Tomar and the FCs is a soul band from Austin, TX. Tomar Williams got his start singing lead on the Chitlin Circuit with his family band. The band self recorded and released their first EP, “Day by Day” in 2015. The Austin American Statesman selected it as a top release and wrote that, “Williams shows his own soul chops with searing vocals that drip with blood, sweat and tears”.
In 2016, NPR Music picked Tomar and the FCs out of hundreds of Austin entries to represent the city for their Tiny Desk Concert Series. “Heart Attack”, the band’s debut album, was released in late 2016. It was recorded and mixed at Level One studio with Grammy winning artist/engineer Adrian Quesada. KUTX wrote that the album is, “Pure soul, pure energy…Heart Attack, the single from the band’s latest album of the same name, is an electric three minute ride of some of the purest blues/ soul we’ve heard lately.”
Tomar and the FCs are mainstays on the Austin music scene and have been voted in the top five of the Austin Chronicle’s Music Poll for best Blues, Funk, and Soul artist in 2017 and 2018. In addition to numerous club dates throughout Texas and the US, they’ve performed at Austin City Limits (ACL), South by Southwest, Old Settlers, River Revival and many other festivals. In 2018, they signed with Splice Records and were awarded a Black Fret grant. “Rise Above” is their second full-length album.
Tomar Williams Interview by Christine Thompson
AMFM: What started the family band and what was it like touring on the famous Chitlin’ Circuit?
Tomar Williams: We formulated the band in 1980 and it consisted of my three brothers. Ishaq, Salih and Kariem. and my father, Isaac Williams. Back in the day, the very first band name that we came up with was Ike and Sons, And then we switched to Black Magic, not sure why. We actually came to Austin in the mid eighties, and at that particular time we were called The Sophisticated Gents Plus Two, because my two oldest sisters had joined the band. Around ‘87, we decided to change the name to 6:AM due to the fact that we were working on a record out of Fire Station Studios in San Marcos, Texas with Lucky Tomblin, and we would leave the studio right about 6:00 AM in the morning.
AMFM: So you were touring with your sisters and your brothers and your dad?
Tomar Williams: Yes We were doing that for a little minute. The whole Chitlin’ Circuit thing – we hit all the backwoods. Sometimes there were places where there’d be like one or two people there, and then next place would be 200 people. But we really enjoyed the Chitlin’ Circuit because it gave us the chance to connect with the true people that are the backbone of the music that we were playing. They really loved it, and it gave us the chance to get some true, honest opinions. If we stunk that night or if we were kicking butt that night, they didn’t hold back, they would definitely tell you.(laughs).
It was really good to come to Austin, because after we had honed our skills for the Chitlin’ circuit we were polished by the time we got to Austin. We didn’t do the Chitlin’ Circuit after that. We were just blown away that we could come to Austin, Texas and play sixth street.
AMFM: I love your voice, and the vibe you project. If you were to put words to it, how would you describe your voice?
Join Tomar and the FCs this weekend for their “Rise Above”official album release show, taking place Saturday, Feb. 1 at Antone’s Nightclub, located at 305 E. Fifth St, Austin, Texas 78701!
The release show, presented by KUTX, will open with a tribute to Stax Records featuring performances by Kevin Russell(Shinyribs), The Watters, Sheree Smith, Soul Man Sam and Courtney Santana.
Doors are at 9 p.m. For tickets, see here!
The Stax Records Tribute will take place 10 – 11:15 p.m. and Tomar and the FCs will play from 11:30 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Tomar Williams: Well, it’s an interesting question… I have been singing since I was nine. I was playing the drums for a little bit and then my dad wanted me to play the bass so I’d be able to sing. So I picked up the bass guitar, taught my brother how to play drums and started singing more. Now, back when I was young, I was still coming into my voice, I really didn’t understand what was coming out of me.
I was just writing songs and at the age of 11, my very first song that I wrote was called “You Never Satisfied.” The freaky thing about it is I was just singing that song, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I was just singing what I thought and felt was right. It was all original and was coming from a deep place, and that was the first time ever doing it.
In the early 2000s, Tomar became increasingly focused on music production and songwriting. In 2005, Tomar collaborated with his brother Salih (Carnival Beats) and signed with Universal Music Publishing. They went on to produce tracks for renowned artists Big Moe, Mike Jones and 2Pac. More recently, Tomar enjoyed playing keys and singing backup vocals for “the Blackties”, the backing band of popular Texas soul singer Latasha Lee. In early 2015 Tomar and Nikolas Bouklas (tenor sax) got to talking about a new project. Nik introduced Tomar to Austin based instrumental band “the FCs” with David Earl (keys), Mitch Fischels (bass), Paul Kresowik (drums), and Andy Tenberg (guitar). It was clear from that first meeting that Tomar’s vocal skills and energy were a perfect match for the FC’s grooves. Tomar and the FCs were born. The band debuted in March and, after successful shows in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, released its EP “Day by Day” in September 2015.
Ok, so fast forward, I sang in many cover bands back in the late eighties, and all throughout the 90s. I did some cover bands and what I noticed is that when I would sing cover music, I learned how to morph my voice into whatever song that I was singing, and I would sound pretty close to that person. What happens after being in so many cover bands, when you go and record, you’re completely discombobulated as to what you actually sound like as a vocalist. It’s the scariest thing, you start to sing and then you pull up. “Oh, I sound like Prince on the song. Oh, I sound like Michael Jackson… wait a minute, I’m singing too many of those songs and I don’t have my own identity. So that was scary. It took time to go in the studio to sing original songs and make it sound like “you” because you’re used to mimicking so many other vocals. I’m gonna say this, all the way up until the first year of Tomar and the FCs and the song “Day By Day.”
Then I said “You know what? Whatever comes out, comes out,” and that’s what came out. Through out the years of being in Tomar and the FC’s, I actually created Tomar’s voice in the process.
I listened to our very first record “Day by Day,” (2105) and to me, I sound completely different because now I’ve actually mastered my voice. So now when other singers ask me for some pointers, I tell them to stop trying to master someone else’s voice. If you master your voice, the sky’s the limit. You can do whatever you want, no one can tell you that your’re singing wrong.
So the latter years of Tomar and the FC’s I’ve been trying to master my sound. I’m getting close, I’m getting very close, so I don’t think I sound like anybody at this point. People would sometimes say Otis Redding. And I’m like, yeah, but then you may hear another song where I may not sound like that, so I really don’t put myself in any category.
AMFM: To me it sounds like you’ve mastered your voice enough to where you can invite Otis Redding in for a second – and then he’s gone and you are back to your voice. Wouldn’t that be the very definition of being the master of your voice? Now you are releasing “Rise Above.” Can you tell me why you decided to assemble this group of songs? Where are they coming from?
Tomar Williams: This group of songs we took our time to put together. “Innocence” was the first single out, and I wrote it at the tail end of putting this record together I wrote that song on the guitar. A lot of my records I write on the piano. I was in the studio just playing around with some riffs. There was one particular song from the movie “Ode To Billy Joe” about somebody throwing something off the Tallahatchee Bridge. As a kid that song got stuck in my head, big time. I took that riff from that song, added some extra little notes and that’s in the beginning of “Innocence.”
The next song that came out was the title song of the album, “Rise Above.” I was in the shower, humming a bass line (being a bass player I hum bass longs all night and all day long.). I have hundreds and hundreds of recordings of bass lines from my mouth. But that line was so infectious (demonstrates by humming). I started wondering why is that bass line so prominent, so dominant? Must be something I grew up on or heard. So I got out of the shower, recorded it on my phone and went to youtube, trying to find the source of this.
I searched. and searched, I thought for sure that must be coming from something. But I couldn’t find it. To this day I still haven’t found it. And that bass line is the driving force behind the whole record. It’s throughout the whole song, no changes, I just let it be infectious. That bass line doesn’t let you go. There are certain songs that don’t need a bridge, a pre-chorus or even a major bridge. You just let that bass line carry you from beginning to end.