Growing up in Hawkes Bay, Niuean singer/songwriter Tommy Nee found an escape from his “tough upbringing” through music. Difficulties faced throughout his life have undoubtedly shaped his sound, with his EP ‘Colorblind’ showcasing a mix of guitar-based, soulful music, matched with a certain lyrical honesty and rawness.
“It’s a feeling… it’s genuine, it comes from places of realness,” 22-year-old Tommy explains. “When I put on a pair of headphones, music was the thing that gave me hope, and made me grasp onto something when there was nothing else to grasp on to in life.”
Despite those troubled beginnings, he has gone on to make a name for himself for his originality and song-writing abilities. Tommy says his recently completed Auckland University music degree has allowed him to analyse music in a whole different way.
“It’s helped me to recognise what’s genuine, what’s accessible… what’s something that will make people want to decipher what you’re taking about.”
His respect for other Polynesian artists is a source of motivation for him and his musical career. Nesian Mystik’s Te Awanui Reeder has been one local legend showing support for Tommy’s catchy tunes and soulful voice.
Tommy’s love for music, spanning over a diversity of genres, is evident when listening to ‘Colorblind’. Whether it’s the soulful vibes from Sam Cooke, the pop-rock, guitar-based influence from John Mayer, or his love for rap with “its flow and rhyme schemes”, each of the five songs showcase an interesting amalgamation of his different influences.
“I don’t consciously try to incorporate them, I just let it happen. If you listen to a record for long enough, their style will influence you in some way… you grab something from them and incorporate that into your own song. It’s that feeling you get, an instinct,” he explains.
Tommy frequently expresses a desire to see societal change, particularly in regards to the discrimination people from different races continue to face. He is no stranger to discrimination, and draws on his own past experiences in his music as a way of raising awareness.
“It’s not just about being blind to your race, it’s also about being blind to religion. Wherever you come from… why should we judge the rest of the world according to that? Colorblind is a song written about being pulled over by a policeman in Remuera… I had my warrant, rego, full license… my music calls on that, it’s a big issue in today’s society. My music tries to make people conscious… to stop being blind to the issue, and start being blind to our colours.”
With the release of his EP, and a video for Pick Up The Phone, Tommy is about to undertake a nationwide tour.
“I’m working with the Soulnote Agency. They’ve been helping me to plan and promote my stuff – they believe in it as much as I do. It’s all for the love of music. If I can help someone else out, then that’s my day made.”