|Tommy Joe Ratliff
Tommy, Adam Lambert's band member exclusive interview
Interview & photos : Ai Anazawa
Right before Adam Lambert's first Japan tour, in mid September we managed to get a first interview with his bassist, Tommy Joe Ratliff. He joined the band after his audition last year, and not long after, he became widely known after Adam kissed him on stage at the American Music Awards performance. Just like Adam, he has glam makeup on that suits him but when we actually talk to him, he has this cuteness in him and he seems like the character who is being loved and protected by Adam and everybody else.
Is this your first time doing a world tour?
Well, I've been overseas for the promo tour before, but this is the first time for me doing a tour this scale. And other band members are like my family, so I think it's very cool.
Have you ever been to Japan?
No, I've never.
I think you will like Japan. Seems like there are a lot of Tommy fans in Japan.
Yea, it does seem like it. Some fans came to America from Japan to see the shows, and there are some people who prepared presents for me. It's all thanks to Adam.
What's the highlight of the tour so far?
Well, the shows have been so awesome these two days. When it was the last show for our former drummer (Longineu Parsons III), it's kinda sad in a way, but the energy was awesome. And we have a new drummer Isaac (Carpenter) and from today on we're stoked to play with him. And aside from that, on our days off sometimes we rent a boat, or playing around the ocean on a jet ski, or stuff like that. It's very cool see a lot of different places in the country and I think it's a crazy life. Because last year this time I was in my cubicle doing desk work, and I've never done any work as a professional musician like this. And also to have people like Monte and Adam with me ... they're just like brothers to me.
Were you born and grew up in California?
Yes, in Burbank, outskirts of Los Angeles.
Have you always known since you were little that you're into music, or did you enjoy sports or other things?
I've been playing guitar since I was 12, and I've been in various bands in Los Angeles, and even though there are times when we got paid for performing, I've never played in professional level like this. Sports, well I played baseball when I was little, but I realized that I'm not good at it ... I'm just not that into (sport) teamwork (laughs).
You said you've been in several bands before, what kind of music did you play then?
Depends on the band, there are times where I played heavy metal, and I think because Monte once played heavy metal also, we have good music chemistry. We're trying to create that kind of energy and produce better sound at the shows. And I'm also a blues guitar player. I'm actually a guitar player, but when I audition for Adam Lambert, they asked whether I would try for bass and I've been playing bass since.
When you first audition was it for the position of a guitar player or a bass player?
In the first audition they were looking for guitar player so I auditioned for that. But after that I got a phone call that the position was filled, and they asked whether I'm interested to try out for the position of a bassist who can also play guitar. It was on my birthday, but cos they told me they wanted me to come the next day with a bass, I rushed home, missed my own birthday party, got a bass guitar and practiced for the audition (laughs). And then I got the job.
So you like bands like Depeche Mode and Nince Inch Nails, do you have any similar likings with Adam?
Yea, I like bands like Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson, and since Adam introduced me to artists that he likes, I've been listening to Miike Snow, Lady Gaga and Goldfrapp. I think from the first time we met we have a lot in common, like we both love the movie Velvet Goldmine (1998). And we've introduced the music that we like to each other, I like Adam's taste. I like electronic from the 80's like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, New Order, and I grow up listening to them.
Aside from your musical talent, I think Adam is also into your cute looks. That American Music Awards performance, it was not long after you were hired, right?
Yes, that was my first performance.
The part where Adam kissed you, it wasn't rehearsed?
No, it just happened in the moment. Like I said before, we both like Velvet Goldmine, it's almost like I want to be a rockstar because of that movie. We were talking about it and inspired by that, we thought we had to do something. We didn't plan the kiss, but at the rehearsal when it comes to that part, Adam supposed to pull my hair and then walk away. It was our first performance as a band, and I said to Adam that he can grab me or do whatever he wants. And at the show Adam came and kissed me. I think it's very cool, I like to shock people.
I guess the world was too shocked by it.
Yes, because it is wrong according to Christian belief. It's okay for Britney Spears and Madonna to do it, and it's okay for Katy Perry to sing about kissing girls, kids have seen all that and they don't see it as a problem, but when guys do it, it become a problem. I think it's a huge double standard. And I'm glad that we did it cos in a way we've raised some awareness of that problem.
Is it true that Adam calls you Glitterbaby and you call Adam babyboy?
(laughs) It's funny because one time when we met after we hadn't seen each other for a while I said jokingly "What's up babyboy?" and Adam laughed his ass off. So after that sometimes I call him that. And a while after, when we were getting ready for a show, I had glitter on me and when Adam saw that he called me glitterbaby. And on twitter Adam tweeted "what's up glitterbaby?" and I replied to him "hey there babyboy", it was just a simple thing like that, and it's funny how it became something this big.
Even now it looks like you're flirting with each other.
Well we're just joking around. We're very good friends, and Adam's like my own brother. He helped me a lot. Even on personal things like when I had an emergency situation and I had to leave the band. Especially there were a lot of things going on with my family, and Adam said that cos we're brothers, I don't have to worry about anything and I should go back to my family whenever I need to. We're just very close like that. I talk to him about anything, and he talk to me about anything. We're very good friends.
How is it for you lately? (his father passed away in August)
There are some good days, and some not really good days, but I'm happy that my dad saw me doing my best and I'm proud of it.
Do you think there's something that we don't know about Adam?
Hmmm, he's has an open personality from the first. In our days off we joke around and do stupid things, there certainly are some stuff that he doesn't say in interviews or on TV, but basically, he's just the way he is.
He does seem like that kind of person.
Yeah, even when there's something that he doesn't like, he doesn't pretend or sugar coat things. He just say it the way he sees it, he's not fake. I'm mostly the same, that's why sometimes I say to him that I'm the straight version of Adam and we laugh together. We have a lot of things in common.
Do you have the same sense of humor?
Yes, it's true. Although I have a rather weird sense of humor and sometimes and he gives me a 'what the hell' face.
We have some questions from your fans. Since you joined the band, is there anything that you notice different from yourself?
No, I don't think I've changed that much as a person. The opposite, I'm staying true to myself and always be grateful for the chance that is given to me. I'm not forgetting where I came from and I don't want to spoil myself. But maybe after staying at a very good hotel I found myself disappointed when I came home (laughs). But basically I don't want to forget where I came from and I'm trying to be careful not to become conceited (full of myself).
When we asked Monte the same question, he said the part that changed in him was that now he wears make up (laughs).
Hahahaha, well in my case I also wear more make up than I used to. Before I just put on eyeliner, but now before show I can put on eyeshadow and lipstick myself. I think it's very fun and again I'm thankful to Adam for this.
What kind of makeup products do you use?
MAC. My lipstick is Dark Side from MAC, and I mix it with a black smolder to create this very gothic look like Marilyn Manson, or Robert Smith from The Cure.
Aside from music, what are you into lately?
I'm a movie junkie. Sometimes I rent a box set of a tv show and do a marathon. I don't really like to party, so I don't go out a lot and I spend a lot of time at home alone. I always watch Western movies at home and all my friends are calling me old. I love horror movies too. I don't really play videogames, but a nice fan gave me a nintendo DS, so I play that sometimes.
What's your favorite Western and horror movie?
My favorite Western movie is probably Tombstone (1993), and my favorite Horror movies are Exorcist and Halloween.
You've been touring for some months now, what's the most shocking or surprising thing so far?
Shocking? I think it takes a lot to surprise us. Hmm, there are several times that we performed at a surprising venue. Like a very small stage, or somewhere in a remote area, and once in Texas we played at a slaughterhouse. That was quite shocking. And there's this stage that was in the center of the venue, and it was a rotating stage. I think that was the most interesting one to me. It feels like a Metallica concert.
What's the latest CD that you listened to?
The National's new album. And the latest album from Marilyn Manson called The High End Of Low. His music helps a lot when I feel sad or have problems in my relationship. When I feel miserable, to me it's Manson or Nine Inch Nails that reminds me that I'm not alone.
How do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to be doing what I'm doing now (laughs). It's really fun. I really want to keep playing for Adam. And I really want to start a blues band. In whatever form, I'll be happy if can earn a living by playing music. I don't want to go back to where I was a year ago (bitter laugh).
Do you want a family?
Of course. I'm almost 29, and I thought about it, but honestly it's scary (laughs). It's just kinda scary to even hear the word "girlfriend". There are a lot of things I want to do, but I guess we have to find a person who would understand. I know if we find the right person it wouldn't be scary, but it's hard to find someone who would fully support your career. Especially lately with all the things that is going on, a lot of people wants to get close to me, and most of the times I can't tell whether they are interested in me or because of my job.
Oh, so you don't have a girlfriend right now, really? (laughs) Well, but you're really busy and right now you're living a full life, so in a way it's good?
Yea, of course (laughs). I sometimes talk to my friends on the phone, and they always complain about their boyfriends or girlfriends and sometimes they're with a different person when they just broke up the day before, they're just very dependent. Luckily I'm not that type of person at all.
This interview took place on September 18 in Florida.
Interview and photos by Ai Anazawa, photos were taken at The Bottom Line Nagoya on October 3
InRock November edition vol.323 out on Friday, October 15.