Tom Mackell

Album Premiere with Interview: Tom Mackell “Hearts Wide Open”

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Tom Mackell — Hearts Wide Open

Americana Highways is hosting this premiere of Tom Mackell’s EP Hearts Wide Open.  Hearts Wide Open was produced and engineered by Grady Saxman at Saxman Studios in Mt. Juliet, TN; mixed by Matt Zutell at Coast Records Studio in Charleston, SC; and mastered by Matthew Garber.  The album was designed by Brian Cheek with photography by Taylor Flynn.

Musicians on the album are Grady Saxman on drums, percussion and programming; Tim Galloway on acoustic guitar and bouzouki; Corey Congilio on acoustic guitar; Sol Philcox-Littlefield on electric guitar; Will Moore on bass; Billy Justineau on keys and Steven Mullan on background vocals.

We had a chance to chat with Tom Mackell about the EP.  The premiere is just beneath the interview.

Americana Highways: This EP is really great, start to finish, and the songs fit together so well. Can you walk us through how you came to gather this collection of songs into one living, breathing EP?

Tom Mackell: Thank you! “Gone” is probably the oldest song on the EP. I wrote the first 30 seconds of the song in 2015, but I didn’t know where I wanted to go with it at the time. I put the song aside until a writing session with my friend Eliot Bronson a couple of years later. We finished the song shortly after I finished writing for my last EP, A Life I Once Knew. After “Gone,” I wrote “Hearts Wide Open” and recorded both tracks one day in 2017. Over the next few years, I wrote tracks two, three, and four and recorded all three last June. I knew that I wanted to release at least a couple of singles before putting out the EP.

AH: Your sound is laced with Americana, folk, roots rock, and even a little bit of pop. We have readers that we are introducing to your music for the first time here. How do you describe your music and your sound?

TM: Something I admire about artists today is that there is so much genre-defying music. I enjoy making art that has no guidelines and is a pure human expression. I would describe my music as a soulful blend of Americana, pop, and folk-rock.

AH: Related to the last question, where do you pull your musical inspirations from? Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians and how have they impacted you as a musician and lyricist?

TM: I grew up listening to Jackson Browne, Elton John, and James Taylor. I love songs that tell stories and say so much with such simple yet clever combinations of lyrics, melody, and music.

AH: Your lyrics have a lot of depth to them, with different lines having impact on repeated listens, sort of a peel-back-the-layers kind of experience the more time one spends with the songs. What is your writing process? Where do you tend to get your best ideas from? How long do you tend to work on individual songs? Do you write regularly?

TM: Thanks so much. My writing process is pretty organic. I don’t really have a routine or streamlined writing process. I can feel a song coming in my head, and I pick up a guitar, and it feels like it’s coming out all in one go, rather than sitting down and trying to come up with an idea. Other times, I will come up with a riff or melody and struggle with the lyrics for a while before I bring it to a friend/co-writer to help spark some kind of direction. Generally, the melody of the songs and the lyrics come out all at the same time, then I go back and edit. So it’s really more of a stream-of-consciousness style of writing. I tend to get my best ideas from other artists that I am listening to at the time. Songs can take anywhere from two hours to five years to finish. I try to write regularly or at least set aside time to relax, play guitar, and think. Songs will come to me when I need to get something out and express what I am feeling at the time.

AH: Talk a little bit about the impact geography has had on your music. How have the places you’ve lived influenced your music?

TM: Charleston, SC has had an enormous impact on my music and my life in general for the last decade. In my opinion, there is no better place to come home to than Charleston. I have so many great memories of this town that have shaped who I am today. The community of artists and musicians here is small and tight-knit. We all support each other and work together. That’s what I love most about Charleston. Living in Nashville, TN for a few years also influenced my music in many ways. I was working in the industry while paving my way as an artist and songwriter, which gave me a whole new perspective of both the art and the business. I learned so much by immersing myself into Music City and meeting other musicians, artists, songwriters, managers, and more. Surrounding myself every day with people I admire inspires me to become the best version of myself that I can be.


Tom Mackell’s EP is full of the kinds of music you play driving with the windows down and the wind blowing through your hair.  “Gone” is a bittersweet song about his mother’s passing.  “Strange Times” is an authentic consideration of just what the title says, with emotional musical arrangements.  The title track with lyrics like “it ain’t easy letting down your guard” poses genuine observations on the human experience.

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