An Interview with Tommy Alaska of the Tommy Alaska Experience

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Forward By Angela Quinn:
I’ll never forget the first friend I made on the Internet. His name was Zac, and we met in an AOL chatroom when I was like twelve. We liked the same music and spent just about every day talking about all sorts of things. I remember that my real-life friends made fun of me for being mad when I lost an argument with my mom about getting off AOL because it was tying up the phone line, as having Internet friends back then was extremely taboo. That friendship lasted until AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was replaced by MySpace in my world, and I just sort of lost touch with Zac several years later.

By the time 2004 rolled around, and I was graduating high school, Facebook was slowly taking the place of MySpace. Interest groups on Facebook became the AOL chatrooms of my childhood, only better! I’ve luckily made so many Internet friends over the years in groups about things like music, science, vaccines and Lisa Frank who have become real-life friends whom I’ve met up with, hung out with and built long-lasting friendships with. Tommy Alaska is most certainly one of them.

It’s amazing how you can get an aura about someone from just their Internet comments; as soon as I started interacting with Tommy Alaska on Internet vinyl forums, I just knew he was a great guy, and one worth supporting. Over the past year, a friendship has formed between myself and Tommy. Tommy and I have talked about everything and anything, which has been a real blessing after I realized what a private guy he really is; it makes what he shares that much more special. I’ve learned that he’s a wonderful father-the kind I think many of us wish we had in our lives. I’ve learned that he is one of the most positive, glass-half-full people you will ever meet, and he’s too modest and humble to ever recognize how inspiring his outlooks on life are! Had we not met in the midst of a pandemic, I know I would’ve already met up for an Alaska family outing to a record shop with his kids in his neighboring state of Pennsylvania. I am looking forward to finally getting to meet my friend Tommy in person, even though he is already my real-life friend.

If you haven’t already checked out one of his shows, you are definitely missing out on the Tommy Alaska Experience! Tommy takes the time to greet each and every person who visits his show. He’s a humble guy, so he won’t ever tell you this, but he’s an excellent DJ! Truly outstanding! He always brings the magic, and I find myself moving and grooving every time to the fantastic music he plays. One of my favorite types of shows is the “Sleeve it or Heave it” segment where he plays different 45s and has us vote on whether he should keep it or pass it along. It’s like a trip down memory lane, where I hear songs and tracks I completely forgot that I even knew or just haven’t heard in ages, and thus, I end up making a playlist for work centered around that artist or genre. The Tommy Alaska Experience is always full of positive, amazing, friendly vibes. I genuinely enjoy supporting positive folks like him, and I’m so glad that we have the opportunity to highlight his work and positive efforts here on our site. Tommy Alaska is a shining example of what the Vinyl Community is all about, and he is most deserving of your support and viewership. You can checkout The Tommy Alaska Experience on twitch here. It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the one and only Tommy Alaska through this interview with Andrew Daly below. Enjoy!

Andrew Daly:
Tommy, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever-raging dumpster fire?


Tommy:
Hi, Andrew! 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to invite me to speak with you. I’m very flattered and honored to be here. I’m very conflicted about speaking about how I’ve held it together through all of this. Some people have it really hard, and I took this as a blessing in disguise for me. During the quarantine my friends were all scared. Whenever we chatted or face-timed each other, they were surprised how optimistic and happy I was. As you know, I have two young children. My main concern at first was taking care of them. I’ve managed to keep them and myself healthy. I’d like to take a minute to wish everyone prosperity. I’ve been able to reconnect with my passions during this time. I’ve learned a lot of new things and I’m very gracious to have to have had that opportunity.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway so to speak?


Tommy:
My Dad. He is my musical gateway. When I was a small child, we always had music on in the house. He was a DJ on the radio before I was born. I was introduced to the classics at a very early age. The Beatles, The Stones, Van Morrison, Buddy Holly and lots of Motown music. As I grew, I tried to learn more about their catalog and music they helped inspire.

Andrew:
I think it goes without saying that you love music, and you’re a burgeoning DJ now, too. With that being said, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? What drew you to record and subsequently DJ work?


Tommy:
Thank You. That answer, I’d have to say, is my Dad. I would also have to say Wolfman Jack, too. When I was 10, we still had an oldies station in our area. That was my wheelhouse. I would call and request Three Dog Night, The Grass Roots, and so many more. After so many calls, The DJ on the air (I think her name was Bridgette) invited me to come to the station and hang out. My Dad always said she probably thought I was older and wanted to take me out to dinner. Moving forward. He finally took me and she was astonished that I was a kid and I knew all of this fabulous music. She let me work the commercials. I did an on-air spot for her, and she tried to have a conversation on air with me but I got really nervous. I’ll never forget that day.

Andrew:
You’re the founder of The Tommy Alaska channel on YouTube and now Twitch. Tell us about the genesis of the show. How did it start, and how has it evolved since?


Tommy:
That’s a very good question. This whole journey started November of 2019. I was following an online radio station on Twitter. They were looking for some new talent for their time slots. I immediately commented on the tweet, and I said, “If I had a microphone, I would 100% send in an audition sample.” A few hours later, I had a response from the owner. She sent me a link for an app I could use as a microphone on my phone. Then, I figured out how to connect my phone to the mic in on the mixer. Then, I made a sample for the show I wanted to do. She loved it. I was going to have my own show on a Friday night at 8pm. I did the first 12 shows using the phone as my microphone. No one had any idea. That show was called “Tommy’s Vinyl Hour of Power.” That lasted for about 5 months. During quarantine in May, I gave my notice I was leaving the station. I took a month off and after a long conversation with my friends, Tommy’s Vinyl Frontier podcast was born. Then around September, I started broadcasting the show live on YouTube. Those first shows are so bad. I was so nervous. Then in October, I launched the Twitch stream, www.twitch.tv/DjTommyAlaska. That was as simple as just creating the account and learning how to multi-stream to different platforms. I am very grateful to those who have stuck by my side since the beginning, and are still here today. We’ve all built a really fun community.

Image result for tommy alaska youtube

Andrew:
Tell us about the “nuts and bolts” of your show so to speak. How does it all come together? Tell us about your gear and your process.


Tommy;
Another great question. It comes together through inspiration, really. I’ll be listening to Twitch and interacting with other DJ’s during the day. Something just clicks and makes me think of a style, genre, tempo, or just a vibe in general. I’ll go through some of my albums and pull a few and load up shoe boxes of 45’s. I’ll always start with one or two in mind and the rest is on the fly of all the material I have around me. I learned that from watching Twitch. Don’t do a stream with a set playlist. Keep a lot of music on hand. You have to be able to feel the room and keep people engaged.

My gear is as follows:
-Creative Labs Soundcard (RCA jack inputs, I don’t use a USB connection).
-Pioneer DJM-400 mixer.
-2 Audio-Technica AT-LP140XP turntables.
-Ortofon Concorde DJ Stylus’.
-Dr. Suzuki 7” slipmats.
-Big Fudge Record Friend products.

Andrew:
More on your process. You’ve got several themes you work with on any given night. How do those come together and eventually how are they implemented? How do you know what’s working and what will stick?


Tommy:
I touched a little bit on that. It’s hard to find out if something will stick. We do something called “Sleeve it or Heave it.” That’s the idea of a DJ in the UK. TommyT_ThaDj on twitch. He does a short spot in his shows called, “File It or Fling it.” I thought it would be amazing if we did a 3 hour show just dedicated to listening to music in that fashion. This was as simple as a whisper on Twitch and asking permission to do my own version of his idea. He was thrilled his idea would be brought across the pond. A great way to judge what works, and what doesn’t is always the chat room.

Andrew:
COVID-19 had thrown a proverbial wrench into a lot of people’s plans and it’s been rough for us all. What does the future hold for The Tommy Alaska Show after things calm down and “normalize?”


Tommy:
I really hope that it means more content. If the kids can go back to school full time, then I can go back to work full time. Then at night, I’ll want to relax and jam some songs. Being able to connect with people around the world is incredible! I love that music is a bridge to anything that anyone of us are going through. We can all vibe and heal together. Not to mention it’s very relaxing.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of the vinyl industry a bit. What are a few things you would like to see change for the better? What are some issues that you see and that perhaps we all face?


Tommy:
I would love to see Quality Control get better. I cut myself on a outer edge of a record just the other day. That shouldn’t have cleared the sleeving process. I find a lot more warped records are making it onto shelves. Pricing. That is a big thing, too. $20-25 should be a good spot for a single LP. Not $40. If I’m paying $40 for an album, it better be on a 2LP format with much better sound and packaging than the original 1 LP.

Image result for pioneer djm-400 mixer

Andrew:
Are you only only into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?


Tommy:
I have a few tapes floating around here. I haven’t bought one since the early 90s though. I don’t have much of a CD collection anymore. The last CD I bought was Primus Green Naugahyde when it came out in 2011. I will listen to something on YouTube to get a sample of the artist’s work. However, I’m not really a Spotify or Apple Music guy. I like to shop for Music at two stores, really. Musical Energi here in Wilkes-Barre, PA and Music & More Records in New Hartford, NY. Since I can’t get out a lot, they make it easy for me to find exactly what I’m looking for.

Andrew:
What are a few albums/artists that mean the most to you and why?


Tommy:
Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Brain Wilson is a magician when it comes to harmonies and arranging music. This album always lets me take a trip to a different galaxy. The Beatles. To me and what I know…they are the reason a lot of young bands like The Animals, and The
Rascals and many more got the chance to record. Prince. Yes, I love everything he has ever recorded. He’s a one man band. He was proficient in every instrument he touched. David Bowie. This man…David gave all of us the book on how to do it. He has changed his look, style, and style of music over and over again.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music/DJ work, if at all?

Tommy:
I’m a very avid fisherman. I love sports. I love competition. I love learning new tricks with technology. I think they all help in some form or another. Fishing lets me listen to new
music with the kids. Beneficial in every aspect. Competition creates some of the best work. When you know what’s going on, you want to be different and find a way to stand out. Technology can be your best friend. I’m learning now about DVS. (Digital Vinyl System).

Andrew:
What does vinyl mean to you? More so, what does music mean to you? What are your long-term goals for yourself within music beyond your YouTube and Twitch streams?


Tommy:
Vinyl means comfort. It means sitting on my couch reading the liner notes. Learning about who was playing that slide guitar I heard in the background. For me, It’s a way of relaxation. Long Term? I’m not sure. I’d like to be a positive light in a seemingly dim world. I’d like to just inform people that music can cure different ailments.

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve maintained a strong DIY approach, which is awesome. That said, what advice would you have for others just starting out? How does one stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?


Tommy:
Thank you, I am a one man show who does everything himself. I am very proud of that. My advice, when you’re first starting out. It doesn’t matter what equipment you have. It doesn’t matter that you have a lower tier webcam. Just get on and be you. Be the one your friends and family know and love. I can tell you how I’ve stayed afloat during all of this: take one day at a time. Allow yourself to make mistakes. We all do. Look in the mirror a few times a day, tell yourself something positive. That makes a huge difference in my attitude and outlook on days. Go to bed. Wake up, and try to do a little better than you did the day before. Thank you for allowing me some of your time.

Want to learn more about DJ Tommy Alaska? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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