Ahead of his week as our Three Chords featured artist, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Tommy Atkins. Tommy has spent the last two years making country music history. With chart-topping singles in the UK, New Zealand and Canada, as well as the first UK/Europe country radio hit to feature openly gay lyrics, ITV National Diversity Awards nominee Tommy is a passionate advocate for diversity in country music and beyond.
This week is special not only for Tommy’s artist feature but for the release of his long-awaited debut album. It’s been two years in the making, Tommy tells us, and there have been around twenty other songs that have come and gone from the final tracklisting. With just eight songs making the final cut, I wanted to know more about how it began.
‘It Took A Woman was the starting point,’ says Tommy. A deeply personal song with overtly gay lyrics, it was the turning point in his career and the song that made him realise it was time to stop pitching songs to other artists and hold some back for himself. Met A Man, Cinderella’s Had A Drink and Wild In The Wind cemented their spots early on. Just like that, the album began to take shape.
When I asked Tommy how he felt about the album, he had a lot to say. ‘It’s interesting to produce and release an album in a singles culture,’ he told me. When you’re releasing regular singles to compete with the millions of other uploads to streaming services every single day, it can be difficult to slow down long enough to even put together an album. But Tommy has done just that, and when I asked him what he’s most proud of, he had an immediate answer.
‘The sonic narrative,’ he said. From the first song to the last, the album tells a story – with a fantastic variety of sounds. Those sounds came to life in part thanks to the spectacular team of musicians Tommy has assembled. From fiddle player Michael Cleveland, who Tommy says ‘works wonders with a two-sentence spec sheet’ to Smith Curry on pedal steel and Chris Condon on guitar and banjo, Tommy has high praise for each member of the musical crew. ‘It’s been amazing to hear how others interpret my songs,’ he gushes.
When it comes to album #2, Tommy’s looking forward to a little break. ‘The hamster wheel of constant promotion is a creativity killer,’ he asserts. ‘I’m looking forward to writing with others again, and for album two to present itself.’ As for how he’ll celebrate the release of album #1? Date night at a steakhouse. It doesn’t get more country than that.