I first connected with Thomas Jack in early 2013. Two years ago, after browsing around SoundCloud, I stumbled upon the then-undiscovered producer’s sound and immediately, my curiosity was piqued.
This was the same year that tracks like “Animals” and “Clarity” were dominating the festival circuit and already, the pounding kicks of electro house were beginning to blend together into white, electronic noise. Before Justin Bieber would have ever considered using pan flutes in his tracks, Thomas Jack’s remix of “Atlas Hands” played through my speakers, embodying the idyllic, peaceful tones that would eventually come to be known as “tropical house.”
From there, I reached out to TJ and took a leap of intuitive faith and invited him to be a guest on Dancing Astronaut‘s mix series, AXIS. Within a few days, the mix garnered over 10,000 plays and to date, remains one of my favorite features.
When we first connected in early 2013, he had only recently left his homestay in Australia to make the move to Miami. In one of his messages, he expressed his hopes to come out and spend more time on the West Coast, soon.
Less than two years later, we step into the living room of his home in the Hollywood Hills. Overlooking a truly impressive, expansive view of Los Angeles’ twinkling cityscape, he apologizes for the mess in his house. “We just had a wild party here on Sunday,” he explains, with a cheeky smile.
At only 22, there’s no reason why Thomas’ life shouldn’t be a series of larger-than-life parties. He tells me, with only a hint of weariness, that he’s spent the last year of his life constantly on tour. He really hasn’t been living at home (a dairy farm in an Australian town so small that he won’t even say) since 13, when he left for boarding school.
And it was at boarding school where he had his first brush with dance music, but in the most unlikely of places. “The older boys [at boarding school] would bring a speaker system into the showers,” he tells me. “They’d play music – dance music. It was the first time I’d ever heard it. Everyone was so scared to go [in the showers] while the older boys were there, but I was so fascinated by the music that I’d always try and shower then, just because I wanted to listen to the music.”
He heard Justice, then Calvin Harris. (“That song that goes, ‘I like them white girls, I like them black girls,'” he sings.) Later, he learned the basics of music production in a class at university, and soon began making his own. His father gifted him Ableton Live one Christmas, which Thomas credits as the kickstart to his career.
What happened from there is a history that you likely already know. His manager discovered him on SoundCloud, flew him to Miami and eventually, Thomas coined and championed “tropical house.” And it’s true – the music he makes is perfect for a sunny day on the beach, and a quick look at his own Instagram makes it obvious that he thrives in a tropical setting. But the thing is?
Tropical house is not the legacy he wants to leave behind.
“It was about a year ago that I was like, ‘Oh, the tropical thing is alright, but I want to play some house music,” he says while scrolling through his music, readying to share some new content that he’s been working on. “I never tried to push the genre, it just happened. I just wanted to create my own music.”
And as if to prove a point, the music that starts to play out of his speakers is nothing like what his fanbase might expect. Gone are the sunshine vibes – instead, he explains his inspiration comes from Africa, back in the 70’s and 80’s. He names Ali “Farka” Touré, a well-known musician from Mali that famously combined traditional African sounds with American jazz and blues. Thomas’ new music brings visions of a different sun setting: instead, the tones invoke images of the Serengeti and tribal dance moves.
Forget African, tribal and especially tropical house – Thomas Jack wants to be known for more than just any one label. He recalls stumbling upon a set by chance that would change his outlook on his music forever. “I walked out of a seven hour Dixon show and it literally changed my life. What he gave to me, I want to deliver to others. But I want to do it in my own unique way.
“I want Thomas Jack to be something special. Not Mr. Tropical. I want to be my own.”
Photo: Jake West Photo
He’s thankful for what tropical house became, but the lasting effects of being boxed into one genre are obvious. I make the half-joking, half-serious analogy that he’s in his Harry Potter stage, just waiting to find his full-frontal moment on Broadway. He laughs in agreement. “I feel more frustrated now than I did when I was trying to make Thomas Jack something,” he says in a moment of seriousness.
Thomas Jack is now nearing the end of his Tropical Express Tour, and it’s safe to say that it might be the last tropical branded excursion he takes for a long while. The frustration he feels is a precursor to the journey he has ahead of him: putting expectations of his label, fans, and even of himself to the side and channeling the inspirations he’s gathered to make music that he really wants to be known for. The end of the year will be a rare few weeks of peace for the young talent, and he hopes to dedicate a good majority of it to diving back into studio time. He wants to learn new instruments and make music that isn’t something any bedroom producer could make.
He pauses, and it’s obvious – the cogs are moving. He smiles again, then bangs his fists on the table to emphasize. “Maybe in a year, or three years, we’ll sit back down here at this table and be like, ‘WE FUCKING DID IT!'”
And I don’t have a doubt. We will.