INTERVIEW: Tom Anello aka Tom in Boston

Boston Guitarist Shares Strategy for Being a Digital-First Musician

We recently worked with the amazingly talented Tom Anello (aka Tom in Boston) on some video projects with our partners Elixir Strings, and figured it was time for our readers to get to know the man behind the Instagram and Twitch channels. Join us as we talk social media, gear and what it means to be an artist in a post-pandemic landscape.

How did music and the guitar, in particular, enter your life?

I’ve always been into jazz to some extent. My parents always had it going on the radio, but I didn’t really start playing guitar until I was 12. Before that, in middle school, we had classes where everyone played the baritone ukulele, which is basically the top four strings of the guitar. So, the skills translate [laughs].

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My brother bought me my first guitar when I was like 12. I was just playing fingerstyle; I’ve always been playing with my fingers. I think I learned to play he solo from a Heart song or something – and a couple years later I discovered Andy McKee, who at the time had the most viewed video on YouTube. He’s this world-class fingerstyle guitarist who brought the genre way up.

At the time it was crazy, I had never seen anything like this. “You could do an entire song and cover all the parts, and you don’t need friends for it?!” I was so into it.

Anything where you don’t need friends? That sounds great!

 Yeah, it was perfect [laughs]. I became obsessed with that style and exploring what all those guys were doing, Don Ross and Antoine Dufour…they all exploded when YouTube was still the Wild West of the internet, and anything could make it. That was my guiding light for guitar at the time.

Most of the stuff I’ve seen from you is obviously this acoustic, fingerstyle wizardry. Was there ever a point where you’re thinking, “I want to go electric, throw on some overdrive and really shred”? 

It’s funny, there was when I was younger. But I have an obsessive personality — I put my mind to one thing and stick to it, and if I go in another direction it becomes a distraction. It’s not a healthy outlook; I’m not a versatile guitarist [laughs].

I went to Berklee to expand my horizons. I explored jazz, I explored rock a little bit. At some point at Berklee, though, I sold the one electric I did have and was back to this basic obsession with acoustic.

Right now, literally two weeks ago, I picked up an electric guitar and decided it’s time to do something else, time to explore a new genre and get into prog rock or my thin jazz roots from music school. Suffice to say, the last 17 years of guitar playing has been this pursuit of fingerstyle and what Michael Hedges laid down for the world in the ’80s. He looked at his instrument as a conveyance for his musical ideas. He’s the foundation for the modern genre.

It’s great that you bring him up. Because I think it’s great for people watching you to know where the roots of your playing come from, so they can explore those, too.

Yeah, when I was growing up like I said, it was jazz, too. Some fusion, but a big name in the house was Dave Brubeck. The man who explained jazz to the masses, I guess [laughs].

That exploded into other jazz piano players [for me] like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, I just loved the colors that you can get with piano. I don’t actually listen to a lot of jazz guitar – I have a lot of respect for guys like Barney Kessel and Joe Pass, but it doesn’t speak to me the same way as piano, even though I don’t play piano.

It’s interesting, as an outsider looking in, I hear things in your guitar playing that seem very piano-like, as if you were approaching the fretboard like a keyboard.

I appreciate that – one of the things that strikes me the most about acoustic guitar is that you can get almost piano-like warmth and sound if you play it the right way. Maybe it is a little subconscious – in a lot of my playing I’m trying to get away from very “guitar” things…

[Ed. note — at this point in the Zoom conversation, we take a virtual tour through his playing space and detour into a 10-minute chat about carbon fibre guitars and some other geeky stuff. The main point being how stable they are in different temps and humidity levels. Here’s what you missed – carbon fibre is good, fanned frets aren’t that hard to get used to, and baritones rule. Continuing on…]

Let’s talk about your video work – obviously now a lot of guitar players are getting their first notice on YouTube, Insta and TikTok.  

That started up for me probably 2016/2017 intermittently, and I was not spending a lot of time with guitar [at the time]. I was exploring social media, seeing what other guitarists were doing. At the time, I didn’t have any great aspirations for my own playing, it was just something I did. I started creating little videos here and there on my iPhone, posting them to Instagram. And eventually, it become somewhat routine for me and important for me to document what I was doing – and then it turned into higher-production video content for Instagram, which was my bread and butter for a few years.

Then COVID hit and I started posting a lot and that’s when I had an explosion online. They started getting picked up by Instagram’s all-knowing algorithm, and things started really picking up in 2019/2020. That’s when I decided that I was going to be a digital musician; I could make all this content from home, and I could record this music and discovered I could access a fanbase and get new fans without worrying about playing out and trying to get people [to come to a show] on a Monday night who don’t give a shit [laughs].

Do you do any live playing out in Boston?

I’m entirely online; everything I do is from this room right here. I don’t think I’m ready to undertake the struggle of finding meaningful gigs in Boston. It is a weird music scene here; it’s also very competitive. It’s already filled with supreme talent – how do you set yourself apart from them?

I tend to find Boston very clique-y, and unfortunately my cynical viewpoint on it now is that it comes across as a very unsupportive scene if you aren’t pals with the “right people.”

That’s what I’ve heard from others who play around. Honestly, it seems kind of shitty [laughs], and that there’s not a lot of support in general. I just don’t want any part of it. It’s also hard to get paid.

It’s funny – I came to Boston in 2010 and spent four years in music school just trying to keep up with the other guitarists who were there at the time. Then 2014 comes and we graduate, and they all head for Nashville [laughs]. I don’t think I have any close friends from that time who stuck around, they all went to LA or Nashville.

Did you have any inclination to do that?

Almost, although I didn’t think I was cut out for it [at the time]. In fact, now I don’t think I’m cut out for it now given that I’ve pigeonholed myself so [laughs]. I was caught between styles, uncertain of my own playing. It wasn’t until I aged a bit and stopped caring about what other people were doing that I started writing things that felt good [to me] and started putting it out there.

So where are you at now and what future projects are on the horizon?

In the last couple years, it became less of a hobby and more of a full-time gig. I’m still all-online, doing social media because it kept me there. But what I started doing last August was streaming music on Twitch.

It turned into an unimaginable success for me – people were enjoying it and a month in Twitch asked if I wanted to play on their front page. And I said absolutely I’d love to do that! At its height, there were like 13,000 concurrent viewers – it was insane. They left me on the front page, on a lesser basis, for five months and it just grew my account.

Twitch has become a three-times per week thing for me. I just became a Twitch partner and just recorded a new album coming out this summer. In can definitively say it’s my best sounding record yet – my previous releases have all been done at home, but this one sounds just so awesome.

The biggest thing this year is the album release – that one’s called “Words Won’t” and it will be available streaming on all streaming services.

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