Artist Spotlight

An Interview with a True Rock n’ Roll Believer, Tommie Vaughn

Tommie Vaughn’s books came to my attention thanks to a press release from Fly PR. I am an avid reader and especially during COVID-19, I’ve been using them as a nightly escape. As musician (front woman of Wall of Tom) and author, Tommie Vaughn said, “I think now, more than ever- with the loss of our concerts and live music scene, the books are indeed, the perfect way to bring back the music and stage shows, safely!” The author of the Frankie Spencer trilogy certainly lives the rock n’ roll dream and was kind enough to answer questions about her life as a musician and about the rock n’ roll series, This Rock in My Heart, This Roll in My Soul and most recently, This Rock n’ Roll Dream.

Izzi Krombholz: Tell me about your background as a musician. How did you get your start and have you always lived in California?

Tommie Vaughn: I grew up in a small town, on the Oregon coast. My father played Uke and my Mom played piano, so we had a lot of sing-a-longs and I still have those recordings of myself, age four, making up songs and singing my little heart out. It was just something I had figured out that made me happy at an early age, and I grew up singing, performing shows for anyone who would listen. My parents split up when I was five and my mother moved to Southern California, so I spent half my life in Oregon, the other half in California. When I was a junior at the University of Oregon, I went to visit my mom in San Diego- ended up joining a band and I never went back. I was hooked, and realized I needed to chase the dream for real, so a few years later I moved to Hollywood, started my own band, Wall of Tom, and the rest as they say- is history.

IK: Who are your musical inspirations?

TV: That’s a tough one, because I really do love so many bands … But I could narrow it down to three women who truly inspired me to sing. Debbie Harry of Blondie, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. I thought (and still do) that these women are revolutionary and they paved the way for so many of us girls, proving they could do it their way and to not be afraid to be a powerful voice in the industry. 

IK: How did you get the idea to write this series?

TV: I think it was back in the beginning of my career in Hollywood, there was this magical time when myself and all of my friends were starting their musical journey’s together, that the idea came to me. But I was too busy living the dream at that moment, to be able to write more than a song. So it wasn’t until ten years later, when I was pregnant with my first child, that I had no choice but to slow down a bit, so I started writing the first book just before he was born, and finished it with one hand cradling my son, the other typing all the while that I was bouncing on an exercise ball. (That is the truth!)

IK: The books feel very personal and I know they are inspired by real life events. Are Frankie’s gal pals based on women you know? And what about Raymond and Jessie? 

TV: You really want them to be real huh? But you are right, the books are very personal, and a lot of it IS based on real events … But I will never tell which is which, or who is who- I think it is more fun for the reader to try to connect the dots, or not to, because they have their own vision of who the character is, inside their hearts. 

IK: The third book was my favorite although I was devastated by the ending… I read in the foreword that you’ve been through some rough times in the past few years. How did you decide to make the ending what it was? 

TV: When I was writing the third book, my husband would come into my office and quickly leave, because I was literally in tears when I was writing. I think your best work comes from the depths of your soul, and sometimes that hurts. I’ve always known how most of the books would go, but the third, ripped my heart out. I knew that in order to show how truly strong these characters were, that I would have to take them down to their own darkness in order for them to find the light to shine. As to my personal losses, with losing my father and then shortly after my step-mother, was my own path- for that helped me to remember who I was born to be, and the music came back to me as I returned to the stage after a six year hiatus of being a devoted momma to two amazing children. 

IK: Frankie’s experience with the big shot music producer is timely in the era of the #metoo movement. Was that segment of the book inspired by the movement?

TV: The books are based back in early 2000’s, and sadly women have been going through this kind of experience in the music and film industry, for so much longer than that. It’s always been a big boys club, and I knew I had to include it in the novels because I wanted the reader to understand that it was always there, and women have been dealing with it in one form or another, for eons. I think it just finally got the proper voices that it deserved with #meetoo as women stood up, together. The books would not be a good representation of what it’s like in the industry, if at least one, or all- had to deal with it in one form or another. 

IK: Your descriptions of Frankie’s clothing made me drool and want to go to vintage clothing stores in LA. Are you a vintage collector? What are your favorite stores in California?

TV: Ding! Ding! We have a winner! Oh yes indeed I am lover of vintage clothes, and we should go shopping together! When I was first starting my band in Hollywood, I knew I had to look different to stand out from the others, but I had absolutely no money to buy fancy clothes. But I had loads of style, and a great eye for colors as I studied design in college. I used to go to Jet Rag’s dollar sale every Sunday on La Brea Ave, dig through the giant piles of vintage clothes- spend five or ten bucks, and I had all the clothes I needed for my upcoming shows. I used to love The Wasteland too, and would go there if I had a little more cash for a bigger show. I still go to the Melrose Trading Post some Sundays in Fairfax High’s parking lot, and one of my best stylist friends Carrie, who dressed me for a few music videos, just opened a vintage shop in Burbank called Best Friend Central, and I’m obsessed with every piece she finds.

IK: How did you meet your husband? Do you all play music together?

TV: Ohhhh juicy … I met my husband in Hollywood, at the recording studio we all worked at. He became my guitarist for my band, Wall of Tom, when my then current guitarist moved to Seattle, and we innocently played together for about three years, before I realized there was something going on with those big blue eyes of his and all his crooning of Radiohead songs. We fought it for at least a year, wrote a bunch of songs about each other, and he wouldn’t give up- kept showing up on my doorstep, so I realized there was no stopping that train. We’ve been together for seventeen years, married for almost eleven- made four albums and counting, and two deliciously gorgeous kids together. 

IK: Do your kids play music?

TV: Yes and No. My son grew up in a recording studio, so I think for awhile he was sick of music and didn’t want to do what his mom and dad did. But his love of the stage is ever present now, he has such a confidence onstage, and he sings constantly although he has not attached himself to any one instrument, so I try not to push because I want him to find it organically. He says maybe he will sing death metal, thinking I won’t like that, but I’m like “Dude, really? Rad!”  Then there is my daughter- she IS music, and at seven she is writing her own songs, playing guitar and piano and singing for anyone who will listen. Reminds me of someone I used to know …

IK: It seemed throughout the series, Frankie Spencer learns the big lesson to believe in herself and make herself happy. Is that something you had to learn through your career in music in LA?

TV: It still is … I think any good artist doubts themselves at one time or another, it’s just the ones who realize they are doing it, and use it to make themselves better, are the ones who grow within their art and life. Frankie wears her heart on her sleeve and I think her journey is one that a lot of artists have to fight for, chasing away many types of demons- real and imagined. These books truly are a love story, but one of self love, for all the characters- because at the heart of all of it, I love artists, and I think that there is someone for everyone in this series that they can really attach themselves to, seeing their own journey in rock ‘n’ roll as they turn every page. 

***Check out Wall of Tom’s video for “Drive Through Fire” below!

An avid rock musician and enthusiast as well as a rock history buff.

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