Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 14 May 2010 00:00
For many music-loving college students, pulling an all-nighter to finish their homework because of the demands of juggling schoolwork with a successful, growing music career might sound like a dream come true, but in practice, it can be a lot of work; Tommy Davis of Plainview had an opportunity to learn this first-hand. While playing drums for Gabriel the Marine - a Long Island band that has quickly garnered a lot of critical acclaim, as well as touring opportunities - Davis was too busy from playing shows at night and going to class at SUNY Farmingdale during the day to have much time for any dreaming, period. “I swear, one week I just didn’t sleep,” Davis confided.
Fortunately, things are going well enough with the band that Davis (and his bandmates) are taking a semester or two off while they focus on their music. While Davis has not given up academics for the long term, the break from school allows him the time to appreciate the novelty and excitement of the situation in which he currently finds himself.
A lifelong resident of Plainview, Davis attended Old-Bethpage Elementary and POB Middle School, graduating from POBJFK High School. Instead of playing an instrument in school, he was introduced to the drums by his uncle. “He asked me what instrument I’d like to play, and then he got me a drum set for Christmas that year,” said Davis. Obviously, Davis took to the drums quickly; at the age of 15, he was already teaching lessons at All-Music in the Plainview Shopping Center. Despite his quick journey from casual musician to instructor, Davis explained his teen years as low-key, with plenty of time to hang out with his friends at local destinations like the Morton Village shopping center.
Irwin Natwin, owner and manager of All-Music, explained that his store doesn’t typically hire instructors as young as Davis was, but that this young man represented a special circumstance. After being taught by veteran drummer Joe Friedman of the band Ultrageist, Davis was the logical person to go to when Freidman’s busy schedule precluded him from taking on any more new students several years ago. While All-Music is proud to host many successful musicians among its instructors, Natwin noted that everyone in the store is especially pleased to see the success of Davis’ band in particular.
“We’re all very proud of Tommy,” said Natwin. “Tom’s a very mild-mannered guy, but when you see him onstage, you can tell he’s a serious musician.” Natwin noted that Davis had never bragged about the success of Gabriel the Marine, meaning that his coworkers in the store were pleasantly surprised when they found out just how well the band was actually doing.
Formed several years ago by fellow Long Islanders Mike Desmond and Dylan Ebrahimian, Gabriel the Marine is now touring all over the country; last summer, the band played a full U.S. tour with John Nolan (who grew up in Baldwin) of the bands Taking Back Sunday and Straylight Run. While the band had done short tours previously, since Davis and his friends actually grew up listening to Nolan’s music, the Nolan tour represented a significant step forward for the group.
Another milestone for the band was playing a set at the Bamboozle festival in New Jersey in early May. While the band had played the festival last year, this year’s performance was on another level entirely. “The new songs we played, we got a good reception to...the old songs, we had people singing along, and that really made us excited,” commented Davis. He estimated that a thousand people were there to listen to their show, a greater turnout than they expected. Davis credits the success at Bamboozle to the value of old-fashioned hard work and promotion; the band handed out fliers for the first day of the festival in preparation for playing on the second. “It’s important as a smaller band to really go out and promote, and hopefully some kids will turn out,” he explained. Needless to say, the strategy worked.
Musically, Gabriel the Marine is keeping their options open; Davis refers to the band as “indy” as opposed to rock or pop, specifically because the indy scene is open to a little bit of everything. While most of the songs featured on the group’s Myspace page are smooth, clean, listenable pop, the band refuses to be pigeonholed. “We write songs that are hard and fast, but we still have our slow, melodic songs to blend with them,” Davis explained. The band’s songwriting is consistent with this organic approach to music, with everyone in the band contributing to the songwriting process; Davis himself does not write lyrics (he credits that task to Desmond and Ebrahimian), but everyone contributes to the overall sound of each song.
Consistent with the band’s approach, Davis has a wide musical palette. While he lists many heavy metal bands like Underoath and Maylene and the Sons of Disaster among his favorite bands, he likes to take a break from the harder-edged stuff as well. “I listen to everything,” he said. He specifically names Carter Beauford from The Dave Matthews Band and Aaron Gillespie, formerly of Underoath, as his biggest influences as a drummer.
Currently, Davis and his bandmates are still deciding whether or not to go back to school next semester, or take advantage of the band’s forward momentum and hit the studio to record a full album- something they plan on doing soon one way or another. While it looks like becoming a full-time musician may very well be in the cards for the young drummer, he is prepared for the notorious fickleness of musical success; should his music career remain part-time, or should he ever want to take a break from music in the future, Davis is interested in going into education, specifically into teaching history. Interestingly, Davis is not particularly interested in pursuing musical education, instead wanting to keep his academic aspirations separate from his musical interests.
Creative and ambitious, but also humble and pragmatic, Davis and his friends provide an excellent example of how to reach for the stars without losing sight of reality- a welcome sight when many young people may have gotten the impression from movies and TV that artistic success is either unattainable, or more a function of luck than hard work. While it’s too early to tell just how big a splash Gabriel the Marine will make on the larger musical scene, there can be no doubt that people from his hometown of Plainview are cheering Davis on. To find out more, and hear some of Gabriel the Marine’s songs like “The Gold Coast“ and “On and On“, visit the group’s Myspace page at www.myspace.com/GabrieltheMarine. A dedicated website is coming soon.