TS: I remember a few years ago you came to a fastener show and set up your guitar in the G.L. Huyett booth. Now, I am pretty sure that playing at the Country Music Hall of Fame will pale in comparison to playing inside a fastener trade show, but at least you will still be surrounded by fastener people when you play.
Have you ever had the chance to play Country music hall of fame before?
Tommy: I am so excited and honored to play at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I have never played there and it is definitely on my Music Bucket List. As Nashville continues to grow and change, I feel that the CMHF still upholds the culture and tradition of Nashville and what it means to be a great songwriter and artist.
TS: You have had a good deal of success so far breaking into the industry. I know you were nominated for New Artist of the Year at the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards in 2022. Let’s briefly go back to the beginning. When did you start playing and singing and when did you realize you might want to pursue a career in music?
Tommy: Growing up I always loved singing. I would write parody songs in Elementary school and it was always something I was interested in. My parents always loved music and I was exposed to a lot of different genres throughout the years. In high school, a few of my best friends could play guitar. My friend Ryan Baker signed me up for the School Talent show without telling me. We did really well there and then we decided to start a high school band. We played our Prom and other local events. In college I played every bar I could get into and eventually I went to Nashville and recorded my first two EPs.
TS: Of course, many of us in the industry know your dad, Tim O’Keeffe, owner of G.L. Huyett. When you were young did your dad make you pack boxes, sweep floors or separate pins or any fun jobs like that?
Tommy: I grew up in Hastings, Nebraska which was about 2 hours from Huyett. My parents grew up in Hastings and wanted us to grow up in their hometown so most of my early work experience included working nine seasons for “S & J Detasseling,” which is an agricultural company that works with companies like Pioneer for seed corn. I eventually became a supervisor through the company leading up to my final summer in college. Then, the summer between my Junior and Senior year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I got an internship with a retail clothing store in Nashville and I moved there for three months. I wanted to get to Nashville to get more familiar with the music scene and then I eventually moved there permanently once I graduated in 2018.
So, my first summer in Nashville I worked at The Buckle as a Sales Management Intern. My first full year in Nashville was at Enterprise Rent a Car as a Management Trainee. I’ve spent the last 4 years working as a Server/Bartender at a restaurant called NashHouse. That is where my singing kitchen videos are made that you can find on YouTube. We actually have six viral videos in the kitchen including one video with 5.5 million views on Tik Tok.
Ironically, the first time I worked in a warehouse was in 2020 when the restaurant was shut down during the pandemic. I worked for Fed Ex as a “Package Handler” for 6 months during the heart of the pandemic.
TS: What did you do when you first arrived in Nashville with the goal of breaking into the music scene?
Tommy: During my internship summer in 2017, my main focus was Networking. I got to meet a lot of great songwriters and artists. It provided me with a crucial foundation for 2018. As I mentioned, I permanently moved to Nashville in May of 2018 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I think my first year in Nashville was just about figuring it out and finding my sound. I wrote about 150 songs in my first two years in Nashville and just tried to figure out who I wanted to be as a songwriter and artist. You have to just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks when you first get to town.
TS: How is it networking in Nashville? There are a lot of artists in Nashville with a similar vision of breaking into the industry. Do you try to play out as much as possible? Do other artists collaborate with you?
Tommy: A big part of networking in Nashville is something called a “writer’s round.” This is an artist/songwriter showcase that usually occurs on the weeknights in Midtown. Songwriters will play only original music onstage and the audience is mostly other songwriters looking to meet people and hear each other’s music. My 2nd year in Nashville, I got to Host my own Showcase called “Nashville Southerners” through a friend I met through networking. That showcase ended during the pandemic. I recently started my own Showcase called “Friday Night Cowboys” which features live, Full-band sets for each artist. It’s a great way for me to network and get my name into the industry, while also allowing the artists to showcase their music.
TS: You do a lot of your own writing but I believe you also work with other writers to come up with material. How does all that work?
Tommy: I do co-write nearly all of my songs with other songwriters in Nashville. Co-writing is a major part of the songwriting process in Nashville and a great way to network. I spent my first 2-3 years in Nashville almost, “speed dating,” for co-writers. Once you find the writers that you connect with, you can start to build your crew of writers or, “camp.”
TS: Who are some of your influences?
Tommy: Kenny Chesney would definitely be my biggest influence because he is the one that got me into country music. My parents raised me on Classic Rock. My first exposure to Country music was actually through my Grandma. She showed me older acts like Johnny Horton and Neil Young when I was in Pre-school. In High school, my friends got me into Kenny Chesney and Eric Church. I always related to Kenny’s lifestyle of living in the moment and taking risks. Bruce Springsteen is another artist that influenced my life in a big way. I respect his desire to be the best artist that he can be and his emphasis on making the most of your time.