Tom Hagerman is a multi-instrumentalist who has recorded with everyone from M Ward to Crooked Fingers to Sage Francis. He’s also collaborated on pop performances with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and—along with his bandmates in Denver’s DeVotchKa—created new orchestral arrangements for Sweeney Todd.
A performer at our previous Make + Believe event, Tom is a Colorado native who attributes his artistic development to music education in public schools. Here, we talk about Kickstarter guilt and getting attacked by bloodthirsty barbers/mini Darth Vaders.
How did you get started in music, especially playing such a wide variety of instruments?
I started playing music thanks to my parents giving me piano lessons early on and then later due to the fact that District 11 public schools in Colorado Springs had a string music program starting kids in the 4th grade. Every other instrument I play is something I picked up along the way to get a job done, I suppose.
DeVotchKa just wrapped up a collaboration with the DCPA on Sweeney Todd. What was it like as a musician and storyteller to take on a rather gruesome character and plot?
I’m almost 40 and I think I’ve seen far too much violence and such on TV and movies to consider Sweeney Todd gruesome. It’s far more absurdist comedy with a giant wallop of tragedy for good measure. I loved playing in the pit and I loved getting my throat slashed by the Demon Barber every night. Everybody involved in that production was phenomenally talented and it was an honor to contribute my small part.
You (and DeVotchKa) have toured all over, but you continue to be based in Denver. What is it about Denver that draws you back, especially when there are other cities with bigger music scenes?
Denver has been incredibly fertile soil for folks starting creative projects of many kinds. It has always had all of the amenities of larger cities without the sometimes crushing lens of an an industry that requires folks to fit into a standard. It has been a double edged sword in the past. It can be hard to get noticed on a larger scale, but the Internet is changing all of that. I am a little afraid the sky-rocketing costs of things around here are going to force some talented folks out.
What’s something few people know about you?
Nothing that I could repeat in polite company.
What’s the last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably?
When did you last make time for make-believe?
Well, I’ve got kids, so I gotta do that stuff every day. This morning, in fact, I had all of my limbs severed by a 6-year-old Darth Vader wearing my black Casbah hoodie I got at a gig in San Diego.
Do you have a favorite TED talk?
I’m going to have to say that my favorite TED talk is Amanda Palmer’s. She is a songwriter friend of ours who also wrote the book The Art of Asking. I’m not going to lie to you, I haven’t seen the whole TED Talk, but I am mostly blown away by the fact that she has turned a potentially negative spot in her career into probably one of the brightest.
She was asking for volunteer musicians for her tour on her last record release after having had, at that point, the most successful Kickstarter campaign in the history of Kickstarter. She got a ton of flak for it from the musicians unions and even the press for not compensating folks when she clearly had the money. From her perspective, she has always used volunteers from her community at her shows, even in her van touring days. She always wanted to include her fans both to help showcase their art and to add some flare to her own—sometimes successfully, other times, not so. At any rate, she successfully flipped the conversation and in the process transformed herself from a villain into a hero. She’s kind of a genius like that.
With that said, I now feel crushing guilt every time I ignore somebody’s Kickstarter campaign. I’m going to host one myself later this year so please give in to the feelings of crushing guilt and give me money to make my records. I’ve got kids to feed, right after they saw off my limbs with lightsabers.
Photo by Josh Barrett of Ignite Images.