Homeschool photo by CJ Harvey
Tom D’Agustino is an open book with his latest project, the Homeschool: EP Book II. When his band Active Bird Community went inactive, the singer-songwriter ventured into a solo career, adopting the moniker Homeschool in the process. While Book I brought out D’Agustino’s folkier side, the second installment highlights his unshakable angst, and for those who want a taste, Homeschool: EP Book II is available today.
I recently sat down with D’Agustino to discuss feeling naked, lifetime reflections, and make believe truffle hunting in Naples.
AH: Your Book II EP follows Book I. How do these musical books differ from each other. Are they separate “stories” or a continuation of one larger overall Homeschool narrative?
Homeschool: I think Book II gets a bit heavier sonically, and picks up the pace. Book I served to introduce the listener, and myself honestly, to what Homeschool might look and feel like—a sort of contemplative, folkier flavor. I think Book II may showcase a bit more of that angst that I can’t seem to shake for whatever reason, that more anthemic side of my songwriting. In terms of narrative, I don’t think there is a coherent or linear one. It’s an amalgamation and these songs could have existed in any order and still been impactful, in my view.
AH: You have spent much of your creative career in a band atmosphere. How has this solo project changed your perspective on who songwriting Tom is/was?
Homeschool: I think in my previous band, Active Bird Community, there was a lot of on-the-spot decision making, improvisation and collective choices. I enjoyed that dynamic and felt safe within it because my writing was buoyed by my closest friends. Now that I write everything myself there is that sense of feeling naked and steering the ship myself, feeling more accountable, but it has definitely deepened and strengthened my relationship to my own creativity more than any band could. I have to be much more aware and respectful of my creative self, becoming more attuned with what my intentions are and what my unconscious or that creative force is actually trying to say as opposed to what I might want it to say, if that makes sense.
AH: When you’re collaborating with other musicians in a democratic, equal input environment, is it difficult to have the music fully reflect the person you are in that moment? Do you hold back for the sake of not alienating any of the other voices in the room?
Homeschool: Great question. Yes, I think that definitely can happen. Sometimes you can feel stymied if you weren’t quick enough to express your opinion or if on that day you’re not as articulate as you could be, etc. You also want to hold back and include everyone because, ideally, you are writing with people you respect and enjoy—you want that democracy. It’s a mixed bag. There’s a lot I miss about it and also elements that I am grateful are in the past.
AH: What would someone learn about you as a musician and person in sitting down to listen to Book II front to back?
Homeschool: As a musician, I guess they would learn that I can play several instruments. I played every instrument on this collection of songs, with a few exceptions. That was my first time ever doing something like that. Having that freedom and autonomy to physically touch every element of my own work really connected me to this music on a level that I don’t think I have reached before.
As a person, I have no idea what anyone would learn, to be honest. They would be exposed to a series of images and reflections that I have come across in my lifetime, disparate memories (some imagined, some crushingly real), they would see a little bit of what I see. Without sounding corny, ideally they would learn more about themselves than they would learn about me as a person. I don’t think I am really that relevant in the experience.
AH: How do the songs on Book II translate to the stage? Is what we’re hearing here a good representation of what we’d take away from a club setting?
Homeschool: Well, I’ve only played two shows as Homeschool so it’s a bit tricky to say. I think Book II has a lot of layers of instrumentation and vocals because we wanted to craft something fluid and intricate. The live set is much more to the point—streamlined in a way that highlights the core emotions and raises the temperature. The live set has more of a kick to it for sure, much more of a rock show, I would say.
AH: What are you most proud of with the EP and why?
Homeschool: I guess I am proud that I was able to make a “solo” record that I enjoy this much. It definitely was not a solo record in the traditional sense because I had a shit ton of help from so many talented people, but I am glad that I was able to execute my vision while being the one making the bulk of the decisions. I am proud that even though my previous band dissolved, my managers/creative partners Zach Slater and Tom Winkler, stood by me and gave me even more confidence and courage to chase music forever.
AH: You worked with producers David Greenbaum and Sam Cohen. How did they come to influence this collection of songs, and on a larger scale, your future songwriting?
Homeschool: David and Sam were crucial to this project in so many ways. David welcomed us into his home and was so courteous and generous with his time, but also has such a unique way of approaching music and sound. I think he makes records because he thoroughly enjoys it but he also has the skill set and the intelligence to match the passion that he brings to every song. He really unlocked a lot of what I was trying to do and his wizardry could translate any incoherent idea I had into a concrete piece of a song.
Sam was quite similar in that he knew what needed to happen in each song. If I was at a dead end melodically or conceptually, Sam could step in and just ooze interesting and exciting ideas, the bulk of which really took the songs to a more mature and realized place.
AH: You are also an actor. Does that scratch a different side of your creative brain?
Homeschool: One hundred percent. Acting has opened so many creative doors for me that it’s hard to pick one to talk about. I think music for me is how I process life. It’s a companion, but it’s also the tangible result of what I like to think of as channeling something bigger than my conscious self, some other creative force, for lack of a better term.
Acting is a different kind of channeling that puts me in so many different emotional situations where “me” is not the point of what is happening. Tom is not becoming a mobster, or truffle hunting in Naples, or whatever the role might be. I can separate myself from my everyday understanding of who I am and slip into other lives, other times. Music tells me what I think my life is, while acting allows me to borrow from that life to create other ones and inhabit them to help tell stories.
AH: As an actor and someone who appreciates the medium, do you look forward to marrying your music to film and television as far as licensing goes? How important is this type of revenue stream to artists in 2022?
Homeschool: I do look forward to that marriage of my music and film/television. To think that my music could help someone else tell their story, that it is integral to how that story is to be told, is incredibly gratifying.
Any revenue stream is important to artists. I know this point has been driven into the ground, but musicians do not have very many opportunities to live off of their art. In my opinion, it is one of the most difficult art forms to make a living off of because you are not technically freelance so you do not get to control the worth of your output, and you are rarely a contracted worker who has set hours, benefits or income. Sync is a huge benefit, but also super rare.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Homeschool: Definitely not. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, good or bad. But also, I genuinely have very little idea where my life is going to take me and I think that is my favorite part. For right now, I am these things called “musician” and “actor,” but 10 years from now I could be a painter or a journalist or a farmer or who knows. What I do know is that the Tom of right now is not interested in determining what the Tom 10 years from now should or shouldn’t do. He’ll figure it out as he goes along. Hopefully.
To be schooled in all things Homeschool, visit www.homeschool.party.