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INTERVIEW - Paging Dr. Theo!

Theo Tams returns with latest album

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, January 2019, page 0)
INTERVIEW - Paging Dr. Theo!: Theo Tams returns with latest album
INTERVIEW - Paging Dr. Theo!: Theo Tams returns with latest album
INTERVIEW - Paging Dr. Theo!: Theo Tams returns with latest album

It’s been 4 years since Theo Tams, the Coaldale born final Canadian Idol winner, released his last ep Back Pocket. Tams is back with his latest (and best) album so far, Call The Doctor which was released in September. The 4-year gap between albums allowed Tams to really focus on releasing a great album.

"I think it's just the process of me really learning to trust my instincts. I mean, we probably wrote four or five EPs in the last four years, but I didn't want to do what I did with Back Pocket, and that was on the day of release, be second guessing whether it's what I should or should not be doing. I think that takes time. So, it was walking away from the studio for a bit and traveling a bit more, and just trying to fill the well of inspiration a little bit more, and have some more life experiences, have some more heartbreak, and family issues. Just live life and have some more real shit to write about. I think that that's just, it's part of being an artist. You can't just write on the fly. You really have to have content to connect with. I feel like as soon as these seven songs were written, the last song being the last song we wrote for the album, as soon as that song was written, I said to my team at Slaight Music and at Hidden Pony, I was like, "Okay. We got it now. I'm ready for you to hear everything." But once that song was written, I was ready to go."

GayCalgary spoke to Tams from his home in Toronto where he now resides. The wait in releasing was worth it, he said, as the feedback has been excellent.

"I mean, so much better than I could have hoped for. This was the most nerve-wracking record so far, more so even than the record that came out after Idol, more so than the one in 2014. This one, I don't know, this one just meant something more. It was the most therapeutic, cathartic process that I was not expecting it to be for a lot of reasons, like creatively, personally. It's nice to be able throw yourself into songwriting like that and the creative process like that, and still have the response be really, really authentically positive. I feel really lucky that way. You never know how people are going to grow with you, as an artist. You just hope that they get it, and I feel like people got it, so that's a great feeling."

It’s an interesting contrast between our perception of artists lives and their music. Tams has been in a relationship for 7 years and it’s clear from talking to him and following him on social media that he’s in a good place. Yet many of the songs on Call The Doctor are about heartbreak and sadness.

"It's always kind of been my go-to. It's how I really learned to connect to music and connect to melodies. Even when I was on Idol, I always gravitated towards those very heartbreaking songs. That's always been what music has been for me. The last project, Back Pocket, I wanted to force myself to do something different, and to feel if it was possible. And it was possible, I just don't necessarily know if it came as naturally to me. So doing this project, I was like, I've done that. I've pushed myself into doing something where I'm drawing inspiration from more upbeat, positive vibes, but my go-to is to always write when I'm frustrated, and angry, and hurt. That can be from one small comment from someone, whether it's my partner, whether it's a family member, whether it's a friend, and I will take that, and that's always been my go-to when creating. So, I just wanted to dive back into that, that vibe."

After the release of the album Tams took to social media writing that Last Song was about a previous relationship and was the last song he would write for that person. It’s a song that has connected with fans with similar experiences.

"It literally was a relationship that to say it broke me is an understatement. It literally was something that just made me question every single ounce and fiber of who I am, not just as a person, but as an artist, and that's a really tough thing to wake up to for two, two and half years, as you're trying to win this person back. It was very, very manipulative. And so, the process of writing that song - and it really is the most simple song I don't think that it reinvented the wheel - I think that it just showcased every single small thought that someone has had when they feel like they were taken advantage of by someone. It's probably the song that I'm most proud of on the record. It was the song that brought the entire project to completion. Yeah, I'm glad it's out there. I'm glad that it has a voice, but it still is the hardest song to perform, for sure."

The lingering of a previous relationship on a current one can take a toll, and Tams is happy to have a partner that was willing to ride it out with him.

"I think that it just speaks volumes of how far we've come as a couple, how far I've come as an artist, how far he's come as an individual. I mean, at the end of the day, we are in this really great relationship, but we're both individuals. We both have different paths. We both carry our own different baggage. I think it takes a lot of courage, on his part especially, to realize that this is something that I have to carry for now, and I have to deal with it. It takes nothing away from my feelings and devotion to him or our relationship. It just is this, and I don't necessarily ... Maybe baggage is the wrong word, but maybe bruise is a better one. It's just this bruise that's going have visibility for a while. And I just have to give that time to heal, and the more than I dive into it, and the more that I recognize that it exists, I think the quicker it heals. He will be the first person to tell you that it is not easy. It wasn't easy. I mean, the whole record wasn't easy. A lot of these songs are about heartbreak from previous relationships, and I think it was really hard for him to not take that upon himself, but I think it's trusting, just what it's like to be a songwriter, and you don't always get to choose where your inspiration comes from. I think that the best way to create is to just go with what you feel has to be said."

Another song that is especially resonating with the LGBTQ community is Romeo and James.

"It was one of the harder ones to write. I wasn't sure about how my more conservative family back home in Southern Alberta was going to respond to just the forthrightness of it being it's not ... There was no beating around the bush with song. It's called Romeo and James. I was a bit concerned about that, but at the end of the day, I felt like that's why there was more importance to have it on the project. I feel like there's a lot of people, who have come out or are in the process of coming out that do come from these families that do kind of, and maybe inadvertently, but just the same, they make you feel like it's either you believe in God or you're gay. For me, that was a huge thing because faith was such a huge part of my life growing up. I didn't understand how I could not come out and be authentic to myself without still maintaining this personal relationship with faith. My faith has drastically changed since then, but I think it's still an important story to tell, that I don't think a lot of our parents (having a gay child is) no one's plan A a lot of the time, but we still have to come together, and support each other, and love each other. My parents were just in Toronto a couple days ago. The four of us went the Raptors game, and it was just, it's amazing to see how far they've come from me coming out of the closet 10 years ago. It's huge. I wanted to pay a little bit of respect and tribute to that journey with that song."

Tams wasn’t out on Idol, and while he isn’t specifically looking to have the focus be on his sexuality, he recognizes that the impact of openly LGBTQ artists is important.

"When I was on the show, I just wanted to be very much authentically who Theo Tams was. At that point, I had no idea who that was. And still even now, I question really what my end goals. I think it's because I'm so terrified of being put into any type of advocate role because I think that everyone has their own process. Mine has been a very intense process that is probably quite different than a lot of other people. I know a lot of other people in the LGBTQ community have it much worse than even I did. I think it really just comes down to you have to trust your truth. It really is that simple. If you go to sleep at night, and you wake up in the morning, and there is that nagging feeling that you are not being true to your own self and to your own truth, then you have to fight for that, and you deserve to fight for that. It is the hardest, most exhausting process that you will go through, but just know, I think that's what it is. Just trust the fact that you have your own truth outside of any faith, outside of any family. It's just yours, and you alone know what that is, so stay true to that."

Theo Tams has run the gamut of experiences in the music industry. Going through the Canadian Idol process, winning and signing with Sony, eventually leaving the label and becoming and independent artist.

"I think it's one of the many advantages. I mean, I've come from major label world, and I was in many ways, simply just a number to them. I was a number of what they invested. I was a number of what they had to recoup. I don't necessarily know if they ever thought of me as a long-term artist. That's hard to start your career and to have your first major nationwide distributed album be built on this arranged marriage, where they don't necessarily want to work with me. I don't necessarily want to work with them, but we have to work together contractually, and fulfill our obligation to get this project out. I mean, working with the Slate team and the Hidden Pony team now, it is definitely an advantage, but the disadvantage is that it does move slower. But I think long-term-wise, that's a really, really great thing."

Although Canadian Idol ended with Tam’s win, the music reality show competition format continues to roll on. American Idol, The Voice, X-Factor and the Got Talent series all continue to focus on that chase for stardom – a chase that rarely leads there.

"It's taken a long time to realize that. I can count on all my fingers and all my toes twice over the amount of times that I've wanted to quit. It's a really tough industry. For me, it came down to - and it's something that I would say that I learned in the last year, year and a half - This is not just a job to me. It's not just a career that I'm pursuing. I really have to believe in order for it to make the most sense in terms of a life goal, I have to believe that this is purpose. This is why I'm here, and it's to create music, and to write these songs. I think once you put it that way, then the business part of it just goes away. Whatever happens, happens. You try to surround yourself with the best team possible, people who believe in your vision, but your vision becomes a lot clearer once you realize its just purpose. It's what you're here to do. I still think that (reality shows) can be a great platform. I think that it's kind of why I'm more on board with a show like The Launch. I think that The Launch is such a new concept for this type of talent show, and they really prove that these shows really are just a stepping stone, and that's it. Where a show like X Factor and a show like Canadian Idol, these shows build not just the contestant's perception, but the public's perception that this is going to be massive. I think what's massive about it is the TV show and the TV rating, whereas a show like The Launch, even though ratings-wise, it does really well, I think the artist, almost every single artists who has come from that show, whether they were launched or not, has increased their commercial potential, whether it's social media following or releasing singles. Exponentially, it's been to where they were before. I'm on board with that new concept. The other ones, I mean, they've run their course. It's time for something new."

Tams has mostly performed in and around Toronto with frequent performances on Facebook such as performing fan requested covers. He hopes to be delivering a prescription for live music to the rest of Canada next year.

"That's a goal for February, March is to kind of, even if it's just an old school, down and dirty tour, to get 15, 16 dates from Vancouver back to Toronto, and maybe later in the Spring do East Coast and Newfoundland. But I think it's important to get back out there, and to reconnect with the people who have been there since the beginning, and the new people that have come on board along the way. That's always the goal. I think with this project, now even more so just how personal it is to me, and how personal I think that it is to the audience, I think that that's the next step, for sure. That's the next goal that we're working towards."

Strangers (Live Acoustic Performance) - Theo Tams

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