In the spotlight – Filled to the Brim is a local teenage poprock band out of central New York (USA) with Tori Haggerty on vocals, Alyssa Tomassi on drums, Owen Paz on bass, Johnny Mudge on guitar and Jack Towns on keys. The band formed in 2018 when they met at Jim O’Mahony’s Rock Camp. By the end of that session Filled to the Brim had composed their debut single ‘Turn Back the Time’.
You met in 2018 when attending Jim O’Mahony’s Rock Camp. Can you tell me more about this experience?
Owen: “Jim’s a well-known local musician and a great teacher. He puts together a couple bands every year and prepares them for their first “band” experiences. After two weeks of rehearsals with him, we were able to perform a 30-minute set for our first performance. Most of us have taken piano lessons from him at some point or another, so he brought us together. We’ve had some minor lineup changes since then, but we all have some connection to Jim.”
Johnny: “At Rock Camp I never actually played with Filled to the Brim my first couple years there. But then they asked me to join and play guitar for them after seeing me play for a couple years.”
Alyssa: “At least for me, Rock Camp was an experience of a lifetime. I got to meet people who were not only extremely gifted at their instruments, but I also got to learn how to be in a band and play with other people and make music together which I had always wanted to do since I was little so that was a dream come true.”
Tori: “I remember us not talking for the first couple of days. We were all very nervous and didn’t speak to each other.”
When did you all get involved in music in the first place?
Jack: “For my sixth birthday, my parents signed me up for some piano lessons, just trying it out to see if I took to it. Eleven years later I can confidently say I took to it.”
Tori: “I have many musicians in my family so I have been around it my whole life. I starting taking piano lessons in high school and it brought me here.”
Alyssa: “Music has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. As well as listening to the pop radio, my family introduced my brother and I to older music like Led Zeppelin and Billy Joel and it was really cool to hear older music with soul like that and it really got me interested in playing. Plus my dad plays guitar and writes songs and had experiences playing with people and I think I got that gene.”
Johnny: “I started playing violin when I was around five or six. But my brother had always listened to music and that is what really got me into it. After a couple years of violin I wanted to try out guitar and that’s when I really started to focus on guitar as my main instrument.”
Owen: “I started with piano at five years old. My parents are pretty musical people, so they had no problem with getting me some lessons. When I was nine, I started playing cello, and from there I’ve branched out to drums and guitars, which happened partly because this band needed a bassist.”
Do you feel it is important that parents should support and motivate their children to play an instrument or sing?
Owen: “Yes, absolutely! I think it’s very important to keep all doors open for children to explore. Sure, it may not go as well as hoped, but at least they will have tried it out, and that’s what matters to me. You never know where the next great talents are going to come from!”
Jack: “Definitely. Having a strong support system is essential to keeping the passion for recording and playing gigs alive.”
Tori: “I do think it’s important to motivate their kids to play music. I believe parents should be involved with their children’s activities and it is rewarding for the child and the parents.”
Alyssa: “I believe it’s very important. Kids need motivation to especially when they are young so that they know they have something that should never go to waste. I’m one for thinking music makes the world a better place. In times of crisis, you usually see people turning to music.”
Johnny: “Parents should encourage their kids to try many different instruments, sports and activities so they can find what they enjoy.”
How much time and effort do you put into music every week, like taking lessons and practice?
Johnny: “I have a thirty minute lesson a week at Big Apple Music with my teacher Dave Snediker and I also play guitar probably one to three hours a day just for fun.”
Jack: “I have taken lessons every Tuesday for eleven years, and I practice periodically throughout the week on my own.”
Tori: “I am away at school so I haven’t been taking lessons but when I was, I spent probably six hours a week practising and writing music.”
Alyssa: “I try my best to practice. Sometimes I can very busy with school and other activities, but I do take drum lessons and am part of my school’s jazz band so that helps me to train.”
Owen: “I spend pretty much every free moment I have on something musical. I take weekly piano lessons, and still practice piano a fair amount, but recently I have undertaken the task of recording our next album at home. A couple years ago, we renovated the basement of my house into a well-functioning studio. This has allowed us to devote as much time as we need to each song, whether that’s re-recording parts or stacking up a bunch of harmonies, or doing other sonic experiments that we normally wouldn’t have the time to do in a professional studio. I’ve mixed a couple tracks already and the result has been some really detailed songs with an element of personalization that we’ve never had before.”
Do you have any advice for kids who want to learn to play an instrument or want to sing?
Jack: “Go into any instrument expecting it to take a long time to master. Music is intricate and often difficult, so if you want to be on the next level above playing Hot Cross Buns, dedication and consistency are key.”
Tori: “Be patient. Not all skills come easy and music is one that you need to work at to get better. I have always been the type of person to get defeated when a skill doesn’t come immediately but music has taught me how to be patient.”
Johnny: “Don’t stop after just a little bit because it takes a while to get it down. But if you don’t enjoy playing, don’t force yourself to play.”
Owen: “I would say that you shouldn’t feel constrained by the traditional conceptions of the instrument. I recently arranged Taylor Swift’s ‘Haunted’ (a country-rock power ballad) for string quartet. It turned out amazing and although it seemed eccentric at first, it only worked to elevate the performance and make a lasting impression for the people who have heard it. For singers, I’m a bit less experienced, but having worked with a few amazing vocalists, I would say something similar; that it’s very important to love what you’re doing, and find your own sound.”
Alyssa: “Learn how to play with feel. Feel is something that can’t be described or taught, you either have it or maybe you develop it. I’ve heard the difference between people playing with feel and people who do not. I recommend listening to some bands and singers like like The Black Crowes, James Brown, Michael Jackson, and John Bonham from Led Zeppelin to get a taste of feel.”
What artists, would you say, have played a significant influence on the band?
Alyssa: “There are so many. Coldplay, Lovejoy, Twenty One Pilots, Fleetwood Mac have had the biggest influence with our writing for sure.”
Owen: “We’re commonly compared to Fleetwood Mac, which makes sense considering their huge influence on us. We commonly play a version of our song ‘I Got You’ that interpolates their ‘Dreams’ after the bridge – it always gets a great reaction. Other artists that have shown up in our work includes Lovejoy, Coldplay, and the Rolling Stones.”
Tori: “I get my writing style from Taylor Swift and Twenty One Pilots and that is reflected in the music I write.”
Jack: “I think all of the artists we listen to individually somewhat mesh together when we are writing, each of us throwing a different flavour of music into a new song. Personally, I am big into indie rock like The Backseat Lovers and Lovejoy, but I also love music from indie folk like Judah and the Lion to math rock from Delta Sleep.”
Johnny: “I would say all of our individual interests and influences in music have done it because everyone has their own style in the band. Whether Owen and Jack who are really into Lovejoy or Alyssa who really likes 80s rock like Rush, Tori who likes Taylor Swift and Fleetwood Mac or me who is into grunge like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or Guns N’ Roses. Everyone has their own playing style encompassing their own musical style and it created a really cool sound.”
Was it hard to think of a band name that you could all agree on?
Alyssa: “Figuring out our band name was quite simple actually. We were at Rock Camp and Jim O’Mahony, our instructor asked us to think of band names and we would vote. The most votes went to Jack Towns, our keyboardist, who chose the name Filled to the Brim. I had no idea what that even meant back then, but hey, it worked out in the long run.”
Owen: “Not at all, it probably took about ten minutes to decide. Jack came up with it right before our first show, when we were all tossing out possible band names. We’re still not quite sure why we gravitated towards that one, and if you ask him he doesn’t remember, but however it came about, it definitely stuck.”
Tori: “I remember it being hard for me to come up with one but with give of us, it wasn’t too hard once we worked together.”
Jack: “I don’t really remember picking the name, but everyone tells me I was the one who suggested it.”
What’s the first song you send to someone to introduce them to your music?
Alyssa: “Usually I’ll tell people to check out certain songs on our first album like ‘All of You’ or ‘Fall from Grace’. Since our release of ‘Snow in June’ and ‘I’m Alright’, those are the first two songs I’ve shown people who aren’t familiar with us.”
Tori: “I would probably send ‘Helpless’ or ‘Snow in June”. I think both represent who we are as a group.”
Owen: “Usually that’s ‘Fall from Grace’. It’s just a really fun but sophisticated musical arrangement, with a wonderful earworm of a chorus.”
Johnny: “Fall from Grace.”
Jack: “Right now it would be ‘Snow In June’, being its our biggest song yet.”
Speaking of ‘Snow in June’, is there anything you would like us to know about your single ‘Snow in June’?
Tori: “Jack worked on this song for a while. For months I kept hearing that he was working on new music but we didn’t hear the whole thing till he was done and it was perfect.”
Jack: “It’s an apology for not speaking up when a relationship moved too quickly. There is still anger and frustration, but in the end, it’s just upsetting that both people had to go through it at all. That’s signified by the only line of the chorus ‘Can you believe me that I’m sorry?’”
Alyssa: “It really shows off the voice of Jack. He has sung on Filled to the Brim songs before, but in this one you really get to hear his range.”
When you aren’t working on music, do you guys hang out for fun?
Owen: “We are all in high school or college, so we don’t have a lot of spare time, but we attempt to have fun together when we can, such as going to the mall for a couple hours before an especially big show.”
Tori: “With our age difference, we don’t usually hang out outside of rehearsals. I go to school three hours away from home, so it’s hard for me to be around for things other than rehearsals.”
Jack: “I’ll see Johnny at the occasional track meet, but other than that we are pretty much exclusive to practice and gigs.”
Alyssa: “We mostly write together and collaborate when we are not rehearsing and stuff. Most of the time that has to be through facetime considering we don’t see each other often.”
What is the process like when you’re writing music together? What comes first, the music or the lyrics?
Alyssa: “It depends. Sometimes we will have lyrics and then one of us will have a music. Or one of us will have a music idea and the other will have lyrics. Other times one of us has music and lyrics and the rest of the band adds on their ideas and the ending result turns out pretty cool.”
Jack: “Normally we don’t write when we are together, we present an idea and the person who presents it takes the reins and directs us to fit their vision for the song. When I write, music almost always comes first.”
Owen: “That’s different for every member, but for me, I’ll usually have a riff or chord structure in mind, and once I expand that into a full instrumental, I send it to Alyssa or Tori for lyrics and a vocal. Sometimes I do write completely alone, but when I’m writing for the band, it’s usually a collaborative effort.”
Johnny: “A lot of times it’s the music first and we share it to the band and we all collectively create our parts and Tori will work on lyrics.”
Tori: “When I write, I usually start with a concept that I want to write about. I will have a few lines in my head and write the music to fit the vision in my head.”
What sort of life inspirations are you drawing from?
Tori: “I draw a lot of my inspiration from past relationships. Break up songs are my favourite to write because of how personal they are.”
Jack: “Breakups, film and tv, books, and just philosophical thinking I suppose. I hesitate to say life experience because when I do people point out I’m only 17, but that‘s still a lot of experience.”
Alyssa: “We’ll draw from past relationships, friendships, sometimes even confusion.”
You are a young band. Are there any other young bands that are impressing you at the moment?
Owen: “For sure! A band called The Linda Lindas have been on my radar for a while. I like their song ‘Talking to Myself’ but I need to check out more of their music. While not technically a band, WILLOW’s recent rock forays have been super impressive, ‘<maybe> it’s my fault’ was one of my favourites of last year.”
Alyssa: “Yes, there is a band called Undefeated from Lowville who are really talented and fantastic performers! They’re a three piece Christian rock band who write, record, and perform original songs.”
Tori: “We did a battle of the bands competition many years ago in Syracuse and met Undefeated. They are so talented and it’s amazing how far they have come.”
Where do you see the band being in a couple of years’ time? And what is on your bucket list that you’d want to achieve?
Johnny: “In the next couple years I will be off at college and I don’t really know where the band will go, but I assume we will all remain in contact with each other and try to figure something out.”
Tori: “I am not sure where I see us going. I don’t like to stress over what the future looks like, so I can stay in the moment and celebrate how far we have come.”
Alyssa: “In a couple of years time, I see us getting more skilled at our instruments, and writing more songs that challenge us.”
Owen: “Hopefully by then we’ll have a couple more albums out; we have a lot of unrecorded material to get through! As for bucket list stuff, this band has gone further than I ever expected. Recently we got one of our songs to 10,000 Spotify streams, which is absolutely crazy, so I don’t really know what I want to accomplish that’s bigger than that. But I suppose that’s a good problem to have!”
Jack: “I’m big on recording, so I’d love to see us have a few more albums out and hopefully have a song or two that really takes off.”
What are you currently working on that you can share with us?
Johnny: “We are currently working on an album that we are revising ourselves. It’s been coming along pretty well and we hope to have it out soon.”
Owen: “We’ve been working on the album for the past three years, and we really believe that every song is one of our best. I think we’re all really excited to finalize it and put it out; it’s some really special music.”
Jack: “We have a backlog of an absurd amount of songs that we can take from to work on next, but we are always continuing to write.”
Tori: “We are also working on adding new covers to our set. My favourite one is ‘Starrider’ by Foreigner. I love the song and it’s going to be so much fun to play live.”
Alyssa: “Recently, we got together to work on a cover of a song by Sam Fender called ‘Seventeen Going Under’. It’s interesting because the song sounds modern but also has a taste of Springsteen in it. We were collaborating to make it sound very Bruce like specific piano sounds and guitar sounds.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?
Jack: “Besides our own song ‘Snow In June’, I’d have to go with ‘Call Me What You Like’ by Lovejoy. I’ve been a massive fan since they first began and can’t wait for their soon-to-release album.”
Alyssa: “‘Call Me What You Like’ by Lovejoy.”
Owen: “I’ll also have to go with ‘Call Me What You Like’ by Lovejoy. I’ve been a fan of theirs from the very beginning and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with their new direction on this song, lyrically it’s one of their best in my opinion, and the instrumental is also crazy good.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
Jack: “The song ‘Dancer in the Dark’ by Current Joys. This song is deceptive in its casual beginning, but later on, it bursts into an emotional orchestral section that gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it. I would highly recommend headphones for your first listen.”
(Photos by Jennifer Towns)
Written by: leancool20
All of You Alyssa Tomassi Billy Joel Call Me What You Like Current Joys Dancer in the Dark Dave Snediker Delta Sleep Fall from Grace Filled to the Brim Fleetwood Mac Foreigner Helpless Jack Towns Jennifer Towns Jim O'Mahony Jim O'Mahony's Rock Camp Johnny Mudge Judah and the Lion Led Zeppelin lessons Lovejoy New York Owen Paz Pearl Jam piano poprock Rock Camp Rush Sam Fender Snow in June Soundgarden Taylor Swift teenage The Backseat Lovers The Linda Lindas Tori Haggerty Turn Back the Time Twenty One ilots Undefeated USA WILLOW
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