Singer/songwriter Trent Tomlinson is one of those rare performers whose music is as straight-ahead and unpretentious as he is. "My songs," he says simply, "are real-life situations with kick-ass guitar."
"It's 'open a beer, sit in a lawn chair, let's have a party' country," he says of his music. "At the same time, the songs are saying, 'I have the ability to love you, to understand' and at the end of the day, all that matters is Mama and Daddy and going to heaven. That pretty much sums everything up."
Trent honed his music to perfection in countless demo studios over the years. "I've had five publishing deals," he says. "I've practically lived in the studio, creating and honing a sound of my own. And it turns out that five of the songs on the album record are actually my demos -- Lyric Street loved them so much as is that we just went in and re-sang and tweaked a little, instead of re-recording."
In fact, Trent was involved in every aspect of song selection and production on his album which is unusual for a new artist. That level of involvement is testament to his ability to turn the long hard road to stardom to his advantage. Although, he had written songs for Emerson Drive and Blue County, among others, Trent's career had amounted to a frustrating series of publishing deals until he had a breakthrough about two years ago. He was writing at Cal IV Entertainment, a Music City publishing company, when, "I kind of found myself," Trent says. "I basically admitted the truth about who I am and what I am, my demons and insecurities -- the ones that I run from on a day-to-day basis -- and began putting them into my songs."
He immediately noticed the change in his songwriting. "It was like, all right," says Trent, "now I believe this guy." As he was honing his craft, his singing also continued to get better. "It was at this point that my whole world changed -- as a songwriter, as an artist, as everything. The truth will set you free."
The music began connecting for the reason great music always does -- people identified with it. "Songs," Trent says, "are one of those places where you can hear someone talking about their problems and you say, 'I'm not alone.'"
Once he concentrated on writing songs that reflected his psyche, and dealt with topics like drinking, camaraderie, broken dreams and relationships, Trent found his fortunes reversing rapidly. He demoed and pitched "Hey Batter Batter," a clever take on barroom rancor, and quickly found Lyric Street Record's Senior Vice President of A&R, Doug Howard and President, Randy Goodman wanting to hear more. Trent showcased the new material for them in October 2004 and two months later he had a record deal.
Country is my rock brings together Trent's emotional honesty and eye for detail to vignettes detailing both the good and bad of life and love. "Just Might Have Her Radio On" and "I Was Gonna Leave Tomorrow Anyway" deal with the aftermath of relationships while "The Bottle" looks at the dark side of life and "Drunker Than Me," is an offbeat and hilarious look at being forced to be the responsible one on a night out. The CD's combination of truth, pathos and humor give it both accessibility and real depth, and its hard-charging musical approach makes it all compelling.
Trent began his musical journey in Kennett, Missouri, which is also the hometown of Sheryl Crow. His 6'8" father is a former basketball star who set scoring records at the University of Missouri and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers before knee surgery knocked him out. He ewas also the basketball coach and biology teacher at Trent's high school, and a tough taskmaster.
"I learned about the meaning of hard work," says Trent, "and what can happen in life when you work as hard as you can." His father groomed him for basketball stardom, and Trent was a starter in his freshman year in high school. "The trouble was," he says, "I could score 32 points and on the way home he'd be on me about why I didn't take the charging foul in the fourth quarter."
Along the way, he realized basketball was not going to be the way he ewould spend his life. "Realistically," he says, "I'm 6'2". No matter how good my jump shot is, Kobe Bryant's going to slap it out of the gym."
He turned to music, recalling the days when his parents would sing to him as a child. His mother wanted him to take piano lessons, but the classics weren't for Trent. "I wanted to play like Jerry Lee Lewis," he says, "so I quit the lessons and taught myself. Then I realized I couldn't carry a piano aorund to parties and gigs, so I bought a guitar and started playing that."
He found himself drawn to other musicians in school -- "people I wouldn't have hung out with otherwise" -- and it wasn't long before he was sneaking out to work in the bars in his hometown, playing rock before settling into country. Then, in his junior year in high school, he auditioned for TNN's talent show, "You Can Be A STar," and week after week he won and moved up in the competition, eventually reaching Nashville and the finals.
"I was first runner-up by two-tenths of a point," he says with a rueful laugh. "The girl who won took home fifty thousand dollars, and I got a denim jacket with the TNN logo on the back." It was a hardcore lesson in the winner-take-all world of high-stakes music, but it was also an affirmation that he had real talent, although his father was slow to get on board.
"It let me know I had something going on," he says, "but my dad was going to need more convincing, especially since I had to miss some ball games. It would have been easier if I'd come back home with the fifty thousand."
He tried college but says, "I didn't want to wake up eventually kicking myself in the rear end for not knowing what would have happened if I'd tried music." He left for Nashville after six months.
Trent took a job with Stanley Steemer and began hanging out at a club called Barbara's in Nashville's renowned Printer's Alley, making money there and at other clubs by winning talent contests. He landed a cut on a Johnny Roddriguez record and began looking for more opportunities.
"I remember one time when I literally had a dollar to my name," he says. "I bought a soda for 50 cents and used a quarter to call Frank Masick, a tape copy guy at Kimber Kay Music, who had given me his card. He told me to bring some stuff over. I had two demos I had given up the publishing on because I coudn't afford the studio time, and I went over with Kevin Durham, a buddy and co-writer of mine. We were waiting in the lobby and the President of the company was there and he invited us back into his office. I played him the two demos, which were ballads, and he said, 'I love them. Have you got anything up-tempo?' I said, "Yeah, but not on tape."
He pointed to the guitar in the corner and told me to sing a couple of them, so we did. When we got done, he gave us publishing and production deals and handed us a check."
The short-lived duo of Trent and Dean lasted until the publishing company went bankrupt, immediately after a successful Polydor Records showcase. "I lost a publishing deal and a record deal in three days," he says.
Trent went back to Missouri to clear his head, and while he was there he got word that publishing legend Buddy Killen had bought his catalog out of bankruptcy court. Trent met with Killen, who offered him another publishing deal. After a year-and-a-half, he got a deal with MCA Publishing for the best salary he'd seen since moving to Nashville but before long a corporate takeover left his backers on the street. After scoring several publishing deals, Trent was parking cars at the airport.
Then came the deal at Cal IV Entertainment which Trent calls "the turning point." He bagan writing "more progressive country," and landed three cuts on the first Emerson Drive record. He also cut some sides for Lyric Street Records, but A&R chief Doug Howard "knew that I was getting close but that I wasn't quite there. It was a blessing in disguise that nothing happened at the time." His epiphany came at that point, and everying he had learned and been through came together musically in a way that Lyric Street bought into whole-heartedly.
"Luckily," he says, "my vision was their vision." Even his father is among the converts. "At one time," he laughs, "he thought it was all a pipe dream. Now he's calling with song ideas."
Trent is, after all this time, in the enviable position of having life and music come together successfully. He has written a song for the new Sara Evans album, and his debut album, Country Is My Rock, is ratifying the path he's taken.
"For me, the hardest part was letting it all out," he says, "but that's become my way for dealing with my darker side. Writing songs and singing help me to understand it and move on. Hopefully, the reception Country Is My Rock is getting means that other people are getting something out of it too."
--- from the official Trent Tomlinson website