city, you might witness some weird stuff, and don’t freak out. If you are sitting at the bus stop and you see a young lady ride by on a bicycle with no shirt on, well, that’s Austin.
TRT: Anything else you want people to know about Austin?
TW: I want people to know that this city really means a lot to the people that reside here, especially the ones that have been here past ten years. When people come here and they disrespect what this city is all about, it will ruffle some feathers down here. That being said, when you come to our city, just understand what we are all about down here: great music, great food, and friendly people. But if you like those things, come on down. Just expect to hear live music at 2am, and don’t call the cops!
If you enjoyed this piece, please also read our past Royal Tour feature in Memphis.